As a child, I remember summers at my Grandparent’s farm in Northern California. I remember thudding sprinklers, insects at dusk, and the smell of newly baled hay. It was a place of refuge for us kids. I don’t remember thinking back then that I was safer there, but I knew I was happier.
Our days would be filled with war games with wooden guns. The cows would chew their cud and watch us creep through the barn. Somebody would yell “bang!” and somebody else would die a horrible, stomach clutching, writhing death, and the cows would continue to chew without a hint of interest or sympathy. Sometimes we would play hide and seek, and sometimes we would test our bravery by jumping out of the hayloft into an old rusty trailer that sat just below. Once in awhile we would roughhouse in the living room until Grandma told us to get back outside before something broke.
At night we would lose ourselves in sun dried sheets and heavy home made quilts. Grandma Leva would kiss each one of us before tucking us in.
We would wake up late in the morning to the smell of buttermilk pancakes on the griddle, pancakes that didn’t come from a box. Grandma made maple syrup from maple extract, boiling it on the stove.
“Come on down or I’m going to throw it out,” Grandma would say quietly at the foot of the stairs. She never raised her voice, even when waking us. We never thought she would actually throw breakfast to the chickens, but we never tested her either.
Loved ones were always in and out of Grandpa’s farm house. Great aunts and uncles would oftentimes be seated around the big kitchen table, speaking quietly and drinking coffee. They would laugh with the familiarity of years. Uncle Wally would magically make coins appear from behind our ears, then regale us with the same ridiculous stories he had been telling since we were old enough to speak. We listened raptly and laughed like we had never heard them before, and it was wonderful.
One summer night we kids were having a hard time going to sleep after the lights were turned out. Earlier we had been sitting out in the living room in our jammies listening to the aunts and uncles talk. Now we lay snug in our beds while Grandma stood at the door, her hand poised over the light switch.
“There’s nothing in the dark that wasn’t there in the light,” said Grandma softly.
“But Grandma,” we cried. “It’s scary in the dark.”
“Don’t be silly,” Grandma said, and out went the light.
She hadn’t gone 5 steps down the long hallway before our cries brought her back. The light came on again.
“Now kids, this really is silly,” said Grandma through tight lips and furrowed brows.
Now at this point most of us were more than willing to take our chances with whatever creatures we imagined lurking in the dark than with a very real and irritated Granny.
“But Grandma,” said Garth, “Why can’t we just have the hall light on?”
Good old Garth, the middle child, the constant agitator up and down both levels of the sibling food chain. He wasn’t two weeks removed from his now infamous cartwheel through Grandma’s prized china cabinet, and here he was back talking her. That must have been one hell of a monster residing under his bed.
“I’m going to show you kids once and for all,” said Grandma, eyeballing Garth, “that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.” Striding purposefully to the window, she peered out, her face practically touching the glass. “See, nothing to be afraid….” And then she screamed.
Outside, with his nose smashed up against the glass, was Uncle Wally, grinning evilly. He had snuck away and had been crouching under the bedroom window, listening to the whole exchange. His timing was perfect.
Grandma collected herself and stalked out of the bedroom, hitting the lights as she went. We went to sleep without another peep because now we knew for sure what lurked in the shadows when the lights went out—Uncle Wally.
And who was afraid of Uncle Wally?