When I was a child each October my mom would decorate our house for Halloween. By today’s standards she didn’t do much. There were some window clings and a few cardboard decorations, mostly of black cats, that she would hang up. But the one I remember the most was a small, cardboard skeleton. Even after we stopped celebrating Halloween (for religious reasons) we would still hang the skeleton up.
Why? Because we, my brothers and I, insisted on it. Why? We loved “Mr. Bones.”
You see, when I was quite small I was afraid of that skeleton. Skeletons were and are scary. They represent death and death is scary. As a preschooler I couldn’t verbalize that, but I didn’t need to. Such is hardwired into the human brain. Certain things are scary. And Halloween recognizes those things, and both mocks that fear but also celebrates human mastery over that which frightens us.
My mom didn’t want her children frightened of a simple Halloween decoration. So she gave it a name. She said, “This is nothing to be scared of. This is Mr. Bones. He’s a nice skeleton. He’s a friendly skeleton.” She personalized the cardboard skeleton, giving it a name, giving it a personality. He was posable, meaning his arms and legs move, and she let me play with it for a bit, moving its arms and legs, before she hung it up. At first I remember I didn’t like looking at it, but always, Mom reminded me that this was “Mr. Bones.” And a skeleton with a name couldn’t be as scary as one without, could it? Gradually I lost my fear. Mr. Bones was a friendly skeleton.
Each year I looked forward to getting Mr. Bones out and hanging him up. I delighted in introducing him to my brothers as they got old enough to be frightened of him and watched them overcome their fear and embrace the friendly skeleton decoration, Mr. Bones, as I had. For me, even though I would not have and could not articulate it, Mr. Bones was a symbol of overcoming fear, of the scary being made familiar, even friendly.
And so, this year, I decided that I would decorate my house for Halloween. I didn’t know what I would find, but I knew I wanted a skeleton if I could get one. A plastic one would be fine if I couldn’t find one like my childhood “Mr. Bones.” So I went to a Halloween store in my area, and I not only found a skeleton, but a cardboard, posable skeleton, just like Mr. Bones! Only my Mr. Bones is quite a bit larger than the original Mr. Bones.
He is now hanging proudly on a nail just by my front door where I can see him each time I come in. (He’s protected from the weather by a covered, glassed-in front porch, for those who were wondering. That’s the sort of thing I would wonder.) He still looks alarming, but I just remember he’s Mr. Bones. He’s a nice skeleton. He’s a friend.