1. Every summer and some Christmases, we used to visit my mom's parents in Ohio, in their 70-year-old two-story shingle-style house, a worn-out but wonderful place that I loved... except for one thing: there was only one bath, and it was downstairs.
So every night, I would wake up in the big upstairs front bedroom and have to clamber down from the very tall old spool bed without waking my mom, then tiptoe across the cool linoleum to the top of the stairs. There was a ripple-glass window at the bottom of the stairs, and moonlight would glow upward from below in the creeeeeepiest way... and the walls of the stairwell had been papered so many times that in the humidity of summer, they bulged outward as if Something
were lurking behind the wallpaper, narrowing the passage, getting ready to grab
you as you passed.
Worst of all, there was a spot halfway down the stairs where the long wooden support rail was missing one of its three-screw brass fasteners. The fastener had pulled out of the plaster, ripping the wallpaper away and leaving a bone-white skull face with two black holes for eyes and one for the mouth. It always stared directly at me as I skulked past with my back to the opposite wall. Some nights I would spend an hour gathering my courage to go back up those stairs!
2. I went to a Catholic school for part of fifth grade, and we always went to mass in the morning on Wednesdays, trooping over from school in the wake of our teacher, Sister George Marie, to the old stone church. On Ash Wednesday, of course, mass included having the priest make a cross on your forehead with smudges of ash -- and for some reason, I absolutely refused to go along with that. I wasn't entirely clear on why, but it had something to do with the idea of being marked
in some fundamental way, claimed
by something I wasn't sure I wanted to accept. I was really deeply afraid of it!
3. Girl Scout Day Camp, four of the longest days of my life circa 1964: our daily hike involved crossing a good-sized stream twice... once on two logs laid side-by-side over it, and once on just one
Now, this stream looms in my memory as a raging torrent at least forty feet across, its surface about sixty feet below the logs we crossed on. I'm guessing it was actually more like twenty across and thirty deep, but still... that's scary to a kid!
Anyway, I was absolutely knee-shakingly scared of those crossings, but of course I couldn't let on in front of the other girls. I just steeled myself and did it,
every blessed day, holding my breath in terror.
By the final day, the two-log crossing had gotten easier for me -- but that single-log crossing only got worse every time, and I remember actually wondering if parents deliberately sent
their daughters to this camp in the hope
that there would be an "unfortunate accident" and they'd be rid
of 'em once and for all...