Go ahead, think of a childhood dream. Make it a cuddly, warm and fuzzy dream where someone you love is with you adoring you and keeping you safe. It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it…recalling that dream? You awoke in the morning with pleasant thoughts that stayed with you throughout the day. Now, think of a nightmare that drew you from sleep. You jerked, cried and maybe screamed, that someone or something was going to “get you”. Perhaps you awoke in the pitch dark of your bedroom and no one heard you cry. That wasn’t nice, was it?
Now, think of a memory from childhood. Something you’re sure really happened. It may have been a camping trip where spooky stories were told around a bonfire. Or, it may have been walking through Times Square, many decades ago, and seeing the Camel billboard with the puff of smoke blowing out from between the man’s lips. You know this was real because you can read about the famous billboard in popular culture books of New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. But what about that memory of you standing in some unknown relative’s house, with the entire family watching you, while your father struggled to get your thick bulky snowsuit off? And what about another distant relative your family visited one afternoon so many years ago. Did this “uncle” really have a massive model railroad setup in his basement? That was probably about 1954…or was it 1955? But the question nags you; did that really happen or was it just a dream?
These dreams, good and bad, and those troubling memories can get confused in your brain. You never really know for sure.
Like the time, when I was a child and I went upstairs to take a bath.
I lived in a large old house with five bedrooms. There were two full bathrooms upstairs and a toilet near the living room, downstairs. My parents bought the house in 1945. I was born in 1947, so I spent my childhood years in that big, old and drafty mansion. It had a cellar that terrified me with its darkness. The attic? Forget it. Up there dwelt beings that spent all their time in attics, never coming down…always staying behind the door in the hallway that led up those old wooden stairs.
To avoid confusion, we gave names to many of the rooms in the house. Names like “The Dogs Kitchen”, the “Back Room” or the “Upstairs Back Room”. The bathrooms were “The Blue Bathroom” which was once painted blue, but I never saw it that color, only the pink flowered wallpaper that covered the old blue paint. The other bathroom had two names: “Dad’s Bathroom” because it was close to the room where he slept alone. Behind a glass door at the end of the hall, he had a veritable suite to himself. The other name was the “Back Bathroom”. It was isolated and always seemed chilly even in the summer. It’s tiny window faced east so it lost sunlight early. I could scrape rime ice from the inside of the window in the winter. It also had an old “claw foot” tub. This is where I was heading to take a bath one evening.
I pushed the door open and nearly fell backward when I glanced at the thing in the tub. I simply could not believe what I saw. How and when it got there was beyond me. No one had said anything. No one prepared me. There in the tub, was a frozen pig, sliced neatly in half from snout to tail. It must have been there all night because it had begun to thaw. A full-size pig that had been frozen as hard as granite would take some time to go completely soft. But it had started. I looked at the feet, the pigs feet, and saw blood slowly run along the bottom of the tub and take a few swirls before going down the drain.
I may have run. I may have walked. But I got out of the room faster than a rat heads for its hole.
My dad took me back upstairs and explained that he had joined a food buying program at the local GLF store. If you bought things in large quantities, you’d get a hefty discount. So he bought half a pig.
Later my brothers stood around the tub and watched the slow thaw soften the flesh. My geeky older brother, the science guy, pointed out the various organs, despite the fact that most were shown in cross-section and were represented by only 50% of the original. I avoided looking at the head, not wanting to see the half brain. I assume it was dead and solidly frozen when the saw began its cut. But I couldn’t help to imagine how a thought or a memory gets split like that in only a few seconds. I knew nothing about brain hemispheres then. Perhaps, if the half pig were alive, it could have dreamy thoughts of the sow in the other paddock, but couldn’t comprehend the swill that filled the trough in the middle of the sty. I wondered about these things.
Months later, the body was gone. Some of it was eaten for dinner and some of it was cut up and placed in our deep freezer…the one in “The Dogs Kitchen” that looked like an oversized white coffin. It too was also part of the buy-in-bulk deal.
I made my father wash out the tub several times. He assured me it was quite clean, but the tub was never the same after that. It was years before I could take a bath in it. Can energies of the departed occupy solid objects? Ghosts, we all know, can walk through doors, walls and even living people.
Can a tombstone, a house, an axe, a tree, a small plot on a battlefield become “owned” by something, some kind of spirit that we cannot see or touch?
I’m middle-aged now. One hobby is to browse antique stores for interesting objects from the past.
When I come upon a claw foot bath tub…I keep walking.
© 2012 Patrick Egan