Wednesday, February 10, 2010


When I was seven we moved to Merced, California. My father was in the Air Force at the time and we moved into a little white wood seventy five dollar a month rent house. The house next door was white stucco with red trim and looked much nicer. As soon as it became available we moved into it even though it was five dollars a month more.
On our first day of moving in I was sitting at the top of the stairs most of the attic had been converted into a third bedroom. I was looking all around thinking, “Oh boy, we’re just like the people on TV now.” because we had a two story house. Visions of “My Three Son’s”, “The Donna Reed Show”, and “Father Knows Best” went through my mind. Then I noticed the attic door was open, it was closed when I came up the stairs and sat down. I got up and closed it, made sure it was latched and then sat down again to continue my grandiose day dreaming. Breaking the silence, I suddenly heard the attic door start to “creeeeek” open. I then turned and watched it slowly open as wide as it could. There was nothing but shadowy blackness with strange shapes behind it. I flew down those stairs three at a time in sheer panic and neither my brother nor I would ever sleep in that room, unless my grandparents slept in there when they were visiting.

The stairs were very narrow, steep, and there was a small landing where they turned. Our Toy Poodle “Pepe” couldn't get up, or down, the stairs by himself he had to be carried. One morning he woke my mother up with a persistent annoying bark that only tiny dogs can make. She thought he wanted to be let out, but when she got up to search the house for him she couldn't find him. After following the sound of his bark, she discovered him at the top of the stairs, he wanted someone to come get him down. My mother asked, “Which one of you left him up there?” “We didn’t he was in our bed when we went to sleep last night.” She scolded us for taking him up there all the while we fiercely denied doing it, but wouldn’t go up those stairs after dark for anything.
After we’d been there a few months two girls about our age moved in across the street. When they saw the bedroom they just couldn’t believe that we didn’t use it and chose to share a room downstairs. They found some old things my mother had stored in the attic in boxes and asked her permission to use them to “fix up” the room. My mother said, “You can do whatever you want, just don’t leave a mess for me to have to clean up.” With a Chenille bedspread, some Organza curtains, pillows, lamps, knick knacks, candles, and quite a bit of girlish creativity, they transformed that room into something a girl out of one of those television shows would have adored. Danny and I were quite taken with it all and spend most of a Saturday afternoon running around getting hammers and nails, holding things in place, sitting up the ironing board and running downstairs for cleaning products, brooms, dust mops and rags. We were amazed by those girls, and that room, when they were finished. We all agreed it looked just like something from a magazine with all that flowered wall paper and Chintz. The older girl said, “Both of you are silly of being scared of this room. Look how pretty it is. You need to spend the night up here tonight. If we had such a pretty room we would sleep in here every night.” I wanted to tell them they were welcome to it, but I didn’t want to sound like a baby.
That night Danny and I decided we would do just that. We told my mother we wanted to sleep up there, but not to turn the light out until she went to bed. The only overhead light in the room was on a long pull chain that hung down the stairwell and could be turned on and off at the bottom of the stairs. We wanted to take our dog with us, but she was afraid he would pee on the floor because he couldn’t go down the stairs by himself. We walked upstairs to bed and lie there talking about how wonderful the room looked and what a great job the girls had done. As we were getting quiet and trying to go to sleep something happened that we could never explain. It seemed that the two of us decided to break and run for the stairs at the same time without ever saying a word. We looked like “The Three Stooges” trying to push one another out of the way to be the first down the stairs. After quite a commotion my mother said, “I knew that wouldn’t last. Now go to bed in your room and I’ll turn out the light.”

Sometime later Danny and I were getting dressed for school one morning and he told me he woke up during the night, and there was an old man sitting at the foot of our bed. I asked him, “Why didn't yell, or wake someone up?”
He said, “I was too scared, I just pulled the covers over my head. I waited and then looked again and he was still there.” I asked him what he did next and he said he did it two more times and finally on the third time the man was gone. I was furious with him for not telling my mother. My father would be home a month then gone a month, so we were often alone in the house. We had no air conditioning, so in the summer the windows and screen doors were left open. We’d already seen a man on our porch one night when we lived in the house next door and my mother had all her panties stolen off the clothes line one night. I couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid.

We refused to sleep without a night light, it was a small wooden lamp with a black “push switch” that sat on top of our chest of drawers. One night after we'd gone to bed we were talking quietly and the light went out. We bolted down the hall and into the living room. My dad told us we scardy cats and that the light bulb had probably just burned out. He walked us back in to our room, pushed the switch, and the lamp came right back on. We grumbled to each other that, “Someone turned that light out.”
Neither one of us would ever stay alone in that house, I remember once when my mother had taken my brother to the doctor, I wasn't allowed to go and after a few minutes alone I felt so uneasy, I got the dog and sat on the front porch and watched TV through the screen door until my mother came home. My mother even admitted in later years that she always felt like someone was watching her in that house.
The few good things I remember about that house were that we always had a lot of different color Geraniums growing in the flower beds and a couple of flowers that grew from bulbs we called, "Naked Ladies." There was a big Banana tree, non fruit bearing, which grew just outside our bedroom window and there was a huge Apricot tree in the back yard that not only produced wonderful Apricots, but was so big we used to climb it. A big Camilla bush behind my parent’s bedroom window had beautiful white flowers that had no fragrance and a glass enclosed back porch.

Our landlady Mrs. Lydel, whose husband had built the three homes in 1946 and 1947, had died in 1951. She had at least ten giant rose bushes in her back yard, she used to let me cut flowers from and each bush had a different kind of rose. Rumor had it that the Lydel’s had lived in our house until there was a fire and while it was being rebuilt they moved to the house next door and never moved back. I found an old love seat in the small attic that had been scorched and an old Cloisonné lamp that I thought was cool, I took a hammer and knocked all the enamel out of it. How dumb was that? My brother and all our friends decided it was Mr. Lydel he saw in our bedroom that night.
The house is still there. I saw it listed on the internet a few years ago for two hundred ninety five thousand dollars. I saw recently where it sold for eighty five thousand dollars, which is a much more realistic price.

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