A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


You can keep Ichabod Crane and his headless horseman. For me there is no more chilling moment in Halloween history than the one faced by Samantha and the Headless Hugger.

Our narrative begins 15 years ago in the Kingdom of Spain. For more than a year my wife, Anita, had scrimped and saved and worked early morning (4 a.m.!) shifts at a local bakery to put together enough money to make a pilgrimage to her ancestral homeland with her family. Together they toured Spanish cities and villages, sampling paella and churros and taking in as much of the Spanish culture as was humanly possible in two short weeks.

Of course souvenirs were purchased here and there for family members back home, and they were lovely and welcomed (for example, I received a mini Swiss Army knife, which doesn’t sound Spanish but was really handy and fun). Only one purchase, however, could truly be considered a treasure: a delicate statuette by the legendary Spanish porcelain maker, Lladró, purchased at the company’s factory in Almŕssera, on the outskirts of Valencia. This beautiful work of art featured a Victorian mother helping her young daughter out of the bathtub, gracefully reaching out to embrace the girl while draping a towel around her to dry and warm her.

It was precious, valuable and much beloved. Our daughters started making claims on it as a family heirloom as soon as Anita took it out of the box to show us. Our sons weren’t quite so interested in it. Joe Jr. was only interested in statues of Michael Jordan at that time (still is, come to think of it) and Jon was . . . well, Jon had just celebrated his first birthday and was only interested in mothers who could feed, hug and cuddle him.

Porcelain beauty notwithstanding.

Because we still had little ones at home and didn’t have a curio cabinet, Anita kept her treasured Lladró in its protective box on her closet shelf for several years, bringing it out only to share with special guests. As soon as Jon was old enough to understand and practice the concept of “don’t touch” (which, it turns out, can be powerfully taught when it is closely aligned with the concept of the guillotine – which I know is French but seemed appropriate in a Machiavellian sort of way) Anita brought it out of the box and positioned it in a place of honor on a little table purchased specifically for this purpose.

Here our Spanish treasure rested for several years. It survived awkward boyfriends, a few tumultuous games of Twister, numerous family gatherings, the conclusion of Joe’s adolescence and the onset of Jon’s.

But it could not survive Samantha.

Just before Halloween a couple of years ago our third grandchild dropped the statuette on a hardwood floor (evidently the guillotine part of the “don’t touch” lecture wasn’t passed on to the next generation – don’t ask me why). Most of the figurine survived the fall – but not all. Suddenly our porcelain mother was a headless hugger, which made her outstretched arms reaching for her daughter seem frighteningly macabre.

Scary? Absolutely. Especially for Samantha, who had to face Grammy with the recently decapitated statuette. Talk about terror! Ichabod Crane had it easy compared to this!

Thankfully, Anita understands that people are infinitely more important than things. She didn’t shed a single tear over her lost keepsake. Instead, she helped to dry Samantha’s – and Samantha’s mother’s – tears and to comfort them with words of love and understanding.

And when I taped a tiny plastic Jack-o-lantern to the place where the porcelain mother’s head should have been and situated the Lladró among our Halloween decorations, nobody laughed louder or longer than Anita.

Take that, Ichabod Crane!

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— © Joseph Walker

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