Saturday, October 30, 2010

"The Halloween Tree" Chapter 18

We are so close to the end, I can almost taste it!

And in this chapter we get a little taste (am I good or am I good?) of what Halloween is like in Mexico.  As the boys begin to descend and draw nearer to their landing, they can see that all the graveyards are full of candlelight.
"Is that the way they celebrate--"
"El Dia de los Muertos.  How's your grade school Spanish, Tom?"
"The Day of the Dead Ones?"
"Caramba, si!"
The kite disassembles once more and the boys land on a shore of a lake.  In the distance, through the mists, they can see a tall hooded figure standing on a small boat, slowly moving toward them.

They realize that Moundshroud is no longer by their side, and that the hooded figure must be him.  But he doesn't say anything.  He only gestures them inside the boat, and they float quietly along towards an island in the middle of the lake.
Far off on that dark island, there was a prickle of guitar sound.
A single candle was lit in the graveyard.
Somewhere someone blew a musical sound on a flute.
Another candle was lit among the tombstones.
Someone sang a single word of a song.
A third candle was touched to life by a flaming match.
And the faster the boat moved, the more guitar notes sounded and the more candles were lit high among the mounds on the stony hills.  A dozen, a hundred, a thousand candles flared until it looked as if the great Andromeda star cluster had fallen out of the sky and tilted itself to rest here in the middle of almost-midnight Mexico.
They get to shore and Moundshroud disappears again.  They follow the sounds of singing and guitars, until they are led right to a graveyard, bursting with life!
By every grave was a woman kneeling to place gardenias or azaleas or marigolds in a frame upon the stone.
By every grave knelt a daughter who was lighting a new candle or lighting a candle that had just blown out.
By every grave was a quiet boy with bright brown eyes, and in one hand a small papier-mache funeral parade glued to a shingle, and in the other hand a papier-mache skeleton head which rattled with rice or nuts inside.
Plates of cookies were placed on the gravesides, and the boys all decided that Mexican Halloween was better than the one they knew.  Tom thought it was interesting that he hardly ever visited the graveyards, and especially not at night... yet here, it was a party.

They hear someone singing "Cuevos de los Muertos" which Tom translates as "the skulls of the dead."  They see that the voice singing is the voice of a vendor selling candy skulls.  Even under the sombrero, the boys can tell that this vendor is really Moundshroud.
"Names! Names!" sang the old Vendor.  "Tell me your name, I give you your skull!"
"Tom," said Tom.
The old man plucked forth a skull.  On it, in huge letters was written:
Tom took and held his own name, his own sweet edible skull, in his fingers.
Every boy has a candy skull all his own.  Ralph, Henry-Hank, Fred, George, Hackles, J.J., and Wally all catch their skulls as Moundshroud tosses them out.  But before they can take a bite, a group of Mexican boys run up and take the skulls from them.  The boy who takes Tom's skull candy is named Tomas.
"Hey," said Tom.  "He sorta looked like--me!"
"Did he?" said the Vendor of the Skulls.
Enrique takes Henry-Hank's.  Jose Juan takes J.J.'s.  Moundshroud tells them to chase after their Mexican clones to see what they are up to.  So they run out of the graveyard and into the plaza.  Suddenly all the lights of the stores turn on and firecrackers are being thrown in the streets.  Everywhere are pictures of people drawn to look like skeletons.  Toy skeletons are being sold in the streets.
Never before had the boys seen so many--bones!
"Bones!" laughed everyone.  "Oh,
lovely bones!"

"Hold the dark holiday in your palms,
Bite it, swallow it and survive,
Come out the far black tunnel of El Dia de Muerte
And be glad, ah so glad you are...alive!
They see the Mexican boys run towards their individual families, and Tom begins to think out loud.
"Oh, strange funny strange," whispered Tom.
"What?" said Ralph at his elbow.
"Up in Illinois, we've forgotten what it's all about.  I mean the dead, up in our town, tonight, heck, they're forgotten.  Nobody remembers.  Nobody cares.  Nobody goes to sit and talk to them.  Boy, that's lonely.  That's really sad.  But here--why, shucks.  It's both happy and sad.  It's all firecrackers and skeleton toys down here in the plaza and up in that graveyard now are all the Mexican dead folks with the families visiting and flowers and candles and singing and candy... Oh, heck, Ralph."
And that's when Tom realizes that they haven't seen Pipkin at all since they've been in Mexico.  He's popped up unexpectedly everywhere else.  But not here.  At this moment, Tom realizes that he may never see Pipkin again.  He shivers...

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