About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

The Haunted House and Mrs. Haines

Every neighborhood had a haunted house when I grew up. In order to be haunted, a house had to meet these requirements:

It had to be a fair distance from you, whether "distance" meant across town or down the block. It had to be much larger or much smaller than the other houses on the block. It had to be shabbier than the other houses on the block. And the owner had to be more reclusive than the other owners on the block.

In my neighborhood, a blue-collar suburb of Detroit, the haunted house was big and white with peeling paint and a blue shingled roof and a sagging gray porch. Kids dared each other to go up and ring the bell, then run away.

People who managed to catch a glimpse of the owner said her name was Mrs. Haines. She was young and wore pedal pushers and had long strawberry blonde hair. Thinking back, she was quite lovely. The other moms on the block were nice people, but "willowy free spirit" doesn't describe any of them. It did Mrs. Haines.

I never did see a Mr. Haines. Maybe he worked nights. Maybe Mrs. Haines was a widow or divorcée. In the early 1960s both were rare in our neighborhood. It was another reason why we saw her as mysterious.

There aren't any haunted houses today. Kids have it drummed into them not to ring strangers' doorbells and to respect other people. No argument, both are good things. But I have to wonder how much imagination is stifled in the process. Kids can read about haunted houses in Goosebumps. Or go to Halloween extravaganzas at amusement parks, the ticket prices scaring the bejabbers out of their parents. But prepaid, prefabricated fright isn't as powerful as the fright that children conjure in their own imagination.

Today I would probably be the Mrs. Haines if I lived on a city block. House smaller than others, no shortage of things to be fixed, making excursions to town only rarely.

I don't know the circumstances of Mrs. Haines's life, but she still haunts me today. I hope the silly behavior of neighborhood children didn't haunt her.

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