Sometimes we let Halloween slip away without celebration. With a winding 800-foot driveway through the dense dark woods, we’ve never had a trick or treater. It is easy to just get in through the door after a long day at work, and think of it as any other day. Light the wood stove. Put the kettle on for tea and coffee.
This year, I think we were feeling a little more spirited, more into the lore of the special day.
We attended a night of ghost stories in a local pub.
Greg bought pumpkins to carve.
While researching to reawaken ourselves to the magic of Halloween, we stumbled upon the term ‘dumb supper’. This was never mentioned in my or Greg’s growing up years. Bobbing for apples, pumpkin carving, creating costumes, trick or treating, collecting money for UNICEF, popcorn balls, ghost stories, candied apples, making scarecrows were among the memories we have, with a lot of overlap. Cooking a feast for our departed loved ones? No.
We decided we would have a silent supper.
Our research told us that though the rituals differ, the premise is universal. Spend an evening with your ancestors and deceased loved ones.
Various cultures observe the ritual in different ways. The idea is that instead of sitting down to a regular dinner and talking over the day, you create a feast in honor of (and to invite the spirits of) your deceased loved ones. As the name suggests, you dine in silence to quiet your heart and heighten your senses.
Simply eating in silence was the aspect of the ritual that appealed most to us. We created a lovely vegetarian chili from our garden harvest, which our desired guests would have loved. Then we supplemented that simple course with a few of our parents’ favorite treats.
After the table was set, we turned off the lights and dined by candlelight, in silence. I must add that for a long-married couple, dining in silence on purpose is spectacular.
We put a lot of thought into the ritual, tried to go with our gut and do nothing that would ill-suit our guests. Lifting a plate and reciting a flowery tribute when they were alive would have been met with awkward shifting in chairs. Nor were we given to toasts or elaborate prayers, crusty New Englanders all.
I did not expect any communication or overt visitation.
See, my Mom and Dad and aunts and grandparents and parents-in-law have not visited me in spirit since their departure. Not even a postcard. I still find that shocking… that they only visit me in my dreams.
What I was hoping for was a comforting shift of consciousness, or a happy memory I’d misplaced, or perhaps my heart would take an upturn.
To be fair, I didn’t have anything pressing to communicate either. The questions I didn’t dare to ask them when they were alive are forever discarded. I’m not going to rattle their chains now to satisfy my curiosity. I just…miss them.
I hope they stopped by and had a bite. I hope Mom patted me on the head like she used to and said, “you turd bird.” Or, “What are you two birds up to now?” Maybe she saw that Greg re-glued her favorite rocking chair. I think my Dad and Greg’s parents probably stayed the whole time. They were people people; they liked a crowd.
But that’s only what I think is the most probable scenario. I didn’t hear from anyone. I didn’t sense their presence. No one complimented us on the chili.
“The table looks like a holiday party or a birthday,” I thought. I looked to the empty chair at the head of the table and then to the empty chairs to my right.
I admit, I’d been hoping for something to alert me that they were there, but it was just the opposite. It was the emptiness of their chairs that struck me.
After dinner, we blew out the candles and left the room. A short while later we put the plates of food on the picnic table. It is customary to dispose of the food rather than eat it. Oddly, the ‘favorite foods’ did seem spent.
Once the picnic table was laid with leftovers, Greg drew a couple of chairs near and it looked rather spooky and jaunty out there on the lawn under the moon.
“Oh it looks like a garden party!” I said.
“It does,” Greg said.
I expected to hear a gang of raccoons devouring the food in the night. Thought we’d have a mess to clean up in the morning. I left for work early and didn’t take the time to inspect things, but Greg said, “Nothing was touched.”
We live in the middle of the woods…
Then Greg added, “But as soon as I emptied things on the compost pile, the squirrels and crows descended.”
Originally posted November 2017