Two Witch Sisters

Ghost Stories


When my mother got home from the hospital, on October 17th of last year, she told us (my sisters and me) to not let Dad decorate the house for Halloween. Why?

“It would be quite macabre for a widower to dress up their house for Halloween!”

My mother died at 8pm on Halloween night. Exactly two weeks after she came home from the hospital.


Joe & Ellen, doctor-friends who had been helping us throughout the process of my mother’s cancer, came over on Halloween for one of their regular visits. They knew I hadn’t left the house for days, so they asked if I wanted to join them for dinner at a place they frequented. I jumped at the chance. These two are among my most favorite people, and I loved the restaurant to boot.

As we were leaving the house, Ellen turned to me in the foyer and asked me a question.

“You’ll be ok if your mother dies while we’re out to dinner, right?”


My mother was a twin. Her sister, Nancy Lee, came first but died shortly after birth. My mother always said Nancy Lee had “cleared a path for her” from the beginning.

Decades later, my parents and sisters (I wasn’t born yet) were in Charleston, South Carolina, where my mother and her twin sister had been born. My mother had never been to Nancy Lee’s gravesite before, so with some extra time on their hands, they decided to go to the cemetery and pay Nancy Lee a visit.

Upon arriving at the cemetery, they couldn’t find anyone that could point them to where the family plot might be. This was one of those beautiful, old, massive, Southern cemeteries, so guidance was required if you hoped to find a specific grave.

None the wiser, they decided to just drive around and take in the beautiful grounds. My family always had an affinity for cemeteries.

As my father was aimlessly easing the car around the cemetery, my mother all of a sudden told him to stop the car.


“Stop the car.”

My mother got out, headed deep into the sea of stones, and walked directly to Nancy Lee’s grave.

In Memory

My mother always loved Halloween. I’m not sure why. She always loved spiders. (She would protect their webs and forbid anyone from killing any spiders who had set up shop in our old house in rural Virginia.) And a favorite family past time was to visit cemeteries, sometimes even having picnic lunches in them. (We were an odd bunch.) Maybe there was some connection.

Every year my mom would dress up as a witch for Halloween, and say that it was the one day a year she could dress as herself. She would don the costume – complete with full face make-up, teased and dyed hair, crazy black dress and shawl, and usually some party store fake spider web and plastic spiders attached somewhere to complete the effect. She went all out.

She would dress like this for the entire day, no matter what she had to do. Take us to school. Go grocery shopping. See clients! (She was a psychotherapist.) It embarrassed me to no end as a child, but I love the memory of it now.

Illustration Credit: Niki Yang, Frederator Studios

“I’m with the boys, and we’re having a lot of fun playing trick or treat.”

A bit of Halloween-related cultural anthropology…

On WAMU’s The Big Broadcast on Sunday, they played an old Halloween-themed episode from The Jack Benny Program called, “Jack Goes Trick or Treating.”

Despite the title, which matches our current day usage of the term “trick or treat,” Jack and others in the episode use the phrase differently. At about 17 minutes in, Jack says, “I’m with the boys, and we’re having a lot of fun playing trick or treat.”

“Playing trick or treat.” I love that – likely just because it’s different.

The earliest known usage of “trick or treat” describes the “edible plunder” (a magnificent phrase in itself) thusly:

Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. […] The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

a single scoop of vanilla ice cream

A single scoop of vanilla ice cream.

For years I’ve been ordering the same dessert at restaurants: “A single scoop of vanilla ice cream.”

I don’t have a sweet tooth or a big appetite, so after a satisfying meal I have little desire to gorge myself with a big piece of cake or pie or other decadent sugar bomb. But I like the lazy lingering that dessert offers. During family dinners when I was growing up, my mother would typically wait a half hour or more before bringing out dessert, silently requesting (in a way, bribing) us to sit and chat for a bit.

This dessert order – placed with the exact same wording every time – “a single scoop of vanilla ice cream” – has turned into a test of sorts. Will the restaurant accommodate it, if they don’t already have “a selection of ice creams and sorbets” on the menu? It’s always interesting to see how it’s served. Is it embellished with some sort of cookie, confection, or chocolate crumbs? Is it three scoops? Four?

I also like to see what restaurants charge for such a simple off-menu request. The first time I ordered this – at Cashion’s Eat Place in Washington, DC, I think – I was convinced they would charge me $8 or more. I am pleased to report that they, like most other places, usually charge less than $5.

Inevitably, placing this order prompts the above story. Thus, this dessert does exactly what I want it to do: it extends the meal and invites conversation. This never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Photo Credit: jtnt