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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Guyon: The Swordfight

The other day I was in our front yard cutting bushy long-stemmed blossoms from our two giant hydrangeas for a fall bouquet. Neighbors tell me these bushes were planted when the house was built, nearly 100 years ago. With their thick trunks covered by prehistoric looking gnarled bark and their crowns of stiff branches and their puffy mauve blooms resembling massive fright wigs, in the fading blush of autumn, they give the house a decidedly haunted look. And as I went about my peaceful bit of domesticity, I was reminded of one long-ago Halloween when these same bushes had looked positively petrifying.

My son, who was six, was in the throes of a major pirate obsession. He’d taken to wearing his costume every spare minute, inhabiting the role - as much as a diminutive rogue can - with impressive snarl and swagger. He’d even worn it to a matinee of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ as if to prepare for battle on the high seas. I’d worried that he’d be bored, but he was transfixed by the swashbuckling action.

At intermission, the ladies in line for the restroom fawned all over him, declaring him “cute” with his little pirate hat, eyepatch, plastic sword, scabbard and hook. He glowered at them and sneered, “I’m not cute, I’m a pirate.” Clearly he’d tapped into his inner Blackbeard.

A few days later, as I decorated the front door for the crowds of trick-or-treaters we get every year, he was running around again in full regalia, working on perfecting his guttural “Argghhh”s. I could see him in my peripheral vision beyond the porch railing, a little blur of eyepatch, hat and sword, but I wasn’t paying close attention.

It wasn’t until I came down the front steps with a cardboard gravestone that I understood why he’d been sounding quite so fierce. He had, in fact, beheaded every single one of the hydrangea branches, whacking the puffy blossoms off with evident gusto and carpeting the lawn with plundered petals. The bushes were left looking like massive Medieval maces, huge globes of spikey stems, entirely denuded of every trace of their former glory.

I was so shocked I was speechless as my son stopped in his tracks and leered at me. He was still fully in character, though with the tiniest fearful glint in his eyes. And that was that; we both exploded in laughter.

Our house was more than ready for Halloween.

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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