Life in a Haunted House
We never get any trick-or-treaters. I can tell myself that it’s because we’re the only house on a dead-end street and surely, being off the beaten path is part of the problem. But if I’m to be completely honest, it’s because I know that little kids are afraid of our home.
Yes, we live in THAT house.
It’s the one we all dared each other to visit on Halloween. The one that got the occasional egging from only the bravest, most rebellious teens. The one that made toddlers cry.
In the neighborhood I grew up in outside of Chicago, there was a dark, recessed house that looked like a Turkish prison. It definitely stuck out, as the rest of the homes in our neighborhood had been built in the early 1960s and had a decidedly family-friendly feel to them. Swing sets in the back yard, goofy Halloween decorations and middle class tastes made them look safe, even when the masters of those homes appeared grumpy and mean, and the mistresses depressed, lonely and on the edge.
At the Turkish prison house, me and my friend Laura would get about as far as ringing the doorbell, but ultimately, we’d chicken out and run away. I don’t think we ever got candy from those people, and if we had, we would’ve probably stuffed it in their mailbox before high-tailing it out of there. Afraid that any loot we might’ve scored was laced with arsenic, battery acid or just plain old bad juju.
I recognize now that the unfortunate, in all likelihood sweet-as-heck folks who lived in that house waited in vain every Halloween for someone – anyone – to come by and put a dent in that bag of Hershey’s Minis they felt obligated to buy every year…just in case.
I know that’s what we do.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Aw, come on. It can’t be that bad. You seem nice enough – I’m sure there’s a very good reason why no one will trick-or-treat at your house.”
And there is.
Our house is haunted.
It’s no surprise, as our house is really, really old and has had a lot of traffic. She was built while Thomas Jefferson was still among us and living across town for heaven’s sake, cross-breeding heirloom vegetables and writing letters that now sit in the Smithsonian. She’s been a general store, grain depot, bar, theater, voting place, boarding house, student ghetto, and a musician’s flophouse (we’ve been told Art Garfunkel partied at our home in the 1960s – scary, right?), until finally, over the course of two owners, she morphed into a single-family home.
I think our basement is the crux of the problem. An old-fashioned wet basement, it looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. It is populated by numerous snakes and spiders that we welcome as part of the delicate ecosystem of our house, as those critters keep the mouse and insect population in check. But that’s not why I mention it, and it’s not why little kids who don’t know us do the fifty yard dash past our property line.
It’s that our basement was also once used as a (gulp!) Civil War morgue.
So maybe that’s where all of the cling-clangs, footsteps, apparitions and ghostly murmurs come from!
Case in point, in our most recent paranormal encounter, I got up in the middle of the night to fetch myself some water. When I returned to our bed, I distinctly heard a man’s whisper and turned to my husband.
“Did you say something, honey?” I said.
My husband told me that he had not.
“But I heard it, too,” he said. “Let’s talk about it in the morning.” Which we did, but without the drama and hullabaloo you might imagine.
We’re not afraid anymore. We’ve been living here long enough to know that these odd occurrences are just our home’s way of saying hello every once in a while.
And that’s what I’m getting at.
As spooky as our house may seem to outsiders, we know she loves and protects us.
Like a loyal, old crone, she objects loudly and emphatically to people who annoy, interfere or in any way attempt to cause mischief in our lives.
When my grandmother got ornery and meddling in the years before she died, our house would actually respond to her visits – keeping her up at night with grating, intermittent noises that tormented my Baba’s sleep like Chinese water-torture. The plumbing wouldn’t behave for her, temperature controls would go haywire and the guest room TV screen might simply go on strike.
I don’t have to tell you that all of these petty annoyances would vanish the moment Baba pulled out of our driveway, Rush Limbaugh blasting from her radio and a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing out of the passenger side window.
Now, I loved my grandmother – even at her worst. But my house? Not so much. She always preferred the company of my more cheerful mom, who accompanied my grandmother on her visits, but would remain curiously unbothered by the woo-woo goings on.
And I love that our house is strong – clad in history’s armor. Thick-walled and made of brick. She barely shakes when the trains go by, standing broad-chested and chivalrous; a black, Southern grandmother. She has been a friend and safe haven throughout violent weather, illness and economic catastrophe. Even when we’ve scowled at her and bristled at the tyranny of caring for her scratches, bruises and idiosyncrasies.
But we have never let her down either, and she knows it.
My husband and I have fought her and fought for her, fixing her face-paint, finding the right doctors for her Edison-era wiring, buying her a brand new roof that sits on her head like a Sunday hat. No more piles of cold, young men, whooping cowboys, tired merchants, transients, or naked hippies. Our children have filled her life with laughter. They’ve hidden their secrets in her many nooks and crannies and papered her walls with their dreams.
We have given her a happy family.
So, please, consider coming by this Halloween. We have all the good kinds of candy and you’re sure to get a big handful instead of the usual one piece allotment that more popular homes dispense.