I’m heading out to my car for a late-night run to the convenience store when, under the big tree in my yard, I sense movement. I glance backward.
There’s nothing, and that’s not surprising. I didn’t really expect to find anything spooky rising up from behind the garden bench or the barbecue grill or lowering its unholy self down from the maple.
Still, I had that familiar sensation that something was there, something weird and unexplainable, and I’d been warned.
This time of year, I suppose, you could blame the baleful influence of Halloween and its charity “haunted” houses, yards full of plastic tombstones and stores jammed with fangy masks.
But this sensation strikes me throughout the year, not just at goblin time.
From talking with younger parents I get the impression that, unless you’re a video-game designer or importer of plastic Dracula capes, it’s considered wrong today to terrify kids with tales of monsters and misshapen creatures.
My maternal grandmother, who was born in the 1800s, labored under no such constraints. To her, you made a kid behave in a civilized manner by grabbing him when he was very young and filling his head with stories of children – sometimes adults – who were turned into gibbering wrecks when fiends materialized out of the darkness.
And that was just for the medium transgressions, perhaps for lying to your parents. The really severe ones, like missing Mass on Sunday, could lead to your being snatched away by a squad of horned and tailed little imps.
Though having just a sixth-grade education, the lady was not stupid or benighted. She could tell you whether that old Enrico Caruso recording was the music of Verdi or Donizetti, and she knew everything of significance that had ever happened in Plymouth – including football records.
But she was determined that I should grow up right. So whether we were walking down to Huntzinger’s 5-and-10 on Hazle Avenue or awaiting “The Great Gildersleeve” on our big Silvertone, I got the straight word about what a sea of terror underlay placid daily life – unseen by most, but there just the same.
I heard of boys and girls who stayed out beyond curfew and were accosted by ghoulish beings in black clothing as they made their illicit way home from their friends’ houses.
There were large, red-eyed dogs who wandered into funeral homes during wakes, making it clear that the deceased’s soul had just passed the toll booth on the high road to hell.
Her scariest cautionary, and I’m sorry I can’t remember all the details, involved a man drowning in blood – along with a few bystanders – because he’d scoffed at Holy Communion in church.
Was her influence bad? I think the jury is still out (probably watching slasher DVDs and awaiting judicial instruction).
Honestly, it does take me a second or two to remember that these creatures don’t exist and that I should just get into the damn car and run out for that Pepsi and be done with it.
But I’m still glad to have been taught by this sweet lady from another era that there are some truths we must not ignore: that evil exists and that we have to be on our guard against doing bad things ourselves.
Grandma, if I’m lucky I’ll be able to hear your stories again some day. And I’d really like to get your take on those tacky plastic Dracula capes.