©photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman—click photo for her blog

Daylight Saving Time remained in effect on Halloween, so a sky of scattered clouds was unusually bright.  We’d spent the afternoon at Thomas and Heather’s across the street, eating pizza straight from the wood oven in their backyard, surrounded by our neighbors and their kids.  All the women were cold and stayed close to the fire. Dogs fed at dropped crusts. Football on the front lawn, basketball at the back of the drive.

When it was time for costumes the parents with little ones went off to get ready.  At six, I poured a beer into a red cup, pulled a cigar from the downstairs freezer, one of two I’ll smoke all year. I put the dog on the leash and set out behind four 11- and 12-year-olds.  I used to have to go, to look after the children.  During the last two Halloweens my oldest friend walked with me.  Before that, I’d be with my neighbor Dan and always my Dad would appear beside us in one of his masks.  This year the boys didn’t need me, though I helped keep them efficiently away from the dark houses (they always held out hope), and they unanimously hated the cigar.  But really, they were on their own—“Dude, I can’t believe you went for the Almond Joy instead of the Skittles”—so it was really just me and the dog (tie dyed T-shirt this year, the cape last year never stayed on).  And an extraordinary sky.  Deep deep blue, cold air, steel-gray clouds that were half electric pink from the falling sun.  I could see the steeple of St. Mary’s hit full on with yellow.  The last pink sugar maple leaves hanging on. Oranges and browns taking over. The air smelling of piles of leaves raked to the curb.  On Halloween it has always been dark.  I’d never seen such bright clouds.

Halloween was my dad’s favorite holiday.  When we were very young, he and his pal Bill up the street followed us and smoked a cigar and drank beer (which is why I did).  When he’d follow his grandkids, he’d wear one of any number of scary masks.  This afternoon, I had been surrounded by the people who, with family and a few deep friends, matter most to me, my neighbors, the people who surround my family with their families.  I followed my son and his friends door to door, adults stooping to offer candy. James, bless him, was an eggplant.  Don’t know why. He’s no fan of eating them.  There were capes and masks, sombreros and bloody swords as well.  And when they’d come back round to our house, they stopped only for candy, then peeled off for more streets and I watched them go, to be with Donna, just home from New York and handing out candy, squatting to praise a four-year-old skunk and her skunk mom, to admire the wings of a butterfly.  My daughter, once a bunny, once a princess, is now 15, and has been gone all weekend, off with best friends.  James will be doing that, too, soon—or rather, too soon.

My last Halloween walk, alone in this unusual light, missing my dad.

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62 Wonderful responses to “Halloween 2010: The Last Walk”

  • maggy@threemanycooks

    What a beautiful post – love the image of the dads walking behind drinking beer and smoking cigars. I also love that your son was an eggplant. Bless him is right!

  • anon

    Michael,
    As a man currently caring for a dog at the end of her life, the combination of the title of this post with the photograph was very upsetting. For what it’s worth…

  • Skip

    A really moving post, Michael. I think it’s a great sad-wonderful thing how our passed loved ones populate the holidays and special events in our lives. It honors them and shows our love.

  • Carole

    I think it’s slightly sad that you couldn’t walk around the block without a beer in your hand. And how delightful for your neighbors that you stank the whole place up with a cigar.

    • Michael

      I’m going to assume that you missed the part where he explained that this was a nod to his late father and the traditions of the past, rather than assume you’re just an incredibly judgemental person with no sense of nostalgia. Hopefully you’d prefer to be mistaken for illiterate than insensitive.

    • Joshua

      I think its incredibly sad that you took the time to bring hate and negativity to a post that is both heart warming and heartbreaking. Congratulations on being the turd on the punch bowel. To the writer…well said.

    • craigkite

      I am sure that the odor would be worse if suffering from anal-cranial inversion.

    • Matthew

      And, with all due respect, I think it’s slightly sad that you felt the need to berate Michael for remembering his father.

    • Marijane Raber

      Grow up, Carole. Life is too short. I smoked my first cigar (not exactly attractive for a 39year old exhausted cook) with a dear friend recently rand realized it’s not about the cigar. It’s the ceremony. The time. The moment. The laughs. Smile and enjoy the memories.

  • Victoria

    All the images you describe here are beautiful, and I always cry a little when you talk about your dad.

    Since my dad died four years ago at the end of October, this month – always my favorite – now holds bittersweet memories for me. The end of a long life well-lived is something to be celebrated, not mourned, but still, he was my dad.

    You sound like a great dad yourself. Your kids are lucky. And, just for the record, I love the beer and cigar.

  • Tags

    Pants on the ground
    Pants on the ground
    Left way behind
    that trouserless hound

  • Luanne

    What a great time for reflection, and a great way to honor your father! Sounds like the little eggplant is finding his own way to honor you too.

  • Sam

    Daylight Savings Time’s “Fall Back” has been after Halloween for the last four years, ftr.

  • Kalynskitchen

    What a lovely post. And I find it very sad that some people can’t pass up the chance to be critical, even on a tribute post like this.

    I’m sure your own son will also remember that cigar every year at Halloween. And making memories like that is the best thing about holidays.

  • pam

    How moving. I can only hope that my children will carry memories like this on to adulthood.

  • adele

    Michael, what a lovely way to remember your father. And as another commenter said, it looks like your eggplant, James, wanted to honor you.

    But who knew your dog was a Dead Head? Wasn’t there a film with Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan, called, “Grateful Dawg.” I guess your pooch saw it.

  • Joel

    My family never got together for Halloween. We would trick or treat as kids and that was it. Any time we spend with friends and family is important. I hop we realize this before it is too late.

  • Lisa

    We live in a neighboring town and enjoyed our first Halloween trick or treating with our daughter. We, too, couldn’t believe how beautiful the sky was. What a nice way to remember your dad.

  • Steve

    Cigar from the freezer? This kills me! As the expert in all things culinary and your attention to detail with storing food, I am surprised you store cigars in the freezer. You really shouldn’t ever freeze cigars long-term and unless they are infested with beetles you shouldn’t freeze them short-term either. You can keep a cigar fresh for decades in a cheap humidor (especially in the high humidity of Cleveland). Freezing cigars can easily harm them. After you defrost they rapidly absorb moisture and don’t smoke well, they can’t age when frozen, and unless you are extermely careful in defrosting slowly they become very brittle and may burst. Great article though. Love your books/blog too!

  • Stephanie

    I may be mistaken but after reading the comment, I don’t think “Michael” intended to be judgmental or hateful or negative. Computer messages are toneless so it can be difficult to be certain but it sounded to me like this commenter is feeling rather overwhelmed during a difficult time in his life, and wanted Michael R to know that the title of his post paired with the picture could be interpreted to have a somewhat darker, pointed meaning. And if taken simply at face value, it could. It seems like both men are dealing with loss and both men might need some compassion.

  • Steve

    Lovely post Michael – nice way to honor your Dad.

    One nit – unless you are observing Halloween in Europe, the US changed the last day of DST to the first Saturday in _November_ back in 2007 – so this is actually the FOURTH Halloween that DST has been in effect. The only way the sky was ‘unusually bright’ this year was if it was cloudy the last three Halloweens!

    (see 6th paragraph from this: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1499835.ece)

  • Carole

    I grew up with a alcoholic mother. There was very little she could do without a drink in her hand or a flask in her purse. How many unpleasant memories do I have of mom stumbling around drunk and halloween, christmas, easter. I’m sure your not an alcoholic but you never know what the kids will remember. “Remember when Dad took us trick or treating? Remember how he always had a beer in his hand?”

    • craigkite

      Note to Mr. Ruhlman: Don’t do your piece on eggnog this Christmas. Things could get ugly.

    • ruhlman

      I’d have deleted your post, Carole, because it misses the point of the post, and in fact, distracts from the point, and in an annoying and shrill tone, concerning something I care about intensely. But people had already commented by the time I saw it and I didn’t want to delete multiple posts. That said, I certainly don’t disagree that alcohol can have disastrous effects, even lethal, effects on families, and I’m sorry that it was so harmful to yours.

      • Victoria

        MR, This is such a nice soft reply to what I consider an inappropriate comment. You found a way to express your reaction to it AND reach out in a lovely, non-judgmental way. I’m not sure I could have been as gracious. Good one!

      • Barbara | VinoLuciStyle

        I grew up with an alcoholic mother too but determined to not repeat that in my family has not meant I don’t enjoy a glass (or two) of wine or deny anyone else the pleasure as a result. My kids know the difference and except for that one night and a lot of giggling in the hammock (yes, might have been three glasses that night!) my friends and children have no reason to relive the memories I store deep inside.

        It’s evident you are a man with a strong sense of family and I personally had a sense of comfort reading of your stroll; thank you for sharing.

      • Kristine

        I too grew up with both alcoholic parents. The thought never crossed my mind that there was anything wrong with a beer in hand (in a cup, no less) smoking a cigar (in the outdoors). Nice post, Michael. I’ll be in Cleveland this weekend visiting college roomates and going to the Browns game. Can’t wait.

    • Teresa

      Carole,
      Just because your life was screwed up doesn’t mean everyone else’s will be too. Get some therapy and deal with it.

  • Debra

    Thank you for such a lovely, nostalgic post. I enjoy your writing (as well as your cooking) very much.

  • Rhonda

    Michael, this was a very touching post.

    I was watching a documentary (Quelle surprise!), a couple of days ago on the advertising industry and your father came to mind. I am sure in one form or another he was with you.

    Good on James for being an eggplant. That ROCKS! I can’t believe he doesn’t eat them because when you take the skin off they are white or in the family of white food anyways which you mentioned once was one of his rules. I know, I know, rules are rules…. Although, chocolate chip cookie bowls are not exactly white. ARE THEY, James.

  • Susan

    Moving piece. I recall feeling a little sad and a little nostalgic on that last trick or treat walk, of the passing of each of my children into puberty. When I was a kid, we weren’t allowed to trick or treat after the age of 12, much to my ire at the time, but I set the same standard for my kids. They balked too, but I held firm because of the way I felt as an adult when the teens came to our door; it was and still is, a little scary! I didn’t realize as a child that it sort of shook up the Mom, who was usually home alone giving out the treats while the Dad hoofed around, beer and smoke in hand, with their kids. I think Fathers feel this passage more..since they have no more excuse to go trick or treating again! Kidding about that last part. maybe not!

  • Mike Romeo

    What ever happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? I know you already spend enough time providing interesting and informative pieces for the public to read but I wish there was more moderation of your comments sometimes (as on another of my favorite blogs Alinea@home)! Some of the ridiculous things people feel the need to leave as comments, or point out in general, make me so annoyed for you…I wish you had it set up for our comments to be screened by you before sticking. Even at the risk of losing the reader or two who decide they won’t come back to the site because you denied their “right” to point out some minutia that does no good other than stroke their ego.

    Regardless, I have fond memories of my father taking me out trick -or-treating (even when I really didn’t have the motivation) and it hadn’t yet occurred to me that perhaps he felt like this once, years ago. Thank you!

  • Coley

    I find it extremely fitting that on Halloween which, in tradition, was a day to celebrate the thinning of the barrier between living and dead so our ancestors could grace the earth again, you and your father walked side by side whilst taking your kids out trick or treating. Beautiful post, and it makes me that much more ready to get married and have kids of my own.

    And another thing: if you want a humidor, I have an extra one that I’m willing to send to you if you like. Broke my heart to hear about cigars in the freezer!

    • ruhlman

      That’s an elegant point you make, I hadn’t thought of it. Should have called the post the day of the dead. Thank you.

      And, as with coffee, I’m something of a philistine when it comes to tobacco.

  • Randy

    Mike, well done! My mother died when I was 19 and I am 45 now and there are still things that will come up after all of this time that makes me think of her and miss her. You will have your chance to be your dad someday though when you are the grandpa and you can scare your grandkids!

  • Dan at FoodieLawyer

    What a beautiful, elegantly written post you have given us today. I admire your sense of history and tradition, and I love this site for being so informative and warm at the same time.

  • Rich Sims

    Michael,i’m in culinary school, i spent the better part of the day trying to figure out costing a recipe. It’s now three thirty, my eight year old says daddy when are we going to trick or treat? I say ,what does mommy want to do ?(still confused) Eight year old says mommy’s ready, i drop costing a recipe and spend the next four hours trick or treating. Like every year we come home, count candy and talk about halloween. My daughter had the time of her life, i was a super dad, i still can’t cost recipes but my daughter thinks i’m a good father. This is what it’s all about, nice post.

  • Maven

    Your dad sounds like he was a wonderful man. No one ever tells us the grief involved in being a parent. All the letting go. This year my son is away at college. It was the first year he wasn’t home to hand out candies and it was all I could do just to put out a pumpkin.
    Thank you for a beautiful read.

  • dineindiva

    Lovely post, nice nod to the past, and future memory for you and the eggplant.

    And for the love of Mike, let’s bring back the Golden Rule. I am so sick of the haters.

    Someone on twitter yesterday summed it up nicely – that it was nice to be still be able to read a book because when you get to the end you aren’t faced with pages of hateful comments.

  • Allen

    That is one fine happy looking pooch, keep his tail wagging as long as you can.
    I chain smoked for years and traded it for 40 pounds blubber ten years ago. Although flying commercially and eating out in public is easier I’m not any healthier for it and still have no great sense of taste, so enjoy yourself and the occasional stogie – I have a whole humidor of them in my attic, I can’t stand the smell of them anymore and keep them for geust. I’ve offended plenty in the past so I try to find fresh air if I can or I live with it, life is way to short to worry about that little stuff.

    This was my grandmothers favorite time of the year, I was trying to tell her that spring is when everything comes to life and is new and filled with promise but she was much smarter than me and this fall does make for a very special sunset and sunrise, with that last warm kiss of summer still lingering and getting me closer to that aged eggnogg in my fridge! Next month baby!!

  • Bob

    Jeesh. I’ve always loved halloween, and having little ones makes it all the more enjoyable, but this is the first year I’ve realized that the years go by so fast and it won’t be too long before they are no longer trick or treating. Thanks for reminding me to enjoy it while it lasts!

  • Janet Nelson

    Just got home from working late and thanks for reminding me of my cigar smoking dad and the Halloween he had a rented sheik costume and I was 3 or 4, had no idea it was him as he attempted throwing me over the hill.

  • SBS

    I always find that Fall makes me nostalgic.It must be the crisp air and smell of woodsmoke .I really enjoyed your post.And I am sad that Carole still carries such heavy baggage from her childhood.She needs to move past it and make her own happiness in the present.

  • Patty

    Just finished reading your post Michael and you brought me to my knees. I didn’t expect it. I lost my Dad five years ago. While I remember him often, every once in a while something comes out of left field and levels me. That’s what your piece just did. Right after my Dad died a complete stranger, standing in front of me at the bakery, told me how the intensity of the emotion we feel, when someone we so dearly love dies, never fades but the frequency becomes, well, less frequent. So true. Then a writer who has finesse and eloquence and can get right to the meat of the matter, takes me down. Beautiful writing.
    My Dad smoked one cigarette every Christmas and while he drank beer, he probably would have had a nip or two of scotch in his red cup. Cheers!

  • Saffoula

    I am verklempt. Loved the bridge between the 3 generations and the symbolism. I tend to shy away from the spiritual, but these types of stories make me believe that those who have gone before can still connect with us. My beloved 98-year old grandmotherrecently died on the 13th day of the month. She is the inspiration behind my interest in food and she was a great gardener. The week before she died and the day before she went into the hospital, a catcus that had been in the yard for about 20 years bloomed for the first time. While in the hospital she insisted that my cousin go check out the amazing flowers. The flowers only lasted one day. My cousin missed seeing them at their prime, but when he counted them, there were 13.