The house I grew up in was old when I first knew it.
My father had grown up there and subsequently inherited it, as the only male child. It was there I fought all my childhood fears, comforted by my smart parents, the vial of holy water above my door, my monster book, and the trees outside my window. My parents, intuiting that I would never not believe monsters exist, elected to tell me that holly trees keep all the bad things away. That house was surrounded by them on two sides. Before the days when all houses had numbers, the home was known as Holly House.
My former-hippie parents were very permissive about my fascination with the paranormal. We were all always Halloween fanatics anyway, and October was simply the one time of year that everyone else seemed to be on our wavelength. I was allowed to watch horror and slasher movies WAY before any of my friends – no wonder kids loved sleeping over – and because these films were treated so casually by my parents, I never saw them as something to be afraid of. My parents also taught me how to safely use Ouija boards, and I and my sisters did so with no negative occurrences. My artistic father even made me my own board and planchette for a birthday; I wish I still had it, it was beautiful, covered in runes and symbols.
Adolescence turned me painfully on my head, but childhood, childhood was nice. The only thing really lacking was the presence of my paternal grandmother, who died when I was a toddler. I don’t remember her, but I’m told she adored me, and I must have loved her, because when I became convinced from a movie I could bring her back by going into a mirror, my parents had to take a large hallway mirror down because I kept throwing myself at it. Grandma was warm and loving and full of stories (alas, my older sister and I only remember vaguely that one was about an apple tree), and was an oddity in her day, getting her sewing circle to try table-tapping, and reading Edgar Cayce books. Small wonder she seemed to visit us even after her passing. I would sometimes get a sudden whiff of a floral scent when entering the porch where she had, long ago, grown flowers.
My older sister had a more vivid experience. She was around 4 when Grandma died. She remembers finding Grandma packing a suitcase, then hugging her and saying, “I have to go away for a while, but I promise I’ll see you again soon.” My sister later found out Grandma had been in the hospital at the time, and died around the hour of this vision.
Many years later, my older sister now lives in this same Holly House, raising her three children. Her youngest is a sensitive little boy who one day when he was around 4 or 5 started talking to his mother about his friend Bartha.
“Martha?” my sister asked.
“No, Bartha Bertie.”
My sister froze. Grandma’s name was Bertha, which she hated, and she preferred to be called Bertie. At this age, Nephew knew nothing at all of his great-grandparents. Then Nephew shook her even further.
“Mommy, she knows the apple tree story.”
My sister later very casually put some old family photos in front of my nephew a few days later, and Nephew immediately and happily tapped one of my grandmother.
“That’s her, that’s Bartha Bertie. And there’s Jack,” he added, pointing to my grandfather, whose name was George but went by – you guessed it – Jack.
“And they’re your friends?” my sister asked, trying to be calm.
“Oh, yeah. They visit me all the time.”
After the initial weirdness, my sister felt fine, even happy about this, to know our grandparents are getting to see their great-grandchildren after all. And believe me, ghosts are not a weird thing in my family. Nothing paranormal is. Sometime I’ll tell the story about my baby niece telekinetically almost knocking me out with a barometer.
I bid you all a pleasant Samhain. Autumn’s chill sweeps the long summer away, the Earth turns, and we will all soon begin another year together.