One year ago today, I was still in school, working at a different job, and worrying about the health of my then-ailing Grandma.
Today, I am graduated and staring down student loans, working a new-ish job, and still mourning the loss of my last grandparent 3 months ago. I was able to work from home today so I haven’t left the house, haven’t seen anyone in costumes, nor have I handed out any candy.
But all that is fine by me. Yoshi and I enjoyed a quiet night in and I have my own Halloween tradition here on my blog and that is to recycle this Halloween story… but this year, with some revisions.
Earlier this year, I took part in a special Mother’s Day performance at the Pacific Asia Museum called â€œChinese American Stories: My Motherâ€ and read this story on-stage. Since it was for Mother’s Day, I re-wrote some of the story to focus a little bit more about my mother and less on Halloween.
So though it’s the same story as always, it’s a “new and improved version,” dedicated to my Mom.
To anyone who has read it in previous years, I hope youâ€™ll read it again with fresh eyes. To any first timers, I hope you enjoy.
When my brother and I were kids, we learned about most American traditions for the first time either on television or in school. Since our parents had come from Taiwan to the United States only a couple of years before I was born, they pretty much learned about American holidays at the same time my brother and I did… and that was usually when I came home from school talking about something I’d learned in class.
Of all the various American holidays we’d learned about, Halloween was especially exciting because my Mom had fun with â€œdressing us up.â€ Although she claimed that she didnâ€™t know how to sew, she always came up with costumes for us… like the year my brother was a cowboy with a little red cowboy hat and matching vest, and I was an Indian squaw complete with feathers in my hair. Having costumes meant that we were sufficiently prepared to go trick-or-treating and to come home with a bag full of candy that we weren’t actually allowed to eat, since it would â€œrot our teeth out of our mouths.â€
My mother has a background in medicine, having gone to medical school in Japan and then becoming a pharmacist in Taiwan. Although she liked getting us in costumes and taking us trick-or-treating, she never allowed us to eat the candy we brought home because it was full of sugar and artificial flavors and colors. Since we werenâ€™t allowed to eat the candy, the strategy was to take us out early & to give away the candy that we had received earlier in the evening. We didnâ€™t mind having our candy passed back out again; Mom had scared us about the dangers of sugary treats and really, the candy wasn’t important to us… we just loved the costumes and going door-to-door.
One year, my Mom informed us that our cousins were planning to come to our neighborhood so we could all go trick-or-treating together. We would be going at later time than our usual “early shift.” Since our cousins actually kept their candy, Mom decided that rather than re-distributing the candy my brother and I got via our front door, instead, our lucky cousins would go home with a double-bounty of candy, theirs AND ours! That also meant that Mom would actually have to prepare treats in advance for Dad to pass out while we were trick-or-treating.
And since I was starting to have neighbor kids in the same classes with me, I started becoming concerned about exactly what candy was being given away at our front door. I still remember the day Mom returned from the supermarket, proudly announcing that she had purchased â€œthe BEST trick-or-treat goodiesâ€ for the neighborhood kids. My brother and I excitedly went through the grocery bags but we didnâ€™t find any Smarties, M&Ms, little Snickers bars, or even candy corn.
â€œMom?” I asked, combing through the groceries. “Where are the treats?â€
From deep within one of the brown paper bags, my mom pulled out and proudly held up a plastic bag full of raw walnuts, still in shell.
My brother wasnâ€™t even in school yet, but even HE knew that giving out walnuts at Halloween wasnâ€™t cool.
â€œThatâ€™s not candy!” I whined in Chinese. “No one wants walnuts for Halloween, Mom,â€
â€œAiyahh, who says? Walnuts are great! And theyâ€™re not cheap either! One walnut is more expensive than a small piece of candy! And they are healthy and will not rot your teeth! Thatâ€™s a great treat!â€ answered Mom in Chinese.
There was no budging on The Great Walnut Debate, either. It didnâ€™t go unnoticed that we were the only household that gave out walnuts. Even our cousins taunted us at first and at the end of the night despite having two bags of candy each, they even went up to my Mom and asked for the leftover walnuts so that we could play with them (one walnut each is not exactly fun). My Mom took this as proof that she had found the perfect Halloween treat.
Which meant that the next Halloween, she came home with twice as many walnuts to handout. We were known as the house that gave out walnuts from that year on.
A few years later, we moved from our condo into a larger house on a real street, with a real front yard. By this time, walnuts were our Halloween tradition: we didnâ€™t even think that other people might find it strange. In fact, we thought it was kind of funny and looked forward to helping Mom find the least expensive, but best quality walnuts come October 31.
That year, for our first Halloween at the new house, our entire family had a party to attend which meant that no one would be able to stay home & hand out walnuts. So Mom got a few less walnuts than usual and left them in a fruit bowl at the front door (just like another family might leave some candy in a bowl if they were going to be out for the night).
It was late when we got home that night but when we got up to our front door, we noticed that all the walnuts were gone! Our neighbors liked the walnuts!
But the truth came out in the light of the morning of November 1st. It was as if World War III had been launched on our doorstep, using walnuts. You should have witnessed the devastation of walnuts all over our front yard and porch. There were sharp walnut shell shards everywhere you stepped. Walnut guts were spilled all over our lawn. While there hadn’t been a single one left intact in the bowl, I was pretty certain that every one of those walnuts left for the neighborhood kids found their fates smashed all over the concrete of our driveway. Most people’s houses get toilet papered on Halloween night. I’m pretty sure ours was the only one ever to get “walnutted.”
As Mom returned from cleaning up the walnut carnage that morning, she announced that we would not be handing out walnuts for Halloween in the new neighborhood because the people there â€œobviously didnâ€™t appreciate it.â€ It makes me a little sad to think about it, because I donâ€™t remember handing out walnuts again after that.
Today, whenever I think about walnuts, I think about my Mom and admire how she was so concerned about the health of the neighborhood kids that she was willing to spend money on expensive walnuts instead of cheap candy for them. I also think about how she wasn’t afraid to be different from all the other people and how she stuck to her guns doing what she thought was right. And I learned that one person’s walnut is another person’s candy.
What incredible lessons she taught us with just a little nut.
Every family has a way of making its own traditions and I am so grateful to my mother for giving us this one. Even though we stopped giving out walnuts, every year as the season turns to fall and the stores fill their aisles with pumpkins and candy, I always walk by to the produce area to see if they are selling walnuts and wonder if I should bring a bag home to hand out.