As soon as I open the door, the scent of frankincense and myrrhdrifts to my nose. The oils are slowly burning over a dim candle, one of many in the dark room. Thetable is set, apple cider in each glass.
I am home, the last place you might expect, giventhe surroundings.
My mother is in the kitchen, taking pork from the crockpot and finishingthe rest of the meal. All the scents mix together in one amazing aroma, one so strong you can tasteit. A silver pentagram hangs around my mother’s neck.
“Happy Halloween,”I say, helping her with the final preparations. It’s a very Celtic-style dish, and, judgingby the low rumbling in my stomach, I am ready to devour as much I can hold.
My dad iswatching TV with his eyes closed after a long day at work. He’s a logger, and today wasfairly chilly and damp so I imagine he is exhausted. I shake him out of his light sleep to let himknow dinner is ready.
The only light comes from the candles as we seat ourselves at thetable. There are four places set for my mother, my father, myself, and the spirits of the dead.This last plate has no food, but rather, a candle in memory of those we have lost. Allspirits are welcome, and no talking is permitted until this candle is blown out, toshow respect for the dead.
My family was never exactly normal.
I drink my apple ciderwith my meal, trying to hold back an obnoxious burp. I hear a noise from the chair of the spirits,but it is just my dog trying to sneak some food. My dad and I can’t even look at each other.We both know we will laugh. Silence has always been awkward and somehow humorous betweenus.
The meal is done, the candles blown out, and the lights turned back on. I am finallypermitted to burp. My father returns to the television, and I help my mom clean up.
Justanother day in the our house, at least for me, anyway.
For my mother, it’s adifferent story. This is one of the most important days of the year, and now, at 10 p.m., it isnowhere near over.
She still has her rituals in the backyard, more oils to burn,more memories to ponder. While doing the dishes, she tells me about her day driving to variousspots from her childhood. She visited some of her homes, just to reminisce. She went to herfather’s grave, her grandfather’s grave, and her aunt’s grave - the one who diedat age three and whose name I inherited as my middle name. My mother always said she had somefeeling about Beverly, even though she never met her. She couldn’t explain it, but she knewsomething was there.
My mother, age 45, practices the religion of Wicca.
Stereotypeand assume, if you must, but I know better. She’s basically your average mother of three. Shehelps me with homework, drives me to friends’ houses, scolds me for my wrongdoings. One ofthe only differences between her and my friends’ moms is her religion.
I was raisedto be tolerant. My sisters and I were never force-fed a religion and found our own. We areopen-minded and self-sufficient. When I told my parents I didn’t believe in God, theysupported me. I never really knew where they stood; I only knew my own beliefs, my own faith, orlack thereof. I’ve always been a believer in science and they’ve supported that,too.
I’ll admit when I first learned that my mother is, well, a witch, I was assurprised. It wasn’t that I didn’t accept it, I just didn’t know what it meant.The whole idea was a little odd to me. Slowly but surely, I learned about Wicca. I wouldn’tsay I agree with most of it, but it leaves me intrigued, which is more than I can say aboutChristian beliefs. I just don’t find any comfort in Christianity. There’s somethingabout Wicca, however, that I find truly amazing. Its reliance on nature, its constancy over theyears, its focus on comfort, tranquility, and self-help for the here and now rather than theafterlife, makes sense to me. I have no involvement in it, but I fully support my mother.She’s happy.
She doesn’t ride a broom. She won’t cast spells on yourfamily. She doesn’t make stews of frogs’ legs, spiders and blood. In fact, the onlything she makes is jewelry of gemstones and beads, each piece for a different attribute one mightwish to gain. Hope, health, happiness - she has it all covered.
To me, this is the norm.When a friend visits and complains about the smell, I just shrug and nonchalantly say,“It’s patchouli incense.” When questions are asked about the pentagram wreath onmy front door, I casually explain that my mother is wiccan, not satanic. It isn’t strange toleave for school and see a gemstone on the kitchen counter with a note that reads:
Good luckon your test today. Keep this piece of pyrite in your pocket - it helps with memory and intellect.Love, Mom.
She’s just a mother looking out for her youngest child.
It’sno different from wearing a cross around your neck for protection. It’s no different frompraying for your aunt’s cancer to be healed. It’s no different from showing respect forthe dead by planting flowers at a grave. Assume and believe what you want, but do not fear, hate ormock. As soon as you pass over the threshold into my home, leave all suspicions, all clichésand all stereotypes at the door. The only prerequisite here is an open mind.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the March 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.