“There’s something you don’t see every day.” – – Peter Venkman/Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters.”
If I remember correctly, I was only four years old at the time of the incident, and it took a recounting or two for me to really cement down what now feel like details. Granted, it happened 54 years ago, so my memory may not be 100% accurate. Also, some siblings now have access to my site, so if corrections or different versions need to be made, feel free to fire away.
It was not the proverbial dark and stormy night, but it was indeed dark and I remember a bit of a nasty breeze. Mom sent us to the corner store which was, I think, about four blocks away from our house. So merrily my sister and brother and I went to what we used to refer to as “the milk store,” passing many of the decrepit and sometimes abandoned houses. The neighborhood was ripe with stories about ghosts and warnings not to enter this or that house, and to certainly stay out of the woods. The populace was almost exclusively Mexicans and Jews. In later years, not with my family, but with friends, I used to joke that if you went by the right house you could hear a mixed breed ghost saying something along the lines of “Si – – I am feeling poquito meshugana today.” I had no idea if what I was about to experience was ethnic specific, all I know is that I was pretty scared.
As we passed an abandoned house with one of the many neighborhood legends attached to it, my brother or my sister, maybe both, advised me to pick up the pace and not to look into the house if I didn’t have to. After all these years I still remember a chill running up and down my spine as if being afraid on demand. I do also recall an inexplicably creepy feeling about the place we were passing. But a four year old has a short memory, and by the time we reached the well-lit store a couple of blocks beyond the abandoned house, I was looking hard to see what kind of toys or candy I could manipulate my brother and sister into buying. I believe I struck out, and we stuck to the purchase of whatever items mom had requested that we pick up. So off we went back home, and after a block or so of walking we noticed someone down the street waving at us, a distinctly female figure with flowing hair and pacing back and forth in front of the abandoned house. Cool. Mom is meeting us halfway home, we thought. I also remember us wondering out loud about when Mom got an all white coat. It also seemed odd that her hair looked white, but I think we chalked it up to the weird lighting in the soon to be torn down neighborhood. As we approached we noticed “mom” duck into the abandoned house, a move that puzzled us. As we got closer to the place, we were torn between looking for mom and not looking into the possibly haunted place as we had been instructed as kids. We opted for door number two and rushed the rest of the way home to mom, hoping for an explanation of where she got the white coat from. I remember that as we got about a half a block away from our house, mom did in fact appear: in totally different garb than she had been wearing while in front of the abandoned house. How had she changed so quickly – – and how did she beat us home if we had passed her back at the abandoned house? I was the first to instinctively look back toward the abandoned house. I remember tugging on the sleeve of either my brother or sister, and starting to cry as I looked back at the woman in white waving to us again, and then returning my frightened attention to mom in front of our house. No tears were shed when we moved out of that neighborhood about a year later. I never wanted to go back in that direction again.
Our address was 271 State Street in St Paul, not far from 253, where the Recovery Church now stands. It strikes me as ironic that a center that promotes spirituality now stands where “spirits” used to have their way. Just about the entire neighborhood was torn down after we moved, most of the houses being a breath away from condemned. For the most part I feel perfectly safe and at peace when I drive toward the church for an event, but every now and then I still get a little chill up my spine in memory of my Lady In White, and whenever I hear somebody laugh at idea of ghosts existing, I feel tempted to take them aside and say, “Let me tell you about something that happened to me when I was about four years old . . . ”
Or maybe “Boo!”
I love this! It has a Joseph Campbell “heroic journey” quality to it. I loved how you recollect the details from a child’s point of view and preserve that innocence right through the end. I once “felt” the presence of a young neighbor (age 18) who was shot point blank in the head in his house right across the street from mine. I was away, traveling for business, when it happened. When I returned a few days later, I was getting ready for work and felt that sense of someone looking at me. Somehow, I just knew it was him. It was as if his soul was shattered so quickly in the shooting, it could not yet reassemble to leave this world until checking in on a few things/people in this one first. I find the Tibetan concept of death and dying most believable – that following the cessation of the heart and breathing, the dying process takes a rather long time, and that the person should be kept company to help them through the transition. How could it be otherwise, really, when you think how expansive our minds are?I wonder what the Lady in White’s story was, why she could not move on. I love how children see what’s really there, even as they’re unconvincingly told such things are not “real.” Your story has beautifully captured that sensibility!