November 27, 2013
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November 27, 2013
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December 4, 2013
Gimme Shelter: The Halloween rose garden
In those days we were living out in the country about 10 miles from town in an old rambling ark of a house. It had looked charming and eccentric when we moved in June, but now in October I realized that taking it had been a mistake.
It was the just the two of us, my 11-year-old daughter, Nora, and I. The job I had committed to in the town didn’t begin until September. The two of us were getting over the death in the spring of Anne, and felt like shipwreck survivors. Shattered, lost, but bound closer than ever, grateful to have each other.
It was a good summer together. We had a couple of horses and explored the lovely hill country that surrounded the house. I even went out alone riding sometimes in the middle of the night in a battle against insomnia and grief. The riding would tire me for sleep later and focusing on controlling the horse through dark landscapes replaced dwelling on Anne, and what Nora and I had lost.
The grounds around the house were pretty, especially an old and elaborate rose garden, almost all gone to seed, but still producing the occasional saucer-sized pure white rose.
The autumn brought work, school, and isolation, and the beginning of the short days brought a sense of oddness with just the two of us rattling around in an old house that could have comfortably housed a family of ten.
The girl was lonely, I knew, and I was kicking myself for not taking a house in town. When she asked if we could have a Halloween party, we both threw ourselves into the planning and decorating. There would be some life and laughter in the old place, and Nora could get closer to the kids she was just beginning to make friends with at school.
The party was a great success, with kids in costumes feeding and watering the horses, playing music and games in the candle-lit house, listening to ghost stories from me and other parents, devouring pizza, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and oceans of soda. At one point I was sitting on the front porch with my neighbor George from the next farm over, looking out on the chilly moonless night.
“They say this place is haunted,” George said.
I laughed. He was the chief of the volunteer fire department, and seemed to be the most serious and sober man I’d met out here. “Oh yeah, haunted by a crazy old coot years ago who killed his wife here,” he continued. “Some kind of accident when he was trying to protect her. Her pride and joy was that old rose garden.” George was pointing into the darkness. “The old widower went a little nuts and hanged himself from that tree next to her garden. They say he haunts people who love each other, making mischief.”
“And you believe that?”
There was a pause and I couldn’t quite see his face in the shadows. “Boo,” he said finally. “Happy Halloween.”
Cleaning up, Nora talked about everyone at the party. She stood behind me as I did dishes at the sink and put her arms around my waist, hugging. “This was the best Halloween,” she said.
Near two I awoke, shaking from a terrible dream and couldn’t erase the images from my mind. I crossed the hall to Nora’s room where she slept peacefully.
Trying to go back to sleep was hopeless, I knew, so I did what I had done more than once — went riding.
When I had first thought of it as an insomnia cure, I gently woke Nora up to tell her my plans. The second time she sleepily said, “Dad, just leave a note, OK?”
I left a note on my pillow, locked the house and saddled the horse.
As I rode away from the house, Nora woke shaking from her own terrible dream, seeing me lying injured at the crest of a hill that fell to a stream about half a mile away. When she checked my room and found only my note she phoned George, waking him up, telling him I was hurt, and describing exactly where I’d be lying.
“But how do you know that, honey?” he asked, trying to shake off a deep sleep. Nora began to cry, and George said to calm down, he’d have a look.
George drove his truck out a farm road toward the stream and parked at the base of the hill. He played his spotlight up and down the soft rise of ground. He was just about to drive over to our place to check on Nora when he swept the spot again over the hill, just as I rode over the crest. The sharp light caught my horse’s eyes and spooked her. She reared and threw me to the ground, exactly where Nora had told George he would find me.
In the hospital a few days later I was given a painkiller to ease the discomfort of the traction the doctor said would knit the hairline fractures of my neck. In a dreamy state, I heard the nurse come into the room accompanied by a lush, almost overpowering odor.
“These were brought by an old gentleman who wouldn’t give his name but said you’d understand,” she said, setting down a bouquet of saucer-sized, pure white roses. “Aren’t they beautiful?”