Friday, November 1, 2013

a little bit scary

I am somewhat afraid at night, but the Ghosts have been very attentive, and I have no cause to complain. Of course one can't expect one's furniture to sit still all night, and if the Chairs do prance - and the Lounge polka a little, and the shovel give it's arm to the tongs, one dont mind such things! From fearing them at first, I've grown to quite admire them, and now we understand each other, it is most enlivening!
Emily Dickinson, Letter to Mrs. J.G. Holland, March 2, 1859
This quote came to me yesterday morning via Twitter from the Emily Dickinson Museum.  A family destination favorite in Amherst, Massachusetts.  I read it as I was thinking through our afternoon.   One in which, when the children got home from school, I would snack them and get them quickly into their costumes, hopefully remember to snap a few pictures, make any last minute costume changes using a fleet of safety pins, and then throw them all in the car, so we could drive to our good friends' house for dinner together, and then trick or treat.  It would be a fun afternoon and evening I was sure, but it would be hectic, too.

But the Dickinson quote gave me a moment to pause.  It so captures how we feel about living in this house, 230 years old.  This house in which we are on our third year of Halloween.  Such enormous changes have happened maturationally for each of our children within these walls. But when we consider this house's lifespan?  These changes are but a blip.

Not surprisingly, our 230 year old basement is a terrifying place to me.  One of unexplained noises and poorly lit crawl spaces and furry crawling things and a room that I have mentioned before, where I am pretty sure the Blair Witch Project must have been filmed.

After the kids had left for school, I was knocking about this house and I suddenly heard clanging in the basement.  I stopped, and made eye contact with our cat, both of us frozen.  And then I heard someone whistling.  Just a few seconds of panic, followed by remembering that the furnace cleaning was scheduled, and we had left the basement door ajar.  It was just a very nice not scary whistling man who had let himself in.

But this house, with all of its stories, we are but newbies here, only beginning to understand each other.  I still have moments when I round a corner, or feel a draft of air, or find a seam in the paneling that seems to be a bit different from the rest of the wood, that I wonder, would not be surprised if I was about to see, feel, or hear something that is a little bit scary.  

Across the yard, on land that was once a part of this property, is -- dum dum dum -- a graveyard.  Or in this case, given its age, a Burying Ground.

Visible from all our windows that face toward it, the headstones, though a bit creepy at first, have become familiar, respected even protected by us.  We walk often amongst their tipped over forms, looking for names, looking at dates, reading the quotes on the headstones.

Here, under a tippy partially buried headstone, with no wife laid to rest beside him, lies Captain Jesse Partridge, the original owner of our home which he built for his young wife, Rebecca.  He only had a short while to live here, as he died at home from an infection only a few years later.  And then, widowed Rebecca married a man from across the street and combined the two families here.

If you turn around at Jesse's headstone -- we're on a first name basis now he and I -- you find yourself looking through a grove of white pine trees, young whipper snapper 50' tall saplings compared to their ancestors. For these are the great great great grandchildren of trees that Jesse likely cut and traded as a part of his business in the mast trade for ship building here in Portland.  Beyond the trees is an old orchard, then a broad lawn, and then his house.  Rebecca's house.  Our house.  

But between the Captain and the trees is another cluster of headstones.  These we know, from a bit of research into the changing ownership of our house, bear the names of the families that have lived in our home during the intervening years.  Most of the headstones in the burying ground face away from our house, toward what would have been the main road in and out of the city, on a slope people passed on their journey into town.  But this cluster of stones? These all face toward our house.  It may be a coincidence, but I think of it as anything but.  I think of it as though they are our audience, watching us, observing us and how we live in, care for, and continue the story here.

It is, admittedly, a little bit creepy to live next to a burying ground.  I remember late nights of sleepovers as a child for which, during truth or dare sessions with friends, the dare often involved a solo trip on a moonless night into the cemetery near her house. I was absolutely terrified of the idea of such a trip, and would readily spill all of my truths before I would dare to venture next door.  

For the past few weeks here, seasonal tours of the burying ground, during which people dressed in period costumes transform this space that feels a bit like a part of our own land into a place which is a bit more creepy, a bit more spooky, a bit more active than we are used to.  Because we all find it a bit disconcerting to look over and see a man in a dark cloak standing in the shadows of the pines while groups of people donning colorful LLBean parkas stroll through the area, likely unaware of said cloaked man in the trees who hopes to surprise them.

But here in the house, in some ways knowing the names of the people buried there, the ones who lived their lives here, seeing how they, imagined or not, are facing toward a home they loved and added on to, tended and homesteaded, buried children before them and then joined them there a marriage and lifetime later.  It feels protective rather than haunting.  As though they are, in fact, enlivened by our living here too, walking the same floors, working the same soil, replacing what is worn and needs to be repaired.  A continued life of this house that we are all a part of.  Centered here.

* * *

This week, within eyesight of the headstones, life in the house continued as we sat down in the kitchen to carve our pumpkins.  The different ages, the different work styles of each child laid out before us.  Julia stared out the window for a bit, trying to decide what to do.  Nicholas dove right in and and began making a rather scary and a little bit gruesome design.  And Elliott began, erased, began again, erased, and looked about at what his siblings were doing, then redesigned again.  Keeping his signature large and rounded eyes a constant.  Choosing against the scary approach his brother was taking, happily choosing fun and childish over spooky.

In the end, their carvings were truly unique and reflected each of them individually.




Similarly, the kids' costumes show this change in understanding of the holiday, from the fun and dress up in a beloved soft and furry creature of our youngest as a flying squirrel.

To the practical and logical learn from past mistakes and this year select a costume that is warm and easy to walk in creation of Julia, repurposing a mouse costume that she wore when she was 18 months old.

To our oldest and most likely to be terrifying child, Nicholas as Thorin, a Lord of the Rings dwarf.

Just as this house has been young, held many people as they grew up and lived, changed, and weathered, so has our children's meaning of Halloween.  From silly to spooky.  From fuzzy to swords.  From rounded and sweet eyes to fierce and strong.

Happy Halloween, and we hope it was a little bit scary, fun, and warm for all of you.  Who knows, perhaps someday we will have lived here long enough, will have grown to quite admire the unexplained noises and creaks and air movements and dark spots, to have a haunted house party in our basement.  For fun.  Perhaps.  Who knows?  It might be most enlivening.

Until then, we live here.  Adding to the story.

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