In the year 1968 I was 8 years old, an Air Force brat. That was the year my father was sent to Vietnam for a one-year tour. Because Dad was stationed in Texas at the time he received his orders, Mom was offered the opportunity by the government to move closer to family.
When Dad was working at Truax Field in Madison, Wisconsin, we had lived in the Rio area of Wisconsin. We lived there until I was about 3. Rio is halfway between Cicero, Illinois, and Hayfield, Minnesota, where at the time each set of my grandparents lived. So in 1968 it was an easy choice for Mom; we rented an old farmhouse from a brother and sister who co-owned the farm.
The house was never completely cleaned; furniture sat in corners, a cubby hole was full of long-forgotten items and closets held mysteries. Mom and I were perplexed by a piano left behind. It looked as though the brother never played, being a typical rough-looking aged farmer. And his sister had only two fingers on one of her hands. Maybe their mother had played and they had kept the dusty instrument in her memory.
With Dad at war the specter of death was palpable. That was the year I learned that we would surely outlive our beloved German Shepherd, Penny. That was greatly upsetting because it was more of a certainty than losing Dad. Mom wrote Dad endless daily letters and watched the news intently. We didn’t need to discuss what was on her mind.
Upstairs in that big creaky farmhouse was a big room for my brothers to share. Down a short hall was another smaller room for me. Thinking about scary stuff in my room was amplified by several factors. I had one small window that looked out upon a lightning rod. I wondered if it would attract lightning, if my room would become a fiery death-trap.
Above was an attic trapdoor. I wondered if something ominous would come down from the attic to corner me, with no chance at escape.
Across the hall from my room was a closet door. I wondered what creepiness it held, if it was another chance to be terrorized. My room was the spookiest room I decided.
One day as I played in my room my mother decided to clean that closet; I could then use it for hanging my dresses. Armed with brown-paper grocery bags she separated out valuable things to return to the landlords. She stuffed trash into another bag.
Mom was pulling an item out of the closet when a small exclamation escaped her lips. She thrust the item into the trash bag out of my sight and then ran down to the phone. She called her good friend Betty. I could overhear the conversation; I could tell Mom was rattled – with good reason. She had found three severed digits in a jar of alcohol.
Horrified, I realized whose they were – the sister’s. They had been cut off when her coat sleeve was caught in the fan blades of a car while helping her father. For some strange reason they were saved for more than 50 years in that dark closet.
I never slept in that room again; it was too much for an 8-year-old to bear. I spent the rest of the year sleeping on an Army cot downstairs.
Whenever I tell this story to someone they think I’m joking. I do tease and kid around a lot so the grandchildren have a difficult time believing me because of that.
But this story is true with no exaggerations or pranks pulled.
Happy Spooky Halloween.