Posted by: Nazausgraben | October 10, 2010

INNOCENCE LOST


Yes…I must admit…I love this magical youthful cloud-draped full moon time of each year…from Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve. Biology and chronology diverge for this all-too-brief period and the child is permitted to emerge once again after being buried away for so long. There is a surge of nostalgia and memories envelope me in the very welcome warm security as if a thick down bed cover on a bitter biting cold mid-winter’s night.

The almost visceral joy and celebration… starting to wear the warm sweaters and coats….gifts from Christmas past…the wind-swept chilling deeply purple evenings that descend earlier and earlier…the vistas that open now that the trees are being disrobed…and the sounds of fallen red and golden leaves crisping and crackling under foot… the food, drink and friendship…the music and art that are tucked away from sound and sight, only to be savored at this most festive time of the year….the televised specials (at least, those that were broadcast during the innocent days of the late 50s and early 60s) before the mean-spirited madness of ‘political correctness’ forced the cultural near-obliteration of the public expression of so many of those wondrous feasts.

Now it is a far away October.  Halloween is not celebrated here in Austria…but not for lack of trying. There have been attempts during the past decade to shoehorn this ancient Celtic celebration into the Christian calendar. Much to their credit, Austrian and Bavarians still hold the end of October as a sacred time, as the feasts of All Souls and All Saints are celebrated at the turn of the month. Halloween failed to inculcate itself into the Austrian culture.

Still, I think of Halloween in America when I was a child.  It was (and remains) certainly not a celebration of strange pre-Christian rites; rather, Halloween in America was a time when children could still be children. Not yet adult-children components of matrixed electronic appliances and distinctly anti-social social networks, the young then actually looked at and spoke with one another…exchanged costumes and carved Jack-o-lanterns together. They were free to wander the darkened streets, a pillowcase filled with sweets, fresh apples and a penny or two…bedecked in the trappings of a gruesome monstrosity, a robot made out of a large cardboard moving box with dials drawn on the front next to battery-powered blinking lights, a princess in her finest tutu or confirmation dress, a soldier wearing surplus camouflage and a plastic GI helmet liner, a bedsheet ghost or a mop-bristled plumed bird.

These were the times when monsters could roam along the sides of village roads…lanterns in hand…with innocent smiles and blackened teeth, extorting popcorn balls, chewing gum, miniature candy bars of all sorts, and those tiny specks of pure over-sweetened artificially multi-colored sugar attached to a long thin roll of paper (I believe they were simply called ‘Dots’).

There was no fear…no pins or razor blades inserted into fruit…perhaps an occasional egg or two tossed by some miscreant teenagers, but otherwise…..just fun…after which the kids would go home to a Halloween party where apples were dunked, pumpkins were decorated and we all sat in front of the television, eyes wide in fixed horror…watching a movie marathon of vampires, monsters, alien invaders and ghosts…all in black and white until the spreading colored plumage of NBC’s Peacock made its spectacular debut.

We all went to bed late that night, mouths numbed from all that candy eaten directly from the bulging pillowcase (with the magic marker pumpkin drawn on it…much to Mom’s exasperated chagrin) before returning home…when Mom would take it away, sort through it, give you one or two pieces and then plant the remaining treasure away out of reach on an upper shelf…to be doled out bit by bit until Christmas.

As opposed to its more violent roots, the celebration had become dominated by unjaded little innocents who as pink rabbits, fairies, doctors, firemen and biped flowers would wander about in wonder. It was for the older children who relished the fables of Grimm and pink rabbits, who laughed and trembled at terrifying stories of night spirits and other unspeakable horrors. Yet, this was all unworshipped fantasy… play at one time of the year.

Such sights and sounds on 31 October are becoming sadly abit rare, even in America today.  Whilst bastions of tradition may still exist, depending on where one lives, there may be very few children out and about. There remains the element of vandalism and destruction that has plagued the celebration of Halloween since the 19th century. Costumes, if worn at all, are today manufactured primarily in Asia and no longer always reflect innocence of child-like imagination. Those adults who now invest in bags of sweets wrapped in Halloween orange and black usually end up giving most away at the office the next day.

In Pinswang, where the harvest has been collected and blessed,  where work ceases due to earlier darkness and thoughts turn to the Winter just ahead, the Fall night of October 31 will be chilly, dark and still. Candles will appear in preparation for the 01 November celebration of Aller Heiligen (All Saints Day).  It is the eve (‘een) of All Saints (All Hallows) that transmogrified the dark pagan rituals celebrating earth, spirits and mythical gods/goddesses into the Christian feasts today. Darkness is replaced by sacred light.

As per  the website  http://www.churchyear.net/allsaints.html,  “The first reference to a general feast celebrating all saints occurs in St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373). St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407) assigned a day to the feast, the first Sunday after Pentecost, where in the Eastern Churches the feast is celebrated to this day. In the West, this date was probably originally used, and then the feast was moved to May 13th. The current observance (November 1) probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741), and was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany. This fact makes the connection of the All Saints Feast with the pagan festival Samhain less likely, since Samhain was an Irish pagan feast, rather than German.”

Aller Heiligen is followed on 2 November by Aller Seelen (All Souls Day), when the souls of the departed are remembered. Graves of family and friends are lovingly cleaned and decorated, some with many glass-encased candles. A walk on such an evening to the local Friedhof (large or small) will reveal a universe of tiny stars…flickering flames of  prayer and remembrance.

Susi and I will visit the grave of her Father, place a bouguet of Fall blooms atop the large inscribed stone, light a candle and spend some moments, offering our prayers to this faithfully departed and much beloved man. We will also hold close to our hearts and minds all those departed family and friends now in eternal repose.

We’ll also stop at a set of tiny graves…so small that they are often passed by unnoticed. There is one in particular that we will seek out.  It is a grave with a simple small headstone with only a first name inscribed on its face… nothing more to indicate who this person was or when he or she had lived. It is hard to read the name anymore, for time, the elements and neglect have almost obliterated any sign of carving. It is a small stone at the head of a tiny grave….the grave of a child.  

The grave is overgrown with grass, a small bush and weeds. Neglected. It has not been visited for many years. Susi and I will visit it. We will clean it, lay some flowers, light a candle and say a prayer for the earthly remains and spirit of this small unknown innocent. She will be neither abandoned nor neglected.

UPDATE:  It is All Souls Day. Susi and I drive the 45-minutes from Pinswang to the Friedhof (cemetery) in Garmisch. We clean the large, thick stone covering the remains of some of Susi’s family, and spend some minutes there remembering them in life and in their repose.

We next find the tiny graves of the forgotten innocents..the children..babies really, who lie forgotten in this corner of the Friedhof. The stone of which I wrote earlier..it is gone, as is the stone of another nearby. They have been taken away…all that remain are the small metal posts that held the small soft headstones erect, protruding sadly up from the hallowed earth in which they were interred. Now, there is nothing left to remind those passing by that these were little ones. 

Yet there remain a few others at rest in this sacred space. There is Leon…no family name…just Leon…a name taped onto a small rude white cross.

LEON

Unlike some of the other sculpted stones and beautifully crafted ironwork at the heads of many..so many of the departed in this quiet beautiful place of solace, Leon is to be remembered if at all, by a simple white cross. The wood is unadorned, no inscription is carved into its face telling a passerby who Leon was, when he entered this world and then all-too-shortly thereafter departed it….how he was to be remembered. Yet there is a blessed austerity in this cross..moving in its impoverished simplicity.

Next to Leon lies another tiny grave, this time bedecked with a single stone on the ground. The stone has a name, Gönül and the year 2003 inscribed on its face. This tiny plot, too, has been forgotten.. it is overgrown, dirty. We know not if the year denotes the year of death or even how long Gönül lived.

Here, then, are two of the forgotten innocents of Garmisch. Susi and I clean both plots, flatten the overgrown grass and place candles alight where none have been for a great many years. I do not know if Gönül was a Baptized Christian or not. Still, I stand in the grey late German morning and recite the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary for both Leon and Gönül. Ruehe in Frieden little ones.

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