Cleaning a House – My True Ghost Story – II

My second paranormal encounter happened years later, about two miles from where I saw the ghostly apparition on Halloween night. This patch of town is charged with stranger things. I had a friend, actually he and his mother were friends of my family for years. Not quite sure how they met, or what sustained the relationship because they were so unlike my parents. They were secretive, tightfisted, aggrieved. The mother, Eleanor, had a sense of humor, but her son Thomas, not Tom, always Thomas, was a bundle of ticks and neuroses. They were not unkind people just troubled. Part of the glue that held this friendship together was, I would guess, that they and my family were residents of the area for a long time. I’m harping on this, but the relationship between mother and son, I believe, is key to the creepy things to come.

Thomas’s mother passed away after a long illness, and I was living at my folk’s place sort of in-between things. By default, Thomas and I would occasionally go to a movie, meet for a meal. I think I felt sorry for him, he seemed so dissolute without his mother – they were uncommonly attached – and he had never lived on his own. He remained living with Eleanor. He never seemed to have a girlfriend, had never married. What he did with his time was a mystery. Eleanor was quite wealthy and the property spanned 40-50 acres of prime real estate. Neither worked yet they lived well, traveled extensively. There must have been a significant coffer from which money was drawn.

During my time of hanging out with Thomas he asked if I would house-sit for him. He was going to Paris, Zurich, and Turin – for “business.” He had four semi-feral cats, to whom, he was uncommonly attached as well. I agreed to house-sit. Dumb.

Thomas’s house was traditional – I don’t know the style – it was attractive and there was a cottage (unoccupied) on the property. The house was situated on a hill with a beautiful view. No neighbors in sight. It was decorated tastefully yet fussily, a lot of white and Biedermeier. During Eleanor’s reign, if you were allowed into the living room for tea or a drink, you couldn’t relax for fear of spilling on the white damask and brocade, wriggling under Eleanor’s hawkish gaze. Good times! What’s the point of having stuff if you don’t use or enjoy it. More often, to my relief, we would congregate in the kitchen which was the only room that had any degree of warmth. It was spacious with an oak table by a stone fireplace.

The house had a strange vibe. It was hollow and a little sad – devoid of personality. Thomas told me that there had been a fire years ago and most of the house was rebuilt. Thomas’s mother was gone nearly ten years, but he tentatively moved around the house and agonized over moving or changing anything. He was an only child and had inherited the lot, but acted like he still needed permission from mom.

I go to get instructions on the care and feeding of cats and house. After all this time of “knowing” the family I had only seen the first floor. Neither upstairs nor down. When I got the tour I was barely allowed to see the upstairs but did get a tour of the basement which should, had I been a sensible girl, have sent me running. It was unfinished and ramshackle with many stone and dirt creepy crawl spaces wherein the cats would mysteriously disappear. The basement was the truth – the main floor the lie, and I was to discover, the upstairs was the awful truth.

I was told to sleep in the guest room on the first floor. It was inexplicably freezing cold. Since watching movies and shows about the paranormal that was a sign: cold spots. Teeth-chattering shivering cold. Thomas called from Europe and I told him about the Ice Station Zebra problem. He hemmed and hawed and finally said I could sleep in his mother’s room. Hallowed ground! I knew this was a big concession and something he didn’t want to do. Thomas’s bedroom was also upstairs, which I was instructed not to go into, and by glancing from the open door why would I? It was pitch dark and full of junk. A black hole. Across the hall was Eleanor’s room which resembled a Golden Age Hollywood starlet’s bedroom combined with Rebecca’s bedroom from the movie. Ultra-opulent and feminine. Boudoir. Which was strange because Eleanor was none of those things and quite unattractive. That was sad too. So I slept there. One night. It was slightly less frigid than the room downstairs.

The following morning I woke up and was cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm things so I went into Eleanor’s walk-in closet/room hoping there may be an old sweater handy, and I jumped. Among the rows and rows of negligees and fancy slippers was a mannequin head with a red wig on it. Everything was as if Eleanor would walk in at any moment and need a peignoir to entertain guests. Now I’m thinking Norman Bates.

I had enough and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and devise an excuse to get out of my obligation. I was in the kitchen and the sun was pouring in. Another sign – the sun would come in but it didn’t warm or light the house in the normal fashion. As I turned from the stove holding the kettle I see – Eleanor. Dressed in flowing white – but not a shroud. She glances at me and moves through the swinging door into the dining room. I froze. I couldn’t believe it. I put down the kettle and followed her. The door was still swinging and I caught a glimpse of her back as she turned the corner and vanished.

I got into my car and drove to my dad’s house. I didn’t say anything but I did call the girl at the vet’s office (who was the backup plan) to go care for the cats. I planned to leave it at that, but I called my sister’s Wiccan friend, Helen – I wrote about her in an earlier essay – and told her. I had to tell somebody, and Helen would understand? I made her day because she was amped and told me, “Clare, you have to clean that house! Thomas is holding his mother there and she wants to leave!” How did she know? Helen also had some choice observations about Thomas and his cats, but I’ll leave it at that.

Why did I agree to this “plan?” On the surface it’s pretty stupid, but I was curious and wanted see what, if anything, would happen. I have to say that Helen knew her stuff, she rattled off a list of things I would need which took me a day and half to assemble. Including a trip to Home Depot and a sizable length of thin copper wire which a kindly salesclerk cut into 4″ lengths. He looked at my quizzically at one point and I said, “Don’t ask.”

The day of battle arrived. I drove to the house fully equipped and with Helen’s written instructions because this was complicated business – I won’t go into detail. The first thing she told me to do was to light a white candle in a silver candlestick holder – in the room where I saw Eleanor. I placed the candle and holder on the kitchen table and went to light it and realized I didn’t have matches. I walked to the other side of the kitchen where they were on a counter, and the candle flies out of the holder at me. Like someone whipped it – hard. This was the moment where I should have reevaluated the situation. I had goosebumps but I kept on. I put the candle back and proceeded. The interior cleaning took time because it had to be done exactly as Helen prescribed. After that process, where I could feel myself getting physically exhausted, I was to extinguish the candle, close the door to the house and start on the copper wire.

According to Helen, the copper wire is an energy conduit, and as I had “cleaned” the inside of the house I needed to create a route out for Eleanor. Luckily there was a water source at the end of the long drive, and I was pushing the wire into the soft earth from the house all the way down to the stream. As I was nearly finished, it was a sunny cold October day, I looked back at the house and I heard what sounded like many doors slamming violently. More goosebumps.

Helen told me not to reenter the house, to let it rest at least an hour before returning. No convincing needed! Happy to see the place in my rear-view mirror. Later, when I had to go back to get my things, I talked my father into coming with me. I told him nothing, not because he wouldn’t have believed me, but he would have shaken his head and thought that we – I, Helen, Thomas, Eleanor and the cats – this is what we had time for? So we go, and as we’re walking towards the house glancing at two inconsequential garage doors, my father, who was a marine and feared nothing said, “You know, this place gives me the creeps.” Validation! From a sane person!

As Helen predicted, the house was different – better – and the cats were upstairs. Had Helen’s recipe worked? Still I didn’t stay. The cats were attended to by the vet girl and I went home. When Thomas returned, he called to thank me for house-sitting and at the end of the conversation he asked, “By the way, what did you do to the house?” Nothing, I said, and he dropped it. My guess is that he was weird enough to conjure Eleanor back, but I never returned, so I can’t say.

I didn’t see Thomas much after that. A couple of years later we received a postcard with a picture of a renovated cottage and a charming apartment. Thomas had moved to Geneva, why I don’t know. Maybe they have scarier ghosts there, or in the spirit of Swiss neutrality, ghosts without an agenda? I heard through the grapevine that Thomas had subdivided his sizable landholdings, made millions, and leveled the house.

Shortly after my “white magic” encounter, I was in a bookstore that specialized in theology, New Age and crystals. Something for everybody. It was a delightful store and the staff was knowledgeable. One of the last privately-owned bookshops. I was at the register and the woman who was checking me out did a double take and said, “You just did some major housecleaning!” I was impressed. We became friends until she died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I close, remembering the experience and Eleanor’s and Thomas’s unhappy backstory – which I had to leave out because of length, I feel uneasy and a little sad. All those people, for better and worse, are gone from my life and so is any semblance of where they inhabited. Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing and am grateful I was shown something….unusual? And, maybe in some small way I helped Thomas move on.

Happy Housecleaning,

Clare

 

My True Ghost Stories – I

I will describe, as best I can, two events that happened years apart which defy explanation. The common denominator is they both took place in a remote area of New England, in the same town, and they occurred in the month of October. One on Halloween night. It’s Native-American ground up there, you can sense it, and I don’t know if the town’s founding fathers respected that. I need to channel Stephen King; I cannot do it justice. He is the master. I’m thinking about the Mi’kmaq burial grounds in his writings. The names of places in my story are all Native-American. We would find arrowheads in the woods, which we gave to the historical society, or if a tribal elder was passing through or we had an address, what we found was returned.

I was not a child who was afraid of the dark or had any issue with ghosts or monsters or things under the bed, so I tend to trust that my memory is reliable, if not definitive. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about believing, or not, in the supernatural, I am open to the idea and certainly there are things in this crazy world that are mystifying.

The first encounter happened when I was around 10. I had come out to the town to visit a family I knew and Halloween fell during my stay, so I went trick or treating with my friend Sara, her little brother Eddie, and her older brother Andy as our “escort.” There was a fair distance between houses, no lights on the road and it was dark. Halloween began as one would expect, knocking on doors getting candy. Then the weirdness crept up gradually like a music crescendo. By the fourth house, which was rickety looking – the local gossip was that the older couple who lived there were a bit odd – an unearthly feeling fell. No one was home. Candy was left with a note on the porch, but everything was a mess like a creature had run riot. We surveyed the disarray and decided to leave without partaking, when we sensed that someone was watching us – that someone was home in the dark house staring. Even so, we shrugged it off and continued.

Next was a house we knew. A lovely restored barn owned by a glamorous couple who weren’t around much. Above the front door was a beautiful carved horse’s head – smooth and elegantly realistic. We were familiar with the aesthetic because the couple had a marvelous swing that went over a steep hill, and in the summer months we would play there. We rang the doorbell, there was no answer and the house was dark. All at once we looked up at the horse’s head which appeared to be looking at us and at something in the distance; the pale moonlight gave it an eerie cast. That was when we started to get jittery.

We set out to the next house which was far away. The back of the country club golf course was between us and our point of destination. We were walking on the side of the dark road where the soft hills of the golf course were and a fine mist was hovering. On the other side of the road was dense wood. Not a house in sight. We were walking, talking, goofing around. Simultaneously, it seemed, we all looked towards the golf course and saw a silvery tall and slender figure of a man in leather skins – in profile. I can still see the image – no color just the moiré effect of silver/grey that defined him. Andy yelled, “Run!” And we did. As we turned to look, the figure was running parallel to us with long strides and keeping up with ease. As this point we were frightened and we kept on running until we got to the next house (which was owned by a woman who locals claimed was a witch – I think that was because no one liked the family much and they had strange ways). When we approached the house, Eddie asked, “What was that?” No one answered him. As we reached the door it opened and spilled out a flood of light. We scrambled in and were greeted by the witch mom. She seemed to sense we were rattled and she had an slight smile at the corners of her mouth (did she know?). She made us welcome while Andy called their mom to come pick us up.

We never spoke of it. Ever. And we remained friends and in touch over many years, until our parents fell ill and passed. They moved away and started their adult lives. I often wonder what it was we saw. I am convinced it was not a person trying to mess with us, but what was it?

In the last couple of years, I have gone back to visit the town and other people I know there, and I hear from them and the local teenagers that there are still strange occurrences. One girl told me that due north, where the woods are even deeper and there are no houses at all, there is a “Suburban Legend” that has been around for a time. The land is owned by the state and there are reservoirs and nature preserves so it’s virtually uninhabited. Except for one abandoned house. The legend is that a family of “melon heads” lurk there. “What do you mean melon heads?” I asked. A head like a melon with no face, no eyes, nose, or mouth.

She was on the cheerleading squad and told me that they were heading to a game with one of the mothers driving a Suburban 10-seater on this stretch, and the car just stopped. Dead. For no apparent reason. Cell phone service there is spotty at best, but they survived unscathed. I can imagine the piercing screams and shrieks that were coming from the car as they were stuck there.

Now that would have scared off just about anything.

In respect to indigenous peoples, to the land they hold sacred, to the unknown, to the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Clare

Coming Soon – My True Ghost Story II – Housecleaning. And I don’t mean vacuuming!

The Girl Got Reasons

March has come in as a lion; I’m waiting for the lamb part. Like Demeter, I am anticipating Persephone’s return. Oh no, not another Greek myth! No worries.

I was chatting with a dear friend this morning, and mentioned it might be a day for writing. I asked if she had any requests: “something funny with a tinge of sarcasm!” I hope I can oblige her.

I put this post title in my drafts folder a while ago. I was pissed because I was listing in my head all the women/girls I know who have a lot of “rules.” Rules that must be accommodated for the privilege of their friendship. Some I totally get, but others…I can’t keep them straight. I have a male friend who broke up with a fiancee of four years and was looking – in vain – for insight from me. All I could do was empathize and say, “Look, I’m one of them and I don’t understand them!”

The rules vary a bit. They are mostly about control or not disturbing the status quo. The latter is tempting. The control part, that’s just banal, but shaking up the status quo – well there’s shock value to that. One biggie, and I know I’ll be in trouble for this, is the “c” word. Merely mentioning this issue draws reactions close to apoplexy or swooning. It doesn’t really bother me. As women we should be allowed to use it if we want – we know our own don’t we? The fact that men say it, well I don’t necessarily condone it, but what pink bubble of a cocoon do you have to live in to think that the “c” word isn’t used – by men?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where censorship was not tolerated. No one used the “c” word that I can remember, but we lived in the real world, so we were exposed to all sorts of things and somehow survived. My mother was much more offended by “shut up” that an expletive. That was her thing. I hate shut up too. Much more than go “f” yourself. Or, “I don’t want to talk about it” – now there has to be context here. To be sure, there are topics that are too touchy, but I remember one instance when I was sincerely concerned about a friend’s welfare and that’s what she said. Okay. I think it was the tone which disappointed me, ungrateful, unpolished, uncouth. Is that enough un’s? It was like a slap. How about, “Thank you for your concern, Clare, but I don’t think I’m ready to talk about it.” Done! No problem!

Here’s this girl’s reasons: slamming of doors, not pushing in your chair, unintentional rudeness, not thinking for yourself, not having the courage of your convictions, not being a rufusenik, and the greatest transgression: not having a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at life, at yourself – well you have my sympathy.

The world has a plethora of rules, maybe we should dial it back a little, not add more rules on top of rules, and be strong enough to be able to handle what’s coming at us. Sure have reasons, but let’s not be Draconian about it shall we?

Back to Demeter and Persephone. I know I can’t help myself. However, they are a fine example of girls with reasons: Demeter mourns the absence of her daughter Persephone so acutely she creates winter. Shouldn’t she be glad that her daughter has shown initiative, moved out of the house, and maybe even gotten her driver’s license? As far as Persephone goes, well she marries Hades, the god of the underworld. Not much new there. Who among us hasn’t fallen for the bad boy? She’s got a nifty arrangement, she spends six months with Hades (their version of Jupiter, Florida?), and returns to her mother and earth for the other six months. Having separate interests is healthy for a marriage. How clever is that?

Yes, they all got reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

    Clare Irwin

 

Portable Magic – Part I

There’s a hash tag on Twitter entitled Shakespeare Sunday. Today, I tweeted a quote from The Tempest  – Prospero speaks wistfully of the worthiness of books: “Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me/From mine own library with volumes that/I prize above my dukedom.”  I come from a family of voracious readers, the house teemed with books: in the library – my father’s and the family’s, in everyone’s rooms, left on side tables, and of course huge piles next to one’s bed. I think my mother’s was the highest of all. Looking back, I am so grateful that I came from a family of readers – it’s a wonderful gift. I still read, but less than in past  years – I am busy with work, like most of us, in the nice weather I am outdoors, I started this blog – and I am drawn to the competing force of legion television/movie availability. We have Netflix and a fairly loaded cable package which needs to go. Our local provider raises their rates monthly, and we’ve reached the point of whether it’s a little luxury or a huge bill. Even at the risk of missing something EVERYONE will be talking about, and will eventually be aired somewhere, I think we shall reduce.

The startling revelation came to me that if I wasn’t doing so much viewing I would be doing more reading (duh!). I’ve started again – mostly catching up on past issues of The London Review of Books, The Guardian and The New Yorker which is still a standard of fine writing. In a past issue there’s an article on Julian Assange and Protest Theory – both deserve a look wherever you fall on these issues. I also love how once you delve in, the author leads you somewhere else. The Assange article mentioned Philip Dick’s book The Man in the High Castle which reminded me of Dick’s other prescient works that inspired blockbuster movies: Blade Runner, The Adjustment Bureau, Total RecallThe Minority Report et al.

I am delighted for the return of that gemutlich feeling reading elicits. There’s more I could mention from these three issues – but I’ll end here. With a little bit of time management (ha!), I will post Part II in a few days which starts with a memory, a book in the overall, and includes a recipe! Imagine that!

Happy Exploring

Clare Irwin

N.B. The title of this post is taken from Stephen King’s widely well-known book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

A Touch of Fey

Over the past few years I have become intrigued by –okay obsessed, maybe infatuated — with women of accomplishment. Is this a new phase? Girl crushes? Certainly, I have had my fair share of boy/man crushes, so change is good, right? There are a number of women whom I greatly admire, and I think I will start with Tina Fey. Recently I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, and I am re-watching 30 Rock. I loved Kimmy Schmidt and was happy to see that it received five Emmy nominations for this season, and numerous other nominations in past seasons.

Reading Tina Fey’s bio on Wikipedia and other sites is beyond remarkable. Over the past two decades her rise has been amazing, and it seems to gather more and more momentum as the years pass. She has broken some glass ceilings for women in a business that is often less than kind to them, and even at the zenith levels, pays women less. Her CV reads as a list of firsts – notably the first female head writer for SNL at the age of 29. Her helmsmanship of SNL produced wonderful talent and cast, and great characters like Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch), and Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken in “More Cowbell” – I’ll stop there because there are too many actors and characters to mention.

If that wasn’t enough there’s her movies like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and her book Bossypants…the list seems endless and it is entirely intimidating. Jealous? No, not at all  — what Fey has given us is a tremendous gift. Although, I do find that by comparison (I know! Don’t compare! And to Tina Fey! Am I out of my mind? Certinaly my league!) her ability to do SO much and SO many things is where I have a feeling of utter inadequacy.

How does she do it? If I get three things accomplished in a day that’s a small miracle. Admittedly, I can kill time with the best of them, and I would guess this is not a quality that Tina Fey has, or would condone. I bet she gets more things done in a day – with complete success – than I do….never? I would say that from birth to the age of ten, I made some great strides. You know, going from not being able to sit up or lift my head to walking, talking, going to school, doing sports, and having friends. That was my most meteorite trajectory. Not to say that there haven’t been other good things, but that lightening speed thing; it’s not the same.

What I also admire, and in awe of, is her ability to get super handsome men, and great actors, to act like idiots and look less like matinee idols. Her most recent “volunteer” is Jon Hamm as the sinister and stupid cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (that name!). Of course, there’s her long time colleague Alec Baldwin. Last week while channel surfing, I happened to see Alec Baldwin hosting The Essentials on TCM, and there beside him was Tina Fey as the special guest host. Seriously?

Tina Fey’s output and its quality makes me feel that I need to do some serious reevaluating. And, she has young children and a husband, and probably three scripts in the works, writing another book maybe, writing the next season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and who knows what else – but I bet it will be great, entertaining, and award-winning. The Indefatigable Tina Fey.

Jealous? No, not at all. I hope her house is messy. 

Clare Irwin

Next up…at some point – Stella McCartney

 

 

Take Me to Your Queen

Okay, I have been more than remiss in blogging regularly, and I offer a thousand apologies. What can I say? I feel terrible about it, yet the summer has been exceptionally beautiful and the lure of being outside and doing outdoor activities has trumped being home. I must make the promise to you, my readers, and to myself, to resume my practice of writing at least two or three posts a month. No excuses!

Speaking of excuses, I mention the lovely weather and time of year, but I also blame Netflix. It’s too addictive. Are there 12 Step programs for Netflix obsession? So many choices, so many seasons, so little time! Compounded to the endless streaming of entertainment, I blame my good friend Will who finds lots of great shows and movies and then texts me his list or calls me up. He’s not the only one, but he is my most consistent provider of suggestions.

Yesterday, Will had some new discoveries: Honeymoon, Viral – both movies, and a show called I, Zombie. There were two others, and while we were texting back and forth the messages sort of crisscrossed each other. For some spaced-out reason I couldn’t find I, Zombie and Will was trying to explain where to find it  – via text, with no punctuation, capitalization, etc. – expediency was the higher purpose. I received a text that read, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow and all but add take me to your queen it’s a comedy with an epic ending.” Okay, so I go and look for that title and I find nothing. I picked up the phone and called him to say I couldn’t find Take Me to Your Queen. Will bursts out laughing and says, “I meant take me to your queue!” I don’t know but I thought this was hilarious and we had a good laugh. But, I was also disappointed that there wasn’t such a movie.

Then today while I was doing whatever, I thought, that’s a really good title – a fresh version of the old “Take me to your leader” that aliens would say in 1950s movies about invading hostiles from other planets. I continued to muse over what you could do with that title, what story you could devise. Or maybe, in my completely ignorant view of how Hollywood works, you can go knock on the door of Disney or Universal or Columbia and just pitch the title. That’s it! Then, they give you a credit that lasts in perpetuity, handfuls of money and happy days.

Realistically I can’t imagine it works that way, In any event, I’d settle for a T-shirt with “Take Me to Your Queen” on it.

Happy Trails…or should I say Trials?

Clare Irwin