Ghosts have always been a part of my family's storytelling repertoire. My father loved them. His father and grandfather loved them. And we kids heard all of these stories whether we wanted to or not. There was no escaping them. I knew about the creature that followed my uncle home one night in upstate New York. I knew about the ghost in the attic of my grandparents' house that scared me away when I wasn't even walking yet. I knew about the man my father heard walking back and forth in the living room of that same house. I'm sure our family obsession with ghosts is due in no small part to all the Scottish blood in us. When my father was dying, he saw many, many more people in the house than the rest of us did.
When I was in middle school, I was home alone one afternoon, doing my homework, when I distinctly heard an old woman calling my name. I got up to go see her, assuming my grandmother was visiting us for the day, but no one was there.
My younger sister has seen them many times: the woman in black at her second-story window, the same woman standing at the foot of her bed when she would wake up during the night. Sarah says she's never felt threatened, so she's never been afraid. Me? Hearing someone that wasn't really there call my name was more than enough. I've since explained many times to the Powers That Be that I have no interest in after-hours--or after-life--visitors.
But that doesn't mean they don't fascinate me.
Owen, my 10-year-old, is fascinated with them as well, although he's also quite frightened of them still. My house is not haunted, but Owen won't go to the basement alone or even upstairs alone once night falls. When he was in preschool, he would spend his outdoor recess time with his girlfriends making up ghost stories. And he would run from the room if I tried singing one of my favorite creepy songs to them: With Her Head Tucked underneath Her Arm:
In the tower of London, large as life, the ghost of Anne Bolyn walks they declare.
Poor Anne Bolyn was once King Henry's wife until he made the headsman bob her hair.
Ah, yes, he did her wrong long years ago and she comes up at night to tell him so,
With her head tucked underneath her arm she walks the bloody tower,
With her head tucked underneath her arm at the midnight hour.
She comes to haunt King Henry. She means giving him what for.
Gadzooks, she's going to tell him off. She's feeling very sore,
And just in case the headsman wants to give her an encore,
She has her head tucked underneath her arm.
The sentries think that it's a football that she carries in
And when they had a few they shout, Is Army going to win?
They think that it's Red Grange instead of poor old Ann Bolyn
With her head tucked underneath her arm.
Sometimes gay King Henry gives a spread for all his pals and gals and ghostly crew.
The headsman craves the joint and cuts the bread then in comes Anne Bolyn to queer the do.
She holds her head up with a wild war whoop and Henry cries, Don't drop it in the soup!
One night she caught King Henry, he was in the canteen bar.
Said he, Are you Jane Seymour, Anne Bolyn, or Katherine Parr?
For how the great Sam Hill do I know who you are
With your head tucked underneath your arm?
I also loved Rickety Tickety Tin, which is a song by Tom Lehrer. (He calls it "The Irish Ballad," but I only just now realized that when googling for the lyrics.) It's creepy with a fair dose of amusing.
I made it all the way through the Anne Bolyn song today without him flinching. So I have high hopes that I'll soon be able to continue the family tradition of scaring at least one of my children into also explaining to the Powers That Be, in the most fervent means possible, From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggety beasties. And things that go bump in the night. Good Lord, deliver us!
Happy Halloween--whether you believe in ghoulies and ghosties or not.