She loved Halloween.
A month before her favorite holiday, Janet Lory was already bedecking her Rio Rancho home with ghosts and goblins and pumpkins and witches, and her husband, Evan, was already telling folks that it was a wonder she didn’t keep her Halloween knickknacks up all year.
“She’d decorate the house like crazy,” he said. “It was something.”
Few living near the Lory home on El Alamo SE knew of the October obsession inside. Few trick-or-treaters frequented their neighborhood.
“We’d be lucky if we got maybe a dozen of them,” Evan said. “And that’s including our two grandchildren.”
All that changed in 2015 when Evan brought home a shipping crate from work, and Janet thought it looked like a coffin.
Maybe, she told her husband, we could put a skeleton inside and display it outside for Halloween.
Evan did better than that. He sketched out a whole scene of faux skeletons cavorting across their front yard. Here were skeletons fishing. There were skeletons hanging out in the Lorys’ old Chevy truck, that coffin in the back. They had skeletons dressed as aliens. Dog skeletons. Insect skeletons. Skeletons in the cemetery quaffing bottles of Samuel Adams OctoberFest beer.
“It looks like union members on a break,” Evan said.
That year, the Lorys counted 77 trick-or-treaters, drawn to the house by the bones and the bright lights.
“We call it The Show because we dress up in costumes and usher the kids around and pass out candy when we open things up at 6 on Halloween,” Evan said. “Parents tell us they save our house for last because it gives the kids a chance to run around the cemetery and burn off energy. Ours is probably the only house where kids have to be reminded to get their candy because they’re so excited to see everything.”
Neighbor children call it the Skeleton House.
Each year the display has grown bigger. Each year more trick-or-treaters have come.
Janet loved it all, thrilled that she and her husband had found the perfect way to share her Halloween passion with so many.
One of her favorite parts of the display is a skull used as a candleholder on a table in the courtyard. The candle is lighted at the start of the evening’s festivities then left to burn, the wax flowing down the skull in gooey rivulets.
It was a breezy Halloween in 2017, and that night the candle kept flickering out. The usually joyful Janet, Evan recalled, was unhappy about that.
“It just would not stay lit no matter how many times I lit it,” he said. “She didn’t like that.”
By next Halloween, it was Janet who was flickering out.
In August 2018, she was diagnosed with stage 4 endometrial cancer. She had hidden her illness for months before she no longer could. She was stoic and stubborn and had refused to see a doctor or seek treatment until Evan and her daughter forced her.
By then, it was too late.
She underwent a hysterectomy, suffered mini-strokes and blood clots as the cancer ravaged her body. Still, she hung on.
She was hospitalized in the intensive care unit that October, then placed on hospice. Her doctor told Evan it was time to call their pastor. Four days before Halloween, Evan brought her home to die. Still, she hung on.
On Halloween, family members kept vigil at her bedside as she floated out of consciousness. Twenty minutes before 6 p.m., her grieving husband of 25 years cradled her feet and spoke the words he almost could not say, did not want to say but knew she would want him to say.
“The Show must go on.”
He headed outside to turn on the lights to illuminate Skeleton House as trick-or-treaters started to gather.
Ten minutes later, Janet died.
It was breezy again that night, even breezier than it had been the previous Halloween. Even so, that candle on the skull in the courtyard burned strong and bright and beautiful.
“It never flickered. It burned all the way down,” Evan said. “And I knew. She was there.”
Evan said he thinks she held on until she was sure he would carry on their Halloween tradition for the kids, for the neighbors, for her. And so he did.
And so he does.
Tonight the Skeleton House is alive again. This year, Evan and his helpers will wear masks and keep socially distanced. Visitors will spot a plaque dedicating this display of skulls and bones and things that go bump in the night to Janet Lory, the woman who loved Halloween, the woman he loved.
It’s a celebration of life here, not death. Of love you feel in your bones. Of love that never dies.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.