Monday, October 31, 2011

the stone, the string, the bone and the ring.

It's Halloween Night, the oldest holiday we still celebrate together. Older than Christmas, Valentines, or St. Patrick's. Truth is, along before the St. Patrick, the Torah, or the Koran were even written there were the bonfires lighting the skies tonight in the land of my heritage: Europe. I'm only an 1/8 Irish (if that, possibly less) and that small bit comes from a man from Connemara who married a gypsy who lived in a boxcar. I'll explain shortly, but for now, listen to my story and why Halloween is the most important night of the year to this shepherd.

Most of my family comes from Slovakia. I am more Slovak than anything else. We come from a tribe called the Windish, a rural and nomadic people. We're Catholics as of recent, but we all know that's a fairly new religion in the history of our species. Before there was monotheism, there were gypsies and various pagan tribes. I know little about my historical religious roots but I do know that the gypsies had a way with fiddles and horses, and while I am just a raw student of both, they call to me. They feel like a place I belong, something I was born into. They call to me in the Autumn more than ever.

Some of my Christian readers do not observe Halloween, and I hope this post will not offend them. Honestly, with what the day has become over the last few decades I can hardly blame them. What was once a night to celebrate the end of the harvest, reverence for the dead, fear of the unknown, and welcoming the contemplative time of winter has since been twisted into an idol worship in equal parts of sex, violence, and high fructorose corn syrup.

That is not my Holiday. My Hallow's is a night of quiet realization that I am a dying animal, a part of a larger story, and made awake and aware of a beautiful chance to live this life following what feels real and meaningful. This all comes alive for me tonight. I have to take it easy to keep all the emotion in.

My October 31st is a quiet day of memories and reflection. It is a time to mourn friends and family lost over the past year, to death or other means, such as arguments and disappointments. I am quiet for most of the evening. I do chores to music, thinking. I come inside and eat dinner in silence. I carve a pumpkin because it's both a symbol of luck, hope, and light. A jackolantern to me is a lantern of the farm. Something grown and enjoyed to light a path or be eaten up in a pie. It is food and light, the two things us humans are most drawn too.

Here is a story for a cold night.

The only reason I am here today is because a woman named Anna Jumbar. She left her Czechoslovakian parents in the post-Civil War era of the 19th century, and she left alone. She came to America with no man, no money, and no real plan. She landed in eastern Pennsylvania (a mostly Irish occupied area—miners around Jim Thorpe and such—but with a growing eastern European flavor), and was shunned. No one would hire her for work. Frankly, they thought she was crazy. After all, what sane woman left for the other side of the world alone at 18?

So she stayed at the train station she landed in and when an abandoned boxcar made itself known to her, she asked if the station agent if she could use it. He was either apathetic or empathetic, but he obliged. She turned it into a restaurant, and soon it became a networking site for immigrants. She created a community, because she was alone. She created what she needed. One day a scrappy Irishman came into her diner car, and sat down to dinner alone. His name was Stephen Comer. She knew this would be her husband, so she joined him for dinner. They were married in the Lansford Church shortly after.

If I ever have a daughter, her name will be Anna. I will tell her this story in a dining car. Her father will probably come from a place not far from Connemara. Not everything is a straight line in this world. Some stories are circles, you see.

On this night of memories and grace, I thank you Anna. I am shaking in thanks for what you overcame and accomplished: A crossed ocean, a community, new love, a boxcar, a family in a new world.... On this calm night in upstate New York, I will light the candle in my jack o'lantern for you because this is what my mother taught me to do. Every Sunday after mass we'd light a candle to remember the dead. This one is in a pumpkin on a sheep farm on a cold night. There are no priests here to bless it, you'll just have to trust me. Instead of a church, you have a wood stove on a farm that isn't really sure how the next mortgage payment will be made on time. But I have a feeling you would be okay with that. I have a feeling, you would like this place.

This is my Halloween. It is quiet and honest, tears and regrets, memories and hope. It is the holiest night of the year because f what is poured into my heart. I hope tonight you found some of that, too. Maybe not in a boxcar, but in your child's smile walking around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. Or maybe in old scrapbooks, journals, or emails from a lost love or old friend. Just know this day is more than candy corn and horror movies, friends. It is our past and everything we will be. At least to me it is. And it reminds me how short this fine life is. I should dance more.

I'll leave you with the song I listen and sing to every Hallows for the last few years. It is the entire meaning of the day in a few minutes. I hope you will listen to it with someone you love in mind.

A Happy and Blessed Halloween to you all.


Blogger PansWife said...

That was lovely, Jenna. May all your Halloweens be as rich.

October 31, 2011 at 9:31 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

What a beautiful story. I wonder if it's Anna's guidance that's leading you on this incredible journey of yours.

October 31, 2011 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

This day is sacred to me. It's my beloved Gramps' birthday. He slipped beyond the veil 7 years ago, but if he were still here, we'd be celebrating his 90th birthday today.

Today, I am quietly celebrating the 83 years he spent on this earth, (33 of which I shared with him) quietly doing his part to build this country and better the lives of those around him. He was a fine man, the likes of which this world will not see again.

I like to think that perhaps on this night when the veil between the living and the dead is lifted, he might make his prescence known. I miss him every single day.

October 31, 2011 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger admin said...

I love your Halloween tradition for its reflective, peaceful quality—and I don’t think it’s a coincidence you’re a horse loving fiddle player!

The older I get the more I appreciate and embrace my heritage, and thus gotten so I can appreciate my family’s tradition for this night so that I will pass it on to my children, both reflective aspects and dark undertone. My family is split between very nice people and very dark (mean spirited/violent, etc…) people for a long ways back—I prefer to think I’m among the nice. It is a mixture of mountain lore melded together from other traditions woven by the Scottish ancients that resulted in belief that the spirits of the dead were let lose to roam the Earth on this night and that the especially dark family members who have passed would make it a point to seek out present day family in an attempt to possess them and have another run at life. I remember my grandmother telling me this in all seriousness at a young age (she was one of the dark one’s and she even seemed excited about the possibility of reincarnation). On Halloween night we would light a nice sized fire outside and in jack-o-lanterns as a family in hopes that the good ones would find their way to a relative for a short hello and all would be light hearted, but then snuff it all out by 10:00 when it was believed the bad one’s would be let lose upon the Earth through the witching hours and then go inside and make sure all the windows were shut for the evening. Traditions! Tonight I’m going to enjoy the fire burner on the patio with some friends and some family thinking about a few of the nice ones, then make it a point to snuff out my jack-o-lanterns before ten and keep my windows closed just in case the dark ones are lurking in the clouds.

October 31, 2011 at 10:37 PM  
Blogger Mama Forestdweller said...

This is just a gorgeous post - thanks for much for writing it. What a beautiful story to own as your history - I love it!

I celebrate this day in a similar fashion, honoring those gone before. As years pass I see such beauty in this holiday and this time of year. It seems that I feel my ancestors calling me every autumn, now. I keep writing about it on my blog, too, because I can't stop thinking about it...!

Happy All Hallows to you!

October 31, 2011 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger JD Lynn said...

A happy and blessed Halloween to you, Jenna.

You can't know what an inspiration you have been to me lately, but I am thankful.

October 31, 2011 at 11:37 PM  
Blogger cynthia said...

i so agree with Panswife this was a lovely posting and gives me strength to read it to try to live it. I wish i had and Anna in my past.

October 31, 2011 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger cynthia said...

i so agree with Panswife this was a lovely posting and gives me strength to read it to try to live it. I wish i had an Anna in my past.

October 31, 2011 at 11:44 PM  
Blogger cynthia said...

sorry for the double posting.. cynthia

October 31, 2011 at 11:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

On the night the veil thinned 30 years ago, I went on a date with the man I later married. He passed 9 years ago.

On this night I think of that date, our lives together, the love we shared, and my gratitude for a truly divine soulmate.

This night is sacred to me.

November 1, 2011 at 12:17 AM  
Blogger David Shearer said...

Some of your best writing yet on this blog. Speaking from the heart, good work Jenna.

November 1, 2011 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Beautiful Jenna... :) I loved the story of your heritage.

Hallows is a special day to me as well, for many of the same reasons as you. You have put into words what I have always failed to do. Thank you.

November 1, 2011 at 1:01 AM  
Blogger embracingitall said...

Beautifully written Jenna. Like so many traditions, it seems commercilisation has taken over what is otherwise a beautiful and meaningful ceremony. Here in Australia people try to cash in on Halloween, but like every other celebration that orginiated in the Nothern Hemisphere, it is out of whack and doesn't fit in with our seasons. Jacinta

November 1, 2011 at 6:13 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

For want of a better word, Amen.

November 1, 2011 at 6:35 AM  
Blogger Jude said...

Beautiful story.

Your grandmother was very brave. Do you know which part of the Habsburg Empire she left? (Czechoslovakia didn't exist until the twentieth century.)

I was in Slovakia many years ago, in Bratislava and then the foothills of the Carpathians. Very beautiful and wild. Have you ever visited?

November 1, 2011 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

I agree with David, that was by far one of your best postings. Just lovely. Thank you for sharing!

November 1, 2011 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger Life Coach said...

I was moved by your post. As a Christian I do not observe Halloween the way most do. You, my dear, wrote from what was deep within and I was very moved. We don't know our history well enough and tend to through the 'baby out with the bathwater' when it comes to this night. Let us remember those we love, light a single, or 10, candles and settle into the moment of tears and joy in the memories of those who helped us become who we are today. Walk on.

November 1, 2011 at 8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blessed Samhain, Jenna!!! What a beautiful post.

November 1, 2011 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Drummond Farms Alpacas and Woolens said...

What a lovely message and when reading what others offered, I say that these were lovely too. Thank you for sharing your blessings.

November 1, 2011 at 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't thank you enough for sharing this, the perspective, the story, the song, it means more to me than I can describe hear. Hope your night was blessed.

November 1, 2011 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger ddu said...

We should all dance more. I'll do a turn in honor of Anna, courageous woman.

November 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger sash said...


November 1, 2011 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

I love this post.

In our family Halloween has always been about creativity and friends. It celebrates that which we can make and enjoy with the people we love most. This is how we honor our ancesters as we come from a long line of creative people who expressed their creativity in every day life. The strangest thing is to see those traditions come to life in my children. Every year my boys come up with some idea that they persue with ferver. My oldest tramped around our whole neighborhood on stilts in a "Slender Man" costume that he made himself and delighted kids and grown-ups alike. Nothing makes my heart sing like watching my almost 16-year-old son sew a costume with a needle and thread!!!

Our neighborhood attracts many families from all around. We have a small college on our street and the students pull their cars around and do "trunk-or-treat". Another neighbor makes a haunted house. It's a wonderful time to see all of our neighbors and friends before the cold air pushes everyone inside for the winter. We always drag our fire pit out front and invite people (especially teenagers who certainly whined at their parents "I won't be cold") to warm themselves up.

I am moved by the community that decorates for their neighbors to have fun and by the people who welcome kids from several neighborhoods with a wink and an extra piece of candy. I love that one teenaged boy was saying to his friends "I was thinking we could get warm for a minute by the fire, but noooooo, we have to go get more candy".

Slender Man came home with blisters on his toes (he wore the stilts without shoes it turns out)and a headache (from the stocking over his head?) and about ten pieces of candy. He was so happy I could hardly believe it.

Halloween for us is about celebrating who we are. Remembering where we came from and where we live. Connecting with our friends and neighbors. Being generous with little children and knowing that the kids who are too big but are trick-or-treating anyway are youngsters hanging on to childhood in the face of becoming adults in a scarey world. We love them all.

At the end of the night when everyone is back inside their own homes we sit by the fire a little longer with a few friends. It was a great night. Winter is coming. We'll need to look out for each other. We miss those who are gone. It's November 1st.

November 1, 2011 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Deb Naydan said...

Wow, Jenna, you have such an excellent way of writing. Something about that gypsy violin calls to me, as well.

November 1, 2011 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger DarcC said...

Amazing post Jenna. Thank you for sharing.

November 1, 2011 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger Mary said...


The true spirit of Halloween.

November 1, 2011 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger damnyankee said...

You are a beautiful & talented writer Jenna....

November 1, 2011 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger Christee said...

Jenna, that post was such an eye-opener for me. I knew what Halloween started as but I had lost sight of it's true meaning. You helped to remind me of the importance of it and to show me how I will celebrate next year. I was truly moved by your words, thank you for that.

November 1, 2011 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger melinamarie said...

So proud of Anna. I can see you have strong relatives. I really enjoyed this story and your take on Halloween.

November 1, 2011 at 7:25 PM  
Blogger Campbell Kids said...

Well done, Jenna...the twists and turns of life in beautiful prose. I think we do feel the pull of where our ancestors came from...for you it's the fiddle. It's the bagpipes that speak to me from the land of my McGregor ancestors. Aye! Scotland!

Keep on writing, Jenna. Somewhere along the way, I'd venture to say there was a writer in your family - as mine - one who couldn't help but put pen to paper and thoughts down in the process...


November 2, 2011 at 12:30 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

I loved that story Jenna. You are a beautiful woman.

November 2, 2011 at 12:49 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Today is Dia de los Muertos. I'm thinking of several special people today, including my Grandmother, who only just passed away yesterday. Days like these, when I think about those who have left us, I always discover new ways that they have impacted my life. It never fails to surprise and delight me.

November 2, 2011 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I love this post! I really enjoy how you enjoy this holiday in it's true fashion. You've always got such a great perspective to offer, I'm so thankful that you blog.

November 2, 2011 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger jules said...

My mother's family too, came from the Slovakian side of the country. Hard working farmers. You make me want to explore my heritage more now.

On my father's side, it is said that his mother's mother was a gypsy. I'm not sure if they meant a gypsy gypsy, or a gypsy homeless person. I need to do more research.

Love the history of Halloween. I'd like to observe it as you do, with thoughtful reflection.

Thanks, Jenna.

November 2, 2011 at 4:28 PM  

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