Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ghosts in the family

There’s a reason I love supernatural weirdness so much – I grew up with it.

Everyone in my family believed in ghosts. My grandmother regularly regaled us with stories of angels and hauntings as we sat around her kitchen table on Friday nights.

My great-great-grandmother was born in Italy and though she and her family had immigrated to America, she never learned to speak English. She was not happy that her Italian-American grandson married a German-American girl. When my grandmother got pregnant the first time, my g-g-grandmother put an evil eye curse on her. Many cultures believe in the power of the evil eye to bestow bad luck on someone envied or disliked. My grandmother felt odd all through the pregnancy and was certain something was wrong with the baby. Towards the end of the pregnancy she became very anxious, and woke up one night to the vision of a beautiful angel hovering at the foot of her bed. The angel reassured her that the baby would be fine, and after that my grandmother put her worry to rest. My mother was born on May 1, 1945, without an elbow joint in her right arm and with only four fingers on that hand. At the time, no one doubted it was the result of the curse. And while, by the time I was hearing these stories in the 1980s, everyone understood there was a genetic explanation for it, the stories of the curse and the angel were still regularly told. (And, lest my mother come and haunt me for mentioning this story, I should say that she was perfectly able-bodied. The only thing I ever really saw her struggle with was hooking the clasps of shorter necklaces.)

It was perfect, actually, that these stories got told at my grandmother’s house, which was notoriously haunted. Weird things happened there all the time. Her cross necklaces constantly disappeared and reappeared in completely different locations. Once, the grease in her electric French fryer pot boiled over – it wasn’t plugged in. Her formal living room was one of the creepiest places any of us ever knew. It looked perfectly normal, but it felt, well, creeptastic. All of our family’s holiday parties were at her house growing up, and despite the fact that there were a lot of us (she had 6 kids…), we all pretty much avoided that room and crammed into the kitchen and den. Occasionally, people reported feeling watched in that room and in the bedroom immediately above it. And we all accepted this as reality.

My aunt’s house at that time had its own weirdness. First of all, when they moved in and started some remodeling, they found a weird horned-goat-head thing painted on the drywall under the paneling in the living room (I would’ve been on the phone with my realtor about two seconds after that discovery…). For a long time, they’d come home to a houseful of lights on that they hadn’t left on. The TV would turn on by itself. Once, when the TV wasn’t working, they came home to it being on. (The hairs on my arm are standing up as I’m writing this!) And, most famously, they’d hear footsteps up and down the stairs between the kitchen and the upstairs that once materialized into a male ghost dressed like a lumberjack. My aunt – who isn’t afraid of anything – asked him to go because he was scaring her family. He never appeared again.

So I come to all this supernatural stuff naturally. And, these are just some of the weird things I grew up with. It was normal and accepted. How about you? Any good ghost stories in your family’s past?

Thanks for reading,

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