Superstorm Sandy and the Halloween That Wasn’t

011_Halloween_pumpkins[1]I was just thinking of last year’s Halloween experiences in my village and what was happening a year ago.  My friend Caroline was here from the Netherlands to see the sights and visit NYC.  We’d heard warnings of the storm, and my friends who worked in the city were hustling to get home before it hit.  It didn’t seem that serious until later in the day, when Caroline and I stood at my balcony door and watched the Hudson River overflow its banks.  No trains, no subways, no power in lower Manhattan for days–far beyond anything we had expected.

Fortunately up on my hill the power never went out, and we were safe through the storm.  All the Halloween attractions were shut down until the day poor Caroline was flying back home.  She did manage to get a couple of days of shopping in by taking a combination of trains and buses into Manhattan.  The only Halloween event she got was the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, which reopened the day she was leaving, so we saw the pumpkins and I took her to JFK.

This year the only storm has been an onslaught of tourists!  But on a weekday it’s fairly placid.  The leaves have finally turned.  The village Halloween parade was filled with revelers last Saturday, packing the streets afterward.  It’s fun to see your neighbors dressed as Annie Oakley or wheeling the mechanical spider they built on a gurney through town.  I discovered there are at least three Headless Horsemen currently working in the village, not counting the one on the Fox TV show.

So I’m counting my blessings this year as I look back at last year.  I hope we don’t see a storm like that again!  And a Happy Halloween to all.


Stormy Weather

A boat left high and dry by Superstorm Sandy
A boat left high and dry by Superstorm Sandy

I still think of fall the way it was when I grew up in the South.  The weather grew gradually cooler, the leaves turned red and gold and brown, and slow, heavy rains washed them off the trees.  By late November the leaves were gone, the branches “bare ruined choirs” as the poem says, and we settled in for the chill of winter.  I don’t recall violent storms or tornados once we were past the summer.

Living closer to the ocean has taught me about hurricanes and tropical storms.  I always pictured them as a phenomenon of Florida or the Gulf Coast.  Picture Bogie and Bacall in “Key Largo” (a really great movie to watch during hurricane season.)  Until recent years I never realized those storms could do damage not only at the shore, but several miles inland.  They can even carry their violence and damage for hundreds of miles from the ocean.  Who knew?  I saw it last year outside my window, watching the Hudson River overflow its banks during Superstorm Sandy.

So now the fall brings with it a shiver of unease.  I hadn’t really thought about it until some friends were discussing the date of the village Halloween parade for this year and how it’s been cancelled for the last two years, due to a snowstorm (yes!) and then Sandy last year.  Another friend remarked about the storm that roared through yesterday, “Trees are not our friends.”

But today is a placid, blue-sky autumn day.  No signs of clouds or winds or witches on broomsticks blown past the window.  A perfect day to sky-write, “Surrender, Dorothy.”

Riding Out the Storm With a Friend

My experience of Hurricane Sandy was very different than it would have been because I had a guest.  My friend Caroline came from the Netherlands on the Saturday before the storm came in,  a trip long planned and unable to be changed.  So we rode out the storm together.

We were lucky in that I live on a ridge high above the Hudson River, so flooding was not an issue.  But we could see the lower ground by the river from the glass doors onto my balcony.  On Monday night, Caroline said to me, “I think the river is flooding!”  It was getting dark, and hard to see.  I peered as hard as I could, and said, “I think you’re right!”  The swell rose over 11 feet and washed the boat you see in the photo into the park.  The boat’s name was “Here, There and Everywhere.”

Caroline’s trip was very different from what she had planned.  But she was intrepid.  When bus and limited subway service was restored, she took the bus to the Bronx (1 hour 20 minutes) and then took the subway into the city.  Then after some hours she took the Harlem line train back to White Plains, and I picked her up.  The Hudson line train, which you can see from my window, was not fully back in service until today.

But the nice thing for me was having sympathetic company while the winds raged, the river rose and the rain poured.  We never lost power, there was no flooding on my ridge, and the tall trees did not fall down.  We were very fortunate compared to many.  My heart goes out to those on Staten Island and in New Jersey who lost their lives and their homes.

Things were approaching normal here last night, although there have been long lines to buy gasoline, and many people still do not have power.  I am very grateful that my experience was so easy, and I am glad that Caroline was a calm and patient presence while this amazing event went on.  We ended her trip with a rescheduled trip to the Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze at Cortlandt Manor.  So she didn’t miss Halloween entirely, after all.

How to Carve a Pumpkin, the Old-School Way

My father was a quiet man, but he had firm convictions about the right way to do many things (see Father’s Day Special II.)  My view of pumpkin carving for Halloween is heavily influenced by his.

Every year just before Halloween we would go looking for a pumpkin.  Daddy felt that the proper shape for carving was the classic round, not one that was taller than it was wide.  It should be a good healthy orange, not pale.  The reddish-orange ones you sometimes see nowadays were not available back then in Tennessee.  We usually chose ours from a farm stand along 41-A, someone’s local produce.

The first step in pumpkin-carving was to spread a great deal of newspaper on the dining room table, covering the vinyl tablecloth so even it would not get dirty or be stained.  If the weather was warm sometimes we did this outside.  Step two:  Daddy carved a circle around the stem about six inches in diameter and pulled out this plug of pumpkin meat.  He cleaned off the bottom of this.  Then he scraped out the seeds and as much of the pumpkin meat as he could from the inside.

The next step was crucial, and this is where his opinions come in.  Daddy took a pencil and drew the face he wanted to cut onto the pumpkin shell, following these rules:   1) Halloween pumpkins should have triangular eyes.  2) They should have noses, either a triangle pointing in the opposite direction from the eyes, or two nostrils (some artistry permitted here.) 3) Their mouths should have teeth, either square and snaggled or pointed.  4) They should have ear holes.

So he carved according to these rules.  The pumpkin was lit by a stub on candle.  We would wait until dark, go outside and light the pumpkin, and stand in the dark admiring its eerie beauty.  Every year I was entranced with the result–old-school, simple, classic, and vaguely threatening.

This year I will have company for Halloween, and we will go to the Blaze in Croton to see thousands of carved jack o’lanterns, very fancy indeed.  But maybe I’ll carve an old-time one, in memory of Daddy.


1920's Halloween PostcardA Connecticut lawmaker wants to move the day Halloween is observed, so it always falls on a Saturday:

I feel compelled to speak up for my Wiccan friends.  OK, I don’t have any Wiccan friends, but Halloween used to be a religious holiday–Samhain, in the old Celtic religion.  Its original name in Christianity was All Hallows Eve, when evil spirits roamed about before being vanquished on All Saints Day.

Now it’s mostly the occasion for parties on or around the day, and closely controlled trick-or-treating.  It’s a time for innocent (or not so innocent) fun.  Still, Halloween should not  become the only weekend-mandated holiday.  That establishes a really bad precedent.  Do you want St. Patrick’s Day to become a Saturday-only holiday?  How about the Fourth of July?

Stand up, citizens of Connecticut, and quash this idea before it spreads!  And a Happy Halloween to all!

Just to celebrate, here’s one of my favorite Halloween movie clips:  “Most Horrible” from Meet Me in St. Louis.  Enjoy!





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