I hadn’t thought of trick-or-treating as a particularly poignant event until I went to Meadowbrook Place and saw the smiles of residents as they dropped candy bars and lollipops into kids’ bags.
I smiled too.
I suspect, though, that it looked like a forced smile, or at least a saccharine one. I never passed in front of a mirror to gauge for myself whether my grin appeared more sincere than it felt.
It’s not that I had to muster ersatz enthusiasm to mask my indifference.
Nor was I bored or tired or feeling any of the other ways that sometimes prompt fake smiles.
Quite the opposite.
As my wife Lisa and I strolled the halls of the assisted living facility on Halloween evening, escorting our son, Max, who’s 8, while he made his sugary rounds, I felt the sort of emotional overload that makes your throat seem constricted and your eyes heavy with moisture.
The feeling that if someone asked you a question at that moment, you wouldn’t trust that you could answer without your voice cracking and giving away the reality behind the plastered on facial facade.
I did not expect the experience would affect me so profoundly.
Although in retrospect I suppose I ought not have been especially surprised.
Visiting such a facility — what we used to call a retirement or nursing home, although it seems to me that these days, with our increasing reliance on euphemisms, that those terms, however accurate, are no longer favored — strikes me as something inherently fraught with emotion.
For me this has always been a curious mixture. It is a concoction that includes sadness, as when I wonder whether some residents often feel lonely or confused. But there is also joy, when I consider that for others this home, the last home they might ever know, is a place where they needn’t worry about cooking dinner or digging leaves from the gutters but where they can instead focus on whatever pursuits bring them happiness.
What I felt on Halloween was like this — but it was also different.
I watched Max walk into apartments where TVs were tuned to the evening news and the walls were plastered with photographs of relatives. I watched women, and a few men, pluck fistfuls of sweets and deposit them into Max’s pumpkin made of soft cloth.
I saw them smile and exclaim at his costume — Captain Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series — and I heard his soft “thank yous” and their slightly quavering “you’re welcomes.”
And as I watched these brief scenes I couldn’t help but hope that many of these residents were, in those moments, recalling Halloweens from years and decades past. Halloweens when they sat in their living rooms, a bowl of treats at hand, and waited for the knock on their front doors.
I wondered too whether those residents who are themselves parents were also reminiscing, perhaps for the first time in many years, about distant days when their kids donned costumes and ventured out into the autumn twilight to fill their bags and their bellies.
As I stood in the doorways and looked into those rooms at Meadowbrook I felt the great weight of all the years those residents have experienced, and all the memories of Halloweens and other holidays and milestones.
And I hoped that at least some of those residents who shared a minute or two with Max were able to reclaim, in those moments, one of the things they cherished but maybe believed they had lost forever when they left their homes.
I hoped that it meant as much to them as it did to me.
— — — —
My grandson Caden is a little over 3 months old and he’s reached the stage when I can convince myself that he recognizes me.
It’s a pleasant thought, anyway.
When Caden fixes his gaze on you, and his tiny face suddenly stretches into an obvious smile, you can’t help but feel immensely fortunate, as you might when you see, for instance, a sunrise of intense but ephemeral beauty.
It is a unique experience, watching a child’s development. And a miraculous one.
A newborn for the first month or two can’t be said to have much of a personality, to be sure — no matter how cute and how precious we inevitably think them to be.
But then comes the day when, as you’re holding the child and cooing in the way that otherwise sober adults do at such times, the baby grins at you, his eyes boring in on yours, and you start yelling at everyone in the room to come quick, and to see what Caden just did. He smiled, you exult, and not only that, but he smiled at me.
Which is to say, he smiled for me.
And no smile is quite so sweet as that one.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.