A shoutout to my aunt, who always sends me home with a huge jar of Kimchi that will last me for several months. I have a taste for the stuff you see. She taught me long ago to eat it rolled up with sticky rice in a leaf of iceberg lettuce. Delicious.
Also, because Lou and I had a nice long phone conversation last night and we haven’t done that in a while, this is for you kid. Surprising how many people have never seen this movie. Surprising and tragic… Steamroller is the best game ever and I still say “It’s a jelly” when I’m trying to win someone over. Or handing out donuts…
Okay, the ghost. (for you D.)
When I was about 8 or 9, my grandparents decided to renew their wedding vows to celebrate 40 years of marriage and had a huge crab feast/family reunion (called around for the photos but didn’t get down to the ATL to have them scanned. Sorry.) at their Maryland home. All the women wore long, flowered sundresses and floppy sun hats while the men were in summer church attire. It was a marvelous party and I remember running with my cousins around the picnic tables, placed end to end to make one huge buffet table that was then topped with crab we had pulled out of the river that morning, g-ma had thrown in a boiling pot and then, when they stopped scratching around, were placed, still in their shells, on the outdoor tables (that’s how we ate our crab. You were responsible for digging that meat out yourself. We didn’t mess around…). I also recall trays and trays of yellow corn on the cob and lots of wine. Always lots of wine.
Because of the sheer number of people present — and the lots of wine — several guests were invited to stay at my g-parent’s house and so my sister Lou and I were displaced from our regular room, the upstairs furnace room, and sent two houses down river to my Aunt “Dot’s”. I always liked my grandpa’s sister (great) Aunt Dot. She had an easy laugh but also let you know pretty quick if you were nearing her fault line. And she collected porcelain shoes — she had several glass cases in her home dedicated to this hobby and I remember thinking even then how strange and wonderful that was. I also remember being about 3 and a half (I have strange memories like this, confirmed by my mother, of being a toddler and a little older) and staying at my Aunt’s house with my parents and waking up in the middle of the night and standing at the storm door in the kitchen that faced the back of the house and the driveway (I was so little that I didn’t even reach the railing on the steps up to the door that I could see as I looked outside) and crying into the night for someone to come and get me out. I remember looking down my nightgown at the little ruffle that just covered my feet and thinking I wouldn’t get far in my bare feet and that I couldn’t reach the lock to get out anyway. But I was scared man. Really scared. Cut to 6 or 7 years later…
So, Lou and I get settled in Aunt Dot’s upstairs room, a quaintly decorated, feminine space with flowered comforters on the twin beds (Mom, if I’m wrong, please let me know…) and a bedside table separating the beds with a cute Victorian lamp perched on top. There was even my Aunt’s cat, who sat on the end of my bed that first night and never left, even though my sister was very much allergic and therefore hated cats. The wall at the head end of the bed sloped at a 45 degree angle — like a barn — and there was no door, just a curtain that led out to the hall. That curtain would become my tormentor.
I always read a lot as a kid and my sister and I had epic battles over turning off the light when I wanted to read and she wanted to sleep. I won that battle this night. Sometime in the late evening, as I was reading by that little Victorian lamp and Lou was sleeping with the comforter over her head, I noticed that cat, at my feet, staring at that curtain that led out into the hall. And it wasn’t just looking in the curtain’s direction, it was watching something. Something I couldn’t see. I blew it off and continued to read until I became aware of that cat repeatedly moving it’s head to watch what it was watching — back and forth, like I had seen my pet cats do when I teased them with a sock or piece of string. I grew increasingly uncomfortable. Time passed and I went from reading a few lines of my book to staring at that curtain. At some point I became convinced that there was someone there in the hall, behind the curtain and it was a man. And not a corporeal man, but one I was definitely NOT prepared to encounter. I sat straight up in that bed all night, 8 hours or more, and watched the sky lighten over the river. And told no one. Because I had just freaked myself out, right? No such thing as ghosts…ridiculous.
That day was the ceremony and that evening I was back in that room and my sister, bless her, who normally would have steamrollered me for needing that light on AGAIN, I think must have known how scared I was because she never protested leaving the light on and even, when I began to weep from staring at that curtain and from pure exhaustion, let me crawl into bed with her and, when it became clear I was inconsolable, got up, pulled that curtain aside (I was horrified and didn’t look) and went downstairs and got my Aunt. Aunt Dot called my parents at my g-parent’s and Pop walked over and got me, still bawling and freaked out, and took me back down river where, I think, I slept on the living room floor in front of the fire. All I would say is that I’d had a bad dream. And my grandpa, the redheaded scamp that he was, said, “Yeah, I’ve had bad dreams like that. Once, I dreamt I was walking on a floor covered in boobs…I fell and got a bust in the mouth.” I laughed and immediately felt like I could sleep for days. I’ve not been back in that room, or upstairs in that house, since.
I never revealed why my parents got that late night call to come get their youngest daughter who was crying and, possibly, stricken white from fear until I was in my early 20s and I was finally confessing to my older sister Juje my embarrassing attempt at sleeping in Aunt Dot’s house. “I think it has a ghost,” I told my sister, trying to sound as jokey as I could. “Oh,” Juje said. “I’ve seen that ghost…”
Gulp. I won’t tell her story. Maybe one day she’ll reveal it. I’d love it if she would — she’s a better writer than I am — but the post script here is that, just two weekends ago I was back there and my Aunt “Bitsy,” whose father built that house and who lived there as a child, casually said that my Aunt Dot, years before my little episode, used to say that she could feel Bitsy’s father there, making his fishing lures. In the upstairs room, across the hall from the quaint little room I stayed in.
Yeah Aunt Dot. I could feel him, too.
The upstairs window is the one where I watched the sun rise. It is directly across from the curtained doorway.
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