Saturday, September 13, 2014

"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them." ~ Andre Gide

Have you ever seen two turkey buzzards up-close and personally? I have! They are huge, HUGE! And suddenly, both those buzzards jumped off that delapidated fence post they were sitting on, looked me straight in the eye, both of them, and began hop-stepping toward me.

I shouldn't have gotten out of my car to get a closer look, but I'd only ever seen them in cowboy movies. I was driving down a kind-of country road with huge gorgeous houses complete with horse stables just beyond, and right there under the big eucalyptus trees on that rotting fence sat those two enormous birds. 

I pulled over, parked my car near them, and stared. Their heads were griseled red skin, inset with beady black eyes, and their enormous hooked beaks looked like they could crunch just about anything. Their hunched shoulders covered in long black feathers helped them look old, worn-out, like funeral directors. And those feet… those feet had done lots of clawing and tearing and walking.

Why did I get out of the car to have a closer look? Idiot! 

In every movie about the Old West, or those about Africa where buzzards circled, waiting for the lions to finish eating, the dinner was already dead. I was alive. What's the problem? I was sure those two would let me have a look. I mean, all the ones I'd seen in zoos sat there and let a person stare at them. I'd done it many times.

I walked toward them across that dusty ground, and they looked at me, then to each other, then back at me, as they kept hop-stepping towards me… a little faster, maybe, than before…

Suddenly, I was scared, really frightened. I ran back to my car, jumped in, took off, and never looked back! Do vultures actually do their own killing of active, snoopy things that dare to confront them?  I've wondered about that since.

I saw another monster in the middle of one night when I was young, staying at my cousins' house during our annual 2-week trip to Nebraska to see our relatives. I loved my aunt and uncle's old two-story white wood house there in Columbus, Nebraska with its long, straight staircase leading up to the 3 bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs. I loved the front porch that was big enough to have two chairs to sit in and watch the trees grow. Across the street was the junior high school, and next to it was the high school. Two blocks away was my grandparents' little house, and about five blocks from there was the Catholic Church that my aunt and uncle and cousins belonged to.

That one summer, while we were in Nebraska, their aunt, my uncle's sister, came for a visit. I had only met her one other time, and it was before she'd become a nun. I could never remember to call her "Sister Cecilia" because, not being Catholic, I didn't really understand the re-naming of nuns. (I just researched the meaning of her name and it stands for "dim-sighted," and it really was a perfect name for her.) Sister Cecilia had bad eyesight, and, of course, she wore glasses to help… very thick glasses… glasses that magnified the size of her eyes to everyone who looked at her. It seemed to me that she might be close to being blind, but I was just 13 years old, and you don't know much about anything at that age.

Sister Cecilia wore her nun's habit, of course, and I'd never seen a nun up close before. Her habit seemed starched and stiff and the hood on her head prevented her from seeing to the side of her, so she'd have to turn her head to talk to us. Well, it seemed to me a kindness not to talk to her at all. The absolute truth was she scared me! I figured she had a direct line to God, and, since she never smiled, I assumed that everytime she left the room, she was "on the horn" to him about how bad my cousin Kathy and I were. 

Sleeping arrangements were changed that night because Sister Cecelia was staying for two days. I always shared the bedroom with Kathy and Susan. Billy, my 14-year-old cousin slept in the small bedroom across the hall. Aunt Wilma and Uncle Art slept in the biggest bedroom, where Unce Art snored each and every night with no stops!

It was a hot night in Columbus, a steamy, humid, hot night, and the windows were opened all the way. Billy had to give up his bedroom to Sister Cecelia, so he got the twin bed next to the window in the girls' room. Susan, Kathy and I were all squashed into the double bed next to the door. 

Kathy had just received a new rosary, and it was very special. If you held it up to the lightbulb over the bed long enough, it would actually glow in the dark. I wasn't even sure what a rosary was, but I knew Kathy always had it with her, and it was fun that night turning the lights out and seeing it glowing there on the bed. Sadly, for me, I'm scared of snakes, and it looked "snakey" to me, but we were all four talking and laughing and turning the lights on and off, and just being four cousins who hadn't seen each other for a year. 

Then Billy told us a ghost story, like he always did, and we three girls screamed, like all girls that age are supposed to, just before Uncle Art yelled up the stairs, " YOU KIDS, BE QUIET AND GO TO SLEEP!"

So we did.

Eventually, everyone in the house was asleep, but I was still listening to Uncle Art's snoring, wondering how they could stand hearing that raspy noise every single night of their lives. Now, I'm a light sleeper, especially when my uncle in the next room is "sawing logs." NO, I don't mean just snoring! He REALLY DID sound like he was sawing huge Giant Sequoia logs with his adnoids!

As I was laying there, I thought I heard Billy's bedroom door across the hall slowly squeak open… Then, for sure, I heard a bump in the night, and then a thump, and then shuffling slippered-footsteps. Our bedroom door gave a gasp and slowly, slowly seemed to open itself, slowly, slowly… When I saw the fingers on the door's edge, I froze. 

I never saw a door open more slowly than that one that night. It quivered, more than opened. Finally, hours later, a complete figure stood there in the doorway… and it looked like a man! 

But no! This apparition had a tight fabric cap tied in a bow under its chin, covering all the hair on its head, if it had hair! It had on flannel pajamas, a top and a bottom, but the top was was securely stuffed into the pajama bottoms, and the bottoms were pulled up close under its armpits. It had a huge, thick book in its hands with a long string of beads wafting in some breeze that I couldn't feel.

It was, of course, Sister Cecelia. Glasses-less, she bumped into the bed, and stood next to me, looking down, way down at me, never uttering a sound. She stood there for hours… well, at least several minutes, sightlessly staring down at me. Then she turned and drifted away, noiselessly closing our door behind her.

I hadn't moved the whole time, and I didn't until it was light outside. 

When we went down to breakfast that morning, Aunt Wilma said, "Terry, what's wrong? You look like you haven't slept a wink!"

"Mom, can we have extra bacon with our eggs this morning? C'mon… Terry's here, ya know…" begged Billy. 

"As soon as you finish your rhubarb, Terry, I'll fry some more bacon," promised Aunt Wilma. 

Rhubarb?! Really?! Rhubarb on top of no sleep and seeing a ghost? Rhubarb? Yuck! 


  1. Oh, Terry! I am rolling with giggles! I even had to read some excerpts to Miron, who laughed as well! What memories we have - distorted or real - of our childhoods! Fabulous writing,

    1. Thanks sooooo much for your kind words, Jan. Glad you two liked it. My aunt could never understand my not liking rhubarb, and I could never understnd anyone in her right mind LIKING it! The only thing good about it to me was its pretty color.

  2. Do you suppose she was disoriented and went in the wrong bedroom?

  3. All I know is that she scared me silly! You might be right right, Cindy. Maybe she was looking for the bathoroom at the other end of the hall... It might have been that she was sleep-walking… I'll never know.