In the ancient bardic tradition, AmeriCeltic Publishes Short Stories with a Celtic Spin.
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Table of Contents
2022-10-27 Story: Mom and my near Hallowe’en Wedding by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2022-10-20 Story: The British Colonel’s Difficult Encounter with Witches and Ghosts by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2021-10-28 Story: The Haunted Blanket by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2021-10-21 Story: Playing for the Ghosts at the Washoe Club by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2020-10-30 Story: The Veil Between the Worlds, in Old Virginia by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2020-10-29 Story: The Nightmare before Samhain by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2019-10-25 Story: The Chinese/Irish Ghosts of Indian Creek by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2018-11-01 Story: The Black Shadow Knows by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2018-10-25 Story: Thor, the Lightning Cat by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2017-10-24 Story: A Visit from an Irate Banshee by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker
2016-12-04 Story: A Ceremony of the Haggis by Tony Becker
2016-10-07 Story: Catskill Irish Arts Week by Mark Levy
2015-12-04 Humor: Traditional Music: The Difference between Bluegrass, Old Time and Celtic by Tony Becker
Although she lived in the 20th century, my late mother was a bona fide, 18th century ideal of a witch and not always a ‘white one.’
She wasn’t much with herbs, both my father and I had a better sense of weather changes, and she had no sense of direction, which had been why my father had me reading maps and navigating on rock hunting and cross country trips for years. However, she and my father could both be telepathic at times, and in my mid and late teenage years I studied some techniques to try to maintain my telepathic abilities to sometimes anticipate their desires, and to conceal my own thoughts from them. It was absolutely necessary to do this to become my own person. Card games were always interesting, as Father somehow knew exactly what card my mother was about to play before she even focused her eyes on one or drew it from her hand and if he played after she did, he would sometimes taunt her by holding up the card he intended to play before she made any decision.
However, Mother was very intelligent and well organized in thought as well as deed, and often, very observant, though not always. But with her combined excellent natural powers, and whatever else, she could be very manipulative in ways that were absolutely incredible, and make matters go well or ill, depending upon what she wanted. Mother was an absolute genius on how she organized the first major strike on the basis of comparable worth and made it a stunning success, using probably one of the smallest groups of actual strikers ever. She was excellent in business and government, worth any 5 or 10 males put together for what she could accomplish and how quickly and with how little. As my late father said, after my mother died, she was also the financial brains in his marriage and left him an estate larger than he actually knew, plus her pension..
As a mother, however, there were sometimes problems with and for us, her children–and a few could be quite serious. I also noticed, over the years that, curiously, she did not have a lot of close female friends. She had a dark side that most never knew, as she was great at generally keeping it hidden. Still a number of women suspected it, and some churches also. What the rest of the world very seldom saw, her three daughters did, but who believed children in the 1950’s and 1960’s, or even before when she herself, as a child, needed the help of adults? She also had been her parents’ youngest child, as was my father–a bad combination for a good marriage and great parenting. Youngest children rarely have responsibilities for younger persons and don’t learn tolerance for those smaller and less developed themselves. Add to this the fact that both my parents had been in the military and while both had risen in the ranks, Mother’s success exceeded that of my father, who saw combat and was more of a rebel.
So besides being well organized, and manipulative, and used to being able to command and have unquestioning compliance, at times Mother was extremely vindictive, a vengeful witch. While she had no need of wands, voodoo dolls, chants and cauldrons full of poisonous potions to accomplish when she cursed something, that thing or person was REALLY cursed. Bad things happened when she was really, really angry, and anyone in the way or around a target could get hit also.
Don’t get me wrong, Mother could be a good, even great, friend, when she wanted friends and wanted to be one. She genuinely cared and strived for the overall economic and political bettering of women, and minorities, including having more educational and economic opportunities for her daughters and everyone else’s but she could be a really, really bad enemy, and anyone, even relatives could end up being her enemy, at any time. She also liked control, especially of her daughters. Then, although she never said this publicly, I learned from her that she actually also detested, nearly hated, and yet feared, almost all churches, but understood they did teach and reinforce the good human social essentials of a lot of right and wrong. So, she dutifully took us children, and occasionally my father, to church every Sunday and when we were not in Catholic private school, to catechism and other religious classes or seminars on Saturdays, once a week for months when we were younger, once a month when we were older. However, unlike other witches for many centuries, she never participated in the church-related activities, except occasionally for bake sales. She never participated in the religion-related community groups and activities. She would not even be an occasional host parent or mentor. She shunned the parent groups for the catechism program. She was always a bit outside, by her own choice, and ultimately, in my battle with her, it was her choices to be ‘outside’ so much that allowed me, and the good wise women who cooperated with one another more, who were members of the church in which I was married to defeat her, and which perhaps led to our eventual reconciliation without her trying to regain or exert control anymore.
Unknown to my mother, like her, over time I learned to retreat and keep a low profile and be compliant in the things most important to her and to me, such as education and reading. I also used sports and yoga to learn greater self-discipline and emotional control. My next younger half sister was learning to be as manipulative and relentless in what she wanted from anyone, including her older and younger sister, as my mother and didn’t respect boundaries. I’d long had to hang bells on my room’s door to at least give me a split second warning when my sister was about to barge in and demand something from me or pick another argument. She knew how to push my emotional buttons and if I was ever to have peace I had to learn to control emotions better to minimize and hopefully, someday, prevent that. I knew I’d been born with a temper also, and had tendencies to be far too honest than most, especially people with stronger self-preservation instincts than mine.
Sometimes silence, or ‘very economical responses,’ was a better policy than complete, detailed honesty and as a teen I struggled to learn that, but I eventually did. I also gradually developed my own sense of individuality and self-worth, though my parents, especially my mother, since their primary interests and ambitions had little to do with parenting, barely noticed. Thus it was a complete shock to them when I’d had enough of my increasingly dysfunctional family and the lack of any real efforts from the recognized adults to remedy this, and left.
Neither parent ever really allowed a believed to be errant child to really defend herself or himself, mostly herself. Their minds were already made up about the child and her intentions, and punishment was already decided. If either parent ever thought about the religious thought and how it could be applied, ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner,’ that wasn’t evident to my parents’ child-raising. The parental rants, and real verbal abuse, were intended to terrorize, intimidate, humiliate and break any independent spirit. I learned that my mother had learned this from her mother and the military, and my father learned this mostly from the military. His parents were very different and far more loving than my mother’s parents. The parental rants, whether it was really understood by both parents–it was by my mother–were well-honed psychological and psychic warfare to force meek compliance and abject obedience. Worse, as far as both parents thought about this, it wasn’t working in those critical, vulnerable, potentially embarrassing teen years, which meant my parents, particularly my mother, began doubling down on habits, rather than imagine changing them, since parenting in general was a low priority.
To pursue their careers and financially do the best for the household they wanted and the basic needs of their children, they had designated me, the oldest daughter, a ‘surrogate parent,’ but with no authority to enforce rules beyond the despicable act of tattling. None of us being saints, and all of us, to varying degrees, seeing how successful a manipulator my mother was with dividing us against one another and even manipulating my father, this idea did not work. Our methods of survival, including minimizing parental rage, devolved into an attempt to hide as much as we knew would cause problems, generally. Unfortunately, my next younger half sister had learned to be an excellent actress as well as manipulator, and yes, often a liar, and could very effectively make her own sins and transgressions seem small and magnify those of others and make our punishments worse. To avoid the unpleasant results of her successes, there were times we would do her chores, as well as our own, for a few weeks or months until we’d had more than enough of her insatiable tyranny and would ourselves brace for our doom and confess to our parents, all, before she could. After one particularly long confession from the three other siblings my next half sister’s efforts then backfired on her. She ended up the most severely punished and behaved herself for at least six months afterward–quite a feat of restraint for her. After a time, though, my youngest half sister began learning from the middle sister, and my job as a surrogate parent was getting much harder and more painful.
The oldest child, no matter how old the others were, was always more responsible for anything in the household not being to our parents’ satisfaction, and was always punished with anyone else who actually had broken the rules. By the time I left home, the youngest child was 14, definitely old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and take responsibility, alone, for his or her decisions. My parents didn’t see it that way, and had been used to me putting up with it all. Their peace, though, was costing me my sanity, peace, and spirit, and I began to really realize this the last two years I lived at home. I was already trying to find a way out. It was not easy. I’d already been warned that my government knew I was an anti-war protestor and I was failing background checks. I had literally filled out almost 300 job applications, had only about four interviews and then would be told about the background checks so many were doing. I felt very trapped, but . it was still a complete shock, as much to me, as to my parents, the day I’d had enough and left home-literally taking to the hills and not returning.
Thus, my absolutely infuriated mother cursed me, and my life when I left home. When, after a rough few months my life, to her amazement, got better and I was successfully standing on my own, my mother became even more enraged. She then cursed my wedding and when the curses didn’t seem to be working all that well at a distance, she decided to bring her rage to me, and my husband, in person, in October, right before Hallowe’en. But this was to really be a two act performance. The first act was actually at my sister’s wedding, including the fact she allowed it to happen before mine and make it very clear who was the favored daughter and what I was about to lose. It all happened in 1971.
Her curse normally would be quite powerful. Related to me, it had very deep tangled roots, roots meant to strangle, tie me up in knots, and control me, to run my life, as SHE wanted it. I had REBELLED and slipped HER superior control. Mother knew best. My growing success, independent of HER, was absolutely insufferable and could not be tolerated or allowed. Also, my rebellion was not only against her wishes, but what she believed most of society of that day wanted and expected. Worse, what deceit–I’d always been so cooperative, except when I quietly retreated to my room and closed my door, or got the rare chance to escape into the hills just east of our home as my brother did. Where on earth and how had I learned to be so deceptive to her and hide so well? As I said, she was generally observant, but not always, and introspection had never been a strong character trait in her. There were reasons for this that I only learned much later in life. However, this was 1971, and my mother was trying to wreck my coming marriage, and the rest of my new life nearly 2,000 miles from her and force my return to her house and control.
My mother was not entirely to blame for how she had developed. She had a seriously warped and abusive childhood thanks to her own late mother, another and darker witch. That and the long history of unusual family heritage, including at least three persons accused of witchcraft, on both sides of her family were not the best combination in the world.. To survive her own childhood she had developed mental toughness and cynicism, and learned to reject any blame for what happened to her as a child in order to develop self-preservation, and a sense of self-worth.. She needed to do this, but went a bit overboard. She lost almost all ability for introspection, and instead developed a belief in her superiority to many, and that she could defeat any future obstacles and persons. The cynicism unfortunately also gave her a general tendency to believe the worst of anyone who was crossing her in any way. If one crossed her, regardless of who it was, husband, child, and even many co-workers, she had little tolerance, understanding or inclination for forgiveness for a very long time–and any conflicts were almost always the other person’s fault.. She had a very hard time admitting she might have made a mistake or a few.
My mother was sensible enough to recognize the very real faults and nature of her own toxic mother. She sensibly rarely saw her mother after leaving home and also, sensibly, largely kept us children away from her mother. I only met my maternal grandmother twice–and that was twice too many times. After those occasions, I was quite content to only communicate with her by occasional letter or phone call at a distance of more than 1,000 miles. Ironically, though my mother knew what her mother was and all but hated her mother, she failed to see how much she had learned and was herself turning on others, including her own husband and children. It wasn’t constant and it was clear Mother occasionally did have some realization of what she had inherited and learned, and was often attempting to fight her upbringing and family nature, at least with other adults. Yet, the dark side was there, and she chose to unleash it in full force the year of my wedding.
I, her oldest daughter, which made the situation that much worse to her,I had, indeed, seriously annoyed her–absolutely enraged her. I had not really done anything wrong, but it would be almost four full years before she realized and really accepted that. My husband and I had decided to get married before that time came, if it ever did, given our perspective and her anger in 1971.
However, she also underestimated me, and failed to consider what heritage might have passed to me, and I was greatly enjoying my newly won independence and increasing successes in creating my own life as I wanted and with whom I wanted.. She also failed to consider that for centuries, wise women, witches had managed to get along with, and even use churches to help one another. While I did not agree with everything the churches taught, I generally liked the church communities, and they had often provided a peaceful retreat for me. I did recognize the potential power of women, working together in the churches, or church communities, and respected it. After all, who physically cared for the churches most, who organized the most fundraisers and did the most work for them, once they were built? Who taught most classes in primary schools attached to the churchers? Even before the modern existence of widespread networks of church-related schools, who was it who most often read sections of the Bible, or other religious texts to children and helped them with their early schoolwork in reading and writing. It was usually women, not always mothers, if they were illiterate, but for many centuries, everyone understood that one didn’t dare trust strange males, even teachers and ministers or priests with daughters, of any age, without a parent’s careful monitoring.
I need to explain something to readers born after 1975 or so. When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and even all through the 1970’s, right here in the allegedly developed, civilized modern United States of America, women and girls were property. First you were owned by your parents, then your husband. Unmarried females, particularly those still under the age of marital consent in their parents homes were also a burden. Their value was their pristine virginity first, then loyalty and subservience to parents, husband and Church in that order. The churches, all being patriarchal with not a clue about real and all human nature, especially the nature of women reinforced women being property. Government at all levels was male and raised by generations of patriarchal churches and parents who willingly went along with the churches, and all did their best, constantly, to reinforce the patriarchal ideals of male superiority and male right to nearly absolute power over all living things, including human women and children, and the inanimate world as well. This is what nearly everyone at the time really believed. All the major religions around the world were patriarchal, male run religions. Civil governments, if they were not theocracies where religion was formally combined with government, still all allowed themselves to be influenced by religions–male run religions.
In all religions whose roots were in West Asia, women were seen and believed to be all potentially weak, evil descendants of Eve who had fallen to the temptations of a powerful supernatural gone rogue archangel turned into a snake–she fell for a snake in all pictures of this event, suggesting she was a very myopic idiot, while it was completely ignored that Adam fell for the persuasion of a mere female, his inferior, not a supernatural being. Women and girls were all daughters of Eve, or even worse, in some religions, possibly Lilith–a female angel turned demon because she rebelled against God and Adam and didn’t want what she considered to be inferior human children by Adam. She preferred to consort with other rogue angels.. She was said to be punished by being consigned to Hell and almost all her children, except the lamia and succubi were killed. She’s believed to wander the earth inciting women to rebellion, and stealing and killing human children. Sudden infant death syndrome was believed to be supernaturally caused by Lilith and her demon children. . We human, or in my family, maybe mostly human, women and girls were all believed to be barely above all the devils in Hell.
Sex was also widely taught as ‘original sin,’ and what got the human race, thrown out of Heaven and doomed to live short, hard lives, generally, and suffer. . After all, Lilith had enjoyed sext. Technically, just by reading the Bible, most people can figure out the ‘original sin’ was hubris–thinking and acting on the idea that a mere human knew more than God and could make decisions that ran counter to God. Again, though, that did not go with what the male leaders of all churches then wanted to believe about themselves and all men. You’d think from the harsh beliefs, not a woman would exist at all, anywhere, but there was the knowledge that men could not reproduce themselves on their own, and men also had the right to servants–the half of the species who got them thrown out of heaven. Women were a necessary evil and had to be tightly controlled so the human race could survive and grow, but women were believed to be fundamentally weak and easily could become evil. Yet despite all, women had power. Men needed women to have children and they wanted sexual pleasure. This was somehow wrong and all women’s fault, and sex, being evil and a constant repetition of original sin, should then be minimized, just for procreation. Men were not expected to exert any self-discipline or self control; their extra urges were all WOMEN’s fault. Women were actively seducing them, all the time. So men thought they needed to control and minimize the public appearances of women, especially in the male work-places–nearly all workplaces were male–up to the 1970’s, This also include the physical appearance–anything that might emphasize our feminine appearance, except when THEY wanted to have sexual relations. So there were dress and make-up codes for school, churches and public places, lots of them, all initially made by men, and the occasional cooperative community matriarchs and religious women, such as nuns.
Here were some of the rules of the day in most public settings for the ideal young ladies. No tight sweaters, no padded bras to enlarge one’s bust, nor too loose bras. If you wore a lightweight summer dress, you must wear a full slip beneath it. No loud bright colors.. No red lipstick unless you were married and then it better not be too red. And keep those hemlines at or just below the knees. It wasn’t just church schools whose teachers and administrators would make a girl kneel down to see where her skirt fell and send her home with a stern note to her parents if the hem didn’t touch the floor. The churches were much happier when the designers decided to have long skirts and dresses, and subdued colors. Ladies also were required to wear hats or other head coverings in churches, and otherwise often when out in public, even to restaurants.. No high heels, but no flats either in offices, but any elevated heels above one inch and below three, only if you were at least 16. I’ll spare you the long list of what was prohibited in swimsuits and some additional summer wear and could rapidly get a female arrested for ‘indecent exposure’ in the 1950’s, 1960’s and even into the 1970’s in many states. The good news was we were not required to wear hijabs or burkas.
The churches, and parents trying to be teachers to their children probably would have all been better off had they all agreed to jettison the ‘Old Testament’ long ago, but they never did. As a result, for the lives of women, girls, and all children generally, well, women and children were no more than another form of livestock and property, on earth to serve men, only and women and girls all needed simply to accept that and comply.
As part of this global male-run world, men only could have an interest in sex and indulge in it, freely. It was natural for men, they could have natural urges. Women and girls, however, were literally told by their parents, schools, ministers and priests–and even doctors–that sexual interest and urges for them were abnormal, evil and sinful. Sex for women was supposed to be a DUTY to their husbands, and only to their lawfully married overlords. You serviced your husband’s natural urges, served his other needs and interests and never argued with him. Men were always right, as the superior gender. Wives were required, yes required, to give their husbands children–more servants.
A famous comedy line from the 1960’s that always made women and teen girls wince was ‘the Pope says you gotta…’ It was no comedy to women and girls. But that was life in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s and everyone knew it. Therefore women had to be constantly on their guard to protect their valuable internal box with which they had God’s curse to be born, while men and older boys were free to constantly try to assault it. This was before DNA tests and everyone of the billions of people already on the planet fell into 8 blood types. If a female got pregnant it was always her fault, for being a slut and anyone of many could be the father. Therefore only she and her family were responsible for that child, unless the real father foolishly spoke up or she had been seen only with one person in a small community.
While men could behave as male sluts, and didn’t have to be loyal until marriage, and even then, the church excused them and women had to forgive them, men almost all wanted to marry virgins. That way they owned something valuable that others hadn’t dirtied. They also didn’t have to worry about contagious sexually transmitted and hard to cure diseases. Only women were thought to transmit those, of course, keeping in line with the unscientific religious dogma of the day that also influenced the civil government.
It was very hard to escape this system. Because women were weaker and inferior, any work they did could be paid less. Because they were the property of their husbands or parents, they could not own their own credit cards and by the early 1970’s were just getting the right to have bank accounts in their own names, and an occasional rarely offered credit card with a very small credit limit. I had one of the first small credit cards in my own name when I was married. After that, all my credit cards, for many years, were in my husband’s name and I only appeared on them as the wife of my husband. Despite my low paid female job when I was engaged and in college, I earned more than my husband did, and I even earned a small scholarship.
That was another aspect of the male run world in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. Intellectual and scientific women never got a big scholarship: only male athletes did. Female sports programs were just beginning and not equally funded. Besides, who was ever going to watch female sports on television, right? Men also got far more grants and very low interest loans for education, especially for technical and science degrees. Women were regularly discouraged, by schools, churches, and even their own parents, from taking science and technology classes, just as they were discouraged from seeking apprenticeships in the trades or going to trade institutes. In fact, many of those institutes banned females outright–and could. Every girl heard that if she were not feminine enough, and did not keep herself just to the accepted female office and school careers, she would never get a husband. It absolutely would not do to seem smarter and more able to take care of herself and others than any potential good husband!
So proper parents with proper expectations limited the dating of their daughters which typically did not start before the age of 16, the second in the last year of secondary school. That way if she got pregnant by taking extra time to get home after the prom, she would have most of her full education normal for females at that time, and finish with a GED that might be offered by that school. She and her partner might be persuaded to get married, as in many states, the churches and state governments would allow teens 16 and older to marry, with parental consent. They might get divorced later, but at least the daughter was married when she had that embarrassing baby.
Parties had to be chaperoned and hosted by adults–other parents with their own children, including ideally daughters they also wanted to protect. Only sluts, sex workers and alcoholic women, derisively called ‘bar flies’ went to bars. Proper ladies could go to ‘night clubs,’ pubs and upscale bars, accompanied by a group of other women and entering and leaving with them, or their husbands. Dates were with someone who had been introduced to your parents, and had good, known parents, went to church on Sunday, ideally, was getting good grades in school, had manners–at least in front of parents and other adults, and in public places locally where they could be seen and reported on by other adults who might know the parents. The proper datable teen boys had to also be willing to be questioned by the girls’ parents. Most learned to be great Eddie Haskell types around the parents. If a girl wanted a good marriage, then there was very little sneaking around with unapproved boys from the wrong kinds of families. Parents had many friends and acquaintances and no one was fixated on cell phones. They didn’t exist then. Adults were almost always watching young people and you never knew all one’s parents and acquaintances, especially in smaller cities and towns where the families lived for generations and there were dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles who all still communicated with one another.. Everyone, even responsible, determined to be careful teen girls and the growing number of girls in co-ed colleges, generally believed, rightly, there was greater safety in numbers. Parents encouraged double dating or dating in groups, and most of us girls and young women actually had no problem with that. Women and girls were expected to stick together and help protect one another. Most of the time they did and it had many other advantages starting in the late 1960’s. A lot of opportunities that now exist in education, the workplace, and government would not now exist had not women learned to be, needed to be, as cooperative as they once were. That is one thing they need to learn and practice again.
That was female life, generally, right up to and well past my marriage in 1971. Worse for me, my mother had dark secrets about her personal life that worked with ‘the system’ too well. After she graduated from secondary school, she herself had made a few very unwise choices that I did not yet know about. By the standards of the day, she was actually very lucky to have married my father–and she knew it. Thus, she was always afraid her daughters would repeat her own mistakes–which her daughters would not know about for many decades– and ruin their own chances for a good marriage, which was absolutely essential for a higher economic standard and old age security. So in one respect at least, Mother was in complete agreement with the churches. It might help keep daughters chaste and able to have good secure marriages, by teaching that any sexual interests were dirty, sinful and abnormal and sex was a duty after marriage and only within marriage, ladies might someday be enjoyed, safely, as a sudden, consequential blessing for being lawfully married and loyal to one’s husband. Thus complicating and adding to my abrupt departure from home, I was still a virgin when I married my husband, only my mother chose not to believe it at the time which fueled her rants and curses..
In 1971, my middle half sister was enjoying the situation of me, her elder sister, being disbelieved, cursed, damned and mistreated by my mother who had let out her dark witch side, because that put my sister more in favor with Mother. Being Mother’s favorite could yield benefits, including financial, and in May, 1971, my sister had reasons for wanting those benefits. Being young, not quite 20, and very human, and never having wanted an older sister in the first place, or probably any sisters for that matter if she were honest with herself, she took full advantage of my fall from parental, and possibly general, social grace.. Most people probably would have done exactly the same as my sister did, in those days, especially in any other dysfunctional family. There were plenty of dysfunctional families but they were all hidden much better then,, just as young daughters over the age of 18 generally hid the fact that many were living with boyfriends they hoped to marry.
Although my husband and I were already engaged, since New Year’s Day in 1971, in May, my sister decided she would be married first. She had not left home, at least not the home area, and not under the circumstances I had, and Mother had a tendency to always favor whichever daughter was appearing to behave and sound as Mother wished. So almost immediately, my mother and sister were in complete amity and enthusiastically rapidly moved forward with my sister’s wedding, with my parents footing the entire bill.
Ah, my sister had a lovely wedding at a chapel in the redwood forest, in June, with the service said by our long-time parish priest. She was dressed magnificently in a lace covered hooped wedding gown with demi-train. Her only problem, besides me being there at all, was that she had not practiced wearing the huge hooped dress. Every time she turned quickly, her dress swept one or or more people off their feet, or they lost their balance trying to jump out of the way. This included her groom at the altar. The priest had a hard time occasionally keeping a straight face–when he didn’t also need to jump out of the way.
As one of my father’s favorite champagne type beverages was a sparkling semi-sweet red blend called ‘Cold Duck’, the dry cleaners made a lot of money after the reception, and my mother had to have the back drawing room, or family and dining room carpet professionally cleaned. I realize not all the readers of this tale might not be U.S. American. After several mishaps where people holding wine glasses had tried to jump out of the way of my sister’s gown, my parents were encouraging my sister to spend most of the time out on the more spacious covered deck adjacent to the dining-family room. At least the carpet on the deck could be washed off with a garden hose and normal, more affordable soaps or detergents.
The reception was at our home for just family, and closest friends, that is my parents’ closest friends besides family, except for the group of interesting looking very Italian cousins of my brother-in-law’s father who just happened to have a new career proposition for my new brother-in-law, which he chose to decline, probably wisely. For some unknown reason, most of these cousins chose not to attend the reception. My sister’s one regret for so eagerly having my parents pay for her wedding was that she was allowed to have very few of her own friends present. She had not realized that weddings, paid for by parents, in those days were also a traditional community ritual for parents to demonstrate their success in having a daughter properly married and with a great show to their friends. Weddings showed off multiple aspects of success and earned additional community respect. I was upending that, but as long as I stayed out of the way as much as possible and yet was there, no one had to know that.
Both mother and sister knew I could be counted on for public good manners, and to serve them at the wedding, and I would be properly attired, despite the deplorable accident of my ill-fated attempt to get rid of unwanted sun-bleaching of my hair that had happened the last two summers I’d lived at home. When I moved to Minnesota, the winter of 1970 had darkened the new growth, resulting in a distinct and unpleasant three-tone mess. A hairdresser I’d finally consulted earlier that spring in 1971 had said that the only way I could get rid of it was to bleach my hair entirely, and then darken it all to the shade I wanted with yet another permanent hair coloring. Never try this on baby fine hair. Oh the bleach removed the three colors all right, but the second darkening color, a light, slightly reddish, brown did not take. I was, to my dismay, a blonde, as my younger half sister was. Worse, it was something of a strawberry blonde, almost exactly the same shade as my husband’s hair. Most people in Minnesota, at least, didn’t think the result was bad at all. There were plenty of East European blondes, though I’m not sure there were many that were strawberry blonde. I was not happy about this but there wasn’t a blasted, or blessed, thing I could do about this, except to let the disaster grow out and keep cutting the ends, about a two year process. Mother’s curses, though weakened by distance, were having at least some effect. This was to be yet another problem at my sister’s wedding, though I didn’t know it yet, and in part the curse of my unwanted blonde hair boomeranged.
As soon as I arrived two days before the wedding, I knew it was a mistake, for me, to be there. Knowing my mother’s and sister’s feelings toward me that year, as both were quite clear about them, I had first called my parents two weeks before the date, to ensure that I could, or should, come. I was told it would be more of a problem for them, and cause another row if I did not. People would talk and it would embarrass my parents if I did not come. However, even though they wanted me in California, I paid for my ticket, myself. It was part of my punishment. I was more anxious about the cost and not causing yet another conflict, and didn’t think to ask about an open-ended return in case I wanted to return earlier. Unfortunately, I got the discount I needed with my tight budget by the ticket having a requirement of a no change of return without a hefty fee.
Why did I even call first? A week before my call to my parents, my half sister had already called me–collect, I must add–and pointedly told me I could be a guest at best and to stay out of the way as much as possible. She bluntly told me that she did not want me there, but my parents did as it would be another scandal and embarrassment and take away from my sister’s wedding if I was NOT there. I simply had to be there even if she did not want me there. My parents were footing the bill and she did not want them embarrassed by me again, at HER wedding.. However, as she continued her tirade she emphasized that she was deliberately not inviting me to be even a bride’s maid, much less her maid of honor. I no longer had any honor with her or my mother, as far as she was concerned, and while at HER wedding, I was to stay out of her and Mom’s way as much as possible.
The call left me feeling like I was just a bit of window dressing or a prop, but I was still trying to do what I could to mitigate the problems for them when I had left home. I had not yet really figured out the problems were almost entirely of their own making. Then too, sometimes my sister exaggerated parental feelings toward me over the years; but in this instance she had not. I called my parents to verify what they wanted.
Although my mother picked me up at the airport, and took me to have my hair done (again, at my own expense) she made it clear that she found both picking me up and then taking me to and from her own hairdresser unwanted tiresome extra efforts. She knew I was already enrolled in summer college sessions and working at nights. When she thought I was going to get my hair done decently for the wedding with that kind of schedule and a five hour plane ride besides, I don’t understand, to this day. I worked the night shift at a hotel, assisting the desk clerk and night auditor, and running the switchboard. I was also taking 9 credits at the university and had a lot of homework. We did not yet have a microwave oven so everything was cooked for meals from scratch, and I did the cooking. I had had almost no sleep in two days, but somehow I’d been expected to get my hair properly done and keep it that way for several days before and during the wedding and also had to have it done, professionally, as my mother wanted–again, at my own expense. Either that, or I should have saved up enough money to rent my own car, besides paying for an airplane flight–and a decent wedding gift. Mother should not have had the extra time and trouble of toting me to and from a hairdresser. Right, a college student paying her own way at a Big Ten university and working for typical low level female worker wages not quite full time was supposed to be able to rent a car. Clearly my mother was not thinking straight. Anger often does that to people.
Upon my arrival at their house (I no longer thought of it as my home anymore under the circumstances), my mother and sister lost no time in treating me like a skunk at a garden party. Neither were pleased by my newly blonde locks which Mother’s own hairdresser had made look surprisingly attractive in a formal do, not quite as elaborate as that of my sister. My sister seethed and when our parents were not within earshot, had hissed at me through clenched teeth and demanded how DARE I try to look better than she by dyeing my hair. My pink damask satin dress I’d made, with the help of a friend, fit well and that also didn’t set well by her. No assurances that she was far better dressed and no one would mistake her being the star at her own wedding satisfied her. By evening, less than six hours after my arrival, I had already looked over my ticket to see what it would take to move up the return flight, and I had called the airline to see they would make any exception to the fee for changing the return flight and if they might have a seat or standby for that night, so I could leave. It was after normal business hours, and I connected with only a recording. The limitations expressly written on the ticket told me changing it would have cost me money I did not have, and there would be an additional cab fare that I also didn’t have. I considered trying to call a friend and see if I could borrow the extra money needed to make an early return. My father knew I was considering turning around and leaving immediately, and urged me to stay instead. I stayed, only for him. I was even surprised he seemed to care that I stayed. I had been led to believe he now hated me as much as my mother and half sister did. Since he had never called nor written, it had been easy to believe.
I should also explain something. I did not yet know my sister was a half sister but I had long suspected something was off. We were just too different and didn’t look anything alike. I had wondered at times, though, if I had been the one switched at birth in the hospital, somehow. The only reason I wasn’t absolutely self-convinced of this notion was because I had long felt at home, more at home than at home, with my cousins, my father’s sister’s children than anyone else in the family and there was absolutely no doubt that my aunt was my father’s sister. Also my brother and I did resemble one another and he was most definitely my parents son. He and I had some of the same interests, shared more with my father than my mother.
My mother presented herself to the world, but especially to us, her children, as always having been a proper lady. I had been told there were some early strains in the marriage, all my father’s and his mother’s fault, but they had stayed married. I had no idea how strained my parents’ marriage really had really been for about 5 years and that it really was entirely my mother’s choice and doing that she lived so far from my father’s government contract construction jobs in Kodiak and Labrador. Father had not been perfectly behaved in this period also and had decided to keep silent to allow his family and my mother to present a better image of his marriage and to not let us children, when young, accidentally say something embarrassing, had we known the truth. There had been a few clues–but too few and mostly when I was too young to really notice and think about them. I started to think more about them as my husband’s and my wedding plans progressed and my mother’s behavior caused me to begin to see her in a vivid new light, a little as others sometimes saw her, and with better understanding. This really began the day she arrived for my wedding with full intentions to demolish it and humiliate me in front of my husband’s entire family and in their Church.
To their credit, my sister and mother both,years later–decades in the case of my sister, ultimately apologized to me for the horrible experiences. My mother actually apologized for several years of her mistreatment of me, and then–for something more. Her last apology a few months before her death, was ‘for my sisters,’ without saying the whole of what she meant. I thought she’d simply meant for having been much more lenient with them than she had with me and making me so responsible for them even long after they ceased to be children without much understanding of right and wrong. I now know she was probably apologizing for them being my half sisters and so different from me but constantly telling me to be ‘more like them to get along.’ and that she WAS,indeed, more lenient with them. This was because my father had known they were not his and at times was sometimes more distant toward them. But when my mother pushed me to be more like my sisters in some ways, all I could think was, ‘ they are so different from me and I don’t know why, but If she only knew half of what my sisters were really like, from the time they were say, about 12, she never would have said that.’ There were plenty of times I had to keep from either laughing or making some response to really make her suspicious, which actually would not have done me any good, any more than my sisters..
Both my parents never seemed to be satisfied with punishing one child alone, though Father was probably worse in this behavior.. Both seemed only to relieve their ire completely and begin to simmer down when they had discovered enough misdeeds so that all of us were equally subdued. I suspect they believed this was necessary so none could crow to the others about having behaved better than his or her siblings. Sometimes silence was safety and the best policy all around. Unfortunately, only my brother and I seemed to fully realize this. My sisters, too often, had other ideas. They had observed, over time, that my brother and I appeared to have more expected of us, and that this could sometimes be used to their advantage.
There were other times when the best way to avoid all the potential conflicts, and not being able to decently defend one’s self was to simply head for the hills. Even our own separate bedrooms was not enough of a retreat. That weekend at my sister’s wedding, I no longer even really had that. Every room in the house had been taken over for some aspect or another of the big wedding. At one point I considered burying myself beneath all the coats and jackets that had been taken to my room and seeing if I could hide and stay completely out of sight in that way. I was contemplating the situation when a younger, more astute friend of my parents found me and decided to be a friend and get me in a more fun manner out of the way by helping to decorate my sister’s car., and also to keep a look out while she filled my sister’s suitcase for her honeymoon with rice–emptying at least two one pound bags of it all over her clothes. All the car-decorating participants then had great fun with washable poster paint and balloons. We filled up the entire cabin of the car. My sister related how all the way on their drive to Carmel she had to keep catching and popping balloons (someone had thoughtfully provided some helium), to allow them to see the road on their trip, and read a map. As she would also tell friends, she was glad that she and her husband had an essentially two-seater Opel GT. If the cabin had been larger she would have probably been catching and popping balloons for two days, instead of just two to three hours, non-stop..
My brother, seven years younger and not quite 15, observed the whole situation and stayed quiet and largely out of the way, almost as much as I began trying to do. He and my youngest half sister were among the wedding party, otherwise I think he might have been off with his friends and maybe exploring some newly found cave in the hills. He generally had the sense to do this when there was tension and conflict in the household and one or another parent was not handling matters well. Oddly, it was this very habit of his that gave me my own idea of how to finally leave home the day I’d done so. Great minds think alike.
A few weeks after my sister’s wedding, I had some communication with a best friend I’d had in California where I lived before going to Minnesota, where I then was continuing my college education, and my husband’s family lived. I wasn’t optimistic about having a wedding in California but was sure my mother would feel further insulted–and angered–if I did not at least try to have it there, even though it would be a greater inconvenience for my husband’s much larger family. It was traditional to have the wedding in the bride’s home location, near her parents. I approached my mother with an idea for a Christmastime wedding. My husband and I were going to pay for all of it, and my best friend in California had offered to help me make my wedding dress. I had already picked out the pattern and my husband and I already had some savings for the expenses we could not charge on our two small credit cards, since both of us were still in college. I had a Montgomery Ward’s card, and his was a Dayton’s card. Neither covered anything not found in those department stores. All we asked was for my parents’ blessing and maybe for them to put up my mother-in-law to be for a couple of nights, in addition to my husband and myself. It would have been a small reception in California, just as anywhere else, since our budget was quite small. My friend and her parents had offered their back garden, if the local Catholic Church we’d long attended was not available for the service and/or reception.
As I said, it would be four years from the time I left home in August, 1970 before my irate mother would forgive me for having left home. I’ve already explained this a little. I was the surrogate parent but with no real authority to my younger siblings, but there was more. I managed, under Mother’s orders and her large perpetual, erasable wall calendar, the entire household including cooking, cleaning, gardening, laundry, mending, grooming and cleaning up after pets, and tracking the use of staples and helping to make a grocery list, As soon as I qualified for a driver’s license I also did some of the grocery shopping and took my siblings to after school events, and to the library. This was besides normal secondary school and later college studies. I did most of the cooking. My next sister was well remembered for too many disasters like blowing up a pyrex pitcher of gelatin–bright red–and water all over a kitchen on one occasion and making muffins with baking soda instead of baking powder. Not that I didn’t have my own bright idea go terribly wrong. There was a cake for my mother’s birthday one year in which we got the bright idea to do as in days of your and hide one of her gifts in it. We were rather young at this time, about 11 and 9. The gift was a container of scented bath oil ‘pearls.’ It had not occurred to us that when the cake baked it would get hot enough to melt the container–and ‘pearls.’ The cake looked great, but my father thought it appeared a little under-done and too moist. When he poked the top with his finger gently a steady stream of bubbles flowed out–and kept flowing. Fortunately, though, it was a sheet cake and only half was rendered inedible. We were able to save and frost the other half and eat it with no ill effects. I did most of the ironing and mending also. Fortunately, in those days we did not have smoke alarms when my siblings were learning, too often the hard way, what settings on the iron went with what fabrics. They had not had the fabrics and sewing class I did one summer, beyond the usual middle school single minimal course smattering of all aspects of ‘home economics.’ We rotated some of the house cleaning tasks but I often ended up re-doing some. My brother and I shared most of the garden tasks. In addition to all of this, my next sister and I were expected to have some kind of part time employment. By the time I left home, she and we were both attending junior college and I needed to prepare to transfer to another local four year college, yet another time consuming task. Either it would be the state college, or I had to find a full scholarship somehow and other means to be anywhere else.
I was also an anti-war protester in one of the few local groups that never broke or bent laws and never made the nightly news for bad behavior. The college had even agreed to provide some free office space, and we had some local firefighters and police who had been Vietnam veterans and had not found the war to be justified, as members. Nevertheless, my mother did not know that and even if she had, she probably would have forbidden my involvement. It had been made clear to me, at least three years before this, that my mother, at least, did not believe the U.S. government could ever do any wrong. My father had his reservations about that, for good reason, but this was not an argument he would ever take up with his wife, whom though she could be quite unstable at times, he still deeply loved.
This was not only during some of the worst Vietnam War years, but at a time when birth control was not available to unmarried women. Again, my parents, like most of society in those days, wanted their daughters to be saintly, obedient virgins when they walked to the altar, and the more social activities a female had especially in the company of both males and females, the more potential for endangerment of this goal. I had already decided after considerable thought in middle school and the first year of secondary school I was not really suited to be a nun. My mother, on the other hand, had decided I should stay unmarried but gainfully employed and living at home until the last of my siblings had left home, and then become a librarian.
No matter what, my parents absolutely were not comfortable with me dating or having any social life that might lead to a serious relationship, and God forbid I be anywhere or do anything that might result in an embarrassment to them, especially getting myself with an embarrassing unwanted, they might be required to help support. Mother worried far too much and was suspicious of any of my or my sisters’ social life, but especially mine, as her oldest daughter. I did not mention nor discuss my anti-war social activities. All but one of my acquaintances, male and female, were friends whom I treated equally as friends but Mother never understood that.
One day, I had done something that nearly everyone else considered nothing out of the norm for a college-aged young adult, sharing some donuts in ‘the wrong place,’ with male college acquaintances when my female friends turned out to be all out of town. Mother found out and had a major meltdown and would not listen to a word I said. The mere appearance of impropriety and the fact she heard of this were enough to damn me, and damn and curse me she most certainly did. My mother had been in the Navy, in Intelligence in World War II and while she had never used profanity before that day, she must have used most of what she’d ever heard toward me that afternoon just before I left. Then her last words were those dreaded by almost any child who grew up in the post World War II U.S. and had veterans for parents, especially any who had PTSD, as my father did, ‘wait until your father gets home.’
That was when I did as my brother had so often done. I, quite literally, took to the hills, just to the east of our home, and kept climbing while I kept thinking. I finally decided I’d had enough of my very dysfunctional family and all the threats from my government that I had also not shared with my mother and just kept going.
I ultimately ended up in Minnesota.
I had let my parents know I was still alive, and others also knew much sooner. One lied to my mother. That person was a government official and my mother then chose to believe a government official in the Nixon administration rather than her own daughter, me. She chose to believe all the lies the government said about me and my friends, and that no one had known I was alive for several weeks, and I was the most ungrateful scandalous daughter on God’s entire earth. She then predicted a dire future for me and that I would come crawling back to her and my father, and added more of the ‘best’ of her ill wishes, and other verbal abuse. . I’m sure she thought she had well and truly cursed me and her ill wishes would all come to pass.
I had some very precarious weeks and months but by Christmas, 1970 I was doing well, and my husband-to-be had proposed and we had announced our engagement formally by the first of 1971. I have no doubt the fact that I had very decent, if low paid, employment, could afford my own, even if very modest, apartment in a poor part of the city, was engaged to a very decent young man who was in college and had a bright future and came from a very good, somewhat prominent family in his own right and community absolutely infuriated my mother. HOW DARE HER DAUGHTER PROSPER AFTER MAKING HER SO ANGRY!
Gee, maybe she ought to have remembered Father also had an interesting family background–he also was a witch but in different ways, and I had BOTH their families’ genes. I also knew I had done nothing wrong. She only believed I had–besides leaving her without childcare while she was determinedly advancing her outside of the home career, at which she was doing very well. How dare I not only anger but inconvenience her–especially so soon after my youngest half sister showed she was developing into an ill-tempered wild child for unknown reasons. As I said, people don’t think straight when they are angry and my mother was definitely very angry with me.
So the two weddings provided her with opportunities to punish me–or so she thought. She would humiliate me at my half-sister’s wedding and deny me the wedding I wanted. No one in Minnesota would aid or participate in a wedding there if my own mother shunned me, right?
Well, the problem with that idea was, Anthony and I had already determined we were going to have a small wedding and we’d be paying for it entirely, or nearly so, ourselves, regardless of where we ended up having it. We had already discussed the possibility of this very situation. Since most weddings did occur where brides lived, we had honored the tradition by first asking my parents, but already had a good Plan B. We were not seriously expecting my mother to welcome us having a wedding in California. I was pretty sure she had said at least something to co-workers about her great disappointment in me, at the least, and it would have been a further embarrassment to her to either not be able to invite her friends or pretend I was her beloved daughter and she was thrilled with my wedding in California.
Again, this was 1971, and if my parents were old fashioned conservatives in relatively liberal California, albeit this was northern California, not Los Angeles, Minnesotans could easily match them, for social conservatism. My husband’s family was not happy when he chose to move into my duplex about half way between my downtown job and the university, and a Californian who was at odds with her parents was not their ideal choice for a wife for him. It seemed very practical to us, financially and logistically, he had strongly made his interests in me very clear, and his grandmother who had once gone off with a traveling band and married the bandleader who turned into a gangster during prohibition agreed that it ought to be tolerable, given that we were already formally engaged when he decided to do this.
Anthony’s mother was not quite so tolerant. As far as she knew, nothing like this had happened before in the family, except for her mother. Certainly none of her children who all went to Catholic primary and secondary schools would do this. I’d only gone to Catholic primary school, and Godless public secondary schools. Being a devout and active member of the CCD was not quite good enough. Anthony’s older sister, like mine, had hidden the fact she was actually living with her husband to be before her own marriage. Both had then sped up the marriage timetable, quite prudently, when it seemed that they might not be able to conceal their situations much longer. None of the parents knew the reality, and neither my sister nor Anthony’s were volunteering the truth now, so as far as all three parents concerned knew, we were the only rebels. Our only real problem with parts of Tony’s family, really, though, was that we were much more open about our situation.
Of course, this is all laughable today, but we were being married in 1971, a time when in most states almost everyone still went to Church on Sunday, and birth control could only be had by married women, showing a marriage license to the clinic. There was also the tradition that marriage IN Church was to be for VIRGINS and virgins wore WHITE. Never mind the number of brides who had been breaking that rule for centuries, including my own half sister and many others we personally knew.
Well, given the slightly ivory and peach skin tones I’d inherited from the mix of my parents’ races and ethnicities (another little secret in mother’s family that was not yet known, though we knew my father had a large amount of west to northeast Asia genes), white always was a lousy color for me. I had long ago decided it was not my color, even on my wedding day. I liked cream, soft rosy-peach, ivory, well, something with a bit of color. There was this wonderful fabric store in Minneapolis, Amluxen’s, who had many soft shades of real satin and peau-de-soie that draped so much better, and felt so much nicer on the hand than all the polyester and nylon that was elsewhere. They also still had real cotton French made lace, beautiful Chantilly and other laces. I had priced out the fabrics I wanted, and picked a pattern and saved up what I would need for a very special dress, and one that I could and would wear again. On our budget, neither of us had any interest in one-time costume frivolities. We had already bought my husband a blue, double breasted blazer and nice trousers both in a fine wool blend that he could wear at events for some time to come–and did.
However, Mother’s curses were clearly not without some potency. We had an older car. It was a Rambler Classic 1963 or 1964 that had belonged to my mother-in-law, Maralyn.. She grew frustrated with its increasing need for engine repairs and the fact it had begun smoking. My husband was somewhat perplexed by this as she regularly took the car to a service center run by Church members whose sons were good people with whom he and his older brothers had gone to school. Then one day, about the time she was beginning to decide that she needed a newer car, Maralyn asked my husband what a dipstick was. She didn’t know and had never checked her oil and never asked the service center to do so and didn’t take the car there frequently enough for them, any more than my husband, to realize how often she ran the car very low on oil, and how dirty it was, all the time. My husband had noticed the last time he changed the oil it was, despite it being summer and summer weight, close to the sludge like tar used to pave the streets in the area which had finally prompted the discussion which led to her question.
The car burned oil by the time my husband took the title, a quart every 50 miles anytime one drove the car at anything over 45 miles per hour. Additionally, his younger brother had attempted to try to drive it already, forgot where the brake was and hit the side of the garage putting a dent into the left front by the headlight which had to be replaced, with its frame hammered back, somewhat, into shape to hold the light. One day as my mother-in-law had the car parked in front, an unlicensed uninsured 15 year old attempting to learn–without permission-to drive HIS parents’ car had come around the corner too fast and he plowed into the rear of my mother-in-law’s car. So the rear was more or less hammered back into place also but the trunk latch was a bit dicey and we had an additional bit of wire Tony strategically added to keep it closed.. Then one day, when my mother-in-law forgot her purse, and wallet at home and had a grocery cart full of food, some of which was perishable waiting to be checked out, she impatiently hurried home to retrieve her purse and took a shortcut through the empty neighboring lot, empty, that is save for some trees which she tried to slalom around. She hooked a right door handle on one of the trees and drove around the tree three times, nearly girdling it before successfully freeing herself and leaving a nice new dent in the door. Fortunately, the door still worked better than the trunk, even with the dent.
We obtained the car for $100, and Anthony and I spending two weekends thoroughly cleaning out her basement rooms, the garage, cleaning all the windows on the entire house, and doing some additional repairs–at our expense. It was probably the best deal we could actually do given both of us were going to college and not working at high paid full time careers yet. In between the two weekends of work, my husband’s next younger brother (same one who had caused the headlight replacement) decided to practice shooting cans in the large back garden with the family air rifle, missed, hit a rock in the garden with the pellet. It ricocheted and hit the back window of the hapless car. So, our next expense after taking possession of the roughed up Rambler, was a new window.
While we were spending the extra time on my mother-in-laws projects we also took advantage of the logistics to see if we could be married in my husband’s family Church. We were a little concerned, as Anthony had known most of the priests and nuns there to be almost as conservative as his mother. However, we were lucky.
The church had a new priest from New York, Father Like, a very modern, young and tolerant priest, who had once been a gang member in New York and lost an eye in a fight, which had caused him to change his ways. While he had a glass eye, he would occasionally wear a patch, especially at Hallowe’en when he gave out candy to the young visitors at the rectory at which he was assigned. The Church was popular for weddings and Christmas time was already taken. There were two Saturdays left, and of these there was already an afternoon wedding booked. We could either have October 30–the day before Hallowe’en, or October 23, so long as it was 11 a.m. sharp in the morning and we were out of the church entirely, everyone, by 12:30. My husband and I looked at each other, thought of my already irate mother and immediately took October 23. Then we went back to working on my mother-in-law’s house to have a working car for the modest honeymoon we’d planned at Wisconsin Dells.
The car turned out to have had another problem. This was Minnesota and salt was used on the roads. The straps holding the gas tank began to rust and one failed, dropping one end of the gas tank on the asphalt as Tony was coming home from college just before the weekend I was to get my wedding dress material. The large bump, while moving on the road, also knocked a previously repaired corner of the tank hard enough to break the repair and the tank began to leak.
My husband discovered a couple of other repairs were also needed and the only way we could afford new straps and other parts was to pay cash. I would have to give up my cash savings for the material I wanted for my dress and use the Montgomery Wards charge card we had and make do with whatever Montgomery Wards had in its limited fabric department. As I feared, the only satin Wards had was stiff polyester satin, and the lace was all cheap, stiff and very ordinary looking nylon and everything was cold, snow white. Not a bit of ivory or cream anything was to be found. Nevertheless, it was now the end of summer and all the fall and winter fabrics for holiday events were in and there were these absolutely gorgeous jewel tone rayon velvets, that did drape just like the best silk velvet and yet did not crumple easily and would not look like a person had slept in it inside of 10 minutes sitting down anywhere, like a church pew. There was a deep sapphire blue, almost blue-black, black, a deep forest green, a bluish-purple, and a warm, dark ruby or garnet red, like a fine wine. Of course, as my luck would have it, the one shade, other than black, that looked best against my skin was the dark RED, and my husband and I were well-known to have been living together before being married. I thought about this, and then went through all the other fabric selections in the store and returned to the dark, soft wine-red velvet that would make the most beautiful gown I’d ever worn in my life and would look really great with the pattern I’d selected. I was also a history major and I’d already learned that Mary Queen of Scots had been married in red and so were a number of members of European royalty and nobility going back to Roman times. Well, she hadn’t fared terribly well after her marriage to the degenerate Lord Darnley but my husband was no Darnley. I bought the beautiful dark red velvet.
I returned home by bus to find a very disheveled, harried looking husband still working on the car. He was down to the last big part, repairing the gas tank. He was not happy already, and less so when I showed him the fabric and it took several minutes to assure him that I had not bought the fabric to deliberately spite relatives who all thought we were living in sin and that I should not be married in white. Red after all, in oxymoronic modern ‘traditional’ views was a harlot’s color, and my marriage was still going to happen in Church. Mary, Queen of Scots had long been forgotten, or if she was remembered, some priest probably would have said, ‘see, she never should have been married in red, like the pagan Romans!’ Nevertheless, we also still checked with Father Like about the color. ‘As long as it isn’t bright red, it should be fine, ‘ he replied, and he chuckled Apparently New York was a bit more liberal in thinking than Minnesota. We could tell he was going to enjoy this wedding. We weren’t entirely sure about some of the members of our families.
Telling them about the dress would wait until my husband fixed the car. He had the new straps partly on and the gas tank removed and on the lawn in front of the raised porch. He had filled it with water, twice, and drained it twice and then filled it a third time and was trying to solder a patch on the end. He did not have a powerful enough little propane torch, and no welding equipment and could not get the solder to melt and make the patch properly. He considered the situation.
Well, he’d drained the tank and filled it with water twice already and surely any dangerous fumes would be gone by now. He’d drain it again, leaving just a teeny bit of water, maybe, in the tank at the bottom and try soldering the hole again. He realized he was in trouble when a flame was sucked into the tank, and came out and then darted back in and he heard a slight rumble from inside the tank.
Anthony threw the tank aside a split second or so before it blew up–as in, light and flame erupting from the hole and normal filler and taking with it every bit of scale and detritus and God knows what else from inside the tank and spewing it mostly all over the front of the porch and wall above it. The blast shook the duplex, cracked the large picture window for the downstairs unit, and brought half the neighborhood running. My husband had not quite flattened himself and was missing part of an eyebrow and had singed hair in several spots and black smudges on his forehead. Fortunately he had planned on getting a proper hair cut before the wedding, which would remove the rest of any small singed areas. The porch and wall had a few spots still smoking as I ran down the stairs to see what had happened and if Anthony was alright.
Nothing was actually on fire, but the entire porch and part of the front of the house otherwise looked as if it had been hit with a blast from a very wide barreled shotgun filled with charcoal bits. It was decidedly very darkly speckled. And we were to have our wedding reception at our duplex, in our upstairs unit. That was going to be some entrance for bride, groom, and guests, but it could have been worse, and in fact, was about to get much worse, though we didn’t know that then.
Fortunately my beloved intended husband was essentially still in good health, though it would be a day or two before his ears completely stopped ringing. The gas tank, which normally looked like a large suitcase, had turned into a large football, but no longer had any gasoline fumes, or anything else possibly flammable left in it. Anthony was now able to finish the repair on the slightly enlarged hole in the gas tank and with a few hours of careful hammering, just as the sun began to set, he got the tank more or less back into its normal shape and fit within the new straps. He also got a pleasant surprise when he next filled the tank. The tank now held two extra gallons of gas!
Then came telling my mother-in-law about the choice of fabric for the dress as she wanted to pay for the wedding cake and a small bridal bouquet and to color coordinate things. I had already had one discussion with her on the flowers, since I was going to select what I could pay for: a couple of small–and I do mean small- vases for the altar. I simply could not afford for more than the small vases,, single flower corsages for my mother-in-law, my husband’s grandmother and my one bridesmaid and a boutonniere for my husband, best man and my husband’s older brothers who would escort his mother and grandmother. I had relented to let her pay for the small bridal bouquet and corsage.
As my husband feared, Maralyn went into near hysterics upon hearing the color of my gown, already being made, and called Anthony’s Aunt Harriet, who hurried over to help calm her. ‘RED!’ Maralyn shrieked, ‘she’s getting married in RED!’ again and again. She also called her mother, who sensibly asked ‘how red is it?’ and was as satisfied as Father Like that it would not insult the Church and actually thought that given our budget we were being very sensible to go with a near suit for Tony and with a nice double breasted blue-as-his-eyes blazer and evening dress that I could wear again.
It was awhile before all was quiet on the southern suburban front, though, and Anthony’s ears were ringing again and mine had chimed in. I eventually showed his grandmother the fabric and pattern and she thought it was quite nice and even loaned me her mink jacket to keep me warm should the Church be cold that day–which it was. Fortunately, mink also stands up to light rain. After our experience with my soon-to-be mother-in-law, we decided my mother, who might not decide to appear after all, did not need to know anything about my gown other than it was not to be white.
I wanted pink or peach pink carnations a few white roses and a spray of stephanotis in the two small vases along with a fern frond or two and pinks and small white tea roses in the bridal bouquet and carnation corsages, My mother in law had the bridal bouquet also made as a larger wrist corsage so I could take it with me and enjoy the nice scent of the flowers, and added a couple of small tea roses to the carnation corsage on the breast of my little suit jacket as well. She reasoned, wisely, that the smell of the flowers might help overcome the smell of burning oil from the car. It was some 250 miles or thereabouts to Wisconsin Dells and we might have to exceed 45 mph along the way.
We had sent out the wedding invitations between three and four weeks before the wedding and I had hand-written every one, using a gold calligraphy pen and the fine Spencerian script I’d learned as child. Unfortunately, Mother’s curse still had some effect, although it partly boomeranged. The invitation to her and father took over a week, about ten days, to arrive causing yet another eruption in California. She saw the invitation, arriving less than two weeks before the wedding as another insult, of course, not to be tolerated. I received another angry telephone call, telling me that ‘just in case I’d thought I’d cut out my parents, SHE would indeed be there anyway but I should count my blessings that my father could not get time off from his workplace–he had too many projects of which he was the manager that had to be finished before winter–at that time and would NOT.’ I told her that if she really didn’t want to come, we would manage without her.. I literally bit my tongue to keep from adding ‘as we had already been for a year, now.’
My mother arrived the day before the wedding while we were still preparing all the food–as we indeed were not only paying for the reception but doing every bit of prep and clean up, including cooking. We picked her up at the airport and she greeted us politely but curtly, and then sat in mostly stony silence in the car only offering very short responses to questions about her trip as we drove to the Marriott Hotel where she had decided to stay since it was fairly close to the Church. She would only be staying Friday and Saturday night and flying home Sunday morning. She would take a cab to the airport from the hotel.
When we got to her hotel room she then unloaded the 14 months of anger she had built up, nurtured, and regularly stirred, keeping her caustic brew, just below a boil all that entire time. She launched into a non-stop tirade, and shouted at me, and damned me again, just as she had the day I left home. She told me I was lying about having tried to let her know I was still alive before I had succeeded, that no one knew, that I had been mixed up with terrorists (the FBI had persuaded a police captain to tell her that, though they knew very well I was not, and the group with which I associated was clean and proper enough to have an office donated to it by the junior college I attended. In 14 months it had never occurred to her to consider that they knew I was alive and then never said a word to her.) On and on she went, for a good quarter of an hour. I couldn’t get a word into this with a razor edge, had I tried. I could feel the waves of hot vitriol wash over me and physically backed up at the onslaught. The dark witch inside my mother was unleashing all her ire at me and I think hoping I would completely collapse at her feet, a quivering heap with no spirit left.
Anthony was shocked into stunned silence for a few minutes and then said, sternly, ‘this is my intended wife you are abusing and you need to stop.’ I was not groveling but also shocked, and in tears by then, trying to stifle them and not sob since she clearly would have enjoyed that.. He added, ‘and if you continue like this, you don’t need to come to the wedding.’ She stopped her tirade but only for a few seconds and then turned on him also, and said, ‘we’ll see about that wedding. I can say plenty in Church!.’ She was referring to the traditional part of the mass and service where the priest asked anyone who had objections to the wedding to speak up now or forever hold his or her peace. My mother had no intention of bringing peace, but destruction and humiliation and it was also going to give her great satisfaction to destroy my wedding in the Church in which I still mostly believed. It strangely never occurred to my mother that the only person she might actually destroy, at least for any regard from my husband’s community was herself. She was that certain about her superiority and right to do what she intended. However, as we later discovered, my husband is also a distant cousin, on a couple of lines, and somewhere in his family was more than just ordinary political power and occasional economic luck. He himself had his own extra talents, though he was not yet fully aware of them.
Actually when he first recovered from his shock he had picked up the room phone and quietly called his mother and grandmother who were at his mother’s house already, nearby, and asked them to come to the hotel right away that he thought they might be able to calm my mother down. My mother was so full of herself in her planned performance she never noticed him make that phone call. He had quickly begun to wonder if my mother was having some kind of break-down. Actually, in retrospect some time later, I realized this was her finest dramatic performance–she’d been in theater classes and plays in her secondary school and had grown up in North Hollywood. Gloria Swanson would have envied this one, had she ever seen it! But that realization was later. So my mother in law and grandmother in law, along with my husband, also thought she was having a breakdown when they arrived. His grandmother quickly, blessedly, took charge. She’d dealt with gangsters and an abusive first husband and she understood more about my mother’s nature and probable secrets than I would for some years yet. Maralyn, my soon-to-be (I hoped) mother in-law, also, sized up the situation. She told her son, Anthony, to take me home and that we should relax and finish what we were doing and try to get several hours of sleep before the wedding. She and her mother would take good care of my mother and soothe her.
There were some occasions that I thought my husband’s grandmother would have made a good psychologist. This was only the first of them. Maralyn, my soon to be mother in law, might have made a good medical assistant, especially on this occasion. I still wonder to this day, though if Emily, my husband’s grandmother wasn’t something of a witch herself, which had enabled her to survive all she did, but thankfully, a white witch.
I’m not sure how much alcohol it took and exactly what my husband’s grandmother said to my mother, but by the time of the wedding my mother was suddenly sweetness and light as if nothing had happened and I was her beloved daughter again. I was filled with great relief. I think so were a number of members of my husband’s family. I had also noticed though that my husband’s entire family had closed ranks around and with me and my husband and a couple of them were keeping a wary eye on her. I gathered that if she made one negative peep, Tony’s next older brother had instructions to whisk her back to her hotel.
My husband’s family had made up their minds I was worthy to be among them and once had made this decision, I had a real family that would stand by me, no matter what. I was one of them now, and by God and any human or anything else, my mother needed to really understand that. I think my mother herself was amazed by their genuine regard for me, which I had earned, and maybe began to have the first niggling doubt about the justice of her long held ire since the day I’d left. The only negative bit was, I learned several of my husband’s family now started to feel sorry for me having such a clearly unstable harridan for a mother. Fortunately, it was only a handful of times in her life that Mother really went off her rails in this manner. By the time of her visit to us in 1985, she behaved herself so well, and enjoyed herself, that it was almost as if my husband’s family had never seen that rare dark witch side of her.
Also, while neither of my sister’s sent me so much as a wedding card, much less a gift, every relative of my father had done so, and we were made welcome many times at the homes of all my paternal cousins and aunts. My cousins had wanted to attend my wedding but all were working, two at hospitals and could not get away. My paternal grandmother and her daughter, my aunt, were also ill at that time. As it turned out, my grandmother would not live much longer, but she had me in her will. We were pleasantly surprised by a check and a letter soon after the wedding. My parents had decided to send my dowry–an insurance policy they had purchased as a child’s policy long ago, which matured when I turned 21. I had just turned 21 before I left home and my parents had collected on the policy and added a small amount of interest, just in case I turned up alive. Yes, I had a real dowry, and my parents had sent additional gifts. My mother had brought one, which is when I first began to wonder if her tirade had been at least in part dramatic performance. I later learned my father had insisted on her bringing gifts. I don’t think he had any idea what she had really planned.
Then came the rest of our wedding day. My husband and I and a friend had made all kinds of hors-d’oeuvres, and a light luncheon, including Hungarian palacsinta (Hungarian crepes), some filled as dessert types, and some filled with thin shaved bits of ham, sour cream, and a little chopped chives and scallions, We had smoked oysters, pimentos and cream cheese stuffed celery sticks, crackers with a smoked salmon and cream cheese or cheddar spread atop them and olives, and small dill pickles and cherry tomatoes on the side, The plates for about 20 people were heaped and no one left hungry. We even had home-made cream puffs, though the cream had deflated quite a bit by the time we returned from the Church services to enjoy them. The tables looked great laden with the delicious food, the champagne punch, (and additional chilled bottles), and the wonderful wedding cake my mother in law had ordered, also decorated with pink and white icing florets–and a gold and chocolate marble cake interior as we liked. Everything was laid out and ready when we departed for the Church. We had kept our apartment a little cool that day to keep the food fresh, including leaving a couple windows partly open until we returned.
We got to the Church, and to our surprise, the next of this day’s brides had chosen the same colors and flowers as I had. On the altar, in addition to my two small vases were two more large vases filled to overflowing with the same flowers as mine.. As the service started the rain stopped just long enough so that rays of sunshine lit up us and the altar as though a Blessing from On High. The only thing we were missing was music, but we wanted my husband’s grandmother who was a professional pianist and organist to be a honored guest, not a performer. She’d more than earned the spot of very honored guest, indeed! As for singing, well, we’d decided against that since it was a small wedding and my husband had told me my mother in law sang a wonderfully booming bass. There were stories about this. Ironically, she did very well and was quite popular a few years later singing bass in the female quartets and small combined quartets-chorale called ‘the Sweet Adelines,’ where all the singers had voices that matched hers in volume and she fit in very nicely!
Of course after this beautiful, sun-blessed service, we then had to fall flat on our faces as we were leaving the altar dais. Our photographer, a friend of Anthony, was using excellent equipment for the day, 1971 and to avoid glares from our glasses had asked that we remove them. Both of us were terribly near-sighted. We then forgot about one more step between the dais and the main floor. We have one wedding picture that’s a beautiful picture of the altar with beams of light upon it, and no other subjects. We had yet to pick ourselves up off the Church floor..
But the sunshine did not last, and it had started to drizzle again when, after our formal reception line thanking and greeting all the guests including those not coming to the reception, we were presented with the decorated old Rambler. We also have some wedding pictures showing our shock and Tony vainly wielding the ice scraper on the mess.
Our friends had not been able to find summer, or even soft autumn colored crepe paper at the nearby drug and sundries store. I would have been glad to see even maple leaf red and elm leaf gold, but noooo, we had visible at 50 yards away bright pumpkin orange and very black–Hallowe’en colors and the usual well wishes and extra pom-poms of decoration all scrawled all over the car anywhere the crepe paper wouldn’t stick, in shaving cream. Since the scotch tape wasn’t sticking the crepe paper terribly well to the car, despite the salt-eroded finish and fading paint, they had also used the shaving cream to occasionally secure some of the crepe. They had done this before they’d entered the Church for the wedding service and in that nice golden sunshine that lasted throughout our hour long wedding service and the additional formalities before and after, the cream had baked, hard, about like the most hardened Divinity meringue candy one could imagine and did not come off easily, even with the ice-scraper, without taking more of what was left of the paint with it. While most of the crepe paper could be removed, anywhere it was beneath tape or the shaving cream it was stuck–really stuck. Paper mache volcanoes in science classes should be so well held together. Most of the many splotches of bits of shaving cream and crepe paper were still attached to the car the entire weekend–despite 36 hours during which the skies had mostly rained..
Then came the return to our home for our beautifully made gourmet goodies. We first noticed that we had trouble parking because of two trucks in front, but that was the least. The entire front porch with steps to our front door and stairs to our upstairs duplex was GONE, leaving only a bit of rubble. There was not even a temporary set of steps and path through the rubble!
Our alcoholic landlord had forgotten about our wedding and what we said about NOT doing any major work on the house until after our wedding and, instead, chosen our wedding day to demolish the entire entrance to our home!. To get into our home, we had to traipse around the side and back of the house, in the mud and wet grass on the side and the mud and worse in the part of the back garden nearest the house.
The downstairs tenants had a dog and had neglected to clean up after it for a couple of days, if not longer. It was like picking one’s way through a very smelly, poopy, muddy minefield to get to the back staircase which along with half the kitchen–which we’d been hoping to avoid anyone seeing it, much less being in it, leaning toward us all threateningly–looking as if the back stairs were about to collapse at any time. It was another project the landlord had been threatening to do someday. Actually the real problem was that the kitchen in our unit and the lower one were an add-on with no real foundation and no cellar beneath it and had sunk somewhat, though they still heaved up and down with the changing seasons. They never rose high enough, though, that anyone could sit in my husband’s favorite desk chair in the kitchen without rolling through the back door and into the side of the back stairwell where hopefully one stopped before bouncing off and continuing the downward bend to and down the stairs in a very uncomfortable manner.
Fortunately, however, the noise of the last of the demolition and some rubble removal ended by the time the last of the party arrived so we were able to keep the reception in the large living room and dining room and not have to move anything but dirty dishes to the kitchen.
The food was greatly enjoyed and we had very few leftovers to send away with anyone. To minimize the dishwashing we’d prudently used paper plates and decent plastic forks. We had a nice set of stainless flatware but we didn’t want to take a lot of time cleaning up before starting our long afternoon and early evening drive, trying to stay just at 45 mph most of the time. It was going to be close to 5 and a half hours.
Then came the next surprise. We had asked my husband’s next older brother if he would take my mother on a short tour of the city’s main sites, such as the lakes, MInnehaha falls, the downtown mall, past a few other highlights, including Fort Snelling, before dropping her off for her dinner at the hotel. He forgot and had planned something else. So we gamely said, ‘we’ll show you the sites and drop you off at your hotel and just go through the southern part of St. Paul to get to the main highway.’ Since my mother was doing quite well maintaining her new much more positive attitude, our unplanned little excursion actually went quite well and she was genuinely interested in what she was seeing and asked questions. She loved the waterfalls, as we did and the fall colors of the trees in the city.
However it was approaching sundown when we finally were on our way to the Best Western Motor Hotel at which we’d made reservations and just dark enough when we got to the south side of St. Paul, where the freeways did not go, that Tony missed a turn. We then found ourselves on the meandering roads that were generally believed to be all the old cow trails that had become paved streets and we were lost. At some point we rolled through a stop sign attempting to see the street name sign on an odd intersection and attracted the attention of St. Paul’s finest police officers. Of course since the rain had turned to drizzle and fog, the temperature had dropped to close to freezing. They sternly ordered us to pull over–using the bullhorn, causing us both to jump. Fortunately, the officers were already wondering about the strange decorations still attached to our car and when they saw Tony in his blazer, and my tense, frightened face, beneath a still reasonably great looking hair style, and all the flowers, they figured it out. They gave Anthony a warning about rolling through stop signs, even when lost, and then kindly directed us to where we’d find the signs directing us to US Interstate 94, and led us part way there.
By the time we’d made it out of the maze that was St. Paul, we were REALLY behind our schedule. We had barely made it into Wisconsin when we realized if we wanted to not fall asleep while driving and be at our motor hotel before midnight we would need to exceed 45 miles per hour, and likely do (gasp) 60 or 65, and pray the engine held together. So we sped up and were grateful for the smell of the flowers as the burning oil smell began to waft through the car. We stopped for gasoline once and for a quart of oil four times–besides the time we stopped for gas. The trip to ‘The Dells’ took about one tank of gas and five quarts of oil–besides the six quarts already in the crankcase. The car definitely needed another oil change when we returned.
We also stopped for a quick, decent but forgettable dinner at a coffee shop, I forget where now. It was one of the towns at which we had stopped for another quart of oil. We pulled in at the Best Western Motor Hotel at just after 11 p.m. and mercifully, it was busy enough there was a night desk clerk still awake, and our reservation had not been canceled and gone to someone else. Anthony had thoughtfully called the motor hotel to let them know we were on the way and would be later than we’d originally planned when we’d stopped for dinner after getting another quart of oil.
In our hotel room, when we opened the door, was also a wedding card, a chilled bottle of champagne and two champagne glasses with strawberries in them. We had amorous thoughts, as most newlyweds do but it had been a VERY long day, and occasionally nerve-wracking over the past two days. We drank the excellent champagne and munched the strawberries and promptly fell asleep afterward.
The next morning, it was raining again, but we had an excellent complimentary breakfast at the motor hotel’s restaurant. The rain was supposed to stop around noon, but then we learned what we had forgotten to ask about earlier. The Wisconsin Dells Amusement park had closed for the season about two weeks earlier. Yes, it was open past Labor Day on weekends but typically closed about the time of the first frost, not later than the second weekend in October. It closed a week earlier that year with an earlier frost. We’d just missed the last seasonal weekend by two weeks. We’d been too busy to remember the variable closing date.
Fortunately, we picked up some brochures and remembered my husband’s grandmother telling us about the Swiss and German towns, like New Glarus, and decided upon touring them. Oh well, we thought, we’ll taste some cheeses, sausages, chocolates and fill the cooler we’d brought and have a good time that way. We did and the shops were all glad to see us as rain deterred customers. We ended up with a few extra small gifts as newlyweds, and had a wonderful Swiss-Austrian late lunch. Our cooler was well packed with enough great foods to munch all the way home if we did not want a large dinner. We had also found two chocolate shops that made me quit missing See’s, for at least a while. One had found a way to take fresh whole ripe berries, raspberries blackberries and strawberries and coated them with a creamy semi-sweet chocolate, just thick enough to cover the fruits, just thin enough to let the full berry flavor come through and mingle delectably with the chocolate.
We then LEISURELY drove home, saving money on oil and smelling chocolate, cheese and sausages, rather than burning oil. It was much more pleasant than the drive TO the Dells. We took a few side roads to enjoy the still gorgeous fall colors. Having been to New Hampshire and Massachusetts since then, I still remember Wisconsin in the autumn as being as good as Virginia in the fall, especially the Piedmont, better than the mostly flat terrain of Massachusetts but I have to admit New Hampshire still has the most spectacular fall colors I’ve ever seen.
But in southern and central Wisconsin, that year, wonderful reds, sultry maroons, oranges and yellows all mixed together, heavier on the shades of red, and livened our drive. We had enjoyed great food, scrumptious chocolates–and my mother was back in California, and happy. It was not a bad way to start a marriage–but if I had to do it all over again–it would have been another week earlier than the week before Hallowe’en and I would have paid to have the landlord and his buddies a long, long way out of town. Too bad my mother couldn’t have cursed them!
with Witches and Ghosts
It was a stormy Saturday evening, a few days before Hallowe’en, and Beth had her hands full with her son, daughter, two nieces and a nephew placed in her care while their parents were taking a late season New England sea coast cruise. The storm had put the power out, and John, her husband, a manager for the local electric power company, as Beth’s late mother would have said, was ‘Busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger’. Beth was alone with the children.
A few years ago they had installed a solar system and heat pump for air conditioning and heating with battery backup. Beth had no worries about heat, and or the food in the refrigerator, but they had kept the usage down by focusing on the basic needs and the kitchen. Running the older televisions would just not do, as if the batteries went down, well, it would take a little while to recharge them. The late season hurricane had moved further inland than had originally been expected, and the children could not go out with tree branches still coming down along with the buckets of rain. They were arguing about rules for the old board games and the popcorn Beth had brought them began to fly as the children used it to pelt one another. Her daughter, Margaret, the oldest of the group, was having little luck mediating among the rest, and finally came to her. ‘Mom,’ she asked hopefully, ‘How about a nice long story, and can we make some hot chocolate to go with it?–big mugs with the thick European style and lots of whipped cream?’
Beth put her knitting aside. She had been struggling with a new pattern on a football colors afghan she was attempting to make for another brother-in-law, and I had just realized that she needed to unravel it again–for about the fourth time in the last two days. Her cats were about as bored and frustrated as the children and had gotten into it while she had prepared lunch, and then again at dinner. It seemed that one of them had figured out how to get into her new magnetic closure knitting bag, probably the same one who had figured out how zippers worked with the last bag, no doubt with help from at least one other, as usual. Listening to the arguments over the games, while she tried to relax in the living room near the gas fireplace, she’d lost count of certain stitches, yet again. Hot chocolate seemed like a very good idea just then. It was late enough that the chocolate and a long story might finally put everyone to sleep afterward and she would make extra. Tomorrow will be better for all.
‘Ok, children,’ she raised her voice to get their attention as she got up from her comfy, upholstered rocking chair and footrest, and went toward the dining room, ‘ we’re going to change activities. Margaret and I will make a large pot of hot chocolate. John, you and Andy need to clean up this popcorn mess, and put away the games. I don’t want popcorn choking a cat or getting ground into the floor. Then you and Martha can pick your mugs out, and then keep the cats happy until the chocolate is ready and we all settle. Play with cats, and please, give them some of their favorite treats, and try to keep them out of my knitting for awhile. I’ve been storing some of those catnip pellets in the kitty care cabinet in the downstairs bathroom near their litter box. You might add some more to their balls and moisten it before you do. That should distract them for a while. if you also roll the balls back to them sometimes and keep them out from under the sofa or my rocking chair. John, I’m also trusting you to turn the gas fireplace lower, and light a couple of candles for the living room. If I’m going to tell a long story, we need the right atmosphere, don’t we?’
‘Oooh, another story!, Yay!’, the children heartily agreed with the idea and then promptly began to argue about whether it should have witches or ghosts. Beth interrupted, ‘how about both?’
That stopped them short. ‘Both?’ they asked. ‘Do you have a story like that?’
‘Long before J.K. Rowling, people told stories that had both’ Beth drily replied. There’s more than one in this family. Have you forgotten about your great-great, I forget how many times great, grandmother Martha and her sisters and cousins?’
‘Wasn’t she the one who was tried for witchcraft, the last trial in the state?’ Andy asked.
‘No, that was her sister, Mary Magdalene,’ his cousin Margaret replied, ”but the whole family was suspected, weren’t they,’ she frowned and looked at her mother, ‘because of what happened with Martha’s sons, Andrew and Adam, right?’
Beth replied, ‘right, and this is a good time to tell you one of the stories as to why the families came to be all suspected of being witches. It’s not at all like J.K Rowling’s books, but I think you will find the story interesting, anyway.’
Beth had a good reputation as a storyteller and had sometimes volunteered at the local library to read children’s books to small children. She also volunteered at the local historical society sometimes and did family history research. Sometimes family and friends were a little uncomfortable with her finding the occasional ‘skeleton in the closet’ proving no family was as saintly as they often liked to imagine but the stories were never boring or stupid, unlike most of television and movies lately. Beth knew that centuries before she would have been called a seanachie, a bard. Well, good, someone needed to keep the old traditions and stories alive. After thousands of years, there was no sense in letting them die now, especially not now with the increased bad weather events and power outages when one had a house full of children..
So the children went to clean up the dining room and rescue her knitting–again–from the cats during the clean up and Beth and Margaret went to the kitchen to make about a gallon of hot chocolate, thick and rich as they all had come to love. Beth pulled out her half gallon pyrex pitcher and had Margaret retrieve four cans of evaporated milk from the pantry. She heated that and some half and half and milk together, twice to have all the hot light cream she needed. Margaret pulled out the dark sweet double chocolate mix that her mother loved so much and the dark unsweetened chocolate-cocoa baking powder, her mother’s secret ingredient in making the best brownies in the county. Her mother mixed about a cup of the special combination. Margaret knew where the antique chocolate pots were that each held well over quart and put three of them on the counter for her mother to fill, and found the lacy cozies that her own mother had made for them. She then heated the granite and heavy ceramic ‘hot pot keepers’ in the microwave oven after her mother heated the light cream mix. Her mother mixed the chocolate and added a little vanilla and cinnamon until it was almost the consistency of chocolate pudding, almost, but not quite. She wanted herself and the older two children to be able to pour it into mugs after all. Martha was playing with the cats, and John and Andy were allowed into the kitchen to retrieve the can of whipped cream from the refrigerator and take turns shaking it until they were satisfied it would be just right for topping the hot chocolate and hold long enough to put creamy mustaches on all the children that they could then compare to see who had the biggest and best.
Finally everything was ready. The coffee table had a cloth on it to protect the finish the pots and mugs were on the coffee table and a lamp table between the sofa and Beth’s rocking chair, the gas fireplace was low but warm, and a couple of lamps in her antique ‘fairy lamp’ holders were lit on the coffee and side table. It was time for the story to begin.
Beth said, you’ve probably heard about Colonel ‘Butcher’ Banastre Tarleton and his attempted raids in Virginia. The children nodded, and Andy spoke up, ‘but I don’t believe for a minute the Walkers gave him mint juleps while Jack Jouett rode around warning Jefferson and the others.’
Beth smiled, ‘no, they didn’t but that’s how those northerners who bought Castle Hill want to pretend it happened for their parties. We don’t have to go to see them do their play-acting though, if we don’t want to. Jouett’s and Jefferson’s arrival in Staunton is much better, isn’t it, because that’s where the big family party where everyone can be.’ The children nodded eagerly as they remembered all the past Jack Jouett ride days and the fun at the end in Staunton, which had found a way to combine history with a family carnival celebration, and an old fashioned arts and crafts fair.
‘So let me tell you the real story of Tarleton’s intended raid on the Shenandoah valley and how it was stopped,’ Beth said, ‘Have you all got a full mug of chocolate now, and enough whipped cream?’ Five pairs of eyes and creamy white mustaches, bobbed up and down. Beth mentally reminded herself to add another larger bottle of whipped cream to her next shopping list. She began.
Colonel Tarleton was not a happy man when he received General Lord Cornwallis’ orders to go back to western Virginia, again. He had not fared well when he tried to kidnap Jefferson and the Virginia legislature. He had never recovered from his visit to Dr. Thomas Walker’s home at Castle hill and the uncomfortable sense he’d been outwitted by a sharp little old lady, a slip of an attractive young lady, and had either been drugged to hallucinate what he’d seen of a future showing defeat for his superior’s armies, or a very strange but real ghostly encounter. (I’ve already told you that story, right children? More head nods.) He also knew now that his men, for whom he was responsible, had twice killed very popular and well-connected young men with large extended families in the western counties, even though neither death had been intentional on his part. Good heavens! (she had to be more polite than the Colonel probably was in his thoughts–he was a soldier, after all, but Beth was telling the story to children). He’d been unconscious when the handsome and popular Captain Adam Wallace was killed at the Waxhaws. Still, he was honest with himself to admit he was responsible for his own men’s lack of discipline, and a real gentleman had been brutally killed, a cousin of a baronet with a considerable international shipping business. His home city, Liverpool, of which his father had been mayor depended upon that business to grow and prosper. His father would not have been pleased at all to learn of the deaths of the two Wallace brothers.
Nevertheless, here were his latest orders (sigh), another trip into western Virginia for horses, stores and to burn what he couldn’t take from the rebels and while he was to go to Bedford County, additional secret orders were that he was to see if he could proceed into the Shenandoah and find and destroy the forges and smithies also that Cornwallis had learned were there. He was to approach this time from the south, and not go through Charlotte where he would have been too well remembered.
As he studied his orders he had a dismal sinking feeling come over him, and he was pretty sure that his malaria was returning again which would only make this foray more miserable if that was at all possible. It generally returned three or four times a year, for sure, once as winter turns to spring, once in mid to late summer and once as fall began to turn firmly to winter. The only good thing about it was that he learned it was somewhat predictable. Still, there was no cure and he had his orders.
‘He didn’t have quinine, then,’ Margaret interjected. Like her mother had before, she was acing her sixth grade history class. Her younger brother John muttered, ‘show off.’
‘Shhh,’ Andy said, ‘I want to hear Aunt Beth tell the rest of the story.’
‘Well,’ Beth continued, we actually had spies in Cornwallis’ camp. One was a man who pretended he was a runaway slave, and sent messages to George Washington. You have probably heard about him, but there were others. Since the British army didn’t have packaged rations like armies do today, and even the old springhouses weren’t nearly as efficient as modern refrigerators. They had to get all their food locally and fresh, almost every day. Most grain was grown in the western part of the state and sacks of grain were one of the things Cornwallis had ordered Tarleton and his men to steal.
After his surprise raid to Charlottesville, our families were much more vigilant so we knew when he was coming, and we knew about the secret orders. There was a problem for our forges, to keep making cannons and guns, we needed to avoid letting the fires go out, and the smoke could be seen at a distance. He was coming in late summer and we couldn’t be sure our Blue Ridge mists would last long enough to hide the smoke from the smithies and forges. Fortunately it had been a rainy, humid July and that worked in the witches’ favor. You know who some of them were. There was Mary Elizabeth Greenlee, whose father and brothers had long been blacksmiths. Her sister in law, Mary Magdalena owned one of the forges as well as two smithies since her second husband Benjamin Borden also owned one, as her first husband, Mary Elizabeth’s brother, John McDowell had done.
Mary Elizabeth McDowell Greenlee was probably one of the most intelligent and thoughtful women in all of Virginia and also had an excellent memory for anything useful she ever learned from anyone. She was also considered the leader of the ‘wise women” of the area and was the go-to person for nearly anyone who had a problem, whether that person was man, woman, or child. For a long time, this was a safe area for smart, hard working women. The first one hundred families on the Borden Grant were all related to one another, long intermarried to one another in Scotland, mostly the old county of Ayrshire on the west coast, and which had a prosperous port town, Ayr, itself by the time our emigrant ancestors needed the ships to get here. The families also came to dominate the port towns of northeastern Ireland on the east coast also. Eventually, some even had branches doing business in Liverpool, where our villain was born and raised.
Mary Elizabeth also spent time with the natives and learned a bit from them, including something that proved very useful in protecting the forges. The natives in many areas had learned that bits of certain things were put into fires, especially around enough large steaming pots of water, if there was already enough humidity and in the morning could bring rain or at least a drizzle, with a lot of mist. The fires and steam together and any mist could also hide an area for miles with just a little cooperation of the weather. That July was hot and humid and most thunderstorms would occur, then as now, in the late afternoon or early evening. But the mornings were beginning to cool and the mists were rising again, though not lingering.
Tarleton and Simcoe had been raiding for a couple months, but so far had stayed out of the valley. The passes directly from Lexington and Staunton were well protected. But the south, through Bedford County, could be a problem. There had been Tories further south and southwest. It was all too possible they were giving Tarleton advice on another way into the valley that was less protected. The valley folk had not thought to protect this area. Most locals stayed away because it was said to be haunted by the men killed there in 1742, including Mary Elizabeth’s brother who had been captain of the militia. Would the ghosts really be enough to stop Tarleton, if he had a large enough force? Mary Elizabeth and the wise women were not so sure and decided to try to help.
First, as soon as the raids picked up, the families of women, old men and boys all worked together and harvested everything they could and hid just enough for the families for the winter and sent the rest to General Greene. Tarleton would have poor pickings anywhere he did roam. That would not likely improve his temper and it might cause him to follow up on those secret orders and travel further.
Most of the forges were over the hills behind Lexington. That’s where the Miller’s had found some iron ore that was superior to the bits of bog iron they found earlier. But the forges being higher in elevation had smoke that was only concealed by the mountain mists, as long as they held. They had to try something unusual, and pray. Yes, real wise women, and men pray. They know their limitations. All the earth and the elements are there for us to use in good times, but we don’t control time. For that we pray.
Mary Elizabeth called all the women together a few nights before Tarleton was due to arrive in New London, in Bedford County. They met at the old ‘Red House,’ that was the first home of Mary Magdalene and her husband John. Her sons now owned the house but were away fighting and she found it still a nice retreat from John Bowyer, her third husband, and her home she’d had with Borden, so coveted by the rest of his family. She never should have married Bowyer.
‘In the end, he killed her, didn’t he,’ Margaret said. That’s probably why he still haunts Thornhill.
Beth sighed. Her daughter was growing up too quickly, and the other children were not the same as Margaret, and not old enough for this. She frowned and said, ‘Margaret, we don’t know that he killed her for sure. We know he had a terrible temper and fought with her and destroyed a lot of her personal possessions. That’s in the court records, but no one knows for sure how she died, and the Bowyers still have kin in this area, too. At least during the Revolution we were still all together on the same side. Don’t forget Mary Magdalena’s oldest son, Samuel liked his stepfather, at least at this time, and her sister Martha’s son, Adam liked his nephew so well he was with Adam at the Waxhaws and brought his belongings home. Tarleton was sorry enough that he had the lad’s wounds tended and gave him Adam’s belongings to bring home to Mary Magdalene’s sister, Martha, Adam’s mother. There were once silver buckles, for his shoes, and a silver belt buckle, but the belt buckle no longer exists. That’s Adam’s sword, along with Andrew’s on the wall above the fireplace, next to the old coat of arms Martha’s husband had made.’ The children turned their gaze to the items she described, indeed, still hanging on the wall.
‘Let’s get back to my story,’ Beth said. ‘Our ancestors got most of the harvest, and livestock out of the way, since we had some warning Tarleton was returning. We could not move the forges, nor could we shut them down and Tarleton and his men were going to be angry when they discovered how much was removed from them. Do you remember any field trips to the old lead drop site south of Lexington where musket balls were made? Beth asked.
Several heads nodded. John spoke up, “it was cool seeing how they just dropped the melted lead from the top of the tower that was next to the cliff and how round the balls were by the time they landed in the water!
“Fortunately, that wasn’t the only means we used, “Beth smiled, and continued,” otherwise we wouldn’t have had nearly enough ammunition. Did they tell you, though, where the lead they used mostly came from?”
Margaret, remembered. “We used to have pewter plates, cups and candle-holders, and pewter then was made from lead, before we discovered it was bad for our health, didn’t we?
Beth nodded and responded, “Yes we did and you probably know how rare they are today even in museums. While we’d found sources for iron for guns, we didn’t find as many for lead yet. Most of the lead in the U.S. is farther west. However, we were lucky to have found lead near Austinsville in Wythe County, near where the other bigger shot tower, the Jackson Ferry Shot Tower is, so we didn’t have to melt all our tableware and candle holders.”
Beth continued, “But pewter wasn’t the only metal we had to use. You may remember that Mary Elizabeth had spent some time among the nearby natives. Well, she learned something about silver and salt. The Shawnee had silver mines in their lands and they traded silver for guns. This allowed our ancestors to also have more silver for jewelry and to pay for what we couldn’t make. Adam Wallace was not the only young man to have silver shoe buckles, belt buckles and rings. Most of the ladies and gentlemen of this area had silver items in their homes, including silver spoons, as well as jewelry.. However, again, you don’t see much of that today, and what Mary Elizabeth learned is one reason why. The native Americans had experienced drought here and somehow, somewhere they learned that if the air was very humid and cloudy you might be able to get rain, or at least drizzle, by seeding the clouds or really humid air at the right time of day, by tossing bits of silver and salt into fires. The fire reduced the pieces to very small particles that the smoke could carry into the air. By using some greener wood, you could also get more smoke. With enough fires, silver and salt, you had a good chance of getting some rain. We call this “cloud seeding” today and we still use silver combined with iodine, often found in sea salt, silver iodide. Burnt kelp, of course, has this salt and iodine also, but our ancestors were using the salt found in a few places in the valley.
Our ancestors in the Revolution didn’t know the science behind this, only that the natives did use this method and it often worked. Mary Elizabeth also learned that the best times to do this were in the early morning before the air warmed up too much, and when the air was most humid, and close to or just after sunset, when the air temperature dropped rapidly and a lot and the air again increased in humidity. She got together with the women of Fairfield, Lexington and Staunton, and they decided to try to create more mist and drizzle that would last throughout most of the day and hide the smoke from the forges. The women got together with some of their jewelry, spoons and buckles, like Adam’s belt buckle, and broke them up into small pieces. At the last, Mary Magdalena took a silver ring she had often worn since her first marriage to John McDowell. His first gift to her when he was courting her in Pennsylvania had been a fine silver ring, brighter than the usual sterling and coin silver and which did not tarnish because it was entirely silver and no nickel or other metals. Mary Magdalena broke the ring herself. Her son, John’s son Samuel, was still in Washington’s armies and needed to have the forges keep producing and be protected also. The women mixed the smaller silver pieces with salt, sorted them into roughly equal small piles and put them in small cloth bags to take home with them.
When Tarleton was known to be about to come into Bedford county, that morning they would all build fires, as if to heat water just to do laundry, and the steam from the pots would also help the project. They would add a little greener wood to generate more smoke and just after the beginning of sunrise, when the orb of the sun began to be seen over the piedmont hills and the first rays touched their homes, they would gradually add the silver and salt into the fire along with more green wood. The water would have already been boiling and steaming and they would keep adding water also. And they would pray. They had come up with a chant to help them measure out and gradually add the silver and salt about every quarter of an hour, to stretch the silver and salt to last up to two hours. “Mist and rain there must be, to hide the forges as need be, Tarleton must not see, as we mocht, so mocht it be,” said three times each time the silver and salt were added to the fires.”
Margaret frowned,” why did they use a chant like that? Wouldn’t this have been used to accuse them of witchcraft later, as did happen to Mary Elizabeth and Mary Magdalene?” she asked.
Beth replied, “most people did not even have pocket watches in those days, especially the women. So during the day, people often went about their activities, and decided when to meet one another by the position of the sun. The women needed to coordinate what they were doing, both when they started and for the next couple of hours. They also needed to make their silver and salt last as they would have only one chance to try to make their idea work. Do you remember the songs you once heard that were related to spinning at the historical re-enactment festivals? Didn’t the speakers tell you how they were used to keep the movements of the spinners gradual and consistent so the thread came out fine and even?” The children nodded. How about when you girls played “jump rope”? And used rhymes to keep a steady rhythm, and know when to jump into the rope?” More nods. “All Mary Elizabeth and the other women did was to use the same kinds of methods to coordinate with one another and make the silver and salt last as long as it could when the conditions were best to hopefully induce more mist and maybe drizzle. If they strung it all out right, the silver, salt, steam and smoke would all then linger in the air and continue to produce mist that would take more time to evaporate. But you are correct, Margaret, the fact that women had used rhymes and chants for centuries in their daily work to make the best of whatever they did was used against them, many, many times, throughout history. Too often what people don’t understand, they fear, and then try to destroy.”
Beth gazed a moment into the low flames of the gas fireplace and mused, as much to herself as to the children. “Do the chants, and all the concentration of thought, and even prayer, with them, create some form of extra energy that makes things happen or happened better? We don’t know, because no one studies that. Are the chants any different than the approved prayers we learn to say in our churches and pray at home? Why should there be any difference between the prayers created by churches, and those by women or men as they do good and needed work outside of the churches?’ Beth shook her head to clear her mental tangled cobwebs and spoke more directly, warningly. “It’s worth thinking about as you get older, especially since you will all hear again and again about the superstitions, the fears, that too many people still have toward our families. But we’re getting away from the main story again. Beth brightened to change the mood. “Does anyone need more hot chocolate?”
John piped up. “I do! And more whipped cream, please!” Beth handed the boys the bottle of cream to again shake while she refilled all the mugs. A few minutes later, she resumed her story.
She continued. “The prep had to start the day before. The older men and boys had to cut enough firewood, including greener wood cut and piled near the large outdoor pots. They would have to hide, along with any horses so that only the oldest men and boys who were still clearly children were seen by any British who found their way to any homes. We didn’t want to have any more men and older boys killed by Tarleton.”
The day Tarleton came to Bedford county happened and perhaps all the prayers were answered, The air was heavy with so much humidity the morning mists were already heavier and stretched further down the mountains into the Shenandoah valley than many mornings. All the way into Montgomery County from as far north as Winchester, there were many dozens of smoky fires and boiling pots and women tossing bits of their most precious possessions into the fires, because the lives of their sons, brothers, and fathers who were making the guns and fighting the war for our independence were more precious than jewelry. Tarleton, frustrated with the lack of supplies to steal, did cross over the Piedmont and saw in the distance nothing but heavy mist and drizzle. It might have been cooler than on the other side of the piedmont hills, but it would be no less miserable to ride through to search and his malaria was not getting better. He desperately wanted to return to the coast where he could at least recover from this bout in more security than he was going to have in western Virginia. His men had already been ambushed more than once as they tried to raid farms, and there were now some dead and wounded. He had to divide his forces to allow some to return early, with very little to show for the losses.
As the day wore on he noticed that the mists were lessening in the southern valley and pushed toward it. He was nearing some falls when the horses began to shy and balk. Two tossed their riders and ran off, stopping a short distance away, but far enough to require extra time to catch them again. None of the horses wanted to be near this particular spot near the falls, even to go to the river to drink.
Tarleton and his men noticed the growing shadows and eerie silence that seemed to be all over this little area. They did not want to stay but were too far from the coast to return that night. And one of his men was barely conscious from his fall and needed a few hours to recover. They would have to spend the night where the horses were more comfortable and haul water from the river. Tarleton cursed his luck, and then found himself sliding off his own horse, shaking with fever. He himself was going nowhere for a few hours. Well, maybe that thick mist will have lifted by the next morning, he thought, and he could get a better view of the southern end of the valley and any potential farms to raid. Maybe the valley was less prepared for him than the piedmont and southern Virginia counties had been. His men had made a pot of soup with some dried beef, salt, some wild onions one of his rangers who had grown up in the western mountains recognized and found, and hard tack and spiked it with a bit of rum. It was not great but nourishing, and the additional rum afterward helped ease his aching body. He contented himself with the idea of better pickings the next day as he drifted off to sleep.
His men took turns at watch and none were easy. They kept hearing small sounds that seemed like other men could be moving about the woods. The horses never completely settled, though they had secured their tethers well and brought them water, after letting them browse and then putting feed bags on them for a while. Their ears flicked forward and back and they nickered and whinnied uneasily and occasionally strained to get away. The men looked for large animals like a bear or panther and found nothing, nor prints suggesting any were nearby. Toward dawn they began to hear an occasional whistle that sometimes seemed close, and sometimes at a distance and would fade away as soon as they thought they neared the source.
Tarleton’s sleep turned to dreams of natives around him and his men, readying for an ambush, He then saw, as if from a distance a small group of what he recognized as American militia ride into the area, not knowing the natives were waiting. He then saw the massacre unfold and tried to shout to warn the Americans, but found he could not be heard. He heard the shouts and saw the Americans fall and smelled the blood. So much blood, his vision blurred with it. Then the dawn began to break. It was not quite as dark as it was before and there were no more dead bodies, no more natives running off with their prizes of scalps and guns, just one man, gazing down at him, seeing him as he lay beneath his blanket, staring at him. The man, the captain of the group, he’d guessed began to speak to him. “You don’t belong here,” he said, “I know who you are and what you intend. Tarleton struggled to rise, beginning to wake. His men were either asleep or pursuing the sounds and did not see the visitor. Was he imagining this? The visitor was still next to him, standing, his head bloodied and missing a piece of scalp, pain and sorrow in his gray eyes, but standing, watching, as Tarleton sat up. “Who are you? Rasped Tarleton, his throat dry and parched from his fever.
“Captain John McDowell,” came the reply. I died here, many years ago, at what we called “Balcony Falls.” I was a captain in my county’s militia and failed to protect what you now call Lexington and my own home of Fairfield well enough in life but I and my men are occasionally given another chance to try to protect this area. It was my men and horses who startled your horses. We intended to persuade you to leave, but I can see that you were too sick to move. If a ghost could sigh, McDowell did so, and continued. “We’ve been told to let you live, that you have a purpose yet to come back to England. If you can leave this area later today, you will live and fulfill that purpose. You need to see my sister-in-law first. She can help you recover enough to get out of this area alive. Your visit to Bedford County has aroused attention and the Valley is even more prepared than the south counties were. You will not be able to safely go any farther than the farm of Peter Wallace, and then you have to return by the south again. Peter’s wife, Martha, is my wife’s sister. You aren’t awake enough yet to believe me and will probably think it was just your fever causing you to dream badly or see things that aren’t here. Hold out your hand.” Without thinking, Tarleton did so. Something very cold, wet and small dropped into his hand. He looked and blinked. It was a small, very bright silver ring. Tarleton, now very much awake, looked at the ghost again, wide-eyed in amazement and a growing fear.
“This ring is for my wife. Her sister will see that she gets it. Don’t forget this. It is important to her and I want her to know I will never be far from her as long as she lives. I must leave now. Dawn is when I died and left here the first time.” Captain McDowell turned away and walked toward a strand of mist where Tarleton thought he saw other men waiting, and then they, and the mist, all simply vanished and all was quiet, except now there were some birds chirping in the trees and the horses seemed to stand easily. Tarleton looked into the woods where McDowell had disappeared and thought he had just been dreaming but he still felt and saw the ring. That was very real. He put the ring in a waistcoat pocket. His men were waking and one was already building a small fire to heat water for tea and another was cutting some salt pork and cheese to accompany the hardtack that was the usual breakfast while they were in the field. He was still weak and unsteady but the simple breakfast and spiked tea would help, for a while.
His men were eager to try to find another farm to raid so they had more with which to return later that day, when they would be riding hard and fast to lose any pursuers.
Tarleton and his men left the hills and forests and entered the valley from the southeast. It was still early morning and they rode in and out of the morning mists that still lingered for about two hours or more without spotting any nearby farms on their way. What he did not know was the valley families, who knew when he had reached New London in Bedford County, had also told the families to keep as quiet as possible when mists were still in the valley and lower slopes of the hills to make it harder to hear the usual farm family bustle. The livestock would still be hidden in the nearby woods to homes and the men and older boys that remained would be doing their best to keep them quiet. While water might be boiling for cooking, outside, and a fire might be inside, the steam and smoke would only add to the mist and any drizzle. It would be hard to find any homes by sound or scent. The children inside the homes were to keep quiet either sewing or studying their school work and not be outside to be either seen or heard. The Great Wagon Road was used by everyone, including militias and the native allies of the British when they chose to raid. This had long been understood so homes were not generally placed too near the road when most were first built a generation before.
The mist cleared about a mile or so south of Lexington on one farm on the southside of the road and Tarleton saw it. It was a two story large cabin, with a curl of smoke coming from one of the two side chimneys made of stone. Typical of many of the oldest homes, it had a fieldstone cellar that rose above the surrounding soil and a lower floor of logs with an upper floor of rough cut thick planks with live edges that were mortared to one another similar to the logs below. The roof appeared to be slate and the windows had shutters. It was large for the area, probably having several rooms for a larger family than some. There was a log and stone barn nearby, a good sign, indicating possible livestock, and grain, and the planked small building of what looked like a raised chicken coop. Another good sign. He ordered his men to turn up the trail to the house.
Although it was still summer, a mid-day meal had to be cooked. It was too hot to do much indoors so Martha was using her large pot outdoors, as she had the day before, only this time she was making chicken soup. One of her few hens had grown old and was no longer laying any eggs regularly and she did not have the extra grain to spare to supplement the chickens’ natural forage in their area near the barn. There were some decent early carrots, turnips, and leeks and her parsley had begun bearing again as the evenings and mornings again were getting a little cooler. Although most of her cabbages were already being made into sauerkraut, as she learned from the Germans in a nearby community up the valley, she still had some growing in her garden and a small one would go into the soup as it neared readiness. She still had some of this year’s spring barley. Not all of their small crop had been sent to make beer for the army and she liked barley in her chicken soup with her leeks better than corn, the way her mother described soup being made in Ireland. She tasted the soup after the roots had cooked for a while and added some salt and thyme.
She heard the men coming up the small road to their farm before she saw them. She called to her youngest daughter, Jennet, the last of her children still alive and at home, who had been putting the morning’s milk from their only cow into the springhouse dug into the rise near the barn and had her go into the house and set up the table with, oh, about 10 of the wooden trenchers, that she guessed would be needed, on the table. There was some bread still and cheese that should be set out along with her horn spoons. Her sons and husband had made them for the family, long ago and made them well. Martha then had her daughter set out the prized pottery cups her husband had brought once from a trip to Williamsburg after a good year’s hemp harvest. There was still some of last year’s hard cider, and she could make sassafras tea if there were too many of the riders. There was plenty of sorghum syrup that the valley settlers traded for, from east of the piedmont.
She recognized the rider who rode around the back of the house with two of his men by his description from young Peter Bowyer, green coat and all. He had ridden close enough to the pot that his horse tried to back away from the heat of the fire. If he were any closer he would fall off his horse and into the edge of the fire. She looked up at him, and he then backed his horse away. He knew those intense brilliant blue eyes. He had seen them before. He sweated more profusely from his illness or his own unease with his memories, he didn’t know which, and then he began to slide sideways again, as one of his men tried to scramble off his own horse to catch him in time..
“Peter!” Martha called, “come quick, one of the men is very ill, he will need help getting inside and cleaned up.”. Peter had been working in the barn, cleaning some tools and repairing a set of reins for one of their two remaining old horses. The horses were so old, they had not bothered to conceal them. He knew the British would not want them.
Peter came from the barn, still wearing his leather work apron. As his world darkened, Tarleton saw his face as he approached, and saw the apron, a variant of the same Mason’s apron that had been found with the two Wallace brothers among their belongings after they fell and then he knew. These were the parents of Adam Wallace whom his men had killed at the Waxhaws, and his brother Andrew who died at Guilford Courthouse in such strange circumstances. His last thoughts for about a half hour were, “this cannot be happening.”
Peter had Tarleton’s men lay him on the settle in the parlor and had Susannah go up the stairs for one of the pillows from their sons’ room. All six of Tarleton’s men were now in the house, but since it was clear there were only three persons and two of them elderly, they chose to watch the residents closely and not allow them to stray, and otherwise make a mild search of the barn and springhouse. A young lieutenant was told about the two old horses, single older cow and young calf, the small amounts of hay and grain, and slim pickings in the spring house. It was the same they had seen in many other places, but there was no hostility here, no ambush, no one trying to run off and perhaps warn neighbors. It was odd, but for some reason these people were no threat. Martha told them, “I was just preparing our midday meal and we will share it with you. We know who you are but this is not the time and place for conflict, today. Let me treat your Colonel first. You may watch to see that I am doing nothing nor giving him anything to harm him. If you will allow my husband to fetch some cool water from our well, and my daughter to get some rags, we will try to lower his fever and wake him enough to have herbal tea that should help. My herbs are in the kitchen near the fireplace. I have a low fire there, also to keep a pot of hot water. Pray be careful with my pottery cups but bring one to me. One of Tarleton’s men followed her into the kitchen, another brought her a cup from her table in the small dining hall. She had a small cupboard with drawers, plain but sturdy, on the wall, and pulled out two of the drawers. I have some dried meadowsweet in this drawer, she explained, and some willow bark in another. This will be too bitter by itself. On the side table you will find a heavy stoneware jar with a lid that has sorghum syrup and near it a small bin that, if you look inside, should have some sassafras bark. She swung the pot from the fire with the cast iron sweep her late brother-in-law, John McDowell had made long ago, when they all first came to the valley. She had a quilted pot holder to grasp the pot and put it on the wooden table in the center of the room upon which a flat piece of slate sat. She measured out a few small pieces of both the willow bark and sassafras, and a large pinch of meadowsweet, also called feverfew, you know, and put them in the bottom of the cup and poured the hot water over it. She told the men, “now we need to let it steep a few minutes.” Some of you can eat right now if you like and the rest with your men and us. Just try to allow some for everyone. I don’t dispatch a hen every day for soup. I have too few left. You may have noticed we also have a bowl of water, a pitcher, some soap and rags in the kitchen for cleaning up, rather than going to the well every time. Just toss the dirty water out into my herb and flower garden when you are done. You passed them as you came in from the back of our home.
Peter, please cut the bread and cheese for them. You also know where the ladle is. Please also bring in the pot of soup while I see how Susannah and the Colonel are doing. Susannah was alternating the cloths in the bowl of cool water, placing them on the forehead of the handsome enemy laying unconconscious still on the settle. As it was not terribly long, she had brought extra pillows and removed his boots so his ankles and feet could be propped up on the arm of the settle and one more was beneath his head. She sat on a small three legged stool nearby as she worked. Her mother touched her unwanted guest’s forehead and neck, and observed his color. The fever might be going down enough for him to recover consciousness soon. His men had thoughtfully removed his regimental coat and neckcloth and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. Martha turned to Jennet, “how many clothes do you have?”
“Four or five,” her daughter replied.
Her mother nodded, “then wet two of them this time. I will lift his head and I want you to place one beneath his neck, and another on his forehead. He should come around in a few minutes and I can then give him some willow and sassafras tea.”
She went through the dining hall to the kitchen and paused long enough to say, “I think he’ll be awake soon. Please allow me to get him the tea.” One of his men got up from his meal and followed her into the kitchen. She used a small set of tongs to pull most of the bark from the tea, and then took a bit of sorghum out of the jar with a small long handled horn spoon and mixed it with the tea. It was now warm, not hot but that would do. The need was to get the tea into him and let it take effect. The last thing any of them needed was Colonel Banastre Tarleton tarrying too long at their home. It wasn’t that far off the main road for extra horses to be heard by passers by.
Martha brought the tea to the Colonel who was indeed beginning to rouse. She said you may sit up a little, let your man help you and drink this. It’s meadowsweet, or feverfew if you know it by that name, and willow bark. I added some sassafras and sorghum to make it less bitter. Your men watched me all the while I made this to ensure I was not trying to poison you, although that would have been very foolish with only two old folk and a girl here. I should fear you more than you me. I’m sorry that I do not have any of the Jesuits bark from the cinchona tree. We don’t need it much this far from most areas where the fevers like yours occur. The person closest to us who might have some would probably not wish to share it with you anyway. Most of this valley has suffered from your men and not all know what we do. You can find it in Richmond and Williamsburg readily enough and probably whatever is left of our Virginia ports.” She watched as he drank the tea and then stared at her daughter, Jennet, and closed his eyes again. Jennet had the same black hair and blue eyes as her mother and her late brother, Adam, and a softer, more feminine form of his face. Jennet and her mother changed the cool wet cloth on the Colonel’s neck and forehead once more and let him rest while they took their turn at the meal.
You would have thought this was a large family again, just enjoying a normal, tasty meal together, instead of 10 or 12 enemies somewhat nervously eyeing one another. Everyone did their best to be polite. This was a truce born out of necessity and something else, something strange that only Martha and her family knew.
About a quarter of an hour later, the Colonel began to feel significantly better. He opened his eyes and then closed them again immediately. Sitting on the stool next to him was no comely young Jennet Wallace but her brother, the very same Captain Adam Wallace in his full blue and buff uniform whom his men had killed at the Waxhaws, his bright blazing blue eyes boring into the Colonel, willing him to look at him again. “Another..?” the Colonel squeaked, his throat seeming to feel as frozen as the rest of his body on the settle.
“I take it you met my uncle at Balcony Falls,” the ghost of Adam Wallace calmly replied.’
The same thought occurred to the Colonel when he had fallen off his horse, “this cannot be happening.”
“Ah, but it is,” said the Captain, “and don’t worry, your men can neither hear nor see me, only you can. They can hear and see you, but will only think that you are finally coming to, and still a bit delirious. My mother makes delicious soup by the way, do have some. It will help restore you for your journey back to the coast.”
The soup did smell wonderful.
“Now listen to me carefully,” Captain Wallace spoke again. “You need to go back the way you came but you will find a road that you missed north of the falls. There is a very large chestnut tree by the turn off. Take that road east. The men from New London won’t be looking for you that far north. You are being spared. We have seen that there is some good in you, that you did not intend my, nor my brother Andrew’s death and you have been good to others. You have a sense of fairness, though the war has weakened it. You don’t like the way slaves are used and treated and the day is coming when this new nation will have a reckoning over slavery also. God will someday hold all to account as indeed as we said in our declaration, He created all men, and aye, though it may surprise you, women are equal. You will be given the opportunities and influence to change your country for the better and temper its arrogance in the future. Yes, your armies will soon be defeated and you will go home to England, alive and whole. Be warned however, there will be an attempt on your life led by one more brother of mine. There will be a warning to the commanders about it. You will be offered a chance to be on one of the first ships back to England. Take it. All men have free will and what is now, alters the future and when the present changes, so does the future. Watch and listen for the warning. Cornwallis values you, as do many of the men who have served with and beneath you. They also all know you have malaria. There will be no shame in taking that ship. Now my energy is fading and I also must rest. One last thing and then go eat a hearty meal. Don’t forget to give my mother the ring in your waistcoat pocket.”
The young Captain’s ghost stood. As he did, his mother came into the room, and stopped and stared. Adam smiled at her, bowed low, blew her a kiss and started to stride off but turned and said, “I’m always with you and father, Mother, though you may not always see me. You and father will be with me, Andrew, Malcolm and James in another few years. We will all be together again.” Martha ran toward her son but he faded in the early afternoon light streaming into the front of the parlor. She sighed, her shoulders crumpled and she began to cry. Her husband heard her, and he and the remaining men at the table came into the parlor. “Oh Peter,” she said, “Adam was here, and now he’s gone again.” Peter held his wife for a moment, and told the men, please take the Colonel into the dining hall and serve him. We’ll be there momentarily. Please understand. My wife is not always well since the last two sons were killed. We have lost four of our six sons. We will give you a tit of grain to take with you but cannot spare much more. The livestock is all gone except for what you have seen. We have treated you well and hope you can leave us with what remains of our family and lives in peace.”
Martha recovered and her husband brought her a cool wet cloth from the kitchen to clean her face. She took a deep breath and walked more calmly into the dining room. He might be an enemy at the moment, but he too was some mother’s son and needed some care. More killing does not bring back dead loved ones.
The colonel rose politely as she entered the dining hall again. “Oh pray, sit and eat,” Martha said. “You need to be able to stay on a horse for several more hours before you are closer to your armies and more secure when you next rest. How are you feeling?”
The Colonel swallowed and put the cloth to his mouth that had been offered as a napkin. “I am feeling much better, thank you, Mistress Wallace. He looked at her more gravely but clear-eyed. I understand your losses and can only offer my regrets for them and that this is not another, better time and place. I see your situation and pain, and it is not my intention to cause unnecessary hardship and pain when none but good has been done to and for me and my men. Yes, it would be helpful to have a little grain to show for our trip and allay my commander’s temper, if you can honestly spare it. I think for this situation, however, he will not be unhappy at a small return when so much worse could have happened.” Please sit down, and perhaps one of my men might make you some of your own sassafras tea? Peter and the Lieutenant went into the kitchen.
The colonel reached into his pocket and put the silver ring on the table in front of Martha, who took it in her hand wonderingly.
“I saw him also, Mistress Wallace,” Tarleton said and one other man near some falls on the large river south of here. He said he was your brother-in-law, Captain McDowell, I believe?” Martha clutched the ring tightly, as the last time she’d seen it, her own sister was breaking it up into small pieces to be added to the salt to help bring more mist and drizzle. She stared at Tarleton and asked, quietly. “How could you know?”
“I met him at the falls, where he had died,” Tarleton replied gently, just as quietly. “He sent me here, not telling me who you and your husband were beyond being his in-laws. I didn’t know you were Adam’s parents until I saw your faces.”
Martha still held the ring tightly in her left hand and her right hand flew up to her mouth to keep from crying out. She then took a deep breath to calm herself, and said, ‘so, then you saw Adam also,” she asked?”
The colonel glanced toward the kitchen and nodded. Martha then relaxed and smiled, at peace with herself again. “Thank you, ‘she said. “Now finish your meal so we can get you on your way before we have any more visitors neither of us would wish at the moment.” Her husband entered the room with her tea. He and the Lieutenant had spiked it just a little with some cider also and had relaxed a little with a wee nip also. It would be a long ride back to the coast and with a tired colonel whose fever was bound to return, even if not as badly as before stopping at the Wallace home.
Tarleton’s fever held off for most of the ride back to the coast. Despite the days of heat and high humidity and mist and drizzle, the night turned cool and clear and they had a full moon to light their way. It was a blessedly easy ride back to the British army. Cornwallis was not pleased with the returns of this expedition as Tarleton knew would happen but he was grateful for the care that had been given to one of his most valued young officers, by the family who had lost so much for what they believed. Even Cornwallis felt oddly humbled by hearing that they had parted with something of what little they had left to see to it that Tarleton had not returned completely empty handed. They would never understand these people, but they found much to respect, and even admire. Perhaps someday in a time beyond what he could see, the nations of cousins would be friends again. One never knew for sure what the future would bring, did anyone? Tarleton wasn’t about to tell him about the wise women and the ghosts. Perhaps it all had been just delirium from his malaria, but he no longer thought so. He had had too many strange experiences in this land, especially Virginia. They couldn’t all be malarial hallucinations.
Tarleton and the British did as the ghosts advised and after Yorktown, he indeed was warned about the attempt on his life intended by John Wallace and others in the prison camp. He wisely took the ship passage offered by Washington and Cornwallis home. As he was mustered to go to the ship, he saw General Washington, beckoning to him and went to him and stood before him. The general was on horseback looking down at the perplexed young Colonel, wondering why he had been singled out. “I know the Wallace’s and the McDowell’s ”, the General said, and I know what happened. You were spared and given good care and advice. I hope you follow it.”
Colonel Tarleton, just stood, dumbfounded. Then, the General, usually so stern, gave him one of his rare brief smiles, and said, ‘ Samuel McDowell, Captain McDowell’s oldest son, is one of my oldest and best friends and I became a surveyor for his mother’s lands. Just be grateful you never met the Captain’s sister who was the leader of the wise women of the valley. Now go home and enjoy the rest of your life and do some real good with it.”
“Yes, SIR!” the Colonel smartly and very respectfully saluted and went off to very gratefully board his ship and leave this very strange land indeed. Yet, as he stood on the deck of the ship as it left Yorktown, he admitted to himself he would also miss this strange and wondrous land and he rather hoped he’d see the ghosts and their families again. He wished he had not seen this in war, but yet, perhaps he did really see what he was meant to see because of the war. If the land was strange and wonderful, life was even more so. He turned to look at the wide sea opening up as the ship passed out of the bay to the ocean and imagined a new life in England.
Near modern Lexington, the comfortable 21st century home of Beth and John was quiet and the storm had stopped. The chocolate was long gone, and the mustaches all licked clean and the children had fallen asleep on the sofa and floor of the living room. The cats were curled up next to them. Beth wrapped the children all up in blankets. John would help her move them to their beds when he returned soon. She then sat in her favorite chair and continued to gaze at the fire a while longer, looking forward to her husband’s return, and thinking of Martha and Peter, Martha’s sister, Mary Magdalene and her first husband John, and how much they had all loved one another and their families as she did her own now. After they put the children to bed, Beth would share a cup of hot spiced cider, with a little rum, with him and listen to his day and then they would go to bed in peace themselves.. She also thought of the strange small silver ring upstairs in a little box in the back of her large jewelry case that would one day go to Margaret who would then tell this story to her own children, and help keep all the memories and traditions alive, along with John who would have the swords and buckles. He would be a little slower in learning, but he had the other family gifts also, as had Adam and Andrew so long ago. The moonlight entered through a window as the moon rose above some nearby trees. Beth thought she heard a sound by the window and turned to look. For just a moment, she thought she saw Adam, Andrew, Peter and Martha all smiling at her. She smiled in return and closed her eyes. It was very close to All Hallow’s eve after all, and the house was not far from where theirs had been. Then her cell phone buzzed, on vibrate to not wake the sleeping children. Her husband, John, was on his way home.
The Haunted Blanket
Another Tale for Samhain
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2021-10-28
Miki had not died as his sisters and cousins thought. He had been rescued by the Sidhe (shee) with whom he and his family had a long history. When he had shown surprising genius in chemistry, and computers and then indulged in studies of alchemy and wizardry he got the attention of the rulers of the Sidhe. Miki had inherited one deadly bit of incomplete dominance that would eventually kill him as it had too many other males in this unusual family. The Celtic faeries, (Sidhe), agreed this would be a terrible waste of a lot of talent, talent they themselves needed and wanted.
At the end of one year Miki needed another surgery and Sidhe decided to act. They used their telepathic mind control on his doctor to prolong the period without blood thinners for Miki’s condition and waited. His surgery alone would do the rest. He had a clot and it moved, as expected, between the lungs and heart. Two new ambulance drivers showed up and whisked him away. Miki ostensibly died on the way to the hospital, a distant hospital that took a very long time to reach. Actually, Sidhe had substituted a humanoid automaton for him, a far more advanced one than what they had used long before for Rev. Kirk of Aberfoyle, who was a cousin of Miki’s cousin, Rosalind. The real Miki was already in recovery after the skillful Sidhe surgeons had removed the clot with a tiny incision, but he was no longer in the human world. The automaton had lab grown humanoid flesh and organs, enough to fool the human doctors who wanted to harvest organs and actually give some life to the recipients. The automaton remains would then be cremated according to Miki’s sisters’ wishes. No humans would know what really happened.
In the surgery and subsequent treatments, Miki was also transformed into a Sidhe. He was, most of the time, an energy being who could assume human form and substance and could move about invisibly. He was educated in the sciences and technologies of the Sidhe and with his intelligence and help, the Sidhe progressed and began to grow again in numbers as they found ways to transform more humans who had the characters and skills they wanted and were otherwise at risk from human deficiencies in genetics and medical society. All had a unique heritage. They’d previously had some Sidhe ancestry, making the transformations easier. Sidhe and humans had mated in the past but it was all regarded in the 21st century as religious myths or fairy tales. Few modern humans really believed in the stories, and now humans were destroying the planet both humans and Sidhe shared.
Sidhe had long ago made one miscalculation: that the humans would continue to evolve without regular, frequent interbreeding with the Sidhe, and that the ability to have more children would speed the process of evolution. Instead humans were devolving, back to the brutish violent murderous creatures they had been eons before, even before homo Heidelbergensis when Lilith thought it would be interesting to mate with a particularly aggressive australopithecine with an unusually handsome face, perhaps as a result the uranium-rich, radioactive hot springs he and his parents had lived near in part of Africa’s great rift valley in what became Ethiopia. The new hybrids of the hot springs group and Lilith, a Sidhe female, and Set, her Sidhe brother whom she’d also talked into trying this experiment, were more intelligent and handsome than their ancestors but half were more violent and half were not. Other Sidhe began breeding with the milder offspring that had consistently bred milder for several generations. The Sidhe were hoping for a result similar to the way the Bonobo permanently changed from their nearest chimpanzee cousins. The Sidhe thought that the milder Sidhe-human mix, with greater intelligence and better health would naturally prevail over the more aggressive but less intelligent group and the latter would just disappear over time. Eventually homo Heidelbergensis developed, but still continued to have a small percentage of its offspring that were more aggressive, bolder and more exploratory.
A small group of those more aggressive descendants had settled near mineral rich hot springs near the Dead Sea in what became ironically called much later, ‘the Holy Land,’ of West Asia. Lilith, Set and now other more adventurous Sidhe were engaging in relations with the increasingly more lithe, longer-limbed and even-featured offspring of the new hot springs group, and not distinguishing between those offspring who were of gentler disposition and bred gentle for many generations and those who were not so gentle. Too late it was found that all of them had the dominant, aggressive australopithecine genetics and it would go dormant a generation or two, or even several, and then recur. A new, violent, genocidal species of modern humans was created and then began to breed mostly true to its worst nature.. Sidhe watched in horror as the new species pillaged and killed most of the other children of Heidelbergensis, the Neanderthals and their better looking near relations, the Denisovans, as modern humans would name their remains.
Unlike the older children of Heidelbergensis, the youngest, new species had another troubling factor. The new species also did not hibernate for part of the winter and they mated successfully more often, had more male children, and had more children survive infancy. Although they were a bit more intelligent, they seemed to use it more for acquiring more resources, were rarely fully satisfied and were killing all who competed or got in the way. Many species of other animals were rapidly disappearing under the relentless onslaught of this new murder-loving species that outbred all their hominid and simian cousins put together. The balance between the species, of which humans were just one, was gone. The planetary zoo and lab were being demolished by an experiment gone terribly wrong!
The Sidhe were not the top beings in the universe and eventually God only knew when, would be held accountable. They then argued among themselves over what should be done. One group thought that all the new humans should be destroyed before they destroyed all other life. ‘We can start over with just the Denisovans’ they said. ‘No, it’s not right to destroy an entire species,’ came the reply. We ought to be smart enough to learn to control and modify it.’
This was when one group of Sidhe left and became the Djinn who still believed that all this new species should be destroyed, one way or another. The remaining Sidhe hoped they could learn to modify humans. By about 70,000 years ago, though, the modern more aggressive humans were beginning to wipe out Neanderthals and Denisovans in more remote areas of the north. The Djinn using their powers to influence the earth and volcanoes caused a massive volcano in what is now Indonesia to explode. The Neanderthals and Denisovans survived the succeeding volcanic-induced deep winter.. Most, but not all of the modern humans were killed as they lived further south. Still it was not enough, the new humans survived, again grew in numbers and eventually the last Neanderthals and Denisovans were gone..
As the Sidhe had begun expanding their numbers with transforming part-Sidhe humans, the Djinn began to do the same, only with the purpose of using their expanded numbers to help kill more humans. They also created the daemons out of the spirits of the most selfish, murderous humans who would feed on the worst characteristics of humans, their selfishness and greed, their willingness to divide themselves on the basis of race and religion and use religion, or arrogance of a belief in any other imagined superiority, to excuse genocide of any and all they designed as ‘others.’ Every fault they could find in the pure humans that could lead to their destruction, the Djinn and their daemons began to find and exploit. The Sidhe were willing to use the weaknesses of the worst of humans against them also, but not in the violent ways in which the Djinn seemed to delight. The Sidhe and the Djinn were both perfectly willing to help spread an epidemic to those humans not prudent enough to take precautions, but the Djinn were willing to incite wars, up to a point. Neither wanted a nuclear holocaust that might kill all life, or nearly all life. . . . .
The Sidhe wanted and needed to expand their own numbers, and reduce, but not completely eliminate, the pure humans. A new hybrid that bred true would likely take many experiments and it was always good to have a back up plan. Also in the many millennia since the split leading to Sidhe and Djinn, the humans had also domesticated and altered other animals and created creatures that themselves were more loving, but dependent.
The Sidhe decided to reduce the numbers of pure humans more gradually, also using their faults and weaknesses against them but more humanely, and also increase sterility. The Sidhe did not hate humans as solely dangerous mistakes as the Djinn did and in their minds, they were also not the monsters that humans so often were to other species and each other. Let the humans limit their own life-span, and health and cause their own sterility by their own inventions. If the Djinn inspired them to occasionally create something more deadly, well they had free will–one of the conditions of setting up the planet as a laboratory involving sentient intelligent species and the Sidhe would not get in the way unless planetary destruction was highly likely.
By the time the Djinn helped humans to create the atomic bomb, the Sidhe were working on the genetics to develop a new sustainable hybrid, one that would continue to have evolving children, and not so many children as the current humans did. The Sidhe had also begun watching what happened when the new hybrids were exposed to radiation. Still it was going to take a bit more time. Radiation had also played a role in past evolution and not always for the better. Could it be controlled in any way to only improve human development, or was it better used with other species?
So Sidhe created a monitoring program to watch for opportunities to rescue more part Sidhe, and generally good humans, and transform them. Both they and the Djinn were monitoring humans who had been known to be altered by radiation, and at the same time, they and the Djinn worked on developing new strains of old viruses and placing them where human stupidity would allow them to spread most and fastest among the worst of humanity. The Djinn would also use their superior and invisible means of persuasion to cause the worst of the humans, mostly the males, to shun vaccines and other protections, and believe in some form of superiority or other, or their freedom to do whatever they wanted, was more important than cooperating to save the human race or improve it. The general idea of using the worst beliefs and actions of the worst of humans was generally working just fine, but they would need stronger new variants of the viruses or bacterial to eliminate significantly more of the stupid humans who wouldn’t vaccinate or wear masks. Just waiting for the humans to have mutations of the viruses within them deadly enough, on their own, was taking much too long for the Djinn. They wanted to start experimenting with the Black Plague again. .
It was just a matter of time before a combination of remedies could be effectively applied, if the Djinn would just show some patience. Given that the Sidhe and Djinn had already lived many hundreds even thousands of years, time the Sidhe and Djinn had., Both groups did want the survival of most species and something of a new human species. Planetary destruction was not in the interest of either.. They had been on the planet for over 5 million years already, when Earth was first designated a galactic zoo and laboratory because it had, on its own, developed the right conditions for life in general The Sidhe and Djinn had a lot of privileges, but also responsibilities to protect most if not all the life they had helped develop either intentionally or unintentionally. They needed to try to cooperate a little more.
The Sidhe had also determined they could monitor humans better by also transforming some pets close to humans to Sidhe pets, or partners. The Djinn could not because they were not interested in creating more Djinn from humans, only daemons, which came from the worst of humans and were used to help destroy as many other humans as possible. . Not all cats or dogs were equal. Some had also long ago been infused with enhanced genetics and their capabilities from the Sidhe world. Humans simply saw some of their pets as being a lot smarter than others, never dreaming that the pets, though loving their chosen owners, were also observing them and were in telepathic communications with the Sidhe whom the pets could see all the time. The Sidhe were no more invisible to most cats and dogs and other animals than sentient human spirits who had chosen to remain on earth were. The sentient spirits (not the mere energy event imprints on places) and the Sidhe saw one another also, and communicated as human spirits were just another form of energy being, but less powerful than the Sidhe. Humans were being watched, constantly and guided, but being human, thought they were the only really intelligent species and the top of the animal pyramid, and most also didn’t really believe there was an inner spiritual core that might live on.
Miki had a cousin in whom the Sidhe were also interested. Rosalind was also a part-Sidhe human and had been exposed to radiation before birth and when she was young. Her genes turned out to be really different and a percentage had no other match on the planet. Even the Djinn were willing to spare this one and see how she developed and what she did. Unlike Miki, she could also live longer with just an occasional bit of invisible assistance to her and doctors she might need from time to time.
Humans had caused some unintended genetic changes with their development of nuclear weapons and x-ray machines which for years had no standards on the amount of roentgens they could emit and how long the patient could be exposed and no lead vests and neck protectors. Most genetic changes were slight changes of little observable consequence and did not show up in DNA tests as a significant percentage of ‘unknown DNA.’ Rosalind was different: a mutant that neither humans nor Sidhe had planned and had some observable extra abilities and differences. As such, she was worth observing over a long life. Rosalind usually, though not always, sensed the Sidhe, even when she could not see them and was open to the good of all species. The Sidhe thought that she had a decent, almost Denisovan, sense of the need for harmony and balance among all living things. It wasn’t that she was perfect. As Rosalind herself freely admitted, she didn’t know everything and was willing to learn. Her personal library exceeded that of most small community libraries by the 21st century and she’d read, from cover to cover, nearly everything in it. She knew she was different but still felt herself to be mostly human, and more than capable of some terrifically boneheaded human mistakes, especially in trying to understand what it really meant to be human, and a female human at that, in an largely fiercely dogmatically-inclined male-dominated human world. More than one good friend and family member had said, ‘if you are going to do or get into– name a dangerous situation involving other humans of your choice–you need to learn things like driving like James Bond, how to use weapons, how to make weapons, and remember to never wear high heels or tight skirts especially if you might need to run, and always eat a fair amount of cheese or other dairy foods before drinking with Russians, Chinese, etc.. and better yet, be a designated driver.’
Over the years, with human assistance and the limited assistance and guidance of the Sidhe, Rosalind had proved very useful to the Sidhe, as well as humans. Sidhe wanted to continue that. Miki was put in charge of monitoring her. He partnered with a black cat who had once been her pet, Schwarze Schatten (German for black shadow). Schwarz had been a Sidhe creation also and a miscalculation–too smart to stay below the human radar, poor as it was, and his animal genetics were also a bit off. He became very ill at about eleven years of age and human medicine such as it was then, could not diagnose and treat him in time to save his life and heal him well. He was whisked away at a university clinic by Sidhe with Miki’s help, as Schwarz knew Miki and trusted him. A cat automaton was left as a substitute which would not survive long, mimicking the symptoms Schwarz had.
Miki reported to the Sidhe one day, ‘We have another problem.’ My cousin is rescuing stray needy human relatives again and still does not know that her sisters are actually only her half sisters and that the children of the youngest are even less related and are really damaged humans who are not repairable.’ We just got through persuading Rosalind to get her nephew re-acquainted with his father and move him out of her life, and now she’s about to have his even worse older half-sister move in. No one alive in the family has seen this niece in several years since she moved to the east coast. She didn’t improve with the move.”
‘How bad is bad?’ a high ranking Sidhe asked.
‘Jesslyn has allowed a Djinn daemon to take over herself as her mother did,’ Miki replied. She used the same Ouija board her mother did. ‘She’s become totally self-absorbed and delusional, and she’s into alcohol, drugs, fools around with gang members and couldn’t tell the truth if both her life and soul depended upon it and she really understood that. The daemon has been growing stronger. Jesslyn, with the help of her daemon, destroys nearly everyone around her, one way or another. Rosalind can withstand her and will eventually eject her on her own, but it will drain her and she won’t be of much use to us while she’s learning to see what her half niece really has become and then ridding herself of her. It took Rosalind, her husband and us almost two years to get rid of Jesslyn’s half brother. Jesslyn is worse.’
Schwarz then spoke up. Being a Sidhe-cat, he could now speak the languages of humans and Sidhe, and be heard and understood. ‘I have long remembered Jesslyn. She had the smell of an unpleasant bitch in constant heat even when young. I hated it when she touched me. I’ve been with Miki often enough on his rounds to know she has only gotten much worse and now stinks, like rotten dead prey. The daemon is slowly destroying her, as it uses her to create havoc around her. She will come to a bad end. She doesn’t know the djinn daemon has no more regard for her than any other human. I don’t want her around my Rosalind. I want to help get rid of her.’ Schwarz flexed his claws in anticipation as he said this.
It was agreed that Miki and Schwarz would come up with an idea to put Schwarz back in Rosalind’s home to help get rid of Jesslyn and Miki would monitor and intervene as needed.
Meanwhile, the niece who was subject of this discussion, Jesslyn, was on her third divorce and her general scorched earth behavior during such times had even singed herself badly this time. She had lost her job as a nursing assistant in the hospital ER room. Someone had finally noticed there was constant conflict around her and more patients were stressed out and dying when she was around. She lost her apartment and didn’t get more than a fraction of what she wanted when she sold her furniture. No one would give her a good reference for anything and even her soon to graduate teen son had decided to move in permanently with his father. She had raised her son to be as much as a selfish opportunist as she was and his father had stabilized and married and was doing well. The move to live with his father probably saved that teenager’s life and soul.
Jesslyn was left with her car and whatever she could fit in it. She had an invitation from her aunt who was more respectable and old-fashioned than Jesslyn liked and definitely would not have approved of a number of Jesslyn’s habits She had decided she would first go see her old friend, Ada, who lived in a small city in central California, and never mind the fact that Ada used drugs, ‘occasionally.’ Ada or ‘Adder’ as Jesslyn liked to call her friend in jest, was likely to be a lot more fun than Aunt Rosalind, in Jesslyn’s definitions of fun. What Jesslyn didn’t know was said friend had graduated from just using drugs to dealing and was now involved with two gangs and had a lover in both. Ada had also just lost her driver’s license and saw several opportunities with Jesslyn returning to California and having a car.
Jesslyn needed a warm new blanket, especially if she had to sleep in her car a night or two on her way between New York and California. She went to a favorite local store and was drawn to a counter with a stack of plush throw blankets. There on the top was one in the colors of a moonlit night with a large, magnificent black panther reaching across it, looking directly at her.. It seemed to beckon to her and she bought it without question. There was a noise, like a low rumbling growl of a large cat as Jesslyn paid at the check-out counter, which caused the cashier to look around and wonder if her cash register was developing a problem. Jesslyn didn’t notice, as she was on her cell phone calling her friend Ada to say she was on her way.
Well, even the daemon had a sense of preserving its host just a bit longer to do maximum damage. He wasn’t ready to let Jesslyn go. When Adder and her friends got Jesslyn drunk in celebration of her arrival, Adder followed up the booze with a sleeping pill infused chaser. Then Adder and her drug gang friends took Jesslyn’s car and engaged in a spree of drug deals and settling some unpaid debts for the drugs. They felt free to do this since the local police had not seen a car with New York plates in the area before and in a pinch, Jesslyn would become a person of interest, not the usual suspects. However being drug and alcohol using criminals themselves, and not terribly bright, they forgot to check the gas gauge. Jesslyn woke to a missing car and when it was found, some distance away it had been burglarized as well. There simply was no honor among criminals in this area. Even the daemon was utterly disgusted and urged her to call her aunt.
Jesslyn moved in to her aunt’s guest suite, and immediately put her black panther at midnight in the moonlight throw on her new bed. When Rosalind checked to see how Jesslyn was settled and whether or not she needed anything, her most recent large male cat, Alexander the Great (because of his size and his beautiful golden color) pushed past her to the throw and immediately nestled on it next to the panther and started rolling around and purring–as though he’d found a new good buddy or brother. Jesslyn was not pleased and tried to eject the cat. That was the first night from which she awoke the next morning with scratches and complaining she’d had a bad dream of being chased by an angry large black cat.
Jesslyn worked to get some medical certifications again in California and signed up for junior college with the claims she was going to go through a program to become a physician’s assistant–essentially a nurse practitioner. That promise and effort lasted less time than her first marriage. She lied about work, friends, and her habits. She was secretly smoking inside, against Rosalind’s express rules and got herself fired from two jobs in short order, and lost volunteer status at a fire station when she promised to show up and then waited all night for a date who changed his mind. The chief sagely told her she needed to change her priorities and until then he didn’t want to see her again. She followed this with showing up dressed like she was going on a Friday night spree looking for a one-night stand at an interview for a medical assistant job at a male doctor’s office. She hadn’t learned beforehand that he was married. His wife showed up for the interview also and was not pleased. We later heard he was being sued for divorce. The daemon and Jesslyn had struck again. She claimed to be dieting and on prescribed pills and a 900 calories a day diet. There had just been an article in the paper about dieting in which it was stated that for several years no reputable doctor would set a diet of less than about 1200 calories a day and the diet pills that she was taking were items banned some years before. Rosalind called her on this and asked for the doctor’s name to report him or her. Jesslyn said, oh this was some doctor she’d met while having gone out one weekend. Rosalind started watching more closely and started using salt when washing the rest of the house and then sprinkled salt around the edges of the doorway into Jesslyn’s room and where the floor and wall met on the north side, below a window.. She also started watching where and how Jesslyn smoked in the back garden, trying to keep Alexander out of the smoke.
Jesslyn and her daemon felt more and more trapped. Jesslyn was sleeping less well and waking up more often with scratches. Schwarz wanted her gone, and was doing his best to make her uncomfortable. He knew what Rosalind did not. Jesslyn was drinking as well as smoking in her rooms behind closed doors and twice nearly set fire to the carpet. She and her daemon had also decided to strike out against Rosalind and Alexander. Jesslyn started deliberately blowing cigarette smoke toward Alexander in the garden and he’d frantically lick himself to clean it off. He got cancer under his tongue, just like baseball players did from chewing tobacco, and it was not discovered right away
Schwarz told Miki what was happening and asked if Alexander, who had become his friend and step-brother, and also trying to eject Jesslyn, could be rescued as he was. Miki went back to Sidhe and they considered the problem. Rosalind had finally discovered how sick her cat, Alexander, was, and was devastated. Her husband, because of his age, had to change careers, again in youth-favoring Silicon Valley, and they had limited funds at the moment for surgeries and cancer treatments. Surgery was done, but not soon enough and Alexander did not react well to a pain medicine. His kidneys began to fail. His time was coming to an end fast. Miki and one of the Sidhe followed a distraught, sobbing Rosalind to the emergency vet. Alexander perked up at the vet to be allowed to be taken into a back room for examination. Between the assistant making him comfortable and getting an IV ready and other materials to filter his kidneys and the vet seeing him, Miki and the Sidhe made another switch of cat for automaton and rushed Alexander to the nearest Sidhe surgery. Rosalind was unaware of the switch, lost in her grief and worry, and held the fading automaton as a last injection was put into it. The vets also confirmed her worst suspicions: as none of her cats had ever had cancer and given the nature of this cancer, it was very likely that Jesslyn’s smoking had caused it.
The next day Rosalind put all her growing suspicions to the test and made some phone calls and discovered what Schwarz and Miki already knew and she had begun to suspect, but had hoped was not so. No one wants to believe the worst of family and most good people hope for redemption of themselves and others. Rosalind had wondered if she had indeed sensed Miki and Schwartz in the months Jesslyn had been in her home and had been hoping, naively, she thought, in retrospect, that they were just there to encourage Jesslyn improving her life, not just to try to protect Rosalind from yet another family folly.
Rosalind learned that though Jesslyn had stopped using the illegal diet drugs that they had indeed come from Ada, or Adder–which seemed the more appropriate name, and she had not given up that dangerous acquaintanceship even when told by employers who had run background checks at various times. She had sewn conflicts in a number of bars and pubs, and was ejected from one–permanently. She lied about the amount of money she had made when employed and cheated Rosalind and her husband of their modest request for a little rent. In her last interview with one contractor for temp services she had shown up hung-over and was told to never return. Worse, when Rosalind and her husband had taken a short vacation, shortly before discovering Alexander’s cancer, Jesslyn invited Adder and one of her drug gang boyfriends over to the house for a party, and they considered burglarizing Rosalind’s home, and claiming it had happened when they had gone out drinking. Instead they became very sleepy and too tired to move. All three fell asleep in the suite with the black panther blanket.. That night all of them had nightmares and all three work the next morning badly scratched, and wondering how the scratches came to be.. Adder asked Jesslyn if her room were haunted and said she never wanted to be in it again, but on the way out was not so troubled as to refrain from stealing some make-up and a couple of pieces of jewelry from Jesslyn, and took a few novels of Rosalind’s that Jesslyn had read and had in her suite. The novels involved ghost stories and Adder in her failure to appreciate irony, liked ghost stories, despite the nightmares in Jesslyn’s room and the nightmare life she was creating for herself. She didn’t know it but she was soon to become a ghost, herself when her boyfriend found out about the other one. Her good friend Jesslyn accidentally let him know when she called Adder from Oregon where she had moved and thought she was talking to the other boyfriend. Adder’s boyfriend of the party with Jesslyn had had his own troubling dreams. He later had told Adder, Jesslyn and several other friends that his particular nightmares had included a large grinning warlock with glowing golden eyes, dressed in a black robe with a cowl, who warned him not to return or he and his panther would personally hand him to daemons. The panther had then reached up and swiped his chest and spoke, saying ”remember us. We will remember you and find you if you ever do harm to Rosalind and her husband.’ Adder’s erstwhile boyfriend indeed had a long set of scratches from his chest to his stomach that looked like they’d come from the paw of a large cat. They were not so deep to still bleed but deep enough to remember his nightmare for years afterward
Adder thought they had a bad batch of drugs which had not gone well with all the alcohol they’d also drunk. Still she was not eager to return again either. For her, soon it would not matter.
Rosalind was waiting for Jesslyn as she came home from an interview that Rosalind had also learned was not. Jesslyn was pursuing another male would-be (in her mind) boyfriend, just like the bitch in heat that Schwarz always thought she was..It hadn’t mattered whether they were married or not, and this was one of the ways the daemon and Jesslyn sowed conflict and violence–and incited murder.
The daemon was expecting what happened next and was gleeful, He and Jesslyn had sowed enough conflict and violence in this area and it was time to move on. Rosalind handed Jesslyn a 30-day eviction notice and posted a copy on the door of her suite.
Jesslyn was out within a week–and left the blanket, along with some clothes and other personal belongings. When Rosalind called Jesslyn on her cell phone and asked her where to send the items, Jesslyn said she’d come and pick them up, just put them in a box, but then emphatically added ‘but do NOT pack the blanket with the black panther on it! No, I do NOT want that blanket! I never want to see it again!. It’s been nothing but bad luck to me! I think it’s haunted and you are more than welcome to it! Keep it away from me!’
Rosalind smiled for the first time in weeks and went to the blanket and stroked the soft plush of the panther and said, ‘Thank you Schwartz. I hope you and Alexander and Miki will be waiting for me and my husband someday.’
A few years later, Rosalind got the phone call she was expecting from one of her half sisters. Miki had appeared to her in a dream and said, ‘I’m sorry. No one could save her from herself and the daemon she chose. You’ll be called soon.’
Rosalind’s next half sister called the day after the dream. ‘Jesslyn’s body has been found in the trunk of an abandoned stolen car. It was gang and drugs related. The police have a suspect who said ”she lied to us and she owed us money.” Rosalind sighed but said nothing. ‘Are you still there Ros? She’s being cremated. We’re not having any memorial.’
‘I’ll say a prayer for her soul,’ Rosalind said, hoping that when the daemon had finally decided to move on and find a new host that he hadn’t arranged for Jesslyn to eventually become another daemon, also.
Playing for the Ghosts at the Washoe Club
Another Tale for Samhain
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2021-10-21
At this time of year I sometimes think about an odd experience I had the last time I was in Virginia City, Nevada.
My family had visited the old town since the 1960’s when I was a teen and we occasionally went rock-hunting in nearby areas. In the early visits, the town was not the tourist mecca it has become today. There were much fewer shops and most people came to see the one or two mine museums, the Mackay House and the ‘Territorial Enterprise/Mark Twain Museum,’ if they had any interest in old west literature and history. I loved Mark Twain’s Roughing It from the first time I read it and laughed so hard at the story of the ‘genuine Mexican plug’ that my sides hurt. I had a certain memory of a palomino a friend of mine once had named ‘Bourbon’ and a wild ride (the horse’s idea, not mine and my sister’s) though a Boy Scout Jamboree. Since we’d flattened a few tents I could well imagine what happened to the young Sam Clemens and how irate the citizenry of really early Virginia City had been afterwards. Over time I would come to be acquainted with the actual mines related to all the stocks he so foolishly bought and sold as if they were a boy’s baseball trading cards today. He could have been very rich if he had known more about mining and geology and what to really buy and hold.
It was during his time in Virginia City that the young Sam Clemens really began writing and adopted the pen name ‘Mark Twain’. Being a reader of several mid-19th century authors, an occasional short story writer myself, with one of my college degrees in history, I am a regular visitor to the California Gold Rush country, and Virginia City as a favorite day trip.
Over the years, I heard more and more about alleged ghosts, curses, haunted tables and spots in the town. I was a skeptic. I’ve heard similar tales in every old town with some historical significance and many old buildings. It seems to be required of modern denizens of old towns that once the town reaches a certain level of popularity, that the residents then enhance, by inventing or repeating, every old story or rumor they ever heard anywhere. Many of the stories are ridiculously similar. I’ve long believed you can find the same stories in at least two dozen old towns from coast to coast.
I do believe there are ghosts. I lived in a house haunted by a former owner who was a police officer. We were able to look up the history of the house and the owners. Every person who ever spent the night there, while we owned the house, heard the ghost. Several persons had seen it. One of our cats was a definite buddy of the ghost and at times seemed to converse with it. However, this was a rare experience. I occasionally would catch fleeting glimpses of ghosts in a very few locations in my peripheral vision or ‘see it’ through my ‘third eye’ as some would call this location on my forehead. Both my husband and I had a few other odd experiences, including auditory ones.
However, it was all rather ho-hum and nothing special to us, and to cousins who had similar experiences, here and there. None of us would have ever considered any of our experiences anything to get really excited about and want to contact ghost hunters, who even before the modern television series, seemed to be little more than a bunch of over-imaginative, publicity seeking, delusional characters who too often seem to be scared of their own shadows and ready to have a nervous breakdown.
Up until my last visit to Virginia City about 10 years ago, the most I could have said about odd experiences was a feeling that someone in the Mackay House was following my family about once. There were some odd little noises suggesting someone was moving about in rooms near and behind us a few times. The tour guide was in front of us. No one was behind us.
Another time, my youngest half-sister and I were shopping, and I could hear unusual street noise of a bustling town with dirt streets, voices, horses and a stagecoach pulling up somewhere down the street, and another buckboard or something pulling away from somewhere else nearby. I wondered if someone in the store was watching an old western on television or had a sound track running briefly to provide ambiance to visitors. Neither was the case, however, so I just dismissed it, since it was a short incident and nothing else happened afterward.. One of our favorite shops for my youngest half-sister and I was one that had a very nice collection of ‘Black Hills Gold” jewelry items, and we always would get a snack somewhere in town. My youngest half-sister loved Nevada and would get some time off twice a year and often wanted to go to the Reno-Tahoe area and we’d got to Virginia City. Her birthday was in late November and we could always find some interesting gifts for a few family members and friends in Virginia City, besides her enjoying her ‘birthday time.’
It was our wedding anniversary when we last visited Virginia City. We were married in late October and narrowly avoided a Hallowe’en wedding (absolutely NOT!–was the unanimous opinion of the family the year we were married, and luckily the person who was to be married the same day a week before wanted a mid-afternoon wedding so we could have ours just before noon.) Forty years later, a nephew was cat-sitting for us and we were getting our first vacation in several years. We were staying at the Atlantis in Reno where they have the best oyster stew on the street arcade area, and a really good buffet also. They had a nice piano bar with excellent musicians and we had tickets for a couple of different shows in Reno. However, we had decided to do some additional touring. One day we toured the museum in the old mint in Carson City. Another day we decided to visit Virginia City.
While I like to shop, my husband does not. We also had both seen the Mark Twain museum at least twice and he had zero interest in the Mackay House and I wasn’t interested in a second visit. We decided to see and do a few things we had not previously, or not in a while.
Although I had toured a couple of the old mines that are as much under as around the town, my husband had not. In doing some family history research I also found a person who lived and might have died in Virginia City who had an identical name to a brother of a maternal great-grandfather who had disappeared as an older teen from Missouri, soon after his father had died. I was hoping to explore the cemeteries, or find cemetery registers on this trip. It turned out the registers were all in a room at St. Mary’s. Things had changed since my last visit.
The first place we stopped was at the church, near the stage coach ride we intended to take and a mine that wasn’t under a saloon. The archivist seemed nearly hostile and we could not understand why. I was told that no one was now permitted to visit the cemetery who did NOT have a relative there. I had my notes about the missing ancestral relative and was allowed to go through the registers to see if he was in one of two cemeteries. He was not, and although I spotted a few other family names, I knew the histories of these lines well enough to know that the persons interred were not close kin to any direct ancestors or ancestresses. We thanked the archivist for her time and made a donation. She had relaxed when she realized I had notes for a very specific person and was not wasting her and my time. I was able to ask her why the new rules for the cemeteries. She told me it’s because of the crazy ghost-hunters who had made them more famous and at this time of the year the amateur wannabe’s and teenage vandals besides were getting to be real problems. Between the two groups, there had been a lot of damage to headstones in recent years.
We just shook our heads, wished her good luck this year and left.
After bruising our tailbones and shoulders on the stagecoach ride, we walked part way up the hill to the old mine. It was a much better tour than one I’d seen years before that you accessed through a saloon. It was a real mine and focused on mining history, not mixing it with real or hyped doings on the main street (C Street) of the town. Yet even this tour was apparently not immune to the town’s new reputation since having been visited by a television show featuring ghost hunters. The mine was actually in pretty good condition. Recent owners had gone through parts that were closest to the surface and made sure all the structures were up to modern safety standards for tours, replacing or reinforcing what was needed.
The pamphlet we received indicated that although there were few of the usual mining accidents in the mine, there were no major explosions or other mass death tragedies. Yet, apparently one tragic one had apparently left at least one ghost that a few people claimed to have seen or heard, though none recently. A miner fell down a shaft, having failed to grab the line attached to what had been used as a primitive elevator to lower and then raise himself. It was not stated where exactly in the mine the shaft where the miner fell to his death was. The tour had stopped while a couple of people were asking questions about items for which I already knew the answers and I wandered a couple of dozen feet ahead, further into the mine. I was not so far away that I was away from the tour lights, but it was darker, more shadow than light. I stopped to look around better, being cautious in dimmer light. I suddenly felt my heart start pounding and felt a little dizzy and nauseous. I wondered if breakfast had suddenly decided to rebel. It had been a bit of a hike down to a very bumpy stage coach ride and then another short hike up to the mine, and we were at about 4,000 feet in elevation. I thought I heard footsteps approaching, from further back in the mine. I thought that maybe they were just echoes of the tour guide and tourists shuffling about, and bouncing off the mine walls. Then I heard a whisper in my right ear, telling me to look to my right and ahead and not go closer. ‘This was where I fell and died.’ the raspy voice said. Although it was shadowed, I could see a shaft in front of me and slightly to my right. I had thought it was a large crate that had formerly held some equipment, but it was actually a barricade a few feet high, to keep people from accidentally falling into the shaft. I started sweating and moved close to the rest of the tour. Ok, this had to be breakfast and an overactive imagination, right? So, I asked, where did the miner who fell to his death, who is mentioned in your pamphlet die? The guide answered, I was just about to get to his story. We can move toward the back a bit further and on your left, folks, is the shaft. It was the very shaft a raspy whisper in the darker shadows away from the group had told me to watch out for and avoid. The tour guide played his light up and down to show the barricades, and a danger sign on the wall near the left of the shaft, and in the shaft was the rope pulley replica of the one that the miners had used to pull up a box and lower it in which they went to the lower parts of the mine. My husband looked at my face and said, ‘You don’t look so great. Are you ok?’ I said, ‘I’ll be fine shortly, I’ll tell you later.’ I took some slow deep breaths, and said a prayer for the kindly miner, and the tour guide. We left another donation.
I was definitely ready for a beverage of some sort and some shopping. There were a couple of new antique shops in town that I had not seen before to visit, as well as my favorite jewelry shops. I had some iced tea with lemon and we had a couple of hamburgers and began to wander a little. As usual within a half hour or so, my husband was not seeing anything terribly appealing, even in the antiques, which he often tolerated as we still occasionally bought to sell to people who had lost older family treasures in disasters. We went into the Washoe Club which had advertised a new tour. Unfortunately, this was where one of the television shows about ghost hunters had been. The tour itself wasn’t bad, but the tourists were another matter. The group just in front of us was particularly outrageous, so sure they were going to be the one to see and confront ghosts of all kinds. They only became worse, more determined, as the tour went on. So just before we got to the back storage area that had once served as a town morgue during winter, when the ground was too frozen to bury the dead, he said, ‘I think I’ve had enough. I’m going to get a beer and ask if I can sit and sip and play my guitar.’ The manager who did not think highly of the tours and was not involved with them, happily agreed to let him play some music. As she said, the music will sound a lot better than these maniacal wannabe ghost chasers. The morgue had the unusual history of once housing both victims and a killer, including a killer who had lured a victim or two into this back area and killed there. Since the only time people went back to this area was to deliver a body for cold storage, the extra body wasn’t discovered for a while. It was believed the ghost of the killer still haunted this back area and occasionally let the tourists know he was there by dropping an object on the tourists, or even appearing as an ominous shadow figure with glowing eyes in front of them. It was also said that sometimes the ghost manifested as a greenish, foul smelling mist in one particular area. That was where the worst of the young adult tourists had parked and was spouting profanity loudly and daring the ghost to come attack him or show itself. I was appalled at the young man’s idiocy. If there was a ghost of a murderer there why on earth would he want to attract its attention with all his friends around? What if a friend were hurt by a falling object? His stream of insults and profanity grew worse every few seconds, drowning out the tour guide, who finally said, ‘This is the end of the tour. You are welcome to stay a little longer. You can see the exit. It’s my break time.’ I noticed something about the loudmouth, and began to wonder if he was on drugs. His eyes were glittering fanatically, and he was turning red in the face. He was clearly beginning to sweat. Then I looked just above him and wondered if the lighting was playing tricks. I was pretty sure the tour used lighting to create suggestions but there was a yellow greenish aura that seemed to suddenly be all around the loudmouth with the most by the top of his head and neck. I decided not to stick around, and joined my husband in having a beer. I asked the tour guide who was having some coffee–the back area was cold in October and chatting with the manager if ghost chasing maniacs were common on the tours. ‘Unfortunately yes,’ came the reply ‘ever since that darned television show. It’s been good for the town, since most of them do linger long enough to spend some money, but it would be nice if we had tourism without the would-be ghost hunters.’
I asked how true the stories she had told us were. The guide said the management of the tours wanted real stories but also wanted them embellished to give this new group of tourists ‘their money’s worth.” Yes the lighting had been set up to create light and deep shadows in strategic areas. We learned that just about the only two places that didn’t exaggerate and embellish were the mine we’d visited earlier and the Mark Twain/’Territorial Enterprise’ museum.
The tourist group with the loudmouth were still in the back area as the tour guide finished her coffee. As the guide and the saloon manager went to eject them, I decided this was a good time to do some shopping.
About an hour or so later I returned to find my husband was holding forth playing his guitar and singing, old folk songs, and Celtic tunes and a young man, a local who also had a guitar, had joined him. My husband urged me to sit down, and join them, and sing a few songs. I said, ‘ok, but since this is an old west town and original building, let’s sing a few from the 1800’s or that have the traditional styles of that time.’ A few minutes after I had begun singing, there was a slight creak in the steps to our left which had led to a once exclusive club room for the high society and high profile gamblers. My ‘third eye’ woke up, at the sound. I closed my eyes for a second and saw a man come down the steps from the left and take up a seat behind our little group. When I opened them again, I could still see him, as though I was looking at a person through a window at a distance. He was not very tall, no more than an inch or two taller than I am. He was maybe 5’6′ or 5’7′ and thin but not gaunt. Delicate is the way I would describe him, fine boned. He had neatly trimmed black or nearly black hair with a thin mustache and goatee. He had dark eyes and was smiling. His hands were small but with long fingers and well-groomed nails. This was no miner or cowhand. He was wearing a gray suit with what appeared to be a very dark or black brocade or damask waistcoat and a very white shirt with cuffs just slightly showing. It was clear the shirt collar had been lightly starched. His face was essentially heart-shaped with a moderately broad forehead. His hair came to just below his ears but like his mustache and goatee were carefully trimmed and combed. All in all he presented a very neat, dapper, gentlemanly appearance and was clearly enjoying the music, relaxed, and smiling. He somehow knew I could see him but my husband and the other player, who our new audience was sitting behind, could not. I’m not sure if the manager knew he was there or not but suddenly she brought us a second round and said ‘it’s on the house.” We had a few live visitors come in to imbibe and linger to hear music for a while and then wander out. The ghostly stranger stayed. I then heard a few more voices and looked around to see if more people were entering. No one was at that moment, but when I looked to the back of the saloon, I had a quick vision of some card tables and rougher men of the old west having some fun toward the end of the day and one had gotten up to move closer to hear the music better, a red-haired blue eyed man with the look of a miner. He’d cleaned his face and hands, but his clothes still had what looked like some rock dust clinging to them, especially his bandana, which he might have prudently used to keep it out of his nose and mouth. We had just been singing a modern Irish song with a traditional style, ‘Fields of Athenry.’ Apparently he wanted my definitely partly Irish husband to know he was there. As he walked forward, he raised his hand and pushed the boots of a Hallowe’en dummy made up to look like a cowboy who had run afoul of the local law and been hung. My husband stopped cold as the dummy began to sway back and forth. He took a swallow of his ale and asked the bar tender if someone had turned a fan on or something, which given the temperature would have been surprising. The manager looked where my husband was and smiled, and said, ‘No, no fan at this time of year. This sometimes just happens, especially between about September and December.’
I told her about a friend of ours who had once been bartender and night manager at a haunted pub in and old building that had once been a busy fruit drying barn in Santa Clara County and how the ghost there would turn some decorative objects toward the wall and occasionally have a liquor bottle moved to a different location among the shelves of bottles at the bar. The bartender and others had occasionally seen the items turn. There were also two odd very cold spots in the pub that regularly discouraged people from sitting there. The manager said, ‘We’ve noticed that occasionally bottles are rearranged, but we don’t have things turn around to the wall. Whatever ghosts we have here seem to just come and go and are pretty tame. They do like dangling decorations though and to see if anyone notices if they move them.’
I looked at my husband and said, ‘My dear, we have an audience. Shall we continue?’ Both the dapper gentleman and the red-haired miner were silently laughing. Then two more miners joined the first, and all three, in turn, pushed the boots of the hanging dummy. Further back some of the ghostly card players had subdued their conversations and were also now watching and listening.
Well, they all seemed friendly, both the living and not so, we played and sang for almost two hours. We sang every older song and any that sounded old-style and my husband even played some nice Irish Carolan pieces on his guitar and a few continental European classical pieces. The town was emptying of the living as the sun set and the shops and saloons were closing. We thanked the bartender for her hospitality, gave her a generous tip, shook hands with the other guitar player, and bowed to our invisible audience, and told them, and the living, that someday we’d be back again, and meant it. Later that evening after we’d returned to our hotel and had dinner, my husband pulled his guitar out of the case and froze. ‘What in the world,’ he began, ‘where did this come from?’ Inside his case was an 1880’s silver dollar.
Castle Hill Historic Marker
The Veil Between the Worlds, in Old Virginia
A Tale for Samhain
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2020-10-30
I had heard, many times, throughout my life, that my ancient Scots and Scots-Irish ancestors believed that in the months of the old Celtic winter, which began with Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), the end of October, was a time when the veil between the worlds of living and dead and humans and the otherworldly, in all forms, thinned. You could see your late parents, if not their ghosts during the day, maybe in dreams at night. You might have an encounter with a friendly or not so friendly magical being that could change your life forever.
In mid-September many decades ago, we were touring a part of old Virginia where my ancestors had lived over two centuries ago and apparently their ghosts, as well as ghosts of those they confronted still lingered or visited. We usually combined our vacation with a three day holiday to extend it and allow for maybe a second vacation within the same year, and our Labor Day trip was a little later than usual that year.
Apparently the third week in September was close enough to Samhain to suit the spirits of my ancestors in this area. There I was in the doorway to a bedroom of an 18th century house that had belonged to a cousin of one of my direct ancestors and staring at Col. Banastre Tarleton, the man who had killed my 7th great-grandfather’s youngest, and favorite, brother. This man had also been at the scene when another of my 7th great-grandfather’s brothers had been killed. During the American Revolution, Col. Tarleton was the head of the Queen’s Rangers of the Southern campaign, and Tarleton had sworn to kill more men and bed more women than any other soldier in British history.
Worse, Col. Tarleton was staring back.
I had not yet stepped over the threshold there at Castle Hill, and apparently that was the right thing to NOT do at that particular time, because I could hear the voice of the elderly lady. In her lifetime, she was Mildred Thornton Merriwether Walker, cousin to a couple of my ancestors. She warned me not to cross the threshold, that I might not be able to return, if I did. She told me Tarleton tended to visit at a few times of the year, and he also tended to show up when someone visited the house who, in life, was connected to him in some way. Lucky me, I am both a descendant of two men Tarleton killed as well as one who had nearly killed him, and also a descendant of cousins of the owner of the house, Dr. Thomas Walker. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mildred, or rather her ghost, told me I also bore something of a resemblance to her daughter Martha, the one Col. Tarleton had met, and Mildred’s daughter had just kept him and his men from killing an elderly guest in the house.
When Tarleton had stopped there in 1781, the British General, Cornwallis was leading the Southern Army to Yorktown, a site whose escape routes were being slowly constricted. In a desperate attempt by the British to demoralize the rebellious Americans, and to have a bargaining chip to escape disaster if the British fleet did not show up to support Cornwallis, Tarleton was sent on a mission to raid patriot homes and abduct all the members of the Virginia legislature, as well as their Governor, Thomas Jefferson. Dr. Walker had been Jefferson’s tutor and guardian, and Jefferson was probably on their top ten or so ‘most wanted’ list, if they had one, and and so they probably would have hung Jefferson almost immediately and used the remaining patriots, like Dr. Walker, for bargaining chips.
So, Tarleton came to Castle Hill searching for the owner, and any other members of the Virginia legislature.
Our whole trip had been a bit strange but we were nearing the end of it. We were touring Virginia for its general history and scenery but I had also wanted to see a few sites connected with ancestors and which might have some documents useful to the research I was doing regarding my mother’s family history. The Castle Hill site had an entire genealogy of one line from which I knew my mother was descended, including a lot of cousins. I was not entirely sure we descended from the immediate family, but wanted to access the reported 100 pages plus genealogy that had been prepared from many earlier sources, including several family Bibles and estate records and had been said to include several lines of cousins of the owners. These might prove very helpful to my family history research.
We had arrived on a gorgeous late summer day, just after the Fall equinox. The sky was blue, and the air was pleasantly warm. Given there was no air conditioning in this house, that was a blessing. Virginia, even in September, can be pretty steamy at times. A recent rain had made the tree leaves fresh and clean and though the drops had dried, the leaves still glistened in the later afternoon light with golden beams of sunlight stretching out between the trees and their limbs in the orchard behind the house. The earth smelled fragrant and fresh, and a few insects lazily droned not far away. We were doing the last tour of the day, precisely so we could have a few minutes at closing to examine the genealogy book that now stood in the parlor on a podium, and perhaps ask a few extra questions of the tour guide. We turned out to be the only people on that tour, as if the house had been waiting for us.
The house had another reputation, but one I had not believed, given the source. It was reputed to be haunted, by more than one ghost. However, the famous ‘ghost hunter’ who wrote about it, was not well regarded by the more scientific late 1970’s and the then popular ‘Amazing Randi,’ a professional skeptic and researcher who had debunked hundreds of persons claiming to have magical abilities, regularly see ghosts and help people communicate with their loved ones, and more. Even within my own family, which was known for its extra unusual skills and had at least two persons long ago accused of being witches, no one claimed to control most of whatever extra abilities they had consistently, and we had a tendency to believe that most ghosts were the recent dead, not from centuries ago. I was not expecting more than an interesting tour of an very old home once known to ancestors and which had figured in a historic tale and to get a look at genealogical materials.
I never actually saw Mildred’s ghost clearly. She seemed always at my side, except for once, when she seemed almost in front of me and then I saw a short older woman with gray hair that seemed to have silver highlights and was styled in a kind of braided coronet toward the back and top of her head. She was wearing a dress that seemed to be a slightly faded blue-gray over a natural white–not bleached–shift. I could not make out the sleeves well but they seemed to be long with a ruffle and she was wearing a kind of shawl tucked into the bodice of the overdress. I learned later that this would have been a fichu. Her brilliant eyes, almost cornflower blue, caught my attention. They shone like fine gems but with an intense fire coming through them. When occasionally glimpsed her at my side and a little ways from me, I initially thought, that she was just my imagination coming to life from the old stories of the house. But when she moved nearly in front of my left shoulder, and turned to face me, she seemed almost solid and her brilliant eyes seemed to envelope me and bore through me. I felt like I was falling into them. If that was my imagination, I wondered what had been in my iced tea at lunch!
When we entered the house, we were greeted by a housekeeper, who had been directing the last tasks of a maid before the end of the day. The housekeeper was a quiet but commanding, and quite beautiful middle aged lady of mixed race. I looked at her fine features and dignity and hoped I would age that gracefully when I got older. She looked like nothing surprised her and she and the house were one. I thought at first she was going to turn us away that we might be too late for the length of the last tour, but she seemed to think a minute, nod her head and directed us to two obviously non-period seats in the hall and told us the tour guide would be with us in a few minutes. She told us we could walk the front hall and peer into the rooms but not to go into them until the guide accompanied us. The furniture, she explained, though not original, was of the 18th century and some was delicate.
I was curious about the rooms whose doors were open and first peered into the parlor. It was then I first heard the whisper in my left ear, first light, almost like the buzz of an insect. The room was lovely in shades of peach and cream, with an almost Chinese floral pattern in possibly silk, or sateened cotton (?) on the chairs. The afternoon light lit the room up and made the colors on the furniture glow. But I frowned as for a moment, it seemed like I was seeing a different room, in shades of aqua and a less brilliant white trim and the voice that was still a whisper but growing louder, indicated she was displeased with the current colors. What she’d just shown me, she said, was the way the room was originally decorated, cooler tones to make it feel cooler in the summer. She liked shades of blue and green, she said, but she allowed as this was better than what the modern owners had done to her and her husband’s bedroom. ‘Really!, No paint on the wainscoting, and all that bare wood! How barbaric! ‘ She whispered louder that this was never done in her day! ‘I’ll have you know that we could afford all the paint we wanted, we were not rude squatters in a log cabin!” Then she proceeded to tell me what she thought of the tour guide and to pay little attention to him. She’d be with us the rest of the day and she would tell me about the house as it really was. The tour guide didn’t know what he was talking about and just made up stuff and he had no regard for the ladies who had lived here and had actually made the estate run, and had actually been the ones to stop Tarleton. She told me how he’d start out the tour by saying this was her great second husband’s house, even though she and her first husband had built it. If he hadn’t been Thomas Jefferson’s guardian when Peter Jefferson died, her second husband would have been remembered as an explorer and doctor who was seldom at home and had married a rich widow, because he was a second son.
After her long presentation, I was realizing the ghost was likely not just my imagination. She said it would get even worse when he described how her daughter, and the cousin who had married her second husband after she herself had died, had delayed Col. Tarleton from rounding up the legislators at Charlottesville with mint juleps. ‘Hmph! It was hard cider, and some of last year’s production of whiskey they used.’ The guide would go on about Jack Jouett’s ride like it was a Virginia version of Paul Revere, when he had just gotten lucky he was at the tavern to hear Tarleton asking for directions. He had a fast horse which had a chance to rest while he dined and the British were already tired when they got to the tavern. He was never in any danger from them, but her home and all within it were. They were the first stop of Tarleton in the very early morning and her husband was on his list. Her husband wasn’t at home that day, luckily for him and the family, but a friend, another legislator had stayed the night, too elderly to make it home from the legislature in one day, and he was also on the list. It would be up to the ladies to hide their elderly guest in the cellar, and hope he stayed hidden, and then pretend they were just awakened when they actually were waiting for the British, and so sleepy and inept that their service was clumsy and breakfast slow in coming. So they would soothe the over 200 tired and aching soldiers with enough alcohol to take way the pains of the long ride.
About that time I heard a living voice. The tour guide had returned to the hall and was talking to my husband. Exactly as the ghost had said, he started his presentation with, ‘Welcome to the home of Dr. Thomas Walker, famous explorer, doctor and Thomas Jefferson’s guardian after Thomas’s father, Peter, died when young Thomas was only 14 and not yet of age to manage his own affairs.’ When he took a break for breath, I couldn’t resist asking him, ‘isn’t it true that his first wife, and her husband Mr. Meriweather built this house?’ The tour guide looked startled but said, er, yes, that’s right but Dr. Walker added on to it quite a lot, and he proceeded to describe how much the great doctor had done. ‘Hmph!’, The ghost said, ‘he was either off tending patients, or visiting Tom, or going on some exploration of the frontier. I ordered and managed the work, after he and I decided what we wanted for our growing family. Hmm, I think I’ll let that young coxcomb know I’m here again and he needs to do better. Watch as he takes you into the parlor.’ She left my side and disappeared as he took us toward the parlor. As he entered the doorway, he shivered slightly and put a hand to his neck. ‘I guess I must have left the front door open. I just felt a draft.’ The housekeeper, just returning from some task in another part of the house, heard him, and said, ‘no, I closed the door as you entered. It’s still closed. I’ve also had the windows closed for the evening. This is your last tour of the day. She came closer to him, quirked a delicate eyebrow and peered at his face. ‘ Are you feeling ill, perhaps? I suppose I could finish the tour, if you are.’
His face reddened and he bristled at the suggestion. I had the feeling he couldn’t do without the housekeeper but definitely did not like her. He seemed to recover briefly but looked around the parlor carefully before describing what it was and all the historic figures that had, or might have been in the parlor. I asked him, ‘didn’t this parlor also host Tarleton?’
‘Well,’ he pompously declared, ‘we know he was in the house, and demanded his breakfast in the house, but we always assumed he had his breakfast in the master bedroom. I doubt if Mrs. Walker would have shown him into the parlor.’
‘I doubt if she would have had much choice,’ I retorted. ‘The master bedroom would have been where he cleaned up and left whatever he used for a towel, and a basin or two of dirty water. However, to feel as though he was in command and yet be comfortable he would have pretty much had to be in the parlor, eventually, while his men ate the second breakfast, after they and the servants destroyed the first in the food fight that was started. They were drinking constantly before the first breakfast and it wasn’t mint juleps, but more likely hard cider and whatever whiskey or other spirits were around. That’s when they caused the guest to flee the cellar, wasn’t it? They were looking for more alcohol and a couple of them had gone down to the cellar and the old gentleman panicked. I read in a biography of Tarlteton that they chased the old man part way through the orchard and it was Dr. Walker’s daughter who caught up with the soldiers as they’d begun to torture and stab the poor man. She pleaded with Tarleton and his men for their terrified old friend’s life. He spared the man and had his physician tend to his wounds and later escort the man home, didn’t he! So, think about this, he had come into the house to demand this and that and clean up, he and his men then chased an old man part way through the orchard and his men had already been getting drunk. He had to bring them all back to the house and order his physician to look at the elderly man and dress his wounds and clean up a second time. The men were out back and he’d spoiled their sport. They were drinking again and ready for a fight when, what, a clumsy servant spilled food and then someone missed throwing it at the servant and hit another trooper and the fight ensued? ‘
‘Er, something like that, probably.’ the guide admitted. I had gotten as annoyed at this overly glib and historically ignorant young man as the ghost at my elbow, who was nodding her head up and down and silently laughing by then. I must have glanced in her direction and caught the tour guide’s eye when I did so. His eyes widened, but he said nothing. I continued, ‘So, the servants had to cook a second breakfast and the troopers had to clean up, and were still drunk while pouring water over themselves, while the second breakfast was being cooked the remains of the first were cleaned up from wherever it had been served and needed to be served again. After the second breakfast, it was probably still another hour before they could climb on their horses and not fall off. Judging from your story, the parts that make sense, it would have been at least two hours before they could get on their horses and stay on. Jouett was long gone, making the rounds of the legislators and getting them out of the area, while Tarleton was still here. So, he didn’t spend his entire time in the master bedroom. Besides the lady of the house was too old for him and Dr. Walker’s daughter was respectable. Dr. Walker had himself not taken up arms, so there was a limit to what Tarleton could do to the ladies. Have you ever read the book, The Green Dragoon? The hall outside was often both hall and dining room, but also a place for dancing and entertainment for larger groups. I know the house was doubled in size about 70 years after the Revolution and I think a small dining room was removed at that time. It faced east, didn’t it and it was at the end of this hall, for the most direct route coming from the outside kitchen, right? It wasn’t a large room, and not all that comfortable. So after eating, it would make sense that he would have gone to the parlor to dictate what he intended to do with the house and women, wouldn’t he? The window would have also allowed him to also look down at these men eating and make sure they were finally behaving.’
For once, the tour guide was no longer just delivering a spiel. He said, ‘well, you’re probably right. Logically he finished his breakfast long before his men finished theirs and sobered up. And we did just discover original drawings of the house, in an old cabinet in the cellar not too long ago. You are correct that there was a dining room at the back of the house and the door I entered that’s now the back door was once the front door. But if you know so much about the house and Tarleton, why are you here?’
I explained to him that my mother’s grandmother had been a Walker and that most of the Walkers who had been in North Carolina where Mariam Adaline Walker’s grandfather had been had come from Virginia. I’d heard about the large genealogy in the parlor and hoped to see it before he and the housekeeper locked up. I also had a question. ‘What happened to Tarleton in this house that changed him, because after the visit here, he was a changed man. The biography doesn’t say and it says he first tried to tell Cornwallis he’d only been here an hour, which we know is untrue. The biographer says he found Tarleton’s own memoirs in which he admitted, and also admitted to a few close friends, that he’d been here nearly four hours. So what happened to Col. Banastre Tarleton here? Remember this man’s nicknames were ‘Butcher,’ and pardon my saying it aloud, but it was in his biography, ‘Bastard,’ for his normally very brutal, uncivil behavior. Yet he left this house intact, even made his men bring back the silver some of them had tried to take away.’
The tour guide looked bewildered. ‘I never thought about that. I never read his biography. I don’t know what happened. Anyhow, he’s not important to the tours I normally give. Why are you asking about him?’ I told him that Tarleton’s men had killed my 7th great-grandfather’s youngest brother, Captain Adam Wallace at the Massacre at the Waxhaws, and that his unit was attacking when Adam’s brother, Captain Andrew Wallace was killed at Guilford Courthouse. My direct ancestor, Ensign John Wallace had been among those who tried to kill Tarleton after he surrendered at Yorktown, and Tarleton had a change right in this house. He raided the Shenandoah Valley and spared several houses and barns near Lexington, one was my 8th great-grandparents farm, where Adam, Andrew, and John had grown up. He had been ordered by Cornwallis to destroy everything. He didn’t, and the change started here. I saw the ghost smiling to my left, and slowly nodding. Again, I had looked toward her and the tour guide caught it. He backed away, the color draining from his formerly florid face. He was a little overweight and had dressed in what he apparently thought of as a proper southern gentleman’s attire, as though he might be the owner of the property he discussed. He’d been perspiring, and despite the color leaving his face, he was still perspiring. The starched collar was growing limp.
The guide swallowed hard and said, ‘Tarleton’s said to occasionally haunt the house, but he’s not a regular, and I’ve never seen him, though (and he looked toward my left side and backed away yet more and pointed) I know SHE’s here again, and talking to you. She had to have told you about the original colors since I hadn’t closed the parlor door to show you the post on the wall where the layers of original colors were.’ The guide’s voice began tightening and rising in pitch. He began to complain. ‘She’s been tormenting me for months, pulling pranks and making my life difficult–and she doesn’t do that to the housekeeper!. Do me a favor, if she’s listening to you, please ask her to quit throwing things at the workmen. It’s getting almost impossible to get repairs done or any more restoration. I know she doesn’t like the parlor and the master bedroom but it wasn’t my idea. Tell her to take it up with the owner when he next is willing to spend the night here. Just ask her to leave me alone, please!. I’m quitting this job before it gets too close to midterms and looking forward to a nice rest–in college. He took a deep breath and stopped, and realized how he was beginning to sound. ‘ I need a short break–and some air.. Give me about five minutes.’ He called to the housekeeper and asked her to get him a glass of cold water and bring it to him just outside so he could recover and do a proper finish of the tour.
We went back to the hall and sat down again. Then the bedroom we’d just examined a short time before began to glow. I wondered why and started to go toward the doorway. ‘Wait’ my extra, ghostly tour guide said. ‘Be careful, HE’s in there. Tarleton, and you look something like Martha. He’s here because you are here, only he doesn’t know it yet. This is no ordinary haunted house. Ghosts don’t come and go in other houses. I know I died and what I am, but not all the ghosts here do know that the time has passed since they were last here. It’s still a different time here for them, and I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like this house is a doorway sometimes to a different time and place, a portal to another world. When that bedroom glows like this, the door is open. That’s not Tarleton’s ghost. It’s really him. Whatever you do, don’t cross that threshold.’
I walked to the doorway and looked it, the whole room shimmered as though it was under clear water in sunlight with ripples dancing in the light. When the shimmer stopped I saw a different room. The wainscoting was no longer lightly varnished wood but painted a kind of bone white. A man was standing with one leg up on a chest at the edge of a bed cleaning his boots and leaving quite a mess, but had thoughtfully put a rag on the chest before planting his boot on it as he cleaned it. He was wearing green knee breeches and a uniform coat had been tossed on the bed. His shirt sleeves were rolled up. He seemed annoyed. It was clear this was his second time washing. A basin of dirty water and rumpled cloths next to it were on a dresser. He had short red brown hair, unusual for that time, but then he wore a different uniform than the British regulars. I must have stepped on the threshold, though not over it, and an old piece of wood beneath my feet creaked. He looked up and said, without yet turning, said, ‘well it’s about time someone brought more water. Remove the old and place the new on the dresser.’ Silence. He turned and then stopped moving and stared at me with wide eyes. ‘What on earth?… Who or what are YOU? You look like Miss Walker but you’re not and what the devil are you wearing. No LADY wears split skirts and nothing that short!’ And boots? The look like things some of the native wear!‘
I was wearing what are sometimes called kulottes or skorts. It was a warm day in September after all and it was perfectly acceptable attire–for the late 1970s’, 200 years later than where he was, and I was now on the edge of his time, no longer mine. The ghost, now more behind me, to avoid even touching the threshold cautioned me again, ‘don’t move forward.’ I could hear my voice, yet I wasn’t talking, only thinking what I should say. I drew myself upward to my full 5’5 ¾’ inches on my longer leg, lifted my chin and heard myself say, ‘I’m dressed perfectly respectably for 1978 in the United States of America. I was born in California, in what, in your time, was Spanish territory, but I was born in 1949. And yes, these are Native boots, from the southwest of our country, more than 2,000 miles from here.
Tarleton reeled backward and swept aside the dirty cloths from cleaning his boots and sat down on the chest, stunned and clearly tired. He continued to look at me and was thinking. He was amazed at my partly bare legs from knee to mid calf. Despite his shock, he was still very male and made me wish I’d bought a costume in Williamsburg when we’d been there for a moment. I could hear myself say, but again my voice seemed to be coming from my mind, not my mouth, ‘If you think this is shocking, you’d have a heart attack at what some girls and young women wear. I’m actually fairly conservative. I’m even properly married and my husband is resting on a chair in the hall waiting for our tour guide to recover his wits and finish his talk on this house. The first lady of this house is now a ghost in my time and she did not consider the young man who was the tour guide much of a manly type. She has rather bedeviled him and he needed to recover his wits.’
Tarleton looked amused. ‘I suspect he wasn’t the only one causing the young man some consternation, was he.’
I looked down briefly then up again and smiled. ‘Well I am a cousin of the Walkers, one of my great-grandmothers was a Walker. My late mother’s ancestors came from this area. My face probably clouded as I considered those ancestors and who he was to them. He noticed and said,’ I have encountered them, haven’t I.’
I looked directly at him, and said, ‘Yes, you have. You killed two of the younger brothers of my 7th great grandfather and now he hates you as much as anyone can hate another.’ I shook my head. ‘That’s not good for him and it will cause him to leave this area and begin the gradual westward movement of my part of the family. Because he is in such pain and always will be, some of his family’s history will be lost and it will take me, and others, years of research to recover it.’ I told him who my ancestor was and that his brother had been Adam Wallace at the Waxhaws.
He gripped the chest with his hands. ‘I didn’t kill him,’ he exclaimed. ‘I didn’t want what happened. I’d had my horse shot out from under me. He fell, taking me with him and rolled over on me. I was stunned! I didn’t know.’
I looked at him, now feeling as miserable as he apparently did, and nodded. ‘I know, I read your biography and some other materials. But you were responsible for your men and their training and behavior and though it is unfair to blame you, you were their leader. You were responsible, ultimately, for their actions.’
Tarleton sighed, ‘You are right and I’ve tried to retrain my men better.’
I thought of the food fight and the chase of an elderly terrified man through an orchard at dawn. ‘You’ve still got more work to do, but at least this time you stopped another needless death and restored order. While there were some minor injuries in the food fight, they were minor and no servants were killed, no ladies were, er, abused, and their home wasn’t burnt. That’s progress. You do realize that, unlike my time, women have no voting rights.’
‘What? Surely you jest!’ He said.
‘You need to spend some time on a farm or a large country estate with a lot of livestock.’ I told him, ‘If you did, you’d know that it takes two good, strong, and intelligent parents to produce good offspring. Intelligence is not only in fathers, and you’ve seen strong women who were capable leaders in Europe in the past. Think of your own Queen Elizabeth I, and Austria-Hungary’s Empress Maria Theresa, or Russia’s Catherine the Great. So yes, my nation eventually realized that women had brains and can be leaders. We allow women them to vote, and even hold office, though not many do yet.’
I could see him thinking again, and his questions beginning to form. I’d have to be careful with the answers. I didn’t want to change history and accidentally prevent the United States from being born.
‘So, we lose.’ he snapped, ‘How?’
I could tell he was NOT so concerned with changing history. He was still a military officer and thinking about how he might pull victory from the defeat that I represented.
‘Yes, I know how, but I cannot tell you. It could change history and I would be a traitor to my family and nation. By the time you came here, I had ancestors who had already been here before the first English colonists, and they were not all natives, but they were at least partly Europeans. More importantly, my ancestors, at least the ones on most of my mother’s family lines, were your cousins but your Parliament and German king forgot that. After the war that has several names, including French and Indian War, it became as though they had lost their status as respectable British yeomen and even gentry. Yes, I now know my direct Wallace ancestor who went from Scotland to Ireland and was the father of my immigrant ancestor, was a knight gentleman whose nephew was Baron of Craigie. My mother discovered that a few years ago. Your men killed a real gentleman when they killed Adam Wallace. My ancestors did not know that they were expected to forfeit their rights as British citizens when they came here. How would you feel if, as a middle son, you had come here, did well, and were suddenly treated as though you were lower than the lowest London guttersnipe?’
‘Oh surely it has not been that bad,’ Tarleton shook his head and replied.
‘Oh really?, I could feel my left eyebrow involuntarily rise up in considerable skepticism, at that comment. I continued, ‘Consider what is the quality of some of the soldiers who have served under you and your fellow officers? Yes, I realize some of them are Americans, what we call Tories. However, you’ve made them officers, and put British uniforms on their backs, haven’t you? And you’ve served with British regulars and their officers, in this war, haven’t you? How many of them were educated and well to do? How many of them were willing to butcher Americans who were well educated and of means–like my 7th great-grandfather’s brothers? I know the rules of who were called gentlemen and why and who could wear silver or not. Adam Wallace’s father was called a gentleman in your nation’s colonial records. Adam was entitled to wear the silver shoe buckles and belt buckle he did and you know that.’
Tarleton’s face reddened at my retort. ‘Are you sure you are so far into the future?’ He asked, how and why would you know these things.’
I leaned against the doorway and smiled. ‘It may come as a shock to you, but in my time, we allow women to be as educated as men. I personally hold degrees from a proper university in history and a field of study that does not yet exist in your time, anthropology. I know how to investigate and I have researched the original records about you. Despite a few wars these records still exist in my time.’
Tarleton stared, ‘A blue stocking in short, whatever you call them!’
‘Not exactly,’ I replied. ‘There are hundreds of other female graduates from my university, and thousands at all the universities across our now 50 United States. And in every field, not only in my fields, and often they are connected to politics. Don’t worry – we didn’t toss out everything of our British past. We don’t we don’t have royalty and we don’t allow U.S. citizens to hold patents for noble titles, and so we have no House of Lords. Still, we borrowed part of our government structure in part from the British parliament, but our upper house was borrowed from ancient Rome and we call them Senators, not Lords. In fact, my husband has several connections to a U.S. Senator.’
Tarleton was still clearly shocked. I was sure he was not used to what he generally considered things of sport to be educated and free speaking, or else that we must be out of the norm.
‘Are you an actress or a witch?’ he asked suspiciously. ‘I just cannot believe what I’m seeing.’
I sighed. This answer was going to be more difficult. I had at least one ancestress born in Virginia not long after he would depart who had been accused of witchcraft and had been driven out of the state on that suspicion, and my mother had grown up in our modern capital of acting and drama, Los Angeles, mostly North Hollywood. I wasn’t going to lie. I figured he was sharp enough to tell a lie in my face. So I thought for a moment and watched his face began to smile in triumph. He thought he had determined that I was from his century and playing a fantastic role.
I looked sternly at him and said, ‘I’m not going to lie to you. I did have ancestresses who were accused of witchcraft–and not convicted. My own father has served in terrible war and survived when men in his division did not. His enemies who survive are very careful with him. I would be very glad if you never meet him.’
As for being an actress, no, though drama is a class that is offered in most secondary schools and both girls and boys participate, mostly for fun.’I decided to spare him the explanation of the modern film industry and the history of Los Angeles.
How do I convince him and not foul up past and present, I thought? I took a chance and prayed as I did so. I said, slowly, ‘Well, in your time, actresses seldom marry respectably. I am respectably married for several years. If you want to see my husband, as I am seeing you, my husband sitting on a modern folding chair across the hall. Perhaps you can stand, and walk toward me. The hall has not changed, here, since it was built. I will turn so you can see better out the door.’ He did as I suggested, warily. I was even more wary, readying myself to spring sideways out of his reach in case he should try to seize me.
Thank heavens I’d had tumbling and ballet years before. I prayed that I remembered how well I finally came to anticipate my middle sister trying to grab me for a judo throw for practice for class, and I finally learned to jump aside quickly enough. I got tired of her miscalculations and accidentally connecting with some piece of furniture or other just so she could practice actual throws. My middle sister had not ever really liked me and I often thought that if I had not been as agile as I was she might have broken my neck some day.
Tarleton seemed almost as wary as I was. He walked to within a few feet of me and peered past me. As I suspected, he did see my husband sitting in the seat and looking out toward the door to see if the tour guide was returning yet, and that my husband was the only person in the hall.
He looked long and returned to the chest and sat again. ‘He isn’t from my century, is he? His clothes are not right.’ He said. ‘He is very tall and fair. Is he German?’
I hadn’t realized how long I had been holding my breath. I let it out with a soft whoosh of relief. ‘No, his paternal grandfather’s family was originally Austrian, by way of the Duchy of Julich and they hated Prussians. That’s a long separate story, and I’m not sure how much time we have for me to answer all the questions you are likely to have. I can’t believe the collision of your time and mine is going to last forever. ‘
‘He’s not a commoner, is he. He doesn’t look like one.’ he mused.
‘He is also a graduate of the same university from which I graduated.’ I decided trying to explain engineering and the sciences to him would probably bring back the accusations of witchcraft.’
To dissuade him from that uncomfortable line of thought, I added. ‘My husband has earned degrees that will become common in the future. In your time you have already begun to develop new engines for industry, and he is an engineer. You are already using wheels, pulleys and other devices with steam to pump water from mines. In your life time these educated inventors will learn how to move boats across the water and mining cars and more on rails with the same steam power. You will develop new fields of study in your colleges and those fields will be in other countries as well, including in mine.’ I added, ‘He was also classically educated and has had four years of Latin, and more than a year of German. I have had four years of Spanish and two of French. I also understand some German, as I partly studied that language with my husband, and there were records of my father’s family in German and Latin. My paternal grandmother told me that I am a citizen of two nations. My paternal grandparents were Hungarian aristocrats. In your field, I must add that, unfortunately, there will be many more wars in the future.
He looked resigned. ‘So humanity does not change.‘ He was thinking, ‘What CAN you tell me?’ He asked.
I thought about the one biography I’d read about him. I knew there was one thing that I could do and say that allowed the better part of his story to happen. HIs biography had stated what was to happen at Yorktown, but not how. I was pretty sure I now knew how and that this was partly why I’d been allowed to be on the edge of two different times.
‘Your cruelties have made many enemies in the southern colonies, including my seventh great-grandfather. Within months, Cornwallis will surrender to General Washington, and your enemies will come in the night after the surrender, intending to kill you. You will get a warning that some of your officers, but you will not take it seriously because this is generally not done after a surrender. These enemies were not raised as you were and take this warfare much more seriously and completely. They have spent decades fighting natives and learning to survive by fighting as they do. They have no regard for the general rules of treatment of prisoners and will be remembering the British prison ships off New York and what your own men did at the Waxhaws. Take this warning seriously. Sleep in a different place and when Cornwallis and General Washington offer it, take the first ship back to England.’
‘If you do, you will survive and live to do better things. Slavery should have been ended before your time but will not be ended in this country until almost two generations after it end in much of Continental Europe. You will become a leader in the political fight to end slavery in Britain.’
‘Later, you will have a great adversary in a French leader and will think you have him vanquished and imprisoned. You will have sent some of your finest troops to America. Your enemy, and an enemy of my father’s ancestors will have escaped. You can help limit what is sent to America and retain enough good troops to defeat the French enemy again and make sure he does not get a third chance to cause more warfare, misery, and slaughter. You will also help urge saner and cooler heads to prevail and end a second war with us sooner, and this is necessary. You can and will help make peace a second time with our United States.’
I continued. ‘Blood always calls to blood and eventually our two nations will be friends again and fight alongside one another, not against one another, when our common enemy is so great as to threaten the lives of many tens of millions of people. Don’t ask me about the wars of the future. I wish I could tell you that humanity improves but his technology and weapons of war move forward faster than his own better nature, as has happened in the past. There is hope, though. There will be a century without major wars and after two in my century, the world will generally work harder to keep itself more peaceful again. Monarchies will change and must change. The United States will continue parliamentary and other legal traditions of the United Kingdom, and borrow from ancient Greece and Rome and will become an ideal and an example, for other nations to follow in becoming more democratic, involving the people more in their own government. It will have difficult times as it grows from infancy among nations to maturity. Three generations from your time, here, we will have a civil war, over slavery that makes your own Civil War under Cromwell and the Stuart kings look like a pub brawl. There will be more than half a million people killed in that war. You want and need to avoid this in your own nation. You have a great opportunity to avoid this and you, Col. Tarleton, can guide your nation in avoiding this horror.’
I thought of what we had recently been through with Watergate and President Nixon. Just months before I had wondered how much progress we’d made, a few years before, when Nixon sabotaged the 1972 election, and tried to create an imperial presidency. Still, we survived, just as we’d somehow survived and triumphed in a Revolution against the strongest empire in the world. Our successes were never easy, but we had succeeded in building a large, strong, and gradually improving country. I smiled. ‘Both sets of cousins will learn and over time, it will all work out for the better for both. We both need to look toward the future, and work toward building a better one.’ I could hear the door open and the tour guide return. The afternoon shadows were lengthening and one seemed to stretch into the edge of the doorway. Watery waves seemed to wash before me again, and the room I’d seen seemed to become more distant and the varnished woodwork of the modern walls more visible. ‘Good bye Col. Tarleton. I wish you well and I suspect we’ll meet again someday.’ I said, though I wasn’t sure he heard me any longer. He must have, though, because he raised his hand toward me and waved, and bowed.
I turned toward my husband, and asked ‘What time is it?’ I was sure a half hour or so had passed and we no longer had a tour. ‘It’s only been five minutes since you last asked,’ my husband said. The guide asked, ‘Are we ready to finish the tour? I think you’ll have time to see the genealogy book, also.’
I heard the ghost of Mrs. Walker laughing behind me, and saying ‘Just in case, I’ll turn to the right page.’ As we passed the parlor door, we could hear pages flipping in the book and the tour guide said, ‘let’s go to the newer part of the house. Mrs. Walker never goes there.’
At the end of the tour, I was allowed into the parlor again, but the tour guide chose not to go with me. The housekeeper did. The book had been opened to pages about a third of the way into the book and I saw some notations of a line that had come from a relative of Dr. Walker, an uncle I thought, that had gone to North Carolina. I made a few notes but nothing connected with the partial data and records I had at that time, so I put the notes and file aside.
Years later I found the same county that had been in the book was indeed the same county where my great-grandmother Walker’s grandfather had been born and raised.
The Nightmare before Samhain
Trying to Pull Together a Show with a Home Studio
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2020-10-29
There is a reason I don’t like being an on camera performer. Actually, there are several reasons, the first being my chronic tendency to stage fright kicking in after hours and days of practice, whenever anyone other than my cats, husband, and a few very close friends or family might be watching. I can handle public speaking, generally, much better than performing any musical piece, or reading a full story, but as soon as I see a camera in front of me, I think of all the times I didn’t play perfectly, and imagine a hyper-critical audience used to watching and listening to the best professionals that is suddenly there for me. Yikes!
I’m normally a researcher-writer working alone, with time, walls and distance between me and audiences. Much of my writing is historical, a relatively small niche audience, and a lot of us know, or know of one another. It’s easier to feel like I’m among friends.
This time, I decided to read one of my short stories that I’d been doing for our newsletter each Samhain (Hallowe’en) for some years now, and do it in 15 minutes or less. Next problem, besides chronic stage fright, was none of my stories was short enough. In the past, I’d read several of them for a group of friends, as they were. To get any of them under 15 minutes meant quite a rewrite, and then relearning to partly read and partly memorize the rewrite, so occasionally I’d be looking at the audience through the camera…
Then we discovered that one group of harp performers I’d hoped would send us a video for the most Celtic of Holidays other than St. Patrick’s Day, did not respond. The harp being one of the most Celtic of instruments, what Celtic holiday celebration can do without harp music? Fortunately, I realized this about three weeks ago, and being a harp player, thought I had plenty of time for me to practice just two pieces, and only needed to get through them one time on each.
They sounded great in practice the last two days before Tony put the camera in front of me. After those wonderful practices, we ended up doing twenty seven takes last night before we were satisfied that we finally had an arguably tolerable rendition of the first piece–and remember that was one time through. The good news was, by about the fifth or sixth take, the noisiest cat of the six in our household had decided it wasn’t TOO bad, long before I did, and was snoozing through most of the rest.
Even before the camera appeared in front of me, there was the Samhain ambiance to be considered. Shouldn’t it be filmed in relatively low light to suggest the longer evenings of autumn and the coming winter?
Besides the harp music, I had two segments of introductions, one in Spanish, and my ghost story to be read. The low light we initially selected looked great, except now I couldn’t read scripts and my story as easily. Moving them around only yielded one part or another lit enough to be readable, but not the whole. So, before and after my harp playing, we moved the harp lights to become reading lights and then struggled to keep them out of camera view. We then tried to keep the cords now extending further into the room out from under Tony’s feet as he was quietly trying to remove the first page of my two page (on legal sized paper), short story, and come and go to his recording equipment. The good news is, nothing breakable was in his path on our first attempt to negotiate the new cord arrangement. Even the cats had the sense to get out of the way as he moved around.
Now before this we had also considered what mood we wanted to present with the background that would be shown. I collect some art glass, unusual figurines and carvings. I like owls, cats, and things related to old Celtic folklore. We’ve sometimes been told that our home resembles that of the Addams Family from the old television shows, and more recent films. Thus, we thought we’d enhance this image for our part of the presentations. . Bear in mind we live in earthquake country so museum wax had long ago become a good friend to anchor breakable items, and I tried not to move them often. . Additionally, we were doing this video after a second round of wildfires had deposited some smoke and particulates, not terribly long after I’d done a thorough house-cleaning after the first round. It turned out I again needed to clean some items and shelves. I then discovered that old museum wax didn’t easily come off the old paint on the mantle we’d been intending to rebuild this year just before the pandemic started. The mantle was at least partly in the picture. After using two other cleaners unsuccessfully, when the old museum wax finally did lift off, with some ‘Goof off,’ so did some of the old paint of the last layer. (Sigh) Fortunately,the last layer had covered another light colored layer and Tony could adjust the camera so the mantel top was not very visible. Unfortunately, though, he had a sensitive interface between the camera and his computer and every time he needed to adjust the camera, for our changing lighting, the video recording froze and he had to reload the program. Remember we had 27 takes for just one part and also had to change the small lights between the harp strings and the reading material. Then there were the cords and Tony’s size 13 feet. He got to be much faster at reloading the recording program by the time we finished–and much more agile.
Since my short story was about a black cat we once had when we had lived in a haunted house back east, we decided this was the perfect opportunity to use the large cast iron sculpture of a black cat with eyes that lit up amber with the aid of a small tea-light candle. We’d sit it on a shelf of the bookcase behind me, next to the owls, a wizard, etc., It would appear as though it was looking over my shoulder as I read my story. It was a great idea, except for one itty bitty problem. The cat was almost too tall for the shelf and small as that tea-light was, it was still threatening to set the bookcase on fire if it was lit for more than a couple of minutes. When you see the video, don’t worry, we did come up with a remedy, and the glow of the shelf above the cat is not the shelf catching fire. It’s just the reflected light from the candle.
Then of course were the usual costume concerns, and realizing as I was selecting and later donning my dark green velvet gown, I had two kitties very intrigued by this process who hadn’t had their claws trimmed recently enough. I got pretty quick and agile also evading their growing interest. Fortunately, they are terrified of Tony’s size 13 feet and well, his 6’5′ size generally, any time he’s moving around, so once I’d made it downstairs to the corner of the living room where we were filming, the gown was safe–as long as I didn’t trip over the hem trying to avoid either cords or Tony’s feet..
I also knew that everyone else of the 10 acts and 18 persons or so for all parts of the show, were also operating and trying to record from home with whatever they’ve been able to muster for a home studio and doing so despite pets, children, grandchildren, and the usual needs of the day–like cooking to eat. Some were also undoubtedly cleaning up the remains of some weather phenomenon or other in what has to be the worst year in a century. We had heard of delays in at least two other sets of videos. By the end of our particular evening–appropriately at MIDNIGHT, of course, I’d begun to wonder just how many clones ‘Murphy’ had, or if he’d enlisted every’ red cap’ in Scotland just to see how many ‘minor’ headaches he could throw and us–and probably all the other performers. Since it is Samhain, and the veils between the worlds are thinner, of course Murphy AND the red caps were likely to be more active. We already knew of another couple who ended up using the garage to create a set to evade, a four year old, two teens, and an over-eager dog wanting to join them or interrupt. Since this is a household with Portuguese ancestry, the garage is also half the kitchen. I can just imagine how hard that one was to pull off. I’ve come to the conclusion after the two shows that Tony has created online, that all the people in professional studios have it easy!
Happy Samhain! Enjoy the show, and count your blessings that you didn’t get asked to perform!
Wong Chan’s Ghost
The Chinese/Irish Ghosts of Indian Creek
Wong Chan and Friends
© by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker, October 25th, 2019
It was the late 1960’s when I first met Wong Chan, or rather his ghost. Though Chan was decades dead, he looked lively enough when I met him. He wore a nice grin, and his head was firmly attached.
But not everyone Chan appeared to was so privileged. When Chan wanted people to leave his happy haunting grounds, his head was separate from his body and the two parts moved separately, a special skill due to how his skull alone had been found back in the 19th century in the Gold Country diggings known as ‘Dead Man’s gulch.
I, my parents, and a brother were gem and mineral hunters. Rock-hounds, was the colloquial term for us. Dad was a picky gem hunter and taught us to be the same. He had little use for ordinary jasper except for yard rock, and he didn’t feel we needed to travel over 300 miles north of where we lived in the Bay area for such inferior finds. No, this time we were after quite nice cutting materials like jade, grossular garnet and vesuvianite, sometimes called Californite, up in the counties along the Klamath River.
We wouldn’t have minded turning up an occasional gold or platinum nugget, either, but being realists, had no expectations of the riches of long ago. There were six of us and our dog, Princess. Though a dachshund mix, with the short legs to prove it, Princess had a leg-ier image of herself than a mirror might have shown her. We spent as much time retrieving Princess from futile chases of longer-legged, or more energetic, wildlife as looking for the prized stones, but I’m getting ahead of the story.
We’d heard stories about a Chinese jade claim that had existed since the late 1850’s and produced fine materials that had been sent to China to be made into jewelry and sculpture and for decades since, was still being sold and resold in Hong Kong and the U.S. as ‘Chinese Jade.’ Occasionally, my parents did business with gem and jewelry dealers in San Francisco, including in Chinatown. The merchants liked my parents, and sometimes we were invited to tea. I say we, because sometimes I was fortunate enough to be able to accompany them, though most of the time I was still dealing with ordinary high school classes and studying for exams and writing my school assignments. (Yes, we had lots of creative writing assignments in secondary school English and history classes, when I was a teen. It was good practice for getting through college later.)
On one such trip to Chinatown, an elderly shopkeeper, the father of the current owner of the shop, remembered the name of the mine we were about to visit, and about where it was located. He had heard intriguing stories of a Chinese miner who had been among the very few to ‘strike it rich’, first with a modest amount of gold, but much more so with jade. ‘He was called Wong Chan,’ the old man told us, ‘he fled China illegally, leaving his family behind, and they considered him dead. At that time, Chinese were not permitted to leave China except only with the permission of the Imperial government, and only for short visits or as temporary residents, as for a trading company. First, Wong Chan went to Hong Kong boarded an English ship and then came to what we called Gold Mountain. You call it now San Francisco. He went to the far north, where he heard they did not mind Chinese miners so much. Wong Chan lived among the Indians their towns, and often drove us away. Others not liked by the Americans ended up at Indian Town. These were the Irish. Wong Chan liked their Irish music, and when he was feeling rich and celebrating his good fortune, he shared his happiness with the Irish miners by giving everyone a party and sharing his food and drink, andhaving them play their music.’
‘How do you know all of this?’ my father asked. ‘My mother was Wong Chan’s oldest sister, cared for him when he was a child, and did not forget him,’ came the reply. ‘Later, when he found jade, he sold it in Hong Kong and sent money to the rest of our family. Money from Wong Chan helped us leave the farm and enter the jewelry industry in Hong Kong.’ The old man motioned to his son, and spoke to him in Chinese. The son bowed, and disappeared, then returned shortly with a beautiful carving of birds in luminous, translucent shades of light celery green jade with bits of darker fern green. ‘This is Chan Mine jade,’ he told us. Although most carving is done for tourists, we like carvings sometimes too. These are Chinese birds, from our home in China made from Chan jade. This has been in our family for almost 100 years…’
‘What happened to your ancestor’s brother, Wong Chan?’ My father queried. The old man sighed, ‘No one knows. That is part of the mystery of his death. His body was never found, only his head. It is said that when he found his last,new, very large jade deposit, he had a party to celebrate. After the party, Wong Chan was never seen again. Later, his head was found, only the bones of it, that is, and the new jade deposit was not seen again. A man named Kraft tried to find it, and thought he found Wong Chan’s discovery, but it was another deposit. Kraft made a lot of money and sold stone in Hong Kong, but it was not the same. The stories we heard were of a different color and type of stone–more like these birds.
‘Did you ever try to find it?’ My father asked.
The old gentleman sighed and shook his head slowly. ‘I came from Hong Kong only a few years ago, already an old man. My son, he is a good businessman, but he is no explorer nor prospector and does not like to get his feet dirty.’ Besides, he is a jeweler and needs his hands to be in perfect shape. Digging and moving rough rocks in and near a creek might damage his valuable hands.’
‘Hmmm,’ my father mused, and we finished our tea and left, but he didn’t forget the story, which is how it happened that in July of the following year, his and my birthday celebration took us, our camper, the entire family, and the overly ambitious, wayward dog up to the small tourist trap called Happy Camp in Siskiyou County.
Mom was known to get a little confused and sometimes was a little late in anticipating turns, and give the wrong direction. Her history of regularly driving us home to San Mateo, after visits to the Bureau of Mines then in the old Ferry Building, in San Francisco, by way of Oakland, Hayward, and two bridges, was legendary. For this trip hundreds of miles north, we had a collection of maps, including AAA highway maps, a US Geological map, a U.S. forest map, and my father’s trusty copy ofthe California Division of Mines and Geology, Minerals of California. So, much to the envy of my younger siblings, I got to sit up front in the cab of the camper with father, because I was appointed the navigator. Hah! If I wasn’t looking for road signs, I had my head buried in maps and I never saw more than a tenth of the scenery that could be enjoyed from the side windows and back door of the camper.
In Happy Camp, I did get to stretch my legs and look around the tourist trap museum and souvenir and rock shop, selling mostly Mexican rocks and minerals, while father talked with the owner and a couple of old-timers, who apparently thought we all were just a bunch of city slickers ripe for some sort of prank.
We heard all about the possible last grizzly bears in California, and the quicksand of several rivers that would swallow dogs and children, and of course, the Sasquatch. The museum had the usual few enlarged grainy photos which were copies of God knows what, dusty Plaster of Paris footprints, and a mock up plaster or maybe Papier Mache and fake fur statue of what they thought it might look like up front and personal. I thought a Hollywood make-up person working with a wrestler in a half-way decent gorilla costume could do better. Mom, who had actually grown up in North Hollywood and tried out for films and was familiar with all the behind the scenes activities, agreed. We were advised that Sasquatches could carry off unwary teen girls. My younger sister, who had a brown belt in judo already and had once tossed an overly aggressive date out of his own car through his window at a drive-in movie, left the building hurriedly to avoid laughing in front of the men.
I decided to try to concentrate on looking around more to keep listening, and focused on the jewelry, along with Mom. The jewelry was not very good. As both parents observed, it could have been much better polished, as Dad’s lapidary work was. Dad continued to talk with the men, asking questions about who still owned what mine claims in the Happy Camp and Indian Creek area, but the old men were still more interested in telling tall tales. When the tales got to the ghost carrying his head when he wanted to drive people away, Dad began occasionally harrumphing at me to get myself under control as I began sighing and rolling my eyes and had to stifle a laugh. My sister and I could have told a much better, more blood curdling ghost and demon story that had really happened to us during the Christmas holiday just months before, but didn’t because Dad didn’t know about it yet, and hopefully never would.
There hadn’t been much work or anything else lately with a slow-down in lumber sales and logging recently, and the stories the men told were mostly just high camp to see how superstitious and easily awed or scared we would be. Dad finally felt he had enough information as to where the old Wong Chan mine was along Indian Creek and how far that was from the town of Happy Camp, and that we’d be okay looking for rocks in the creek and along it, to the mine, as it was not operational. However, we weren’t that interested in what became the Kraft mine, we were after bits of the deposit never found again, the type of stone that was most prized by the Chinese--the translucent, lighter green jade with mixed with bits of darker color.
Finally, during a lull in their tales, to be polite, we bought a few snacks and sodas, and a local history pamphlet–heavy on the Sasquatch tales, of course. As we headed for the door, one of the men called out to us, ‘don’t forget now, if you hear Irish fiddle music, run, that’s when the ghost is near and going to take off his head and scare you!’
We piled into the camper and spent the next two or three minutes laughing at it all, before Dad told me to pull out the maps again and we took off for the remains of Indian Town where we would look for the road taking us to the South Fork of Indian Creek, near where the old Wong Chan mine was supposed to be.
About 2 hours before sundown, we pulled up to a wide, flat spot next to the creek and began unloading chairs, a picnic table, and camp stove and then fixed dinner. It was a beautiful evening, warm, but not hot, which was nice for July, as it could be 100 degrees in the middle of the day and still nearly 90 until well after sunset. We enjoyed watching the stars, toasting some marshmallows on the campfire, and listening for and to wildlife move about for a while before turning in. As I drifted off to sleep on the bedroll on the bottom of the camper, I thought I heard a little music and figured it was just my brother up front of the camper, playing his radio just before he went to sleep. Either that, or it was just a breeze outside, and my imagination, as a result of listening to all those silly stories at the museum and shop.
The next day I was dismayed to discover I could not explore the creek as much or as far as I would have liked. First, my youngest sister and brother had discovered a swimming hole and Dad was uncertain about their skills in cold water. Then Princess had discovered there was wildlife to be chased, and had to be, herself, occasionally retrieved. There was evidence of bears, though not anything the size of grizzlies. Near the creek, the evening before, we’d already caught the pungent whiff of a surprised or annoyed skunk, when we were cleaning dishes. We had long before learned that Princess could not be trusted to not pick on either something that couldspray (fortunately my brother had grabbed her and leaped sideways as the skunk let fly), or kick hard (jackrabbits, and we once had a mile long chase after the dog, long after the rabbit had probably bounced into the next township) or something very large. She made her territory, nearly as we could figure, whatever was at least a half mile in all directions around every bit of her family. She naturally thought she was protecting us, while we children knew all too well, it was the other way around.
On this perfectly awful morning I found that my monthly cycle had started. Because certain types of wildlife were known by rangers and my father to be attracted to the smell of blood from quite a distance and none of us cared to pollute the water, I got dog duty and had to keep closer to the camper. Dishes were rinsed in a clean part of a stream, for instance but washed at the campsite with castile soap and hot water that had been heated over the fire. Unscented, undyed, plain, real soap was used, if we washed ourselves in streams. Did I mention Dad was very particular and careful?
So, after making the rounds to retrieve the dog, check on my siblings in the swimming hole, who were now drying off and sunning themselves on rocks in the warm late afternoon sun, I parked the dog in the camper for what I hoped was her late afternoon siesta before dinner, grabbed a novel and dropped into a folding chair under a tree. Dad and Mom were at least a mile up the Creek and apparently finding something that interested them, they had barely glanced up when I pulled Princess out of the creek next to them. I was sure they wouldn’t be back for at least another hour. If I couldn’t do much rock-hunting, I might as well enjoy a Brains Benton mystery. At least he, and his more active side-kick, weren’t as insufferably perfect like Nancy Drew, even if they were a bit young.
Relaxed, I starting sinking into my novel when I heard music again. Had my brother returned and turned his radio on? No, I could hear their voices still at the creek. Had he left a radio on in the cab? No, his radio was there but off. The music stopped. It was odd music, like something I’d heard in folk dancing classes, or at a summer party with square dancing long ago.
I went back to my novel, and heard music again, and this time it was closer. Ok, now, I thought, who is playing some games with us. It must be one of those bored, tall tale tellers at the museum.
Now I was annoyed and got up to look around. It was coming from closer to the creek, but well past my brother and sister who were now dozing on the rocks. That was three times I’d tried to enjoy my novel and three times I’d been interrupted by music with no one visible.
I checked on our dog, but Princess had been running back and forth for hours between all members of the family and whatever else looked or smelled interesting and probably was exhausted and was sound asleep in the camper. Either she hadn’t heard the music, despite her usually sharp hearing, or didn’t care. Ok, I could do a little exploring, then, just so long as I didn’t go more than a hundred yards or so from my youngest sister and brother. I followed the sound, and it stopped again, just when I thought I was closing in on it.
Then I heard something else, a rustling in some nearby brush, and what sounded like some steps. Ok, human, not bear, I thought. ‘Hello,’I called, ‘is someone there? Can I help you in some way?’
Suddenly a smiling head, attached to the short, stocky body of a middle aged, no maybe a little older, Chinese man in dusty trousers, what looked like old work boots, and a black shirt with no collar, put his finger to his lips, to shush me. His eyes were friendly, and so was his smile. Then beckoned me to follow.
The music was playing again, and we followed it to where a small stream emptied into the creek. The mouth of the stream was almost hidden by brush and it meandered up a small steep gully that I hadn’t noticed before. On the other side of the brush were several other men, playing fiddles. They were drinking and laughing and seemed not to notice us. The Chinese gentleman smiled at them, and nodded and then went on, looking back over his shoulder to see if I followed. He waved me forward again. The fiddlers just continued playing.
‘How odd,’ I thought, ”they saw him, but acted as if they never saw me.’ We went a little way up the gully and then the Chinese man, turned, smiled at me, went round a curve, and then just disappeared. The music stopped, a few rocks tumbled from somewhere on the sides of the gully into the stream near my feet, but I couldn’t find him again.
Then got down on my knees and looked a lot more closely. There, below where dusty-boots had been, and where the rocks had fallen, were several good-sized pebbles of jade, light, translucent, celery green with white and darker green and just like the jade I’d seen that day when we’d had tea with the father of the owner of that shop in Chinatown.
They weren’t very large, just enough for a few nice cabochons, but there they were. I looked up to where I thought I’d heard the rocks tumble from and found a couple of more, but then no more. Somewhere further up, there was more, but I didn’t need or want it, and what seemed to be my new friend knew it. So I gathered the bigger pieces up, stuffed them in my pants and shirt pockets said to the empty air, ‘thank you! I’m glad to have met you. I liked the music too.’
I thought I heard laughter, anda ‘you’re welcome.’
I clambered back down the stream to where I’d seen the musicians, but apparently, they’d packed up and gone home, but even stranger, nothing was left behind. The dirt where they’d been hadn’t been disturbed, there no footprints, no scrapes from their wooden chairs and the log on which some had sat looked like it was falling apart far more than it had when I first saw it.
I’d just encountered the ‘Happy Camp Ghost’ of Wong Chan, and the stories were at least partly true. Apparently, though, he’d liked us, which was fine with me. I’d liked him. He had such a nice smile and a heart for frustrated kids missing out.
Passing the rocks and swimming hole again, I saw my sister and brother putting on their shoes and socks, and back at the camper, Princess was still sleeping, though now she looked like she was dreaming about chasing jack rabbits and was on her side with her front paws out as though she was leaping. I could hear Mom’s and Dad’s voices now joining those of my sister and brother. It was time to get out some pots and pans for cooking and remember what it was in the cabinet that Mom had intended we have that night and if there was some onions or something that needed chopping., So I took the rocks out of my pockets and put them on the table to show Dad, and washed my hands to get ready to help cook.
Mom headed to the camper and also washed up in the sink there and then started to hand me the fixings for dinner as I heard Dad’s voice
‘Hey, who found these!’ he exclaimed. ‘These are really nice! Where did they come from?’ I tumbled out of the camper with some cans of beans. ‘I found them, ‘I answered, ‘but I had help, though I’m not sure you’re going to believe this.’
It took considerable convincing to persuade my father I wasn’t making up the story, that I hadn’t let my imagination run away with me after listening to the tall tales back at that store. I was saved when my sister and brother said, ‘she’s not kidding, we heard the music too, but just thought someone was passing on the road with his radio on, who stopped for a little while.’
The next morning, I took my father to where the stream had entered the creek and showed him where I had walked up the gully. At least my footprints were still there–and those of one other person, whose own prints, disappeared right around a curve in the gully. My father looked closely at the area where I’d heard the rocks tumble and poked around with the tip of his rock hammer. A couple of more loose pieces of Vesuvianite popped out of rocks that had followed a split in the side of the gully and filled up with falling rocks over the years.
The rest of our trip was uneventful, and when we returned home, my father cut and polished a few pieces of the jade I’d found and set aside one very nice one, about the size needed for a man’s ring. The next time we went back to Chinatown, my father and I asked for the old gentleman saying we had something for him. His son brought tea again, and as we sipped, my father then pulled out a soft folded handkerchief from his pocket.
The old man’s eyes widened. He picked up that special stone and held it up to the light from a nearby lamp as my father motioned for me to speak. ‘I’m not sure you’re going to believe this, but I met your great-uncle.’ I said somewhat shyly, ‘I think he would have liked you to have this, to let you know he has not forgotten the family, just as you had not forgotten him.’
Several decades later, my husband and I were touring our Western national and state parks, and on a lark, I had him go to Indian Creek again where we found a place to camp near the creek. Weather and flooding had changed the area and I wasn’t sure it was the same place I’d been as a teen, but it was somehow familiar and couldn’t have been too far from where I’d been before. My husband pulled out his guitar in the evening, after we’d had dinner, and I pulled out a tambourine. We began singing and playing and then my husband sang ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, an Irish song we’d learned years before while we attended college. As the last strains faded away, somewhere in the distance, I thought I heard a fiddle or two echoing them. So did my even more Irish husband, ‘huh,’ he said, ‘someone must be playing a car radio while driving nearby.’ I just smiled, and thought to myself, ‘thank you, again.’
Schwartzschatten, Burglar Buster
The Black Shadow Knows
Schwartzschatten, the Burglar Busting Cat
© by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker, November 1st, 2018
It was a sparkling, crisp Saturday in Minneapolis, about a week before Hallowe’en, and before the first hard freeze. We’d been lucky that year in having only a couple of light freezes by the third week in October and this was my last chance to get the bulbs in the ground. Often, at least once between the middle and end of October, we had snow and I knew my luck was not likely to hold much longer.
I was planting my last set of daffodil and tulip bulbs into the beds alongside the south side of our house, when a large, handsome, glossy black cat suddenly appeared on my left side. He had medium length fur, clearly the start of a fine winter coat, shoulders that resembled an NFL linebacker, and a friendly round face. He was watching me dig the evenly spaced holes for the bags of bulbs I had, and peering over my arm to see me drop the bulbs into the holes. Then he was on my right side, where I would have dug the next planting hole, about the same distance apart as my previous holes, digging. He clearly understood the process, and was having great fun participating, but was a little over enthusiastic. Had I planted my bulb at the depth this cat had dug, they would have been trying to bloom underground.
My husband, who had been raking leaves in the backyard came around the side of the house with a glass of water and asked “who’s your new friend?” I replied, “I don’t know, he just appeared. Did you see where he came from?”
“No, I’ve nevers seen this cat before.” said my husband, Tony. We already knew most of our neighbors, and their pets, by then, and most had dogs. Neither of us had seen him in the neighborhood the entire summer before. He was a complete mystery.
I finished my planting project, and as I headed inside, the black cat followed, right on my heels, as if he was already home. It was getting cooler and darker and clearly he was getting hungry as he was looking around the kitchen. I had cream and a some leftover Banquet fried chicken and put some of each down for him. He was quite happy with that. Later, he followed us to the bedroom, and was looking at the bed as we donned night clothes and crawled under the down comforter. “Oh, alright,” my husband smiled, come up and join us.” The cat immediately did.
On Sunday we made inquiries. But no one for two blocks all around on both sides had ever seen the black cat, or heard of anyone having owned one, so it seemed we had acquired a black cat, one week before Hallowe’en.
This cat liked to watch us, and would follow Tony’s right on his heels, so closely that there were several near mishaps. ‘What shall we call him?’, I asked. Tony speaks a little German, and suggested, ‘Well, he is like a shadow, following us everywhere we go, and he is completely black, so how about Schwartzschatten, which is German for ‘Black Shadow’.
Schwartz, (for short), soon proved to be the most unusual cat anyone in our acquaintance had ever encountered, and freakishly intelligent. Shortly after we had purchased this house, it became apparent that, a former owner had been a police officer, because frequently, about 2 a.m or so, his ghost made rounds of the house, as if checking on its security. The cat had no fear of this resident ghost in fact, Schwartz began accompanying him on these nightly rounds, and when the last footsteps of the ghost died away on the upstairs landing, he would climb back on the bed with us.
Normally, Schwartz was a very quiet cat, but occasionally seemed to be trying to converse with us, to call our attention to things, like birds in the garden, or tell us when it was time to go to bed. If what sounded like a feline version of ‘ahem; it’s bedtime,’ with a cock of his head toward the bedroom. When that didn’t work, if I or Tony was still working on something on the computer in the study, he had developed an alternative way to enforce bedtime. He’d climb on the credenza behind us bolt forward, planting his sturdy head and neck right between our shoulders, knocking our heads into the computer monitor. Then he’d sit back on the desk, with his tail twitching and expression on his face that unmistakably said, ‘I told you it was BED time!’ We were sure he’d been taking notes from the football games he’d watched with us.
Schwartz was a hefty 15 pounds or so, solid muscle and bone underneath that gorgeous soft black fur with dark chestnut highlights. The first time we took him to our vet for shots, he smiled at the name we gave. ‘Schwartzschatten,’ the vet said, ‘well, he looks like a ‘Schwarzenegger’ to me!’ Schwartz actually liked the vet, and we never had any problems there.
In fact, we never had any problem taking Schwarz anywhere! He liked to get in the car and travel with us. These car rides revealed his fascination with technology within minutes of his first trip with me to pick up Tony from work. As I drove on the freeway, Schwartz was watching the traffic and seemed fascinated with trucks. He was like a little boy, running to the back of the car to start watching any truck passing us and then running to the front to see them out of sight, and the reverse happened when we passed a truck.
Schwarz also liked sitting in either my or Tony’s lap, occasionally with his paws on the steering wheel, to see what we were seeing. He also figured out how to turn on–and off, the turn signals and windshield wipers and if bored with the traffic, would do this a few times, before settling down for a nap on the dash or the front seat.
Schwarz also was fastidious about kitty litter and didn’t really like it and none of us liked him out in the deep snow and frigid temperatures doing his duty. We’d heard that it was possible to train some cats to use the toilet and bought a training kit that was mentioned in a cat magazine.. He took to the idea, in twice the time that the kit and manual said that, if cats could be trained, would. He even remembered to flush the toilet most times, which startled more than one guest of ours.
He also turned out to be fascinated with electronics. Inside of the first month, he was laying on top of the old Heath-Zenith 100 monitor and reaching down to tap the keys of the computer selecting letters, we think based on shapes he thought interesting. This resulted in my husband having to rewrite our first family history program when after of Schwartz’ visits to the study, my family history program suddenly had everyone in the database surnamed Wallace. He soon learned to keep his tail away from the dot matrix printer when it once got caught in it. This was when we discovered he had an air-raid siren shriek that pretty well blasted eardrums within 20 feet or so. After that, though, he had a new hobby, figuring out how the printer worked and which computer keys got it going. I had more than one project suddenly printing out when I left the room, long before I’d intended to print it. On one occasion, I was editing a book for a client and had gone to make lunch. I came back to nearly 200 pages flying all over the floor.
He was also fascinated with Tony’s amateur radio gear and gave a new twist to otherwise normally incredible excuses children make when caught in some wrongdoing. Schwartz had been watching my husband make an automatic sender in which he’d push one button and it would send his call sign, the next his location, and the third a signal report, which sped up amateur radio contest contacts. The more contacts, the higher the score resulted. The new radio had a problem though. The maker had tried to put a small amplifier in the radio itself and didn’t have enough filtering between a couple of components. The result was on some bands, after operating awhile, four expensive transistors would blow all at once, sometimes even shooting up in the air with a loud ‘thunk’ as they hit the top of the chassis. So, Tony was working on a design modification and trying new components to see if he could retain the output and quit losing transistors. This meant he was testing the output, as was normally done, on a frequency not part of the communications spectrum as he tweaked adjustments, including the antenna. This was legal, so long as he was not sending signal reports, as if trying to communicate. One night he left the radio set up for further testing the next day and went to bed. A few days later we received a formal warning from the FCC of violations of federal law and regulations by transmitting illegally off the legal bands, that Tony’s call sign, location and signal report had been heard at such and such a frequency at 3 a.m. in the morning, the night after he’d left the radio set up. We had been in bed at the time and no one could have been operating the gear. There must be some mistake, right? Tony tried to tell that to an official. He asked if anyone else in the house could have done this. We scratched our heads. We knew we had a ghost in the house but he had never done anything this before and who would believe us if we said, ‘well, I supposed it might have been the ghost?’ The real answer came about a week later.
We were in the cellar, where we’d set up the radio bench and gear and also did other projects. We were refinishing two living room end tables and had a mess of newspapers, steel wool, Formsby’s refinisher on the floor around and under the tables. We had a basement window cracked open but it was still enough to wrinkle noses, including that of the fastidious cat and he was backing away instead of doing his usual inspection of our latest doings. . Perhaps he then heard something odd. He suddenly jumped to the desk and meowed at us, just before the bottom of the nearby water heater fell out. We jumped out of the way but didn’t think to grab the mess of gooey newspapers, rags and steel wool beneath the tables, which we had quickly moved. Oh well, they would come up from the floor once the water cooled, right. We never did get all the old newspaper bits and varnish off the floor. The hot water had apparently acted as a permanent sealant.
This was also when we discovered the importance of a floor drain, which, for some reason this 75 year old house did not have. It took awhile to clean all the water and refinishing mess up. Meanwhile the cat grew bored watching us from the radio bench. Suddenly we heard Tony’s sender start up sending his call sign, location and signal report, in exact order on the radio which was still on from his morning’s tests of the latest modification. Stunned we saw the cat methodically pushing one button after other, in exact sequence, several times.
‘Schwartz!,’ Tony yelled. ‘I’m not on a legal frequency! You were the one! I’m going to lose my license if they hear this again!’ He darted forward and quickly moved the dial to a nearby, but legal, frequency, and returned to cleaning up all the water. The cat, not willing to cross a wet messy floor, resumed his play. A few minutes later we suddenly heard a familiar call sign of a nearby friend returning the cat’s signal. He then asked Tony how he was doing with the new gear and if his sender was stuck. Tony dashed to the bench, sat down and replied, ‘the gear is fine, the cat just learned to use it. Have to go, need to finish cleaning up the water from the broken water heater, find a replacement and figure out how to install it.’ The reply came, ‘that’s interesting. I just replaced one at my place. Want some help?’
Ok, coincidence, right?–same as those nightly rounds with the resident ghost of a police officer.
That very friend was probably the best possible choice because he also knew Schwarz and wasn’t intimidated or surprised by him anymore. He wasn’t surprised to hear, ‘the cat was on the radio, not me.’ One Saturday evening, the friend, Ken and his wife had come over to for dinner and to play cards and games with us on a game night. Schwartz had been in the garden that day and finally decided the catnip was grown enough–at nearly three feet tall, and ate the largest plant, down to the roots. He was then on a tear all the rest of the day and evening, off and on. We finished putting away the leftovers, loaded the dishwasher and sat down to play cards. Schwartz came streaking up from somewhere in the cellar, rounded the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, dived under the table, and stopped. We soon were laughing as he was playing with our feet and ankles, often batting at or tickling the ankles. It was hard to concentrate on the cards but made the game more interesting and challenging. Ken turned his chair to the side to get up to get some more water in his glass, stood, started to take a step and fell flat on his face. We soon realized that Schwarz had also been playing with shoelaces. In two cases, Ken being one, Schwartz had not only untied the shoes, but took one lace from each shoe and knotted them together.
Everyone in the family, and our regular guests, were also familiar with Schwartz’s ‘Cheshire Cat game of hide-and seek or ‘boo.’ He’d find the darkest corner under a bed, or in the cellar, or in a closet and one would be calling all over for him for dinner, or our nieces and nephews would be looking for him for play. They’d caught him napping one day and dressed him in doll clothes from a large baby doll and paraded him past everyone, which he considered a very humiliating situation for his superior tomcat dignity. He was inclined to first hide for awhile when he heard their voices, particularly if he and they were in the cellar where the children’s toys and games, and dolls and doll clothes were, until he could hear them pull out a game. He was particularly fond of ‘Crossbows and Catapults,’ which had large thick poker chip playing pieces which were launched into the air. Schwartz could snatch them in mid air, run off with, and then get the children playing chase with him. When he decided to hide though, he’d somehow curl up just right in the very deepest shadow of a hiding spot and stay absolutely silent and motionless. We’d all see only a dark corner or shadow, and repeatedly go past where he was, until he deigned to wink at us with one emerald green eye, or blink with both and then well, grin, widening his mouth, lifting his lip slightly and showing his nice pearly white teeth that he, somehow, just knew, gleamed brightly even in the deepest shadows of the house.
The next summer, neighbors up and down the street began fretting over a new underground pest that showed up and was sawing off many carefully planted seedlings at ground level, killing them, and only sucking some of the juices from a portion of the stem at the ground. It was a shrew and no dog in the neighborhood would go after it, though they yapped and barked alarms to their owners every time it was active and they sensed it. The shrew moved quickly and didn’t leave the visible humps in gardens like gopher tunnels. It seemed to be going back and forth through the neighborhood, randomly, perhaps changing gardens when dogs and owners were getting more vigilant for awhile. One afternoon, I heard Schwarz’s muffled ‘mwwr’ at the back door. I figured he had something in his mouth and wanted in anyway, and went to see what it was before it ended up my just cleaned counter or floor, since he was capable of jumping up and knocking the door handle askew enough to sometimes get inside by himself. I opened the door, and he dropped a dead small animal with mostly gray fur and a lighter underside on the top of the back steps and backed away a few inches, so I could see and admire his present to me better. It was definitely dead, but not gory. If there had been any blood at call, Schwarz had already cleaned it away. It was nice and neat, as though its fur had been carefully groomed, and didn’t even have any dirt on it. In fact, it looked almost at peace on its back with its front paws neatly folded on its chest. The creature only lacked a small lily with a ribbon, if ones every grew that tiny, to look like a proper funeral display. It was an odd looking creature though. It was larger than a mouse, but not the size of a rat and had a long snout, and a set of nasty looking teeth, and those paws had tiny, sharp, claws. I had never seen this creature before. What on earth was it?
I saw an older neighbor out in his garden and asked him to come have a look. Mr. Kehoe came over and when he saw the animal, his eyes widened. He looked at Schwarz who had moved to the bottom of the steps and one side, and was looking quite pleased with himself for having made such a nice present. Mr. Kehoe, said ‘this is a shrew–probably the very one that’s destroyed three gardens so far and no dog will touch them. They are vicious and dangerous and can really hurt pets! Did your cat do this?’
I told him that Schwarz had it in his mouth at the door and dropped it in front of me. He asked for a tissue and picked it up and peered at it. ‘A clean quick snap of the neck. The shrew didn’t suffer. Incredible!’ He turned to Schwarz again and told him, ‘you just earned yourself a steak dinner!’ True to his word, a nice small steak, cooked medium rare, and cut up into bite-size kitty bits appeared a couple of hours later. The word went out in the neighborhood, the gardens were now safe again because of Schwarzschatten the fearless shrew hunter. We ended with praise and thanks all up and down the block, and we soon noticed that the squirrels and starlings were giving our garden a wide berth. We had the best garden yields on the block!
Schwarzschatten took his protector role very serious, well past the garden pests, and the nightly rounds of the house with our resident ghost in a neighborhood that had up to then been so safe most of my neighbors still had circa 1905 skeleton keys for their doors, when they felt the need to lock them. The neighborhood was changing though as we began to discover the second winter Schwarz was with us. Some younger party makers had moved into the neighborhood. Most were simply fun, if a little rowdy at times and just gave us and the local police an occasional interesting story to share after the holidays, like the Super bowl party soon after one young group up the street had. They had acquired a hot tub that year and invited the whole neighborhood for a post game bash and great potluck dinner with a lot of different beverages to sample. Then about 10:30 p.m., some of the guests noticed the steam rising from the hot tub and decided to use it. Well, not all had swimsuits with them, nor fit the suits of the foursome who had bought the house together. That’s when we left. At about one a.m. the police arrived after startled neighbors had come home from someone else’s party, and discovered that the young crowd up the street had discovered you could slide from the upstairs window and slanted roof to the first floor below to splash below into the hot tub, since the steam had formed a layer of ice on the roof after a few hours. However, the swim suits and underwear that most had tried to wear were sticking to the ice. Being happy go lucky and feeling quite uninhibited after all those beverages for some several hours, they did what they thought was the practical thing–dispensed with all clothing and continued to slide down the roof into the hot tub. The police literally doubled over laughing, but realized the outraged neighbors did expect them to do something more constructive, and finally got party goers to either don some sort of clothing or dispense with sliding down the roof in plain view of at least three sets of neighbors now, since the police car itself had attracted further attention. The youngsters promised they would wrap the party up in the next hour and did.
However, a few weeks later another local party goer was another matter. He’d come home so inebriated that in the lamplight, all the various white Edwardian houses looked the same to him and he mistook our house for his own. Tony was out of town on a business trip. It was about midnight and I was already asleep when the man tried his key on the front porch door. When the key would not work, he rattled it and the door. Being utterly self-convinced this was HIS house he soon was shaking the door enough to rattle the porch windows. Schwarz heard the first efforts to rattle the key and door and coming out of a deep sleep I could hear him start to growl. When the inebriated man persisted with more vigor, attempting to force the porch door open I was soon wide awake. The man might or might not have heard Schwarz’s ominous growl getting louder, on the other side of the porch door, the porch, and two solid oak doors on either side of a small foyer into the living room. He definitely must have head the air-raid siren yowl, that Schwarz then let out, as he flung himself at the first oak door and began shredding the several layers of old paint as he determined to get through that door and do the same to the stubborn would be intruder on the other side. I have no idea what was going through that man’s fogged brain, as he still shook the door and started to yell, ‘lemme in, dammit. You can’t do this to me, this is MY house!’ maybe thinking his wife was keeping him out and had deliberately set off an alarm.’ I feared what would happen if he succeeded in breaking down the porch door and then tried to climb in the living room window. I couldn’t remember if we had liability insurance for murder of an inebriated mistaken intruder by cat or not. I called the police. I had to repeat myself, twice and finally the exasperated dispatcher yelled, ‘lady would you please turn off your burglar alarm, I can’t understand you!’
‘I don’t have a burglar alarm, I yelled back, ‘that’s my cat–and he’s downstairs in the living room trying to rip apart the front door to get at the guy trying to shake it open. The cat’s more than 100 feet away!. Please hurry!’
In under five minutes, two squad cars and four officers showed up. Just before then, the man finally cleared his head of anger and whatever else just enough to take a good look at our rather distinctive porch line and realize it was not his house and began to stumble off.
Two officers found him and escorted him home. The second two came to my front door. Schwarzschatten had calmed down, once the would-be intruder had left. He was now snuggled in my arms purring, proud of his having chased away a bad guy. I opened the door, and police looked at me and looked warily past me. One had a gun drawn. The other seemed to have some sort of burlap bag. ‘So where’s the wild cat we’d been told was here. The dispatcher was convinced you had a wild animal. We have to take any wild cat in. They aren’t allowed in the city.’
I was thunderstruck. ‘What wild cat? This is the only cat I own–right here. His name is Schwarzschatten! I didn’t think there were any wild cats left anywhere near Minneapolis.’
The now very contented black cat still in my arms continued purring and just blinked sleepily at them. They looked closely and started laughing. ‘This is the cat that freaked the dispatcher! You’re kidding me! He’s just a big sweetheart.’ Schwarz allowed both to rub his head and under his chin and just purred louder. I didn’t try to explain why he trusted and liked police officers. I could hear faint ghostly chuckling behind me. I was glad I’d opened the door completely and they didn’t see the streaks of missing paint and wood, and all the peelings on the floor that the door sweep had carried just out of their view. I then explained that the vet, whose name I gave them, so they could verify Schwarz had all his shots, thought he was a Bombay cat, which was part Burmese a relative of Siamese but larger and often louder. I explained he did have a very loud yowl that almost exactly mimicked a tornado or air raid alarm and when he’d fallen asleep in the summer on the garage door and we’d accidentally caught his, er, private parts, between the frame and the door when he slid downward as it closed, he’d brought half the neighborhood out to see whether a tornado had suddenly formed despite the nice summer day, or the street alarm had malfunctioned. It had been a nice quiet Sunday morning up to that point, so everyone on the block knew Schwarz and his full volume tornado alarm yowl. I then suggested they might want to tell the deluded would be intruder to get his hearing checked. My own ears were still ringing slightly. They laughed again, thought that was a good idea and left to follow through, while also beginning to discuss the fun they would have teasing the unfortunate dispatcher the next day..
The next day, I found the gray paint in the cellar the previous owners had used, and touched up the front door.,and vacuumed the carpet. Schwarz was relaxing on the top of the sofa, next to the living room window and gazing out, just to make sure our would-be visitor was not returning.
This was just a dress rehearsal, though, for what happened in the mid spring on a quarter moon night. It had been cloudy that day and we’d been indoors all day nursing bad colds that had begun to turn into bronchitis. We’d gone to bed early with some Robitussin DM, and to ensure sleep, a couple of small glasses of Galliano. Ever since I was child, and prone to colds that inevitably settled in the chest, my late mother had given me a small glass of that liqueur as it seemed to warm and ease my chest and let me sleep. It was a technique that worked well, and my husband adopted it also. His mother and grandmother were still smokers, despite the increased health warnings, and his mother’s house was in the rotation for the holiday dinners. There were also more than a half dozen nieces and nephews of my husband’s six brothers and sisters and one or another was always down with whatever was going around that child’s school near that holiday. We always ended up with some sort of respiratory illness after a holiday, as did most of the adults, within a week or so. It was just the occasional downside of a large family in sub-arctic Minnesota, known as the ‘flu capitol of the world.’ So, after some homemade chicken soup, the medicine and the Galliano we were dead to the world and didn’t hear much of what happened. We heard a little something, and partly woke to what was probably the tail end of the event. We simply thought we’d heard some small outside noise from maybe something blowing around in the breeze and went back to sleep.
The first part of the story we found the next morning. The rest we heard from a neighbor’s kid who heard what happened third hand at his high school. We first realized the noise we heard was not a branch dropping but a window, when Tony went to the cellar the next morning for a jar of raspberry jam we’d put up the previous summer, and noticed there was more light coming into the cellar by the stairs on the north side. The storm window had been removed from the outside and was on the sidewalk outside the house. There was a small pry bar next to it. The inside window frame was scratched, rather badly and there was a lot of black cat fur all over the concrete block opening. Someone had tried to break into our cellar and Schwarz had been at the window to stop them and had probably fluffed up his fur, apparently quite a lot–the fur was literally all over the opening, top, bottom and sides. But why hadn’t he yowled? Even with the Robitussin and Galliano we would have definitely heard that tornado siren shriek of his. Hmmm.
I was removing the straw from around the roses and fertilizing them one day about a week or so later when a neighbor’s teenage son strolled over from across the alleyway. Schwarz was with me, swatting at the bits of straw trying to get me to play. Will came up and smiled and rubbed Schwarz’ head and then his tummy when he rolled over on his back to solicit that extra pleasure. He casually asked, ‘did anyone ever tell you that the ghost of a police officer is in your house?’ I stood up and asked, ‘How did you find out? We’ve known since the first night we moved into here. He’s buddies with big boy here.’ Will nodded,and said, ‘I know someone tried to break into your house not long ago. I don’t know who it was. The story is all over my high school. I think it started among the seniors, but I’m only a freshman so everyone else would have heard it before me. This is what I heard, though. The ghost and Schwarz here drove him off. The story is, the guy tried to get in through one of your basement windows and had pried the storm window out. He accidentally dropped it when Schwarz jumped into the opening and fluffed out his fur, bared his teeth and growled. The guy was startled but he figured since he was wearing gloves and had a crowbar and a heavy flashlight he was just gonna bop Schwarz on the head.’ Will looked at me and Schwarz with worry all over his face. He stooped down and rubbed Schwarz some more. ‘Boy I’m glad he didn’t get and hurt you all. You’re good people and I really like this little guy.’
Will stood up again and continued. Rubbing the cat had seemed to soothe him as well as the cat. ‘Your burglar didn’t know you were in the house. I’m glad he didn’t get in. I think he’s a Senior in high school and someone said he’s big and pretty mean. He might have bopped you and your husband, except Schwarz and the ghost cop stopped him. The guy told his friends that Schwarz suddenly jumped down from the sill and the cop was there, right behind him. The cop first just looked out the window and glared at the guy. The kid told his friends that then the whole area around the window started turning ice. He could see frost forming on the window and his breath. He said the next thing he saw was man’s face coming toward him and a hand reaching through the window glass to grab his jacket. Then Schwarz jumped back up in the frame, while the ghost was moving up and through the wall to grab the kid as he backed away and it seemed like Schwarz had grown much larger into something like a panther and was coming with police officer through the wall, toward him. He bolted. He thinks the cat is as outta of this world as the ghost, and he swears he’ll never go near that house again. I think he musta been drinking that night. I know you have a ghost, because the owner just before you, Mr. Alpenburg took to drink because of it, but a cat that turns into a panther and can go through walls? I can imagine your guy fluffing up and looking bigger, but not as big as panther!. Schwarz has got a big yowl, and is a tough cat for a cat but he is a cat. He’s also such a nice guy to everyone around here,’ and Will bent to rub Schwarz’ tummy some more. Schwarz just gave us both one of those ‘I’m very happy now,’ contented kitty blinks. He got another steak dinner that evening.
Thor, the Lightning Cat
Samhain / Hallowe’en Short Stories
Thor, the Lightning Cat
© by Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker, October 25, 2018
Dear readers: You are in luck, or not, depending upon your point of view regarding tales connected to the days of death and remembrance when many in nearly all parts of the world believe the veils between dimensions, beings of matter and energy, life and death-and good and evil are thinnest. I have two tales for you, both mostly true, but with some added imagination as well. I leave it up to you figure it all out. The first story is this week. The second will come out, next Friday, on All Soul’s Day (November 2nd).
Thor, the Lightning Cat
My favorite cousin Apollonia and I had always attracted and loved cats, and were partial to unusual cats. In the 1980’s we became certain that God and his angels had a sense of humor and also must like cats. Both of us had a cat arrive around Hallowe’en and both had unusual personalities.
One Hallowe’en, my cousin Apollonia and her brother Michael were cleaning up after a Hallowe’en party for some neighborhood children, and the usual trick or treaters at their door. Both worked in hospitals, loved children but were not fortunate in love lives much less in having children of their own. They were very bright and imaginative and volunteered as free tutors and child care providers for many of their neighbors. Their neighborhood was lower middle class with old brick-maker cottages and rutted streets, near the abandoned river docks and rusting loading and unloading machinery. A forgotten neighborhood, in a forgotten rust belt city near Lake Erie.
As night fell, a thunderstorm came up and soon drenched the last dawdling little brigands, sending them scurrying homeward. It was a bad storm with howling wind and torrential rain. The crack of limbs falling from the old buckeye trees could be heard and small branches with clumps of leaves began to buffet the sides of the house and windows. Michael remembered he wasn’t sure he’d rolled up his car windows, since the day earlier had been warm. He twisted the doorknob to the front door to open it just as a crack of lightning lit up the sky and a sudden intense gust of wind blasted through the door. Michael was flung backward into a wall, and the hinges on the door were nearly ripped out of the frame. A wet bundle of black and white fur about the size of a bowling ball was blown into the house, tumbling and rolling until it stopped by Michael’s feet. Michael was over six feet tall, and weighed about 280 pounds of almost all large bones and muscle that we used to say were the best expression of mostly Central Asian horse warrior genes in the family, and could terrify strangers on sight. Slamming Michael into a wall was no small feat. As he struggled to close the door, his sister, Apollonia came running from the kitchen, and asked if he was alright.
Michael replied, “I’m fine, but the car will have to suffer or not. I’m not trying to go out again now. We’ll probably have to repair the hinges and door frame tomorrow. I think one of your heavy rosewood dining room chairs, the captain’s chair, will help hold the door and keep it from further damage. It would be useless to do any repairs to the door tonight, but we might have a look at this little guy,” pointing to the bedraggled black and white cat who was now sitting at his feet, trying to clean his drenched, matted fur, starting with his tail, nonchalantly, as if being blown through a doorway by a storm was an everyday occurrence.
“What on earth…who in their right mind let a cat out on a night like this?!” Apollonia exclaimed, dropped the chair by her brother, and ran for a large towel from the bathroom.
The cat continued to sit and try to clean himself. As Apollonia returned, Michael told her, “Easy now. We don’t know how used to people, or strangers, he is and we don’t want to terrify the poor guy,” as guy was soon evident, when he began trying to clean mud and water off his stomach.
Apollonia began softly crooning at it, as she did babies and her own cats, all of whom had sensibly fled to their favorite comfortable spots in the cellar when the storm had begun worsening more than a half hour before. The black and white cat stopped, looked at her and around the room and went straight to the towel in Apollonia’s hands, and sat down next to it, as if he was used to be waited on by servants. Apollonia began wrapping him gently in it and rubbing and patting him dry.
“He’s a little thin, and somewhat beat up, maybe by the storm, maybe by another cat earlier,” she said, “he’s got a little gray by his muzzle and he generally looks like an older cat. Get me my cat brush and comb, and that bag of cat treats at the top of the cabinet on the left side of the sink.” She inspected his ears and head and noticed what appeared to be a few recent, some fresh scratches. Hmmm, you might want to grab some a couple of damp paper towels, and a few cotton swabs and antibiotic ointment from the bathroom, also.”
About a half hour later, the older male tuxedo cat, now clean and happy, had settled on the sofa between Michael and Apollonia and started to snooze while they drank some hot chocolate and watched their local early nightly news program. The storm continued but had lost some of its rage, and tree limbs and branches were no longer breaking and flying around the neighborhood.
Apollonia and Michael knew everyone in the neighborhood knew and everyone knew them. A quick check of a four block radius turned up no owner of the cat, nor anyone who knew of any cat owner who had recently moved or died. They came to the conclusion that this was a cat who had been deliberately dumped, and abandoned by someone from another part of the city where crime and callousness was more common.
“So what do we call him?” Apollonia asked her brother a few days later. “I can keep him. My ladies seem to have decided he’s ok, he’s keeping the Siamese twins in line, and he’s really taken a shine to Delilah, which is helping her a lot.” Delilah was Apollonia’s oldest cat and had been rescued from euthanasia as an older cat in an abusive former home. She was a beautiful long-haired calico but now very timid and the other cats that had come later found she could easily be nosed from either a favorite napping spot or a dish of cat food.
The Siamese twins, a boy and girl, were her latest acquisitions, gifts from a friend who worked at the same hospital whom Apollonia had spelled when she needed a few days for a sudden funeral of an out of state relative. They were expensive pure-breds but somehow not quite the ideal and the owner who raised cats for show and top dollar in sales, was about to take them to the humane society. Her neighbor was Apollonia’s co-worker and knew Apollonia had recently lost two older cats to cancer. The new young Siamese twins were not quite a year old, very pretty little darlings, but also complete imps, and worked together. She named them Yin and Yang.
The dynamic juvenile feline duo had soon taken over Apollonia’s feline family and were most often responsible for Delilah’s retreats. They’d also figured out how to open the back door and window latches in two rooms, to get out into the garden, get into cabinets and rip open bags of treats, which they did share, after first having their fill. They could and would climb everywhere and would try almost anything their imagination and vision inspired. Apollonia had learned to close the bathroom door when running a bath as these two were not afraid of water–they loved it. She heard splashes one day and found that they had discovered the hanging planter near the window of the bathroom, were leaping into it, getting it swinging toward the bathtub and then diving into the tub from the planter–and taking turns. Her nice soothing bubble bath was turning into a mud bath with fur floating on top of the bubbles, requiring her to clean cats, bathroom, tub and repotting the Boston fern before enjoying the bath she’d intended nearly two hours before. The kitchen cabinets now all had hard to open latches, and everything on the top shelf of the kitchen and armoires in the bathroom and bedroom were now held down by museum wax.
“Well, your tuxedo gentleman came in with the storm, with literally a crack of lightning and a gust of wind on Hallowe’en. You recently lost your cat named ‘Spook’ and probably don’t want to use that name again. How about Thor”, Michael suggested, “for the God of Thunder and Lightning?”
“Thor…”, Apollonia looked at the cat now snoozing on the sofa next to Delilah with the twins, Yin and Yang, keeping a wary eye on him at a safe distance, from their nearby chair, after rubbing a greeting around Michael’s ankles and feet. Apollonia looked at the Tuxedo cat with the pugnacious lower jaw with the bits of gray and and repeated, ‘Thor…” The cat looked up and did the slow blink of kitty contentment, “I like that and he seems to agree,” she said, and then, out of habit, looked at her brother’s feet and told him, “you might want to tie your shoes. Yin and Yang did it again.”
Michael looked down. The two Siamese had indeed engaged in their favorite greeting trick toward him, untying his shoes when they rubbed his ankles and feet, hoping he’d walk out of one or another of them so they could run off with it again and play with it, a kind of kitty tetherball, with one holding the shoe in his or her mouth and both batting it back and forth, and managing to keep themselves and the shoe out of his reach for the next ten minutes or so.
Thor may have come in on Hallowe’en with the worst thunderstorm of the year, but true to his pattern of black and white tuxedo markings, he was a gentleman. Still, he could deliver a lightning swift strike with either paw for misbehaving kittens at times. With Thor on guard, they gradually learned their manners, giving my cousin Apollonia greater peace than she’d enjoyed for the last few months. Thor insisted his lady friend, Delilah, get her fill first at dinner and keep her favorite snoozing spots, and he and she would clean one another and both began to play with the kittens at times. Thor would chase and tumble with them to their hearts’ content and Delilah was beginning to lure them with her thick, long-haired “Sally Rand’s fans” tail and let them pounce on it and then wheel and pounce on them gently. Delilah was getting her confidence back and the twins were learning manners but still allowed their imaginative exuberance.
In the summer the following year, tragedy struck. Apollonia’s mother, who lived down the street with her husband and son Michael, died, just at a time when a burglary ring was becoming active in the neighborhood. The burglars had learned that although these were rather humble homes, the families in them were often upper class east European immigrants of education and taste, who had lost nearly everything in the wars and communist takeovers of their countries in the early and mid part of the century and had rebuilt their lives. They lived in former brick maker cottages but inside they were often like small antique shops filled with treasures of fine furnishings, paintings, nice tableware, and they owned and liked to wear real jewelry. Apollonia, as the oldest daughter had inherited her late mother’s jewelry, which included a few items that had belonged to her mother’s mother, and she had a few nice pieces of her own that she had saved up for and acquired over the years. An uncle, her late mother’s younger brother, had his own gem and jewelry business for a time and had helped educate his own children as to quality stones and jewelry, and his nieces and nephews who were interested as well. Her uncle had initially learned from his own father, an aristocrat sent into exile and then made a war refugee, and then added to that knowledge by earning a GIA certificate in gemology.
Apollonia had Crohn’s disease and it took a bad turn after her mother’s death and the funeral. A month later she was in the hospital for a surgery. Her father, just down the street had his own health problems. He was a brittle diabetic and had not been minding his diet very well since his wife’s death. Another daughter moved back in with her father, and, like her brother and sister, worked in a hospital she was a nurse, about to become a physician’s assistant. All three siblings were single, which meant that they were called on to perform extra hours any time anyone with a spouse and children had some family event or emergency. One night Abby was still in the hospital, her father was in the hospital also, and both her brother and sister were working double shifts. They’d had time to check on Apollonia’s cats, feed them, change the kitty litter and give the cats a little brushing, but not much more, between the two shifts. It was the perfect night for a burglary.
Michael got off work first and went to Apollonia’s house and parked his car in the drive on the side. The first thing he discovered was Yin and Yang running around the back garden yowling. While they loved the garden, they rarely yowled. Something was wrong. He then discovered the damaged back kitchen door and broken bathroom window–besides a mess in the kitchen from the upended drawers and some emptied cabinets there. He could hear Thor now, literally calling from the back bedroom, and not willing to come out. He could not see Delilah, his sister’s favorite cat, the sweet timid kitty who had just begun to become a confident normal cat again.. He ran through the shambles of strewn emptied drawers and chairs pulled to walls that no longer had paintings on them, into the bedroom. There, and later in the bathroom as well, Michael found the armoires had been flung open and towels and clothing strewn. The fine antique real linen and lace tablecloths with hand sewn embroidery were gone, the silver tableware that Apollonia had once bought for a wedding, her own, that had not happened after all, some paintings, antique porcelains, and of course Apollonia’s jewelry, including every piece she’d inherited from her mother and grandmother were all gone, from what he could see at a glance. His first concern was for his sister’s beloved cats. She would consider their lives more important than anything else and Michael knew this.
Thor was clearly agitated and his fur was roughed up. Thor had what appeared to be a couple of torn claws and blood around them. He kept drawing Michael to the bedroom armoire and one dark corner beneath it near the corner of the room and looking worried. Michael noticed a thin trail of blood running beneath the armoire and peered beneath. There was Delilah cowering in a ball in the corner and the blood ran to her. “Delilah,” he called softly, “it’s ok, Michael’s here. Come on out baby.” He was shaking but forced himself to become calmer, called again, and then waited anxiously. He hoped the blood was not the cat’s and she was not badly injured. Delilah finally lifted her head from beneath her legs, looked up at him, and at Thor peering at her also nearby, and uncurled herself. Shivering she walked into his hands. He pulled her out slowly from under the armoire and held her close to him and took her into the living room and put her on the one remaining pillow that was still on the sofa, and soothed and examined her. She appeared to be shaken, but not injured, but there was blood beneath her claws. Thor sat next to her and began cleaning her face and ears as if to reassure her, ‘the biggest guy’s here now. It’s going to be alright, love.” Once Delilah settled on the pillow to accept Thor’s tender attention, Michael went to the kitchen and found a bag of catnip and chicken flavored treats in the mess in the kitchen, called the twins in again and gave the cats all treats and settled them in the living room. He closed the doors to the bedroom and bathroom and called the police.
While he waited, Michael began to examine all the cats and found that both Thor and Delilah had clearly fought and had blood under their claws and Thor had indeed two claws torn, one down to the quick. Michael thought quickly. He then grabbed some plastic bags out of the kitchen and swabs and ointment out of the bathroom, and gently cleaned up both cats nails and put the swabs into plastic bags, one for each cat. Then he treated the cats’ injuries with the antibiotic ointment. The police arrived as he finished. He’d told them no sirens, as the dirty work was already done and the cats were terrorized enough. They’d complied. Most of them were friends. Michael and his sister Aurelia had both worked in the ER and met and helped many of them over the years. Apollonia was in reception and intake and also met them.
Michael held Delilah wrapped in his shirt next to his chest when he opened the door for the police and closed it behind them and started telling them the basics of when he’d arrived and what he’d found. Thor began to scratch at the door to the bedroom as if he wanted them to go there first, which they did. Michael pointed out the trail of blood on the carpet and floor leading to where Delilah had been, and told them this was not Delilah’s blood, she had no injuries. He told them he thought Thor, had mauled one of the burglars, and had joined Delilah under the armoire for a time but that since Thor had torn claws and also bled a little, it was more likely the thin trail was from one of the burglars, who had been scratched and was trying to get at the cats for his injuries. Fortunately, the far corner under the armoire was just far enough to make it hard to reach them the armoire was solid oak and weighed too much to easily move it, and cats evaded the probably irate burglar long enough.
One of the officers nodded, and clipped some fibers from the carpet area with the blood on them and a swab from the floor where the carpet did not reach, and bagged both. Then they noticed something else on the floor where Delilah had been, two earrings, ruby earrings that had belonged to Michael’s and Apollonia’s grandmother. They had probably been under and behind Delilah when Michael had drawn her out. He had not seen them but he recognized them. A single strand pearl necklace and an abalone and silver bracelet were then found beneath the bed toward its head. One of the cops looked at the room including the upended jewelry box on the floor and mused aloud, “I think your cats tried to rescue a few things–burglars don’t usually upend jewelry boxes on the floor but on a bed where the stuff can’t bounce and roll. And I know those earrings, that necklace and bracelet didn’t get to the farthest corners they did by just rolling there. I think your cats were trying to interfere and rescue things. That was incredibly brave of them.” Three of the four cats, the twins and Thor, were now looking in the doorway at the police with great interest but not interfering with their work. Michael looked at them thoughtfully, especially Thor whose eyes gleamed especially intently as he watched.
The police officer then left the room and asked Michael if he thought he could give them a beginning list, everyone knowing that since it was Apollonia’s home, she was the only one who could give them a complete list when she got out of the hospital. Michael knew most of the contents of the house but not everything, and gave a list of what he remembered. The two police officers dusted for prints and noticed muddy footprints in the bathroom and measured them. There were more footprints by the back door. They measured and photographed Michael’s shoes, since they all knew that his shoe prints would be among the ones at the doors, but then could rule those out. The odd thing was, if it wasn’t Michael, it was Thor who kept leading them to every clue possible, except for two items which Thor knew Michael had and yet did not let the police know about. Michael held back two things, now hidden beneath the pillow that Delilah now rested on, after she’d decided the police were ok. Michael had let them pet her and reassure her, telling them how he’d found her. Thor went to lay beside her while Michael answered the usual questions from the police and offered them a cup of coffee, which they had politely refused.
They left, and Michael cleaned up the house as well as he might while making himself some coffee and breakfast waiting for a decent hour of the morning when he would have to call his sister, and some other calls. He found a piece of plywood in the cellar and nailed it over the bathroom window with the twins, Yin and Yang watching with barely concealed disappointment. The plywood had no latch, of course and the room was now dark besides. He looked at them, “ok, I’ll leave the light on and I’ll put water in the sink for you to splash around, but I’m not filling the tub and letting you swing from the planter. I’ve got enough of a mess to clean up before your Mom gets home.”
At 7:30 AM Michael began to make some calls. The first was to his best friend and virtually another brother to himself and his sister, “Roger, call the guys, we’ve got a big problem at Apollonia’s. She’s been burglarized and I’ve got a window that needs replacing, possibly a door, depending on whether I can repair it and the frame or not, and her favorite cat is now traumatized. No, she wasn’t badly hurt, more terrified I think, but Delilah and Thor definitely tussled with the burglars. That’s why I want you to make the next call to Jim Darr. He still works in the lab, right?” Roger answered that yes, Jim still did and, in fact, was now the day shift manager in the blood lab in the area’s best hospital. “Good, tell him to expect a package of two plastic bags labelled Thor and Delilah with swabs in them that have blood that I cleaned from under their claws. Tell Jim I’m asking him to analyze the blood on them ASAP. I’ll pay whatever he wants. I’m not waiting for the police to slowly get around to figuring it out. They’re good guys but you know how the laws limit them, and I don’t want Delilah to have to go to any lab for any exams. Poor baby, she’s had more than enough tonight..”
Michael dragged the phone from the dining room to the living room to check on Delilah. Thor was still grooming her and she was still on the pillow. He said to Roger, ” I want these crooks first before our friends in blue get them. I think one swab will turn out to have a mixture of Thor’s blood and one culprit. He lost a claw in these guys, probably did one of them real damage. Delilah hasn’t lost claws but had blood beneath them, so I think the cats might have literally nailed two of the burglars. Apparently we now have two dynamic duos. Get one of the guys over here to pick up the bags and deliver them to Jim. Then help me and my sister Aurelia spread the word to all our friends and acquaintances in the area hospitals. Tell them to watch for at least one, possibly two, probably teenage burglars to come in with some bad cat scratches and the beginnings of cat scratch fever and call me immediately when either or both of them come in.” What? How do I know how many burglars and age? Footprints, It looks like four, three younger ones similar in age and size and one older guy. He probably had the car. From the amount of fur all over the place, probably all four cats were harassing them but Delilah and Thor really mixed it up with them and I’m betting two of the burglars were scratched, the second trying to help the first throw off Thor when Delilah jumped him or something. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple of cat bites on these guys, too, but of course the cats would have cleaned up any blood in their mouths right away. They are usually really fastidious about their paws, too, so I’m lucky to have gotten some swabs from Delilah and Thor. Thanks, Roger.”
Michael looked toward the bathroom, where the twins were now scratching at the door. He’d closed it accidentally after using the toilet and they wanted their splash sink, again. Oh, Roger, you still there? Good! I almost forgot, I’ll take the measurements of the window glass and we’ll see who’s available to get a new piece. If it’s not too much, I’m thinking of going with a piece of Lexan this time. I’d like to see the next idiot try throwing a rock or a brick through that! One more thing, ask one of the guys to pick me up a small choice steak. No, It’s not for me, it’s for the cats. I’ll explain when you get here, but Apollonia didn’t quite lose everything.”
At 8 p.m. in the evening, Michael got the call he’d been expecting. Susan, Apollonia’s good friend from across the street had her husband, Red, minding their children when he returned home and she had gone to help Michael clean up Apollonia’s house and return most things to where they normally belonged in drawers, cabinet and armoire, and launder some she felt had needed cleaning from the rough handling given–and the cat fur that settled in the apparent melee. Roger and another friend had come over to help replace the window, with Lexan, and repair the door. When the call came in, Michael asked Susan and Rick the other friend to stay with most of the cats and scooped up Thor and put him in the cat carrier he and Roger had waiting in the kitchen. Then he and Roger headed to the hospital where two teenage males with a number of bad cat scratches, and a couple of cat bites, most with significant swelling around them had just arrived and were kept waiting by their Michael’s and his sisters’ friends.
Michael had EMT training was sometimes an assistant to the nurses and doctors in the ER. Normally he was a technologist, computer programmer, and in charge of a lot of maintenance of equipment and ran test equipment under his sister’s or another head nurse or physician’s assistant’s directions.. He chose not to finish college and become a doctor because he’d never been able to completely rid himself of an occasional unexpected and uncontrollable tendency to faint at the sight of enough blood all at once, or mangled body from a car accident or some such event. Roger made sure Michael was fortified with two shots of palinka stashed in canteen, just before he entered the ER, and then sat down with Thor in a nearby waiting area. Thor stood up in the carrier, sniffed the air and his tail began switching but he sat down in the carrier waiting without a sound. Michael donned a mask and gloves, gathered some wound cleaning and treating equipment and went to the first of the two teenagers, what the staff thought was likely the younger of the two. The rest of the staff in the ER knew what was up and had put the two suspects at opposite ends of the ER so they could not communicate with one another and told the other patients not to worry if they heard screaming, sometimes it was tough on patients when they had to have some wounds they’d neglected and had gotten really bad, cleaned and dressed. Michael went to work with one of the regular staff assistants standing by with a notepad. He asked the first suspect his name. “John Smith,” came the reply, from the slightly built, sullen, brown eyed, black haired boy with the olive skin complexion.
Really?” Michael asked, “you sure of that. You don’t look like any John Smith to me, ” Man, you’ve got a lot of infection, a lot of pus in this big scratch on your hand. I’m going to have to lance it and clean it out. Rellie, can you hold him down for me while I do that. Michael’s sister also masked, stepped forward, with a grim look in her eyes, brushing past the nurse’s assistant with the clipboard.. Rellie wasn’t much smaller than Michael and had been used to help restrain patients the police brought in high on PCP. She was a head nurse and waiting for the results of her exams to become a physician’s assistant. She was trusted to run most of the ER. She grabbed the suspect’s arm and held it firmly while Michael lanced the wound fiercely and pus oozed out. The teenager screamed, and Michael asked again, “What did you say your name was?. This looks bad and I might have to contact your Mom or someone. You might have to stay overnight in the hospital for treatment.”
“Ok, ok,” the teenager said, “my name is Roberto Ruiz but I’m not staying with my Mom. She’s in Florida. I live with my cousins. One of them is here with me at the other end of this place.”
“I need to suction this infection out, and it’s going to hurt a bit. Address?” Michael asked.
“Uh, we brought cash to pay, you don’t need our address. Aieee!,” the teen screamed again, as Michael squeezed the hand while suctioning the wound. “Try again on that address,” Michael said calmly.
The teen gave an address. Michael recognized the street and numbering system so he knew it was real. He also gave his age, sixteen, about what Michael expected.
“Now we need to clean this up and dress the wound and you may need an injection as well as antibiotics but it would help to treat this if we knew what kind of animal scratched you and when you got this wound and the others I see need some treatment. How did this happen.” Michael asked as his sister continued to hold the teen’s arm down.
“Stray cat scratch – near my cousin’s house.”
“Oh really, I guess we’d better get a series of rabies shots ready. There will be seven of them at the site of each wound, and the treatment will need to be repeated. Is that a wound next to your index fingernail. We’ll have to shoot that series up your nail.. Have you had a tetanus shot in the past, also?”
“It wasn’t really a stray cat, it was a cat in er, my cousin’s neighbor’s house and I tried to catch it and play with it.”
“Well this cat might still be dangerous to people and animal control will want to talk to its owner and possibly quarantine it or euthanize it. Which neighbor?”
“I don’t remember, AIEEE, what are you doing now? Can’t I have a pain killer?”
” You’re under age and as far as I know, your cousin is also. We can’t administer anything but antibiotics without your parent or a guardian being present or signing an authorization. Now I have to clean out the wound as much as possible with hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol, and you know, I think in this case some saline solution would help really sanitize this.” Michael proceeded to thoroughly clean the hand wounds with the three solutions as the hapless teen writhed and screamed and he asked more questions. “How many cats?” since there were a lot of scratches. “Two,” came the answer. “What did they look like?” Thor’s and Delilah’s descriptions. “When did this happen?” Last night. “How late?” About 1 AM actually.
“So, you were playing with a neighbor’s cats at 1 AM in the morning when this all happened? Do you really think any of your neighbors is going to confirm that? Now I want to know what really happened, because it just so happens my sister’s house was burglarized at about the same time and she has cats.” Michael then pulled down his mask long enough to give the teen his most evil deadly Genghis Khan leer.
By the time all the hand wounds on the first teen had been cleaned and treated with topical antibiotics and bandaged, a tetanus shot and internal antibiotics and mild sedative administered by a doctor, Michael had obtained the cousin’s name, his age which was 18 and old enough to allow the mild sedative, confirmed the address, and confirmed that Roberto and his cousin had been among the four burglars in Apollonia’s house, but Roberto, being from Florida, didn’t know the other two burglars or the fence because these were his cousin’s friends and contacts. Roberto didn’t know the city well nor Apollonia’s neighborhood and couldn’t confirm the street, though he could describe the interior of the house. A burly male nurse, another friend to Michael and Rellie took Rellie’s place and Michael and Rellie made their way to the next burglar.
Jaime deLeon was indeed older and thought he was tougher than his cousin whom he’d heard scream in the opposite end of the ER. He was immediately suspicious when Michael asked him to confirm his name and address. Jaime also had hand wounds and at least one had a deep puncture wound with a ragged slash just like a cat might make who had sunk a claw in, intending to grab and hold on, and lost the claw instead when the person wrenched his hand away. Rellie grabbed his arm while Michael went to work and lanced the wound while asking him, who else was with you and Roberto?” Jaime screamed almost as much as his cousin. His hand wound was deeper and Michael took his time cleaning it out, thoroughly. By the time he was done cleaning and dressing Jaime’s wounds, he had the names of all four burglars, a ring leader who had not been present and the fence, but the stubborn 18 year old would not admit it was Apollonia’s house they had burglarized.
“Oh I think you know the address and neighborhood, Jaime, and I have a witness who can prove it.” Michael said. You or someone else you know well had to case out the neighborhood to know that my sister was in the hospital and when her house was not being watched enough and you knew that there was jewelry and other things inside, to make the burglary worth your time and effort. And I’m going to prove it, in front of witnesses, right now.” He then turned and asked the assistant to bring in Roger and the item he had sitting next to him. Roger entered with the cat carrier. Thor looked at the burglar on the gurney stood up and yowled, loudly, once, and flung himself at the carrier door to get at the man who had hurt his family and home. Jaime stared at the cat with horror and tried to back away on the gurney, toward the wall.
Michael whipped around and hissed, “you can tell me exactly what I want to know or I can let Thor out to finish the job he started when you broke into my sister’s house, and then Rellie and I can work on your new wounds.” Thor sat down in the carrier growling, but like Michael waited. Jaime looked from the equally gleaming predator eyes of Michael, to Michael’s sister Rellie, and then to Thor and sighed and said, “alright, just get that hellcat outta here,” and then added much more humbly, “please!”
Roger and Thor returned to the waiting area and after administering the injections to Jaime, Rellie called the police.
At the end of the treatment of the two burglars, Michael asked the nurse’s assistant with the clipboard to quickly make a second copy of all the notes and give it to him and be sure to give the originals to the police. The assistant quickly returned with the copies. Michael then left with Roger and Thor.
When the police arrived, the two burglars were glad to see them and indignantly began to protest at the treatment they’d received for their wounds. The police, doing their duty, questioned the ER staff and asked them if anything aside from the standard treatment for animal wounds had occurred. All of them answered, no nothing really unusual, except they were able to identify the cats who made the scratches to be sure they didn’t need to give anyone any rabies shots. One officer quirked an eyebrow up when he heard this, but didn’t ask for more information. He knew Michael, and Michael’s family, well. The staff explained that some of the wounds had been bad and the two teens had let them go too long before coming into the ER, and reminded the officers that the wounds were cat scratches and bites which are often worse than those of a dog. Cats do have venom sacs in their mouths and behind their claws and when the cats are very stressed or frightened they will release their venom. So the wounds had been bad and very infected, needed a lot of clean up work and antibiotics, shots, the works. The police arrested the two burglars, and the assistant handed them the envelope with the transcripts of the questions and answers as had been asked and received.
Well, I wish that I could say this all ended very well and that an entire burglary ring and the fence all went to prison and Apollonia got all that was stolen back again. Because this story is very much based on truth I can’t. The teens, like any other persons arrested, were permitted their phone calls and one call went to a gang member. An entire gang of mostly teens with some young adults, who were mostly cousins and friends to one another was eventually arrested over the next few weeks, including an older man from Detroit. Blood tests did come back on the samples Michael and the police had submitted to the two labs and they did match two of the burglars with one swab having a mix of Thor’s blood and one suspect. Yes, they did go to prison. The fence did not go to prison, however. His fate was actually much worse.
The fence was found, by my cousin, minutes after a van had been seen by the fence’s neighbors leaving at high speed through the neighborhood. When Michael heard that, he told the neighbors to call the police immediately and only entered as he heard them approach. He knew what he would find. The fence was dead, and still warm, but already beyond he help of CPR, laying on the floor next to a chair and desk, but the desk drawers had all been emptied, even a hidden one at the back of the desk, and dust ringed the space where a file cabinet had once stood. Everything else that might have been of any use or significance in detailing the man’s life was gone. The van was eventually discovered to have crossed the bridge from Detroit into Windsor, Ontario. It was presumed that a lot of stolen goods had been on board, as well as all incriminating evidence of the activities of the ring. My cousin, Michael, his various assorted friends on both sides of the law, and the police questioned every known and suspected fence and pawn shop, and went dozens of flea markets, between Philadelphia and Chicago and down to St. Louis and nothing that could be proved to be Apollonia’s ever appeared, was found or was turned in. The police concluded that the ring had sent the items from her burglary and several others to Canada.
Canadian authorities and Interpol were eventually notified after the autopsy showed that the initial belief the fence had suffered a heart attack while trying to flee might have been wrong. The next day as the body of the fence was laying on the gurney and being thoroughly looked over by the medical examiner, the doctor noted some tiny bruises around what looked like needle puncture marks. No poisons showed up in other tests, but, as the police and Michael discussed, an air bubble or the right amount of potassium wouldn’t show up in an autopsy and yet kill. The fact the van had also been seen crossing into Canada and the older ring member in Detroit who had a history of being involved in previous burglary rings all added up to the probability of an international ring, with customers of unique and high end stolen goods likely in Europe. Michael was told he should probably let Interpol and the FBI, handle this, since two states and a foreign country were already known to be involved. Michael very reluctantly agreed.
Apollonia was regretful over the loss of custom and heirloom jewelry, the antique linens and laces and her computer but as she said, “these are just things.” She told her brother and friends, “I’m still richer than most people. I have my home, my family, a lot of true, good friends and the bravest cats in the world who had even managed to rescue a few treasures. I feel pretty darned lucky, all considered.”
The cats got their steak dinner and some cream besides and they all got some catnip toys to help them recover. Apollonia and Aurelia both got large dogs, with the first prerequisite being they had to like cats. The cats had to learn to put up with occasional doggy slobber. Many other neighbors got large dogs as well, and perhaps not so surprisingly, there were a number of new cats living in the neighborhood and well pampered by their owners. Thor, Delilah, Yin and Yang have passed on to heaven many years ago now, along with Michael, Apollonia and Aurelia. Michael, Thor and Delilah passed first but their spirits lingered long enough to escort the next subject of this year’s two Hallowe’en stories to heaven also, as all four had known one another, and Schwarzschatten, whom my vet usually called “Schwarzenegger” was another Hallowe’en cat…
A Visit from an Irate Banshee
Samhain / Hallowe’en Short Story
© by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker, October 24, 2017
Hugh O’Donnell was dead. That wasn’t his real name, but he was a historical re-enactor and lived his character more hours of a day than not, so most people knew him by that name. He really was descended from the O’Donnell clan. If I ever had any doubt, that was firmly dispelled a few hours later. His ashes had just been retrieved by his friend Reggie and were now in a small medieval chest sitting on a small folding garden table in the middle of a parking lot covered, for the sake of proper appearances, by a cloth.
It was Thursday night, Celtic night, about a week before Samhain, (Hallowe’en to those who are unfamiliar with Celtic culture, Wiccans or re-enactors) at his favorite pub, the King’s Oak, and all his re-enactor friends were in period correct costume, gathered in a chilly moonlight circle round the little casket.
Serena directed all in the circle assemble to hold hands. Her husband, Marcus, had a two-handled goblet and filled it with Hugh’s favorite whisky, (Irish of course). The bottle was placed next to the chest and, since normally no one was allowed to have alcoholic beverages beyond the courtyard-patio of the pub, lookouts checked over their shoulders to make sure no police were arriving. Perhaps they had been advised and were inclined to look the other way, for a half hour or so, this being a special occasion. I never knew.
My youngest sister Annie and I were uneasy. Annie had become reacquainted with Hugh about a year or so before his death, had dated Hugh for a few months. Then she spurned him, (again). “He was a nice enough guy,” she said, “but had really let himself go. That pot belly and straggly beard he’d allowed to grow were a turn off.” She liked well him, but not enough to date and be serious about him, but Hugh really liked her a LOT, and so she’d been avoiding him. Hugh also hung around with Reggie and she didn’t like Reggie. Reggie was never anything but Sir Reginald, whether at a festival or not, and she thought he was a bad influence on Hugh, and that Hugh might have gone to the doctor sooner had he not been thinking so much of himself as a macho Irish lord long before modern medicine. Still, Hugh was gone, and she mourned his passing as a friend.
Perhaps it was the full moon, and wisps of clouds and the beginning of an evening fog blown about the sky by a night breeze, in the chilly October air. Perhaps it was the approaching Samhain, the time of the year when night increases and our ancient Celtic ancestors believed the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead weaken. Somehow Serena’s voice was more resonant as she called us to remember the good in Hugh, say a prayer for him, out of our own beliefs, and to mourn his passing. Several of us spoke of favorite memories. Serena called on his spirit, which she believed had not yet gone to its final destination to listen and be loved. Marcus filled the two-handled goblet again and again and blessed it as each two persons in the ring of about 20 drank from it in honor of Hugh. Before the bottle was finished, Reggie sprinkled a few drops over the casket holding Hugh’s remains, “to ensure Hugh had one last taste of his favorite.” Annie, reluctantly described a few memories of Hugh and herself, as she’d first known him and said good-bye.
This seemed to inspire Serena, who then told Hugh’s spirit, “we know you have a fine destination with other loved ones and your ancestors waiting but you need not hurry there if you do not wish. You are welcome by this circle of love to linger and stop in your friends’ homes and lives and say good bye to each of them in your own way.”
In that very moment, the breeze stopped, the night became very still, and I thought I heard a distant shriek. A few others did also. The circle tensed, and we all looked about. Nothing solid approached. no teenager racing about and squealing tires, but the darkness seemed to increase. A dark cloud had spread across the moon and seemed to hover over us. Annie was real uneasy at this point and shifted her feet a few times and looked over her shoulder. My instincts practically screamed inside of my head, “Serena what were you thinking! Hugh IS listening and he’s a practical joker, for heaven’s sake!” Although we couldn’t see him, Annie and I both KNEW Hugh was indeed present, and not just his ashes. Hugh had indeed been listening and he was thinking, and Annie had been the last person to speak of him and was special to him. The hair along the back of my neck raised and Annie complained she had goose bumps all over her arms. It was getting colder, besides darker, and we’d finished the bottle and opened the circle again.
“I need another drink’, said Annie. ‘I don’t like what I’m feeling.” Several of us headed into the pub, and as I turned, I thought I caught a glimpse of Hugh in his favorite costume, his saffron shift and dark green tunic over it, smiling and waving as he turned toward another couple we knew. I blinked and looked again, but the vision had faded! I told my husband, after I turned to him, “I’m going with Annie for another drink.” My husband quirked an eyebrow, looked intently into my face and understood. This wasn’t our first encounter with such things.
Ten years prior, the ghost of police officer, who had once lived there, used to pace the halls of our previous home. Every night at 2 a.m. the upstairs landing would creak at his footsteps. Virtually everyone who spent the night heard and asked who was restless the night before.
In our current home, my late mother, and a cousin still occasionally “visited,” such as the time, my mother’s portrait painting glowed, a cat stopped right in front of it nearly tripping me, and I heard her voice telling me to get to the doctor, NOW. I did, and was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer. Mom had died of this same affliction, and she apparently didn’t think I should join her just yet. We caught the cancer so early I didn’t even need chemotherapy. My late cousin, Michael, who had died just after Mom, visited also on occasion. He liked my cats, and was an occasional jokester. He’d let us know he was around by swinging a door back and forth, especially any that needed a little graphite on its hinges, or helping me with occasional recipes. This was partly how I had one occasion of five-alarm Hungarian gulyas (he’d swapped the sweet Hungarian paprika container with the hot on that occasion) and another where the amount of brandy in a marinade seemed to be more than I thought I’d put into the recipe and the chicken not only caught fire, but singed several branches of the bougainvillea next to the grill.
I should explain a little about my family. My sister and I descend from at least two families of my late mother’s who were long ago accused of witchcraft, and having extra “sight,” etc. By one vote of the justices, an early Virginia county court narrowly acquitted the sister of one ancestress of witchcraft, and another had been driven out of her community on the same charge.
My late father, himself, was a natural warlock of sorts, and his own mother prayed for his everlasting soul when she discovered some of his extra talents, beginning in his childhood. He found not just water, but minerals as well, and was able to see in the dark. There were also stories of Dad occasionally turning into a wolf, but those were just stories, right? His forestry and hunting skills were legendary, though, and when he was growing up, he only went hunting with his father or a very few trusted friends, some of whom were Native American, in the wilds of upper Michigan or parts of Canada near his home. He served with the Code Talkers in WWII, among other things, in the Japanese Islands campaign, and was one of only a very few of his original platoon, and even division, to survive. Grandmother said a lot of rosaries every night, for as long as anyone had known her, for her husband and her son. Interestingly, her own family background included a Transylvanian line or two, which she was usually inclined to forget, and a story or two about an ancestor’s encounter with someone who thought he or she was a vampire. I once tried to calculate how many rosaries were in the multiple novenas said every night for several decades since 1907, and decided it all was more than I wanted to contemplate. Clearly there were deep, dark secrets in far more than just a couple of family lines, but most of it was just fairy stories, though more like those of the Brothers Grimm, before editing and revision, rather than Andrew Lang.
In my immediate family, there were four of us children, but the degree of unique family talents varied widely. My other younger sister seemed to have almost none, and bitterly resented the rest of us who did, telling the rest of us we were all simply insane. I probably had the most of the unique talents, so she saved her greatest wrath and most spiteful barbs for me–whenever Mom and Dad weren’t around to hear her. Long ago Mom had told me a strange tale of a night on a beach dimly lit by a crescent moon, in the Pacific at the end of the war, when my father didn’t seem to be himself. It sounded to me too much like the old fairy tale of Uther changing into Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall and seducing Ygraine of Tintagel, only Mom had implied that my father might have either been a Selkie who took human form, or, in his invisible energy state had temporarily merged with and taken over my father, and I dismissed it. Any resulting child is mostly human, but not entirely, and never really completely fits, or feels comfortable with the human world, nor should it spend any time in it, the world of the Shee, either. But this was just another fairy story and Mom was just using it to help me cope with my middle sister, or so I thought. These things just didn’t happen in the 20th century. Mom told me to ignore these barbs, and said the extras might be possibly because I had an unusual birth and might not entirely be a full sister to the other three. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll always have extra protection she doesn’t,” Mom said. Then I found out the night we’d had the circle of friends say good-bye to Hugh, that maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed it all as “just stories,” after all.
At a table near the fireplace in the King’s Oak, I sipped a large Irish coffee, heavy on the whip cream, light on the alcohol–I’m a certifiable cork-sniffer, according to my husband, and tried to relax listening to the music of the Irish session going on. This late in the evening, it had gotten past the jigs and reels played with gusto at top speed and there were more airs by Carolan, and soft laments, more soothing. Annie, who was not much of a pre-modern music lover, got roaring hooched, had an enjoyable argument with two other friends, over “the meaning of the road to perdition,” while occasionally glaring in the direction of Serena, and finally began to doze off at the bar. She actually wasn’t in much better shape, in many ways, than Hugh had been, but no one in his or her right mind would have ever dared tell her that. We all wanted to live long and enjoyable lives. Annie had a hell of a temper and occasionally held grudges.
Three of us carried her to our car. She snored all the way home, but woke to the sound of the garage door opening as we parked. The fog had come in, and the wind had picked up. It started to drizzle and the vines on the side of the house were were already wet, slapping against the walls and scratching under the eaves. The sliding back door had begun to rattle slightly and our two black cats had both retreated to our bedroom upstairs, neither lingering on the sofa downstairs, which given their usual rivalry, was a little unusual. Annie, who lived with us, at that time, retreated to her own suite, saying, “I can’t stand this. I’m taking a sleeping pill.” She took more than that.
Annie had a flask of vodka upstairs for high stress occasions, like the too often malfunctioning electronics at her job. Her department, she had long declared, was the orphan stepchild of the company, and got all the leftover bits and pieces of electronic machinery that no one else wanted, which she had to try to get and keep working together, while meeting daily deadlines.
Annie and I had inherited something of a talent for generating electrical energy at times, when very stressed, that in her case could and did cause a few electronics mishaps, including a couple of fires. She hated computers in the first place and hated it even more when they were linked to other devices to accomplish anything, and especially if they were combined with telecommunications equipment. She would have been much happier living and working, before the 1980’s. She finally got a full replacement of one particularly bad bubble-gum and baling wire rigged lash-up, when one piece of machinery overheated and blew apart, causing a fire that evacuated the entire building, and she’d been at the other end of the room fuming about its latest over-time causing misbehavior when it happened. Electronics–and people–survived much better if she really relaxed in the evening.
I’d only once had something like that happen, but though the blown printer-copier had flung what looked like shredded steel wool, all over my study, along with a few overheated bits of plastic, there had been no fire. Besides I’d simply tried to exceed the maximum number of copies too long and too fast, right? It had nothing to do with the ingrates who had suddenly decided they wanted them yesterday and, being a non-profit, never paid me for my work.
My husband and I watched a little of some late night comedy variety show with the cats cuddling up next to us and turned off the television and went to sleep. I then started to dream about Hugh flying about to all his friends’ homes, saying good-bye, mostly by entering through their dreams. Sometimes, they would wake to his presence, but most often not. Unfortunately he wasn’t alone. He was being followed–chased– by a young woman with very long, nearly garnet red hair, and dark hazel green eyes in a black gown and hooded cape and she was trying to get him to stop his rounds and go with her. She was his family banshee, she protested, and was to escort him to his new home, but she was a FAMILY banshee for a very large clan, and she had other visits to make and Hugh was blowing her schedule. “Please, come with me,” she pleaded, “you’ve been a good person, and people are waiting for you in your new home.”
“Not yet,’ Hugh would reply and wave her off, “I’ve got more friends to visit, waken and bid adieu. I’m full of energy now, and I can fly and it feels great! I want more time – I’ll go with you eventually.”
He made another few visits and the banshee became angrier, screeching so they could hear her and making his friendly visits difficult. “You have no idea how loud I can get,” she warned him, “or why.” He approached our house, ignored the banshee again, and I saw him land in the front side garden, though he’d never been there. Hugh looked up toward Annie’s window on the second floor and seemed to know that it was hers. He walked through the closed front door, as though it was not there, and started toward the stairs. The banshee was now trying to grab his arm, and his shift sleeve flapped back and forth, as he shook her off, and he darted up the stairs.
At that point the banshee began to shriek in sheer irate frustration–and so did one of my cats. I started to wake and still, more than half asleep, sighed and mumbled to them to “knock it off. I know what’s going on, I’m not involved and I need my sleep.” Somehow the banshee heard me and she spun around and stopped at my doorway. “You can hear me? You can see me?” she demanded of me. ‘You’re not afraid of me?” I could feel her presence and now, more alert, saw her, at least some of her. “No,” I answered.
“Why not?” the banshee asked, “are you a Shee, also?” I was now fully awake–and the male cat had switched from his warning-siren yowl to growling and pacing back and forth across the end of the bed. The other cat had dashed behind the headboard and was making mewing sounds from behind and beneath, as if to say, “Mom, make it go away, please!”
I suddenly remembered all the old stories I’d heard about banshees and humans. Humans were not supposed to see banshees unless they were dying. Only another Shee, or someone part Shee, could see and interact with them and not die. Not only that, they were generally family specific. They were once married, or loved and had a sexual relationship with a long ago member of that family. They had once been fair folk, fairies, in Ireland and Scotland called Shee, but become mortal to share the shorter life of a person they loved. They then were abandoned by the person they loved or killed by a relative, but not until they’d given birth to a member of that family. Thus, the combination of circumstances permanently tied them to the family. Banshees are a kind of angel of death, but as a family personal escort, and not for everyone. A bad person in the family had no normally friendly personal escort to a different hereafter. There was another order of beings that took them wherever they were to go.
This wasn’t my first encounter with a banshee, but I somehow didn’t think it was a good idea to tell her this. My own family had a banshee somewhere in it who escorted good males and warned those he had loved the most of his passing, especially if it was untimely, as it was for my uncle. Many years before, I’d heard the wind that sounded like crying and wailing before, as did my mother. My next sister, bless her, slept through the whole night my mother and I were up, in a solid brick and stone apartment building back east, listening to a keening wind that wasn’t really there to most people. When I looked out the front room window, not a leaf was moving on the nearby trees. I saw though, glimpses of something like a dark cloak and sleeves beating at the edges of the window, and then a shadow circling above and in front of the building. I believe my mother saw it also, as she occasionally stared out the window, but she said nothing and I didn’t ask. She got down the Bible from the top of a side-board and began to read to me instead until dawn, when the strange wind stopped. My mother wasn’t surprised at all to get the telegram, a few hours later, that told her her favorite, and closest, brother was dead at the age of just 35, and that he died unexpectedly.
So, instead, half whispering to not alarm the cats further, or wake my husband, I carefully spoke to Hugh’s banshee. I told her that I was more human than anything else and very mortal, with hearing that could be damaged by continuous loud noises, such as she and/or the cat had just inflicted. I told her that I could see her better when I was sleeping, but yes, even mostly awake, I could still see her black gown and cape now, though not her face, any longer, and that she seemed to be growing rather large. ‘Why was that happening?’ I wondered, mentally.
My husband, whom I used to suspect could sleep through a bomb blast, was beginning to stir, though, by now, the cat was no longer yowling and I was mostly whispering. He rolled over toward me, and asked, “what’s going on, and why is the cat growling? We haven’t seen any raccoons for weeks.” ‘We have a banshee.‘, I replied. “Oh?” He asked, and rolled on his back and looked around. “All I see is a dark shadow by the door, but I’m not awake. Is that all?”
‘You’re seeing just the upper part of her. The rest of her is filling up the lower floor, and I think her head is now in the attic. Her size seems to be related to how upset she is,’ I told him. ‘The banshee has been trying to catch Hugh ever since Serena told him he could stay with his friends longer. Hugh is now trying to wake Annie.’ The banshee bent her head down partly through the attic floor, and the shadows that were her clothing fluttered a little, as she nodded.
“Tell Hugh ‘good luck with Annie! No doubt she’s dead to the world.” My husband sighed. I’m going back to sleep.” He then rolled over on his side and pulled up his covers, as if to block out further sight and sound.
I turned to the banshee, who was watching the cat, but keeping her distance. I knew I had to do something, as the banshee was not going to leave without the stubborn Hugh, and my cat would not settle down again until she was gone. Given how large she had grown, I was not entirely sure how much damage an irate banshee might do to a house of wood and stucco. Chauncey, our male black cat finally seemed to realize that the banshee might be an unwelcome night time visitor, but, as long as she came no closer, was barely tolerable. The growl and pacing subsided to a soft, “rrrr,” as he sat upright at the edge of the bed, with his tail switching back and forth. He flexed his claws a few times, just to show he was still on-guard.
The banshee then began to vent, loudly complaining about every detail of the long chase she’d made all over the South Bay area since Serena’s ritual had unwittingly enabled Hugh to linger. No one, especially the ungrateful Hugh, appreciated her efforts and responsibilities, and on and on she went. The banshee swelled and grew ever larger, the longer she complained. She was now filling both floors like a giant balloon of darkness, except for my husband’s and my bedroom, and with that inner third eye that had not seemed to shut when I woke, I could see that her head was now bobbing furiously over the roof above the attic and her long hair was shaking the bougainvillea, making it slap again into the soffits and sides of the house. My female cat mewed plaintively from behind the headboard, again.
Hugh also heard the banshee’s commotion, and began to protest at her crowding him, while he shook Annie trying unsuccessfully to wake her and say good-bye. I told Hugh he was wasting his time and that of the banshee, that Annie was near comatose, from a sleeping pill, if not two, and the extra alcohol. Stubborn Hugh was sure he could wake her anyway. Hugh was still into the ideal of the macho, all powerful medieval male lord, even if now he was little more than a vapor.
Now the banshee was about to envelop the entire house from the outside, and the windows began to rattle as though in a gale. Since she couldn’t shake Hugh, the banshee seemed about to shake the entire house apart! I wasn’t far behind the banshee in my own feelings of exasperation. Chauncey began to growl again, and my husband had stopped snoring. How in blazes was I going to convince Hugh that saying another good-bye to my sister was futile and he really should go with his family banshee? I did the only thing I could think of quickly and prayed, silently. Where are my guardian angels? Where are Christ and his Blessed Mother, Mary? Are they all that busy elsewhere?
Suddenly, from the back wall of the stairwell, two lights appeared and began coming toward us. They passed through the banshee’s gown, and she looked down. Car headlights only reflected from the next house into my bedroom and not into the wall in the stairwell. It was obvious I had more unworldly visitors, about to appear! Probably they were ghosts -but ghosts on a mission. Had my prayers been answered and a heavenly cavalry arrived?
Well, it was not exactly a cavalry, more like a couple of Texas rangers! One of them, in life, even had a rather checkered history with law enforcement.
My often iconoclastic, and always irrepressible, Hungarian cousin Michael took form in his favorite black monk’s bath robe, smiled, and introduced himself to the banshee, with these words:
“Hello, I’m Michael, Cecilia’s cousin and I am very happy to meet you. I’ve always wanted to meet a banshee. We didn’t have them in my part of the family. However, I know you’re busy, so I’ll take care of Hugh and send him down on you. Cecilia’s mother Lily Maie is here waiting for you and will help you do what you need to do. You will like her.”
Although surprised at cousin Michael’s appearance, I remembered something. Michael had been engaged to a beautiful mortician at the time of his early death, and Maruschka was a visual double for Hugh’s banshee.
Now curious, about my strange family who would all get involved with a banshee on my behalf–and could see and hear her, the banshee decided to go talk with this Lily Maie, my mother. Their unexpected visit was most unusual and such an interruption had never happened before, none of it! Getting this much attention, was very rare, indeed!.
The dark shadow began to shrink away from the upstairs and flow down the stairs. Michael watched the banshee depart and then turned to me, “Everything is going to be just fine, now. I’ll retrieve Hugh and your Mother will calm the banshee down. Just don’t go downstairs for a little while yet, and don’t let that cat out of the bedroom as a banshee can feel a cat’s claws and teeth, and we don’t want her getting upset again.” Michael then reached out and stroked Chauncey, who reacted as though this was the best moment of his night rolling on his back for a ghostly tummy rub, and purring.
‘Chauncey’ was the name that Michael used for special friends on occasions when he thought they were behaving, amusingly, like English aristocrats, and this cat had been, from the start, a little Sir Launcelot, and took his protector role very seriously. Chauncey was also very fastidious in cleaning himself or dining–“damned prissy sometimes,” my sister, had commented. Chauncey also announced himself, like a little clarion, or the changing of a guard, every time he came in the house or a room. He and Michael had become instant friends, even before Michael died, and they stayed friends, ever after. “I’ll see you all later,” Michael then said, followed by “Chauncey behave yourself now. You need to stay here with Cecilia,” and Michael headed into Annie’s bedroom. Chauncey crept to my side and settled in for some head rubbing and scratching, and my husband resumed snoring.
I heard two male voices arguing, and Annie drowsily muttering, then shouting, ‘I’m awake damn it! Go away! Both of you! Especially, you Michael – you almost killed me twice when we were kids, and I still haven’t forgiven you! And what in the hell are you both doing in my bedroom, anyway??? And you Hugh, I said good-bye in the Circle. You’re a nice guy, but it’s been over for a long time. Go bother Reggie!”
“I already did! Hugh protested. “He couldn’t hear me, then when I made his lamp flicker, he threw it right through me!” Hugh complained indignantly.
“Serves you right for waking people in the wee hours,” said Annie, “I’m sorry he didn’t see you, and I’m sorry you didn’t have a longer life. We’ll see each other again someday. Now, I’m sure there are lots of good people waiting for you, in your hereafter. Goodbye”
“Well yes, but I wanted to see you again,” Hugh said.
Now more alert, “I’ve heard all the same stories you have’, quipped Annie, ‘You can see me anytime from anywhere–you just wanted ME to see YOU! I know you, and your tricks, Hugh, you and Michael are two of a kind. Go with Michael but don’t give each other any bright ideas that cause any more problems.’ I could hear Annie roll over, probably looking at the clock. ‘Come on guys, it’s 3 a.m. and I NEED my rest at this point. That machinery at work doesn’t cooperate any better when I’m short on sleep!”
Michael laughed, “You know I could eliminate the machinery for good, this time, for you.”
“No, thank you!” Annie yelped. ‘Michael, I still remember what you did to Uncle’s old car. It’s a wonder you didn’t get arrested for that one! You didn’t learn a darned thing after you launched the old barbecue grill nearly into orbit! It was seen in DETROIT, for Chrissake! You’re worse than I am with pyrotechnics! Now GO–GET OUT, BOTH Of YOU!”
As their voices faded, I heard Hugh say, “Hmm, now this sounds interesting, just what DID you to your father’s old car?” “I blew it up–literally,” said Michael. Come with me and I’ll tell you all about it.”
The two had departed, at long last. “Finally,” Annie sighed,” I think I need another drink! I could hear her stumble into the bathroom for a glass, then back to bed.
The breeze of the early evening had returned, dissipating some of the fog, and a thin sliver of street light again came through the side of the window the blinds did not completely cover. My female cat came out from behind the headboard and curled up next to me, on the other side from Chauncey, and peace reigned.
The next day, after Annie returned from work, while serving dinner, I cautiously asked her how her day went. “Well, despite being dog tired, my day was fine,” she replied,” for once the equipment didn’t act up all day long, not once, which was a good thing.” Then she said, you know, I slept pretty well, except for a funny bit of a dream that I can’t remember completely, now. I think Serena’s antics might have triggered it, but I really can’t remember much. I dreamt that Hugh’s and Michael’s ghosts had both had visited and then went away discussing how Michael blew up his father’s old, decrepit car. Huh! I always thought Hugh reminded me of Michael. But that’s silly.”
My husband coughed slightly, and looked at me. I looked at him, about to ask him if he was alright, and he shook his head and said with a little smile, “everything’s just fine.”
A Ceremony of the Haggis
Scottish Sausage Startles Soiree
© by Tony Becker, 2016-12-04
For Christians, November 30th is the Feast of Saint Andrew, and since Saint Andrew is the patron saint of the nation of Scotland, ’tis also the season for St. Andrews Day Celebrations.
At such formal Scottish occasions, the Ceremony of the Haggis is the highlight of program. The ceremony begins with ‘Piping in in haggis‘, as a ready to serve haggis (look up haggis here), is carried on a fully decorated platter and by the chef or sometimes a kilted Scot accompanied by a kilted presenter carrying one or more bottles of single-malt Scottish whisky. This column parades around the room, eventually arriving at a presentation table front and center of the audience.
As the haggis and whisky arrive they are arranged on the table with great ceremony. Then the presenter makes appropriate remarks, cuts open the haggis and serves the dish for the assembled Scots celebrants to enjoy.
At just such an event recently, a kilted piper and presenter with two bottles of whisky, accompanied a chef with the haggis on platter performed the usual ceremonial parade around our gathering with out incident.
As the pipes fell silent, the chef placed his platter and haggis as the presenter placed his two bottles of whisky onto a table where, this being the high point of this most Scottish of Ceremonies, every eye in the room was then riveted.
Just then, the front legs of the small folding table creaked and began to fold up!
As the table began to tilt, the two bottles of whisky began to wobble and the platter began to slide forward.
The crowd gasped!
But, with remarkably quick reflexes, the presenter deftly snatched the two teetering bottles of whisky back from their impending doom as the platter clattered to the floor, and the football shaped haggis bounced unceremoniously forward and onto the floor and then slowly came to a stop in the center of the dance floor.
Seizing this opportunity, I rose from my adjacent seat, and shouted, in my best announcers voice, ‘Thank God he saved the whisky!‘ Among those laughing, my wife sputtered, ‘I’m just glad I didn’t shout ‘FUMBLE’, as I was sorely tempted, since a haggis really does look like a football!‘
To his further credit, when the crowd settled down and the mess was cleaned up, our presenter gathered himself and his haggis up, (in less than five seconds!) soldiered on and completed his remarks and service with distinction and all due decorum, and the haggis was delicious. Still, it was very much the highlight of the evening, and we will never forget that evenings Ceremony of the Haggis.
The moral of this story is, if you are preparing a haggis ceremony and using a folding table, make sure your table is locked before it is loaded! (Or at least have an eligible receiver downfield.)
Catskill Irish Arts Week
July 10-16, 2016
Part One, by Mark Levy, firstname.lastname@example.org
One of upper New York State’s best kept secrets, unless you happen to be an Irish music enthusiast, is Catskill Irish Arts Week.
As one enters East Durham, the roadsign announces ‘The Emerald Isle of New York,’ and this enclave of Irish resorts somewhat mirrors geographically the Jewish ‘Alps’ an hour or so to the south in the lower Catskills, which spawned most of America’s comedians and many other singers and entertainers, in that both were settled by immigrants wishing to preserve a bit of the old country in the new.
Every Summer for 22 years Catskill Irish Arts Week has sponsored a week-long festival featuring many great Irish and other Celtic musicians and singers, some of whom have traveled from Ireland and other places overseas to lead workshops daily and perform on the evening stage and in nightly pubs after those concerts end. This year was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. (See CatskillIrishArtsWeek.com for more info.)
I happened to be close enough teaching and performing myself at an adult camp in the northeastern Hudson Valley this year (and last year as well), and took the opportunity to play hooky a couple days from my camp an hour across the Hudson River. East Durham is a quick trip across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (try not to fall asleep!) a few miles up the road from Catskill, NY. This year was special, though, as one of my favorite singers turned out to be Artist-in-Residence. Sean O’ Se, one of Ireland’s national treasures, has been known to me since my trip to Ireland in January of 2006, when a pub owner in southwest Cork, where I had just sung at a session, gave me one of his CD’s. I was determined to tell Sean a story regarding one of the songs, ‘Skibbereen,’ I learned from his CD, and went to the 2016 Week with that in mind.
I had heard the song before when Liam Neeson sang it in the movie Michael Collins. It did not hit me to sing it myself until I heard the beautiful rendition on Sean O’ Se’s CD Songs of Cork and Kerry. Debbie and I had also visited that city, named in the song, on the southwest Cork coast earlier in the trip, so it made perfect sense for me to learn it, which I did upon returning to the States. It’s a sad but defiant song about the British landlords chasing the native Irish out of their homes during the potato famine. (See the lyric below.)
Looking forward to a night of great music and sessions, my brain was also trying to connive a way of approaching Mr. O’ Se in an unobtrusive way at an appropriate time and place. I must admit, I was a bit star-struck. I parked at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub to have a bite before the music started at the festival grounds. No sooner had I ordered my fish and chips when in walks Sean himself. I am not going to disturb him during his meal, I think to myself. Wait for the right time.
After dinner, I headed over to the festival tent where the music would begin shortly. Was checking email on the laptop when I saw Sean arrive with his guitar accompanist and producer Matthew Allen. I nodded to him and he waved back, hardly an introduction. Since he was to sing at the concert, I didn’t want to keep him from checking in with the stage manager and readying for the show. Wait for the right time.
A little while later, as I turned to put the laptop back in the car, as luck (or fate) would have it, he was walking right towards me from the outdoor rest room.
‘Sean O’Se!’ I stuck out my hand to one of County Cork’s finest singers. ‘Mark Levy. I have a quick story to tell you when you have a minute.’ ‘This is a good time, ‘ he said, so I proceeded with the following tale:
‘Back in 2006 I sang at a session at the Tin Whistle in Ahakista, County Cork. The owner of the pub gave me a couple CD’s, one of which was your Songs from Cork and Kerry. ‘Ah, yes,’ says Sean.
‘Well, about three years later we made another trip to Ireland, this time to visit my wife’s father’s family. As we spoke to her father’s first cousin Seamus in County Cavan, he recounted the story of Debbie’s grandfather’s departure from the island.
‘Me father always said he had a younger brother Paul who went to America (it was 1928). In those days when someone was leaving for there, we would have an ‘American wake,’ because we might never see them again. It was customary to sing your way off the island at that time, and the morning after three days of wake, your grandfather stood at the crossroads and sang two songs, ‘Pal of My Cradle Days‘ (1926), and ‘Skibbereen,’ which of course I told him I knew. He insisted that I sing it for him and his wife. Both were practically in tears, yelling out encouraging words as is often done in the Old Country. ‘It’s full circle’, he finally said, ‘Your grandfather left with that song, and you bring the granddaughter back with it.’
O’ Se listened to my story attentively, smiling. ‘You see, if I had not heard your singing of it, I would not have learned it to sing on such a special occasion. It was your singing that did that.’ He nodded, and went on his way to the big tent, where later he would sing a set of many of the crowd’s favorites: ‘Kate Muldoon,’ ‘Wexford Rebel Song,’ ‘Carrickfergus’ (which he sang in Gaelic as well as English – Click for the video), ‘Banks of My Lovely Lee’… and many more. The crowd, including me sitting up front, ate it up and sang along. He spoke of his long friendship and collaboration with Sean O’Riada, also from County Cork, who almost single-handedly brought back the ‘se nos’ (old style) of singing ballads. It was a wonderful night that I hoped would never end.
And it did notend there– it just got better. After the formal presentation in the big tent, with the best of Ireland’s step dancers and players and Sean’s set, the group breaks up to attend one of half a dozen or so open pub sessions. I headed to the singing session at Gavins, led by Roisin White— another of Ireland’s precious gems of traditional song. Sitting in the circle, I had decided to sing ‘Skibbereen’ and tell a bit of the story.
About an hour into the session, two course-changing things happened simultaneously: Sean O’Se himself walked in and sat across from me, so I quickly changed the tune I was about to sing not wanting to repeat the story nor sing a song I learned from him at that point. The second thing was, as I sat waiting for my turn, I gently strummed to see if my guitar was in tune, but I had forgotten that I had not played it since landing in New York, and it was completely detuned for the plane ride. I panicked, and ran outside to tune my 12-string in 30 seconds close as I could get it, and ran back in. ‘What happened to ya?’ asked Roisin. ‘I was about to call on ya.’ I told her, and everyone, about my near disaster, and after the laughter died down, proceeded to play ‘Sliabh Gallion Braes,’ another song about the landlords chasing the Irish out. Sean knew the song and, to my delight, sang along with me, smiling. I could not have been more thrilled.
Traditional Music: The Difference between Bluegrass, Old Time and Celtic
Old Time and Celtic songs are about whiskey, food and struggle. Bluegrass songs are about God, mother and the girl who did me wrong. If the girl isn’t dead by the third verse, it ain’t Bluegrass. If everyone dies, it is Celtic. Old Time and Celtic bands have nonsense names like ‘Flogging Molly’ ‘Fruit Jar Drinkers’ and ‘Skillet Lickers’ while Bluegrass bands have serious gender-specific name like ‘Bluegrass Boys,’ ‘Clinch Mountain Boys’ and ‘Backwoods Babes’. The most common Old Time keys are major and minor with only 5 notes (modal). Bluegrass uses these, plus Mixolydian and Dorian modes, and a Celtic band adds Lydian and Phrygian modes. A Bluegrass band has between 1 and 3 singers who are singing about an octave above their natural vocal range. Some Old Time and Celtic bands have no singers at all. If a Celtic band has a singer, it is usually either 1. a bewhiskered ex sailor, or 2. a petite soprano. A Bluegrass band has a vocal orchestrator who arranges three part harmonies. In an Old Time band, anyone who feels like it can sing or make comments during the performance. In a Celtic band, anyone who speaks during a performance gets ‘the look’, and songs are preceded a call for silence and a detailed explanation of their cultural significance. Bluegrass tunes & songs last 3 minutes. Old Time and Celtic tunes & songs can be any length, and sometimes last all night.
A Celtic banjo is small and quiet. An Old Time banjo is open-backed, with an old towel (probably never washed) stuffed in the back to dampen sound. A Bluegrass banjo has a resonator to make it louder. A Celtic banjo weighs 4 pounds, an Old Time banjo weighs 5 pounds, towel included and a Bluegrass banjo weighs 40 pounds. A Bluegrass banjo player has had spinal fusion surgery on all his vertebrae, and therefore stands very straight. If an Old Time banjo player stands, he slouches. A Celtic banjo player remains seated to maintain stability while cross-picking as fast as possible. An Old Time banjo player can lose 3 right-hand fingers and 2 left-hand fingers in an industrial accident without affecting his performance. A Celtic banjo player has a brace to relieve his carpal tunnel syndrome. A Celtic banjo has only 4 strings. A Bluegrass banjo has five strings and needs 24 frets. An Old Time banjo needs no more than 5 frets, and some don’t need any. A Celtic banjo player flat picks everything. A Bluegrass banjo player puts jewelry on his fingertips to play. An Old Time banjo player puts super glue on his fingernails to strengthen them. Never shake hands with an Old Time banjo player while he’s fussing with his nails.
Celtic and Bluegrass fiddles are tuned GDAE. An Old Time fiddle can be in a hundred different tunings. Old Time fiddlers seldom use more than two fingers of their left hand, and uses tunings that maximize the number of open strings played. Bluegrass fiddlers study 7th position fingering patterns with Isaac Stern, and take pride in never playing an open string. Celtic fiddlers only play open strings to imitate the bagpipes. An Old Time fiddle player can make dogs howl & incapacitate people suffering from sciatic nerve damage. An Old Time fiddle player only uses a quarter of his bow. The rest is just wasted. The Bluegrass fiddler paid $10,000 for his fiddle at the Violin Shop in Nashville. The Celtic fiddler inherited his fiddle from his mothers 2nd cousin in County Clare. The Old Time fiddler got his for $15 at a yard sale.
An Old Time guitarist knows the major chords in G and C, and owns a capo for A and D. A Bluegrass guitarist can play in E-flat without a capo. The fanciest chord an Old Time guitarist needs is an A to insert between the G and the D7 chord. A Bluegrass or Celtic guitarist needs to know C#aug+7-4. A Celtic guitarist keeps his picks in his pocket. Old Time guitarists stash extra picks under a rubber band around the top of the peg head. Bluegrass guitarists would never cover any part of the peg head that might obscure the gilded label of their $3,000 guitar.
It’s possible to have an Old Time or Celtic band without a mandolin. Mandolin players spend half their time tuning their mandolin and the other half of their time playing their mandolin out of tune. Old Time and Celtic mandolin players use ‘A’ model instruments (pear shaped) by obscure makers. Bluegrass mandolin players use ‘F’ model Gibsons that cost $100 per decibel.
A Celtic band never has a bass, while a Bluegrass band always has a bass. An old, Old Time band doesn’t have a bass, but new time Old Time bands seem to need one for reasons that are unclear. A Bluegrass bass starts playing with the band on the first note. An Old Time bass, if present, starts sometime after the rest of the band has run through the tune once depending on the players blood alcohol content. A Bluegrass bass is polished and shiny. An Old Time bass is often used as yard furniture.
It is not possible to have a Celtic band without a tin whistle or Bodhran (hand drum) if not several too many of each. Old Time and Bluegrass bands never have either. A Bluegrass band might have a Dobro. An Old Time band might have anything that makes noise including: a tambourine, jaw harp, didgeridoo, harmonica, conga, wash tub bass, miscellaneous rattles & shakers, a 1 gallon jug (empty), or a lap (mountain) dulcimer or a hammered dulcimer. In a Celtic band, it’s the musicians that are hammered.
Except for the guitar, all the instruments in a Celtic band play the melody all the time. In an Old Time band, anyone can play either melody or accompaniment at any time. In Bluegrass bands one instrument at a time solos, and every else plays accompaniment. Bluegrass bands have carefully mapped-out choreography due to the need to for solo breaks. If Old Time and Celtic band members move around, they tend to run into each other. Because of this problem, Old Time and Celtic often sit down when performing, while a Bluegrass band always stands. Because they’re sitting, Old Time and Celtic bands have the stamina to play for a square or contra dance. The audience claps after each Bluegrass solo break. If anyone talks or claps near an Old Time or Celtic band, it confuses them, even after the tune is over.
Personalities Stage Presence
Bluegrass band members wear uniforms, such as blue polyester suits with gray Stetson hats. Old Time bands wear jeans, sandals, work shirts and caps from seed companies. Celtic bands wear tour tee-shirts with plaid touring caps. All this headwear covers bald spots. Chicks in Bluegrass bands have big hair and Kevlar undergarments. Chicks in Old Time bands jiggle nicely under their overalls. There are no Chicks in Celtic bands, only Lassies with long skirts and lacey, high collars and Wenches in apple-dumplings-on-a-shelf bodices and leather mini-skirts. A Bluegrass band tells terrible jokes while tuning. An Old Time band tells terrible jokes without bothering to tune. Bluegrass band members never smile. Old Time band members will smile if you give them a drink. A Celtic band is too busy drinking to smile, tune or tell jokes. Celtic musicians eat fish and chips, Bluegrass musicians eat barbecue ribs, and Old Time musicians eat tofu. Bluegrass musicians have mild high frequency hearing loss from standing near the banjo player. Old Time musicians have moderate high frequency hearing loss from sitting near the fiddler. Celtic musicians have advanced hearing loss from playing in small pubs with all those fiddles, banjos, tin whistles and bodhrans.
A Celtic band travels in an actual Greyhound bus with marginal air conditioning and then catchs a ride from the bus stop to the festival anyway they can. A Bluegrass band travels in an old converted Greyhound bus that idles in the parking lot all weekend with the air conditioner running full blast, fumigating the county with diesel exhaust. The Celtic Band has their name on their instrument cases and a banner for their Easy-Up. The bluegrass band’s name and Inspirational Statement are painted on both the side and front of the bus in script lettering. An Old Time band travels in a rusted-out 1965 VW microbus that blows an engine in North Nowhere, Nebraska. They don’t have an Easy-Up, and it’s pretty evident that their vehicles don’t have air conditioning. Bluegrass bumper stickers are in red, white and blue and have stars and/or stripes on them. Celtic bumper stickers display banners and slogans from the old country. Old Time bumper stickers don’t make any sense (e.g. ‘Gid is My Co-Pilot?) Bluegrass players stay on the bus and Celtic musicians at the nearest Motel 6 while Old Time musicians camp in the parking lot.
Toby Adobe & Moby Adobe
Edward I. Pollak, Ph.D.