The Value of Halloween: Fun, Family, and Freaky!

(Mike DePung — Post 269)

Halloween! All Hallow’s Eve! Followed by All Saints Day or Samhain! Dia de los Muertos! No matter how you cut it, these few days have to do with the mortality of humans.

The ancient Celts celebrated this as the beginning of the new year. This time of year began the descent into the darkness of winter when some would die, along with the “death” of nature. Because of that, they felt the veil between the mortal and eternal, the living and the dead was the thinnest at this time and spirits could cross back most easily now.

Perhaps best exemplified by Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, this is a time of remembering family who have passed on to the other side of the veil. This sense of family connections, ties to our ancestors or simply pulling us close right now through telling stories and spending fun times together holds great value.

When I taught in the classroom, I spoke to students about the oral storytelling tradition. They would have been familiar with Homer and The Odyssey, especially, and Beowulf in the curriculum I taught. I told them some questions to ask and gather those weird, supernatural, spooky, otherworldly stories usually buried somewhere in our family lore. And then, we would share two class periods worth of stories.

The reality is I would tell most of the stories and it felt like a family time with my students. I told them stories that I had gathered from family and friends and personal experience. And this is one of them.

My maternal grandmother had a bank of stories, many riding on the edge of omens as warnings.

I never got to meet her son, my mom’s brother and my uncle. He was older than my mom or my aunt. His name was Frankie, and when he was three years old, his father, my grandfather Walter, had been away for a couple of weeks working as a circuit-riding preacher in the very rural area of southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, and northwestern Tennessee — strictly horses — no cars or electricity down there then.

The afternoon Walter returned home, he came up the path singing “Amazing Grace.” Little Frankie heard him, got all excited, but then just sat in a little trance until his daddy picked him up. Both his parents thought it odd.

Before their early, meager supper was finished, a small group of neighbors, all farmers, arrived at the door. “Walter, we know you’ve been away, but we have been plagued by a cougar or some animal killin’ and eatin’ our small stock. We’ve only seen tracks. Would you help us in the hunt tonight?” No question in those days, and with such a number it didn’t look to be difficult, just cover the boundaries of their property as the hunters would move through with lanterns to scare the cat out.

Walter told Rosa, “I’m taking Frankie with me. He can ride my shoulders.” Grandma remembered Frankie’s trance, and she thought it was an omen but agreed because Frankie was excited to ride his daddy’s shoulders. That night on their property as the hunters advanced towards them, they heard it, a big cat screaming like a woman. I’ve heard one before, and it’s definitely eerie.

In fact, it screamed three times and sounded like it was coming from somewhere in a tree above them. A few of the men were there immediately, and they could not discover the cat anywhere. There were no tracks leading to the area of the trees, even though it was muddy. Remember, Frankie was three years old.

It was a fruitless hunt; however, there were no more attacks on farmers’ livestock, nor were there any sightings of tracks or any more screams. Three days later, Frankie came down with a very bad cold, and in three weeks he was dead from a severe case of pneumonia — no antibiotics in 1912.

Now, I used to end my stories with my students to make an impact, and I will here, too. A mysterious, unseen cat screaming three times, a three year old boy sick in three days and dead in three weeks — happenstance or omen? You might just want to take a little extra notice the next time something happens in threes.

I wish I could have known my Uncle Frankie. Some day, I suppose I will know his life energy, but hopefully, not in three!

Have fun with stories, and remember, it’s okay to be a little freaked by these stories. They help bring us together and keep our mortal nature in focus.

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