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As the wind blows and pumpkins ripen, I have a question: Don't children play hopscotch or jacks anymore?

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Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 12:00 am

Already October is set to leave us (actually, it's "leafing" us the way the wind is blowing as I write!), and Hallowe'en will be here and gone before we know it.

I have been seeing lots of pumpkins about, in fields and as decorations, plus many inflatable witches, ghosts, black cats, etc. People are decorating for Hallowe'en as much as for Christmas, and poor Thanksgiving seems run over in the rush between.

This is a year in which we should be thankful that things are at least in a holding pattern, although the country is in worse shape than at this time last year. A lot of people don't agree with this view, I know, but a lot more do. I wonder where this country will be next year at this time.

Blowing leaves and cooler weather make me nostalgic for Hallowe'ens gone by. (Yes, the apostrophe is correct even though left out these days. E'en stands for "even," a term for evening; another term is All Hallows Eve.) The next day, Nov. 1, is All Saints' Day, when churches honor those who have died. In the old, old days, this time was known as Samhein, marking the light before the coming of the dark winter season. Great bonfires were lit in the countryside to keep the dark at bay as long as possible.

I can't remember much about Hallowe'en during my first eight years in a New York apartment, although I'm sure the little private school I went to marked the day somehow. What I do remember were the Hallowe'ens in Maryland when I lived at my grandmother's house until I was 12 and went off to boarding school.

All of us children who went to the elementary school down in Port Deposit looked forward to Hallowe'en because after lunch we could put on our costumes and parade through town, teachers in tow. We didn't do it to solicit treats, but lots of people came out to watch us and some shopkeepers were forthcoming! Lodi's Downtown is sponsoring something like it this year.

I, like all my best friends, lived in the country, so there was no door-to-door trick-or treating. Instead, our mothers drove us to special homes where we, in costume, threw handfuls of dried corn kernels against the windows until someone came out and invited us in for a treat. One of my favorite places was an old Victorian house just up the dirt road from our place. It was home to four old maid sisters and their friendly little pug dog.

When I knew them, there were only three; I believe the oldest sister had died. Miss Essie was the next oldest, and she was the one who made us cookies. Miss Georgie was the strong one, and the only one who had bobbed her hair. It was she who walked down into town for groceries and back at least once a week. (Of course, in those days ice and milk and some other things were delivered to the door.) Miss Florence probably was older than Georgie, but she was just a friendly presence in the house. She had a slight harelip, and was hard to understand when she spoke.

(These ladies were among those of us who lost their homes when the Navy commandeered the whole area to form the Bainbridge Naval Training Station. I have often wondered where they went and how they managed.)

My best friend and I were sometimes invited to their house for a meal, which was always good and usually different from what we had at home. What we particularly liked was playing on the old parlor organ; one of us pumped the foot pedals and the other tried a tune on the keyboard. The ladies didn't seem to mind the racket; I think it brought some energy to their usually quiet lives.

We also liked the fact that we could slide down their banister; it ran from the attic to the first floor, even though the turns were a little tight. Our house had a banister, but I had to be careful. The one good length ran only from the landing to the first floor and ended in a sharp-edged newel post.

I wonder if anybody ever slides down banisters anymore — or plays hopscotch, jacks, or marbles? Or rolls hoops? Simple pleasures, which involved some physical dexterity and involved more than just pushing buttons.

Two interesting events have marked this month: the meeting to discuss the future of Lodi's Downtown, and the Lodi Community Band's concert at Phillips Farms' pumpkin patch this past Sunday. We were invited to the first and were intrigued to hear about the evaluation of and prognosis for School Street and its environs, and breaking out into small discussion groups resulted in some very different ideas of what should be done first. Signage came first in all groups: indications of where the library, city hall, the theatre, etc. are located; help for new residents or visiting firemen.

The concert played to a good-sized audience, both seated and wandering about. A large white tom turkey was the hit of the show. He strutted up and down the center aisle, sometimes in time. He seemed to like the brisk tunes best. Afterwards, while the band was being served lunch, nearby geese in their pond honked a noisy encore.

Something new has been added: I stopped by Village Florist to see how things were going, and there was a new look to the sales area. Fewer items crowded in have made for wider aisles and a better look at merchandise. Some new, less expensive gifts have been added, also. A really local touch are mouse pads bearing photos of Lodi buildings and special areas, the work of shopkeeper Marsha Yost. She has also conspired with her mother, Alora Lerza, to create inexpensive plastic table mats, featuring a good poem by Alora on the background of a photo of beautiful bunches of purple grapes. Alora, who lives away from Lodi, will be returning soon.

Speaking of poetry, there is a great skill to writing really good poetry. It doesn't have to rhyme, and too many people play havoc with the lines trying to make sense and rhyme at the same time. But there does have to be an even rhythm which makes the words sing, rather than just thump out like they do in sentences — which is prose. Look at the Twenty-Third Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Compare this to a modern translation: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want."

Where's the poetry in that?

Language can be expressive, like floating veils, but there has to be a central point to which these veils are anchored so that a meaning is expressed. Poets shouldn't idly meander towards expressing an idea, but they can take a scenic country road instead of getting on the freeway. Jim Turner writes really good poetry. I wish he would submit one to the">Lodi News-Sentinel.

Gwin Mitchell Paden has lived in Lodi for 52 years. She is known to people here as an English teacher (Lodi High and Delta College), a news reporter (Lodi New-Sentinel and Stockton Record) and as everybody's publicity chairman. She has chaired or been involved in numerous groups and projects. Writing has been a way of life for a while.

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