Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Hardest Hue to Hold

Her blood sugar was low, so the tantrum was to be expected. When I suggested long pants, she insisted on shorts. To stem the bickering, I left her room, but over my shoulder I said, “Pick out your own clothes.” Five minutes later, I turned the corner in the hall, and she was hiding behind the door, dressed in long pants. Thinking it best that I keep my mouth shut, I walked by without a word. And then she began to cry. “Why are you crying?” “Because you don’t appreciate me,” she said.

Her articulation brought me to a standstill. I didn’t know my five year old daughter even knew the word “appreciate.” The precision of her observation—such a careful match between her feelings and her language—made me, ironically, appreciate her. The littlest one, in a family of know-it-alls, had just demonstrated an incisiveness with her words that not only persuaded me to concede her point (I should have praised her for her acquiescence), but it also generated a well-lit spot of time. In the future, when she slays me in arguments and dazzles me with her verbal dexterity, I’ll remember this moment as a sign of wondrous sparks to come.

It’s fitting then, that DD plans to be “Word Girl” for Halloween. If you’re not up on your PBS kid shows, “Word Girl” is a ten year old superhero who fights crime while enhancing her community’s vocabulary. We’ve been planning the details for weeks—red unitard, yellow cape, gloves, boots—and practicing Word Girl’s slogan, “Word Up!”

What’s not to love about Halloween? You get to dress up, go out at night, and people give you free candy. Candy corn, peanut butter cups, licorice, and mini-chocolate bars. Houses are glowing with golden pumpkins. You eat harvesty, nutty food, with apples and squash and cinnamon. People are merry. It’s the best holiday of the year, far out-stripping Christmas (which tends to generate tension and dissatisfaction, the inevitable consequences of cupidity).

As an aspiring actress who imagined herself in remakes of Flying Down to Rio and Top Hat, I adored Halloween as a child. Halloween meant elaborately planned and glamorous costumes: a Rita Hayworth-like movie star, a flapper with spit curls and fringe, Shirley Temple. As an adult, DH and I would attend parties as literary figures (I was Belinda from “Rape of the Lock”; he was James Boswell) or movie characters (I was Janet Leigh in a blond wig, bullet bra, and pencil skirt; he was Norman Bates in a dress).

And it’s appropriate that we outfit ourselves in elaborate gear at a time when Nature does the same.

Emily Dickinson says it better . . .

The Maple wears a gayer scarf—
The field a scarlet gown—
Lest I should be old fashioned
I'll put a trinket on.

Here in the south, October is nestled between the heavy heat of summer and the creeping grey of November. The sun shines without a glare. The month is golden and calm, yet we’re buzzy and excited (for Halloween, for school, for change). We don our best clothes: plaid wool skirts, boots, and nubby tights, feeling prepared, capable, and productive.

I purposefully chose October as my wedding month 19 years ago. On the day, the weather was crisp enough for the velvet in my dress but temperate enough to have the ceremony outside. Leaves of gold and red and yellow adorned the trees, with a few on the ground, crunching beneath our feet.

October speaks a language that prompts me to appreciate.

Here’s the perfect recipe to accompany an autumnal mood (first eaten on our first anniversary in October many years ago):

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Muffins

Cream cheese mixture:

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened

¼ Cup of sugar

1 egg beaten


1 ¾ cup flour

1 ½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup canned pumpkin

½ cup melted butter

1 egg beaten

1/3 cup water

Combine cream cheese mixture until well-blended and set aside. Combine dry ingredients. Add pumpkin, butter, egg, and water, mixing until just moistened. Reserve 1 ½ cups pumpkin batter. Grease muffin tins, or use papers. Fill cups about half full. Put in a dollop of cream cheese mixture. Cover with the rest of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. (Can also be made as a loaf: fill loaf pan about half way full, add cream cheese mixture, top with reserved batter. Cut through the batter a few times with a knife to swirl it. Bake for 70 minutes)


Nazarina A said...

What a good combination (the cream cheese and the pumpkin! Perfect for the season! I can never stop looking at the leaves in the Fall, it is beautiful, very much like your dish!

Sarah said...

Dickinson, one of my favorites! I, too, married my husband in October out of my love for this month and autumn continues to be the best season of the year for me. Your pumpkin muffins look wonderful!