moon between trees







Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom's assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Hand-painted pumpkins greet visitors at the entrance to Mom’s assisted living. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Erma Bombeck was one of my mother’s favorite humor writers.   Not only was she a good writer, but her books and columns also contained real life truths.   I remember Mom laughing, and then she would read aloud the excerpt and say something like, “I know just how she feels!”

This Bombeck quote perfectly describes my mother:  “A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”   Mom was the perfect, appreciative audience for her costumed grandchildren…and all children.

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most--her great-grandchildren!

Seven years ago, these were the types of trick or treaters Mom enjoyed most–her sweet great-grandchildren!



When Mom opened the front door and greeted the young neighborhood kids chirping “Trick or Treat,” she pretended not to know any of them. “Oh my, who is this pirate on my porch?” she might say.   Or, “What a scary ghost you are!” and “I didn’t know we had a real princess living nearby!”   The children would giggle and hold out their sacks, and most of them said, “Thank you” for the goodies she gave to them.   It was a happy time.



Then, as years went by, Mom and Dad started forgetting names and faces—and not just when children were in Halloween costumes—so they began leaving a bowl of candy on the patio table (and eventually they even forgot to do that).   They would turn off the porch lights and the indoor lights, lock the doors and go to bed early. Halloween was no longer fun for them; it was too confusing.

There is a traditional Scottish saying about Halloween that is also a prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties ~ And long-legged beasties ~ And things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”

Based on my own experiences with my parents—and as a prayer for all of us—I’ll add this:   “From confusion and fear and forgotten memories ~ From the losses and sorrows of Alzheimer’s and dementia ~ And from scary things that go bump in the night ~ Good Lord, deliver us!”


Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Farmers harvest a HUGE smile for Halloween.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween "teeth" treats for her kids' class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.

Our daughter Molly made these Halloween “teeth” treats for her kids’ class rooms: apples slices with peanut butter holding the marshmallow teeth.


Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, October glory, special quotations


  1. Hi Marylin, Halloween is usually at my mother’s house and has been for my children and then my grandson (who is now 13!). I never tire of handing out candy at her house after she makes us a nice dinner. This is a yearly tradition that we began almost 30 years ago since I live in a mostly rural area with only a few houses on our lane. I cherish the memories of Halloween and this may be the last year for it. I am encouraging my mom to come and live with my husband and I next fall. It is bittersweet but she is 85 and I feel it is best for her and for my sanity. It’s been a long year running back and forth and this will be easier for us all.
    I am glad you have your memories and my blessings as always to you and your lovely mother. xo Joanne

    • Joanne, it was a very difficult transition for my parents when I moved them from their home of 52 years to a 2-bedroom apartment at the assisted living facility. But it was the best and safest thing for them, and since I moved their favorite pictures, furniture and keepsakes to the apartment with them, it eventually became “home” to them. Bless you for inviting your mother to move into your home, and I wish you all the very best.

  2. My dad used to recite that Scottish prayer. I love your addition – and the halloween teeth are wonderful. A lovely but difficult story this week.

  3. We didn’t have Halloween when I grew up in Germany so I didn’t warm up to it when I moved to the United States Now they have Halloween in Germany and I have a darling picture of my great nephews and great niece all dressed up as lions. As always a beautiful post and a touching prayer, thank you and Happy Halloween .

  4. I loved her! So humble and hilarious~

    • So did I, Cindy. For Mother’s Day many years ago, I gave my mom a copy of Erma’s book, MOTHERHOOD: THE SECOND OLDEST PROFESSION. Every time I’d call her and when she’d write me a letter, I’d get to hear another Bombeck “truism.” Nobody wrote funnier AND truer books and columns!

  5. Your words are a wonderful addition to the old Scottish prayer. Thank you. And, my goodness, those Halloween teeth are spooky and funny.

  6. juliabarrett

    Oh those teeth treats! I gotta make some of those! What a bittersweet story, Marylin. I think that must be the hardest, forgetting everything you’ve loved. Your positive attitude is an inspiration.

    • It is hard, Julia. But we find things that make us smile, too. When Mom stopped answering the door but turned off the lights and went to bed, she had still bought bags of candy bars to give out, so she tucked them in the back of a storage drawer. The next September–almost a year later–there was a church picnic in the park, and Mom signed up to bring a dessert. Guess what she brought? Yep, bags of old candy bars–she said she knew she bought them for something, she just couldn’t remember what, so it was probably for the church.

  7. Amen to your amended version, Marylin. Your mom must have been a real favourite with all the children in the neighbourhood. The farmer’s bale with the cut out face is excellent. Such a fun idea.

    • Thanks, Andrew. I have a soft spot for farm families that create things like this just for the fun of it…and the enjoyment of others. I’ve always thought there should be a special category at the county fair for “farm art” that makes us smile.

  8. I like the addition to the prayer, Marylin – as you say, something there for all of us. The hand painted pumpkins are brilliant and I just love those apple slice teeth – ind never thought of doing that but they would be so much nicer to give to trick or treaters than just a few old sweets!

    • And you’d love the “fingers” she created, Jenny, but I didn’t have a picture. Pieces of celery with peanut butter, and an almond sliver “finger nail” at the end. The kids really liked these treats, too.

  9. Don

    Your post, Marylin, enabled me once again to get in touch with that playful non-recognition we so easily forget. Just the other day our neighbour’s two little children popped over to us and we played that little non-recognition game. So profoundly sad how that all slowly came to end for your Mom and Dad. I must confess there are things in life I just don’t understand, sometimes I get downright angry, but that’s life. Thanks again for such a human post.

    • Oh, thank you, Don. It does seem such a shame that two people who loved life and appreciating and encouraging all people so much would end up losing the memories of those things. But at least they knew and felt and enjoyed the joy of doing those things at the time, and for those moments in their time, they knew. Some people live to old ages without Alzheimer’s or dementia, but never had those moments of joy.
      It is fun to play the non-recognition game with young children, isn’t it? I love their giggles as they try to give hints so you’ll guess who they are.

  10. Your addition to the prayer is beautiful, Marylin. Thank you for sharing your memories of Halloween gone by. My mother would say the same things to the children who came to our door. I’m curious, were the hand-painted pumpkins painted by the residence or the employees? They’re adorable!
    Shel is going to love the photo of the hay bale. 🙂

    • As far as I could find out, Jill, they were painted by some of the residents, though with the help of the staff. The one in the middle was supposedly begun by one resident who fell asleep in his chair, so another took it over. When he woke up, everyone pretended it was the ghost of a Halloween artist who came and finished it. I guess they had a lot of fun with it, and the pumpkins made a great greeting at the front door.

  11. I’ll have to borrow the Erma Bombeck quote. Oh, I’ve said something like that so many times – in the neighborhood and with our grandchildren.

    Your photos are entertaining as usual, illustrating your story well. And Molly’s idea for the treats with teeth is awesome, combining nutritious with sweet.

    • Thanks, Marian. I love this Bombeck quote, and another my mom used to laugh at was “Never give your car keys to anyone you gave birth to.” Mom used that one again and again once we got our drivers’ licenses.

  12. Once again you so eloquently being the human touch into the memories you share Marylin ~ treasured memories. Enjoyed the great photographs and hearing of yesteryear of times when your Mom enjoyed her time with the neighborhood children.

    • Thank you, Mary. These are treasured memories, especially important to share with my grandchildren now so they’ll understand how wonderful and special their great-grandmother was before the dementia. She’s sweet and pleasant with them, but she doesn’t realize who they are, and she also doesn’t remember any of these sweet things she used to do.

  13. Jane Thorne

    Love weaves through your words and your life and those of your loved ones Marylin, even those that hear a different life song now. Your love enfolds them all, especially at scary times. My love unfolds you when it gets scary ❤

  14. I think over the years the night has changed so much that many elderly no longer are willing to open their doors. The teeth look fabulous.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Oh, you’re so right about things that make the elderly lock their doors, David, and it’s no longer just the elderly. Where we live, on Halloween we’ll have between 55-65 trick or treaters, and most–especially early in the evening –are darling children with watchful parents or older siblings smiling from the sidewalk. But around 9:00 entire groups of older teens looking for a handful of candy will start roaming the neighborhoods. We’ve finally started turning off the porch lights and closing the drapes before 9:00.

  15. I love Erma Bombeck and her writings, love her humour. I used to read her column but for the life of me I can’t remember where it was, newspaper or magazine? I had a little book of hers once too with some of her hilarious but oh so true sayings. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that your mom loved her writings, and how much she enjoyed playing along with the children at Halloween. Love all the photos, the hay bale is wonderful. But what really moved me was your prayer at the end Marylin. And I pray the very same with you…

  16. Karen Keim

    This is so appropriate and cheerful for Halloween. I think you excel in conveying the essence of your mother, Marylin. Thank you.

    • Oh, I hope so, Karen. The deeper Mom sinks into the dementia, the more grateful I am for memories that nag at my mind and help me recall wonderful details of her life before the dementia. Each time one surfaces, I’m very grateful to “relive” it.

      • And, Karen, I hope you’re recording some of your memories of your mother, too. I still smile at your story about your mom (my Aunt Wanda) not having time to finish putting a zipper in a dress for you to wear for a dance…so she had you put it on, and then she hand-sewed the back shut. Details like that are priceless.

  17. I share your mother’s love for Erma Bombeck. She also was one of my favorite humorists. I can still recall her description of the female school bus driver who was more that a tad deranged after her duties.

    Halloween does delight us. I love seeing the kids in their costumes and checking out my neighbor’s display of fake headstones, skeletons and dry ice effects on his lawn. Always a gas.

    Your photos really made me chuckle. 😉

    • Oh, I remember the deranged bus driver now that you mention it, Judy! That was hilarious, and beneath the surface exaggeration it was oh-so-true! Mom loved it, too, but until you mentioned it, I’d forgotten that! Thanks for the reminder.

  18. Beautiful post and great photos – oh and the teeth are genius 😀

    • The teeth really are a lot of fun to make–and eat–Yolanda. And kids often put them between their lips and hold them in place by biting into the apple slice, so it’s a lot of fun to watch, too.

  19. Love this story of how your mother would get into the spirit of Halloween 🙂

  20. Great post Marylin! I love the little saying/prayer! Perfect! Have a wonderful week my dear friend!

  21. jakesprinter

    Beautiful Story Marylin , Thanks for sharing my friend 🙂

  22. Jim

    Very fun and funny post, Marylin, though sad too as we reflect on still more cherished memories lost to our Mary. However, your version of the Scottish prayer is very appropriate. With the Good Lord’s help, your blog indeed seems to be delivering Mary’s memories from the scary, forever darkness of dementia to be preserved, read, and enjoyed by our descendants and good friends everywhere. God bless your effort and dedication.

    • Thanks, sweetie. Together you and I have collected these memories and pictures of our families so our grandchildren can enjoy them. I couldn’t be doing this (especially when I need technical and computer help) without you!

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  23. Last night at 11:30, I got an email from my German sister (not blood relationship, but I lived with them and they “adopted” me as family) that our Papa had died. So, I’m in that strange mood that happens with news of death–an awareness of our fragility, with the sense that life must, and does, go on.

    I think Halloween is the weirdest of “holidays.” I’d prefer to go back to the original meaning, when it was the feast of all-souls–a time for respectful remembrance. But, when I was a child, it really was all about the costumes and the trick-or-treating, which was great fun.

    I emailed the teeth treats idea to my daughter-in-law. The granddaughters will love it.

    I love how you captured ambivalence in this post–“laughter through tears is my favorite emotions” (from Steel Magnolias).

    • Oh, Tracy, I am so sorry. The adopted Papa will always be an important part of your heart, and losing him is very hard. This Halloween you can celebrate a true feast of all-souls on his behalf and remember him with love and appreciation.

  24. That’s a prayer i can say “AMEN!” to, Marylin.

  25. Me, too, Shel. Blessings on us–and those we love–now and always.

  26. I still enjoy seeing the “wee ones” in their costumes, but I have mixed feelings about high schoolers who throw on a sports jersey and make the rounds…. But I would so dearly love to see your addition to the poem/prayer come true.

    • The costumed children are so much fun, but I’m like you, JM, I find the high schoolers–and some of their attitudes–difficult to appreciate.
      Ah, if only the poem/prayers could come true!

  27. We don’t have Halloween out here, but I can relate to your mom’s playing the ball with barely disguised children. It is sad that such sweet people are forced to turned off the lights fearing they would upset others. I am already on the hump of my mid life, and I am already forgetting the things by tons, my favourite movie stars, sports heroes, songs, words, my rudimentary French. I say ‘Amen’ to that prayer of yours.

    • Now we have many resounding “Amens” to the prayer, so I hope it happens. I’m smiling at your comment; I, too, feel like I’m forgetting so much, or at least pausing much longer to recall names and details. But we’ll keep doing the best we can.

  28. This was so special that I needed to go back and comment on it, Marylin. I was in the midst of a busy time at Mom’s over Halloween, shopping and her birthday, too. She would have been so happy to ‘play that game’ of pretending not to recognize her great grandchildren. Unfortunately, we were among her older senior citizens, where we had cider and donuts in the morning and no trick or treater’s at night. It was okay, she liked the texts from my kids and their children’s costumes via picture messages.
    Lastly, I adore the Scottish prayer and found your prayer very meaningful. As you know, I will someday soon be facing something similar as you have paved the way, setting a great example for me, Marylin. You are my shining star of Hope for how it will go, quietly and sharing moments. Your reading to her was so nice from the Children’s Garden of Verses in a past post. Molly’s apple slices with PB and marshmallows were wonderful!

  29. Pingback: Happy Thanksgiving 2014 Quotes

  30. What a delightfully creative family!

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