Winning the Mildred, and other highlights of the season

Halloween brought a respite from storms, as Mount Baker towered over Skagit Valley blueberry fields ablush with autumn color.

GETTING OFF OF THE ROCK means even more to me these days when it includes an actual social event, with real people who are all vaccinated and not wearing masks.

Well, there were a few masks at the social event of which I speak, but not the kind you’re thinking.

Halloween was a treat last Sunday, as it always should be, and moreso this year because it brought the almost-post-COVID return of the annual Burns Family Halloween Party, a highlight of the social year for me and my late wife’s family since, oh, probably the late 1970s. The pandemic caused its cancellation in 2020.

Mary and her monster. Note the clay heart in Lillian’s hand, and the jumper cables hanging from my pocket.

Since its inception, it has been a highly competitive costume party, with a trophy awarded. The legend is that my sister-in-law Kathleen went to Goodwill decades ago and acquired an old bowling trophy that had been awarded to a woman named Mildred. Kathleen replaced the bowling figure with a little waxen witch on a broomstick. Thus was born the Mildred Award for Best Costume, which has been passed around among champions of the sartorially macabre for lo these many years.

Barbara and I took the competition seriously, and over the years came up with thematic costumes that paired together. I was Ichabod Crane and she was the Headless Horseman. I was Edgar Allan Poe, she was the Raven. To mark the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mount Everest, I was an ice-ax wielding Jim Whittaker and Barbara was a crazed-looking, prayer-flag-bedecked yeti. (Thanks to friend Suzy Burton, who has compiled this digital album of costumes from the party over the decades.)

It was tough this year without Barbara. But she was sweetly memorialized in the elaborately decorated Day of the Dead altar that my sister-in-law Margaret always creates as a comforting adjunct to the Halloween celebration. And daughter Lillian stepped up with a brilliant costume pairing idea: She went as “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley, circa 1818, and I was Shelley’s monstrous, galumphing literary creation.

In keeping with the spooky holiday, Mary Shelley fit right in. Not only did she create one of history’s iconic creatures of every kid’s bad dreams, she was certifiably odd in her own way. After her husband, the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, drowned at a young age in a boating accident, she is said to have carried his preserved heart with her wherever she went. So Lillian molded an authentic-looking human ticker from modeling clay and carried it around at the party.

Like the Addams Family, we were creepy. We were kooky. We were altogether ooky. We won the Mildred.

Halloween weekend offered a welcome sunny and calm break from the gales and rainstorms that have beset us of late. It was but a respite, however. As I write this in Nuthatch cabin, the towering firs and maples outside my wall of windows sway alarmingly in high winds. The lowering sun, just emerging from rainclouds, flickers through the teetering trees like a blinding locomotive headlight of cold, pastel yellow. Cast in stark shadow, waving branches bearing autumn’s last leaves dance enchantingly across my cabin wall.

It’s November in the Northwest. I enjoy clement weather, but when I think on it, to live without seasons would be, well, monstrous.

4 thoughts on “Winning the Mildred, and other highlights of the season

  1. Congratulations to both of you for winning the coveted Mildred! P.S. Re: Erratta — who says the copy editor is a “him”?! 😁


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