The coven by the oven: Jennifer, Mavis and Lawrence in Detroit circa 1970
"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." -- L.M. Montgomery, "Anne of Green Gables"
Some people think that houses can be haunted. I believe the house can do the haunting. A childhood home, especially, looms large in memory, an apparition enticing us in dreams. Bedrooms beckon, sunrooms summon, kitchens call.
This is our first Halloween since I got cancer, and the first since we moved into our new house. I wonder what memories of this time my stepchildren will have, what specter will be conjured for them when they are grown and they hear the word, "home."
Autumn always makes me think of Detroit, where we moved when I was 5 years old. My sister and brother, Mavis and Lawrence, are twins, two years younger than I am. We are close enough in age to have been allies as well as adversaries. While we fought like any siblings we also played together, developing the vernacular and shorthand we still use today.
We lived in Detroit from 1968-1973 when my dad was chair of the Electrical Engineering department at Wayne State University. Those were tumultuous years for that troubled city, and also for my parents' marriage. But Mavis, Lawrence and I were too young to be much cognizant of turmoil civic or domestic, and for the three of us those years in Michigan were in many ways the most idyllic of our childhood.
I remember every room of our grand old house in Detroit, especially the room I shared with Mavis. We had twin beds with red and pink roses on the coverlets and matching curtains. There were two small desks and chairs, exactly the same model but hers a lighter wood than mine so that we would each have something unique but neither could claim the other's was superior and consequently life unfair. On my dresser I kept my treasures, chief among them an oval-shaped blue Limoges box that housed a deep red glass bead necklace my parents had brought me from Italy (Mavis was given an identical necklace, only blue). These prizes rested on a wheat-colored doily crocheted on the Canadian prairie by my Grandma Mac.
The laundry chute in that house seemed a magical thing, and through it many items other than laundry were transported from upper floors down to the basement by Mavis and Lawrence and me. I also recall the wonder of the milk chute, built right into the brick wall by the kitchen. Its metal doors and handles had weight and made a satisfying "clank" when closed and secured. Leaving a secret note in the milk chute for a neighborhood friend was an exciting form of intrigue, and the thrill was even greater when I would check the chute the next day and find a tightly folded response addressed to me, all correspondence clearly marked PRIVATE.
I can still see the enormous hole in our back yard, where Lawrence and our neighbor Tom Lee spent endless hours determinedly digging to China. They dug deep enough to hit clay, which I harvested to make little bowls and pots that I baked in the sun. You could look into that hole, and across the back yard, from a deck that opened out from my parents' study. One night Mavis and Lawrence decided to run away from home and it was from this deck that they tossed down a suitcase filled with everything they would need in their future lives. They got just a few blocks away before it grew dark and they came home, dragging the suitcase filled entirely with their stuffed animals.
I see my parents at Halloween, so much younger than I am now. My father at the kitchen table, teaching his children how to carve a jack-o'-lantern as the smell of fresh pumpkin fills the room. My mother sewing the last gold sequins onto my sister's gypsy veil. And we three kids, electric with excitement at the prospect of costumes and candy and all that comes with Trick-or-Treat.
In the gloaming, when the dark comes early and the wind whips cold, I imagine that house blinking and twinkling, glowing and coming to life. Bewitched and bewitching it haunts me still, and when I follow its siren song I find my family, our young spirits housed forever in that home.