Monday, October 31, 2011

Parent's Revenge: The How-To for Evil

At the end of the day, have you ever dreamed of horrible retribution towards your darling, loving, cute, sweet children? Before you put your hand over your mouth in shock and look at me as if I just transformed into a hideous monster, relax! We’ve all felt it, we’ve all thought about it, and we have all yearned for it. Just once, you want to see that look of terror you always wear when your teenager walks out the door to “go hang out”.

I’ll let you in on a little secret; Halloween is not merely an ancient pagan practice to celebrate the night the dead wander. It’s also becomes the night you can get your yearly dose of well-earned revenge for all the stomach-churning stunts they have pulled on you simply by being kids.

It has been a few years, but being as this is Halloween, I thought I'd share how I got mine a few years ago! Do you want to know how I did it? (insert evil, cackling laughter)

Okay, first of all, I recommend you wait until they are at least thirteen years old before you attempt this. I was able to hold off until they were fourteen, but it was hard, let me tell you. However, I needed that time to recruit a couple of partners in crime.

I suggested the boys put on a Halloween party, and I would host it. Now, you would think they would be suspicious right then, knowing me so well. But no, their bright, innocent eyes lit up at the thought of junk food, movies, and boisterous fun. The boys immediately started calling friends who already had rings coming out of every orifice in their bodies, and telling them they were having a “goth” party and to dress appropriately, all black with black kohl-rimmed eyes, blood red lips, the whole shebang. I asked, “But this is supposed to be a costume party, isn’t it?” They failed to see the sarcasm.

As those two huddled in the oldest boy room planning totally inappropriate activities for the night, I made my own phone calls. I simply said, “It’s on,” and then hung up to deep laughter coming from the other end of the line. Little did my little darlings know what was in store.

On that fateful night, everything was in place. I set up the mood as soon as they walked into our rural yard. The old, discarded mannequin I had found in a garbage dumpster in back of a city department store, hanging from a tree by its neck. There was a stuffed mask of a dead man lying on a tree stump that we used for a chopping block for firewood, complete with red theatre blood and axe, its blade imbedded deep right by the throat. I had also hidden an ancient cassette player in a tree with pre-recorded cackling laughter noises (which I do naturally, so it wasn’t a stretch when I made it) playing to set the mood. I watched them walk up the drive to the house. It was hard, suppressing my mirth as they stopped dead and then giggled nervously, walking to the back door with caution.

The mood was set. It was time to turn up the heat a little.

As they settled in and sat around, scoffing down the packaged chips, drinking the canned pop and ignoring my carefully prepared homemade food that even hinted at being healthy, I looked out the window to see two large, shadowy figures slink out of the neighbour’s house to the farmer’s field behind my house. I suppressed the smile and turned to announce, “There is a scavenger hunt scheduled in the farmer's field in back, so finish up your food and I’ll explain how it works.”

My youngest was excited as he told everyone, “Yeah, and Mom has great prizes for the winners.” Little did my dearest know that the prizes were simply camouflage; it was a lure. But it worked, teenagers being the greedy little creatures that they are.

I led my unsuspecting victims to the dark field rimmed in bush consisting of spruce trees and popular, forbidding in the dark. I made sure I took them down the pathway closest to the woods as I handed out the slips of paper leading them to further clues. Every once a while creepy sounds emanated from those trees, and glimpses of white could be seen slipping between the spaces of the bare branches.

I noticed the kids were becoming increasingly nervous, to the point of forgetting they hated adults within feet of them and started to huddle close to me.

Screams erupted from all around me as a white-faced man, with one arm gone and dripping blood suddenly broke from the woods and ran right across our path, followed quickly by the startling sound of a chainsaw coming from the forest wall, and then a crazed, heavily jacketed man with a white hockey mask ran after the first one, yelling angrily and brandishing the chainsaw. Two girls and all of the boys turned and fled, running as fast as they could back to the house, but one girl just stood beside me, frozen and whimpering, “I have to pee, I have to pee.”

I hurried the girl back to the house behind the others and she immediately went into the bathroom as the other huddled on the couches. “Was it real, Mom, was it real?” I was so tempted to lead them on, but I reluctantly told them it was part of the fake scavenger hunt. As they all settled down and I put on a movie, (of course, it had to be a Freddy Kruger movie), the next part of the plot was put in motion. Before slipping out of the house, I noticed the boys had happy grins with the girls arm-clinging and head-shoulder-resting to comfort themselves.

I placed the mask inspired by the “Scream” movie on my face and waited. I could just hear the progress of the movie through the window in the livingroom. Thank Heaven it was a warm night. Just at the right moment, I threw myself against the window, the mask plastered against the window in the spare shine of the porch lamp. More shrill cries of horror filled me with joy. The same girl ran to the bathroom again. I couldn’t help think as I wandered back into the house that her mother really should look into that girl’s loose bladder problem.

The kids turned off the movie early, insisting it was old, they had seen it, they knew how it ended, all the excuses that, by mutual silent consent they would all believe, and went down to the basement to the sleeping bags scattered on the floor. I had no worries about anything happening; they were all too scared to be thinking of romance, anyway. They were too busy checking each nook and cranny down there, making sure there were no more surprises waiting for them. Besides, they knew I would be lurking closely.  

My husband came in the back door as I poured the tea, traces of white face paint still clinging to his jaw where he had missed washing it off and his miraculously re-generated arm in the bloody sleeve. We settled on the couch and decided to watch TV and relax. After a few minutes, he asked, “So, how did it go?”

A sweet, content smile crossed my lips as I raised my teacup. “Quite gratifying. I see you and Dave managed to get the chainsaw working.”

“Yep. It turned out good, eh?” he grinned.

“Mmmm…” I hummed as I sipped my well-earned, honey-sweetened tea and watched as a lioness crept across the TV screen, teaching her young how to hunt.

“Next year, it’s my turn to watch the fun,” he informed me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Explaining Canadian Thanksgiving

"O hushed October morning mild, 
Begin the hours of this day slow 
Make the day seem to us less brief." 
Robert Frost

Ah, I love three day weekends! Only bad thing is, I get stuck doing all the cooking. I’m such a sucker for ingratiating flattery like “No one makes dinners like you do”. Aside from the fact it’s probably true, they just don’t want to cook.

Not only is it Thanksgiving in Canada, but I also found out that it’s Columbus Day in the States. Who knew? So, no matter what side of the border you are on, this is bound to be a great weekend.

All I know is nothing touches my table that is not fresh gathered from our garden in the spirit of the harvest, and everyone contributes a little bit of anything that they grew or picked through the season and I cook it. Our turkey is free range and we get it from a friendly local farm family just down the road from us, the apples picked from the trees and the wild cranberries gathered from the bush in August and frozen, then cooked into sauce. We even fresh bake multi-grained breads, some plain and some savory.

For our American cousins who seem perplexed to find out other countries have Thanksgiving celebrations, here is a little history that may not be so surprising if you know anything about us Canucks. The origin of our Thanksgiving is much more diverse since Canada was primarily settled by English and French settlers, and thus two separate traditions were born. The French who settled in Quebec also had a great feast to give thanks called "The Order of Good Cheer" and gladly shared their food with their Indian neighbours, the Mi’kmaqs, even seating their chief at the head of the table. It was often the native peoples who provided the geese, venison, caribou and moose which were the main meat dishes served. In this case, I freely admit the French were probably smarter than us English.

It may, however, surprise you to learn that Canadian Thanksgiving is more closely connected with European traditions than they are to our neighbours on the other side of the 49th parallel. In fact, celebrations and festivals of thanks for a successful harvest have been going on for centuries and usually in the month of October. The first one in North America was when Martin Frobisher, an English explorer looking for the north-west passage (he was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him; Frobisher Bay), wanted to celebrate his safe arrival to the New World in 1578. In fact, this shows that the first Thanksgiving was held 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, it is generally reported that this celebration was held in Newfoundland, which came a surprise to me. First-hand accounts from those who sailed with Frobisher mentioned three actual voyages in 1576, 1577 and 1578, and nowhere was there mention of him landing in Newfoundland. Some of the ships were damaged or sunk by large ice floes before they reached their destination, while others were forced to turn back. George Best, a sailor with Frobisher, mentions sailing from England to Greenland and from there to locations in the Far North. State papers later report that the ship did drop anchor offshore in “A Newfound Land”. They also use the name Labrador, which is part of today’s province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Referencing the Canadian Encyclopedia, it mentions the Eastern Arctic as the location, not Newfoundland. On the other hand, the on-line version of the Encyclopedia Britannica claims the first Thanksgiving in North America was celebrated at Newfoundland. I suppose it’s up the reader who they want to believe; personally, I’ll go with the firsthand accounts of the sailors and our own reference material. But the date and the people involved are not in dispute.

It certainly is an enigma, isn’t it? Canadian history is often contrary and encompassed in mystery. There is much more to this, but why bore you even more than I have already?

And one more note which seems to be a point of confusion; it is held in October because it’s logical, since we follow the ancient Harvest Festivals; our growing season is shorter and in sooner in the Great White North. Our Southern counterparts, the Americans, have a longer growing season and also celebrate Thanksgiving for a different reason; the pilgrims first year of survival at Plymouth, MA.

To be fair, we did inherit our pumpkin pie (which I excel at making, by the way) and the turkey from Americans, during the American Revolutionary War. Some were British loyalists who escaped up to Canada, bringing these traditions with them and which we happily adopted. For a few years after that, we made it a national holiday in early November or late October until 1931 when Thanksgiving and Armistice Day was separated (we celebrated them together), and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day (November 11th). Then on January 31, 1957, it was declared by Parliament that the second Monday in October would from herein be "a Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the Bountiful harvest with which Canada has been Blessed."

Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated with foods fresh from the harvest, friends and family being central to the festivities. Many may not be aware of how we come to celebrate this occasion, but the day is meant to be thankful for every little thing that we are lucky to have, the bountiful harvest that this land yields, and the incredible freedom from strife that many of us take for granted.

If you are curious about a different culture, here is how you can experience a Canadian Thanksgiving:

Attend the religious services of your choice. Thanksgiving in Canada is, amongst other things, a semi-religious festival celebrating a bountiful harvest. It is similar to the Harvest Festivals held at many churches throughout Great Britain. It also has similarities to the Jewish Sukkot harvest celebration.

Go for a hike outdoors, or you could alternately go for a weekend camping trip. The three-day weekend that marks Canadian Thanksgiving is often seen as the last chance to get outdoors and enjoy the glorious fall weather before winter sets in. We have often done this, along with great fishing and less crowds. Have lots of firewood; you're going to need it!

Have a Canadian movie marathon. You can rent contemporary Canadian movies like "The Triplets of Belleville" or "Dragon Boys", old classics like "Rose Marie" with Jeanette MacDonald and singing Mountie Nelson Eddy, a new classic like "Gunless" (hilarious, by the way) and “Canadian Bacon”; TV shows like "Due South", re-runs of SCTV (especially Bob and Doug MacKenzie in “The Great White North”), or even cartoons like "Rocky and Bullwinkle”. It may even give you a bit of insight into our self-depreciating humour. And don't forget the onion rings and poutine (recipe available upon request).

Decorate the house with fresh flowers in autumn colors like reds, oranges and yellows.

Prepare a Canadian Thanksgiving feast. This may include traditional dishes well-known in the US. You can be sure to cook fresh cranberries into a sauce spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and pumpkin pie. You can also include some regional touches such as the French-Canadian meat pie called tortiere, or maple-apple crisp (again, recipe available upon request).

Watch a Canadian Football League (CFL) game on TV. In Canada, the games played on Thanksgiving Day are the only games played on a Monday apart from the Labour Day Classic.

To one and all...HAPPY THANKSGIVING!