Fright Night: An EM Hallowe’en Musing

November 1, 2008 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

Tea Time With The Coven

I live in a condominium that consists of two 12-story towers, built about a year and a half apart. The original marketing for the first building, where I live, was targeted at empty-nesters and retirees. The marketing for the second was to the young and hip. I fall into neither category, which suits me just fine, ‘coz then I get to observe the goings-on from an outsider’s vantage point, as is my wont.

The nice thing about living on the old people’s side is that the women here have formed quite the little community. (The men, for those women who are not widows, are infrequently seen and even more rarely heard, except during annual general meetings when they attempt to insert themselves as authorities on the ‘business’ of the condo. So it goes.)

The condo ladies do movie nights and bridge tournaments and coffee klatches. Sometimes they arrange bus trips to exotic locales like nearby farmers’ markets and dinner theatre productions. I regularly see them trundling off to the party room in the basement, their homemade bits ‘n bites and tuna casseroles in hand, to chat and gossip; plot and plan.

Photo: Diane Arbus

One of the things they plot and plan at this time of year is the annual Hallowe’en give-away. In a Diane-Arbusian feast for the eyes, they turn, literally, into a coven of witches, a gaggle of fairy godmothers, a belfry of old bats luring the neighbourhood children into the lobby with offers of candy.

I take an inordinate amount of delight in this event every year, solely for the pleasure of seeing them there in the lobby behind the treat bag table, with  their caked-on make-up and slightly-askew false eyelashes, their frothy polyester costumes and gaudy Dollar Store accessories like light-up jack-o’lantern pins and sequinned bat earrings.  In front of them, their handiwork:  hundreds of cellophane bags filled with donated goodies and tied with orange and black ribbons, craft-scissor curls lovingly done with arthritic, age-freckled hands.

These gals do it up right.  And, they are doing what women have been programmed to do from time immemorial…nurturing community.

I’m certain I’m the only one who revels as I do in the weird irony of how they look–my fascination mixed with slight shame (for they are having such fun!  And have worked so hard! I am not mocking them, truly I’m not!).  This year we had a batwoman, a fairy princess and a geisha handing out treats to the toddlers and schoolkids, some dressed so similarly it throws the grotesquerie into stark relief.  There is a macabre return-to-innocence look to them which is oh-so-perfect for Hallowe’en, even more so as it is accidental.

Photo: Xavier Bonghi

“Old fools become babes again,” as Shakespeare wrote, intending it not as criticism or insult, just an observation tinged with empathy, as do I.

Being as non-participatory as I am, I am unlikely to end up like these women.  I will become my very own version of an eccentric old bat, I am sure.  But I know what happens down there in the condo party room. I share the genetic history of the XX-chromosomed.  I can feel how the petty jealousies, the passive-aggressive hostilities, the snap judgements are formed intuitively through auto-cognitive processing of the equation: hair + face + clothes + behaviour = character and virtue.

But I also know about the genuine kindness and compassion.  The natural inclination to consensus and peace-keeping among these women who have landed in Canada from Poland, Ukraine, Chechnya, Germany, Britain and Russia, and for whom even the old wars between their countries feel like recent history, and some of them are still ongoing.  These women could easily dwell isolated by their differences, but instead–compelled by evolutionary psychology to gather and cohere in social groups–smooth over these cultural-bred political and personal antagonisms and life-long resentments with small-talk and seasonal rituals, for the greater good of the community in which they find themselves now.

These women are demonstrating how social groups are formed in every culture, every society. The internal dynamics of their groups are as familiar to me as the back of my own hand, and I have the slight added advantage of understanding something of the social psychology of it from an academic perspective as well.  They are communicating in precisely the same ways as they have throughout their own personal histories, and throughout time as all women have:  as schoolgirls, as young “housewives,” and now as condo-dwelling retirees. The very set-up of a “condo,” with its joint-ownership and management of community property is a petrie dish for growing this kind of instant community and allowing those of us so-inclined to observe it as it evolves.

Also, they all remind me of my mom.  She would have been right at home among them as she was a lifelong “joiner” and never failed to be appalled at my dad and me, who were content to watch and analyze from afar, collaborating from our lone observation posts like forest fire spotters in the great north woods. While I rarely interact with the condo ladies, save to say hello as I pass by in the hallway, I take comfort in the fact they are there, running things efficiently behind the scenes in age-old ways, as women do. Gathering berries, creating community.

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Entry filed under: Personal Musings. Tags: , , , .

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