Allendale: A Shunned House Part 8

I was far into adulthood when my uncle set before me the notes and data which he had collected concerning the shunned house. Dr. Elias Allen was a folklorist by profession, having settled in at Austin Peay University after a short stint in California. He was a bachelor. White-haired, clean-shaven, often described by my mother as “delightfully fussy,” he was so much older than my father and his two other brothers that Uncle Elias was the closest I had to a grandfather.

He lived in a large Victorian house in Clarksville and, even as a child, I loved to visit him and listen as he delighted in sharing with me which spoon in what drawer was used by Governor Houston when he visited our family and which flask was known to be a favorite of President Jackson when he accompanied our ancient kin on hunting trips. Once he even gave me a minie ball which he claimed had come out of the leg of one of our relatives after a gruesome Civil War field surgery. I have that in my pocket still.

The notes on Allendale were mostly genealogical in nature and hard for me to follow, seeing as how the Allens had a tendency to reuse the same names, generation after generation, repeating them in each branch of the family tree. An anecdote about a George Allen with no clues as to the year of birth of that George was almost meaningless, applying as it might to ten or fifteen different men, myself included, over the two-hundred years we’ve lived in Tennessee.

But even as particular details were often impossible to attribute to the correct people, slowly a continuous thread of trouble woven through our branch of the family began to emerge. And that thread tied directly to Allendale.

I began to exhaustively research the home and the families who had been tied to it and what I learned would eventually send me and my dear uncle on our disastrous quest. And my poor uncle, who had not been in the house since he, himself, was a young man would enter it one night and not come away with me from it in the morning. I erected a monument to his memory in the Gallatin city cemetery, near to our more famous relatives and I visit it often.

I am lonely without him.

Ghosts, demons, witches, haunted houses, killer bushes: In Kubrick’s Shining, and the work of Shirley Jackson, these are all distractions. The real horror lies in being human, in the things we believe to keep ourselves going. We believe we can get a fresh start if we move. We believe Daddy really loves us, he just gets mad sometimes. We believe that she would have died anyway, that there was nothing we could have done. We believe that our community has strong values, that we’re doing this in the name of justice, that we’re expelling the monster, that there’s no need to listen to a few malcontents. We believe that it will all be different if we can just get him away from the booze for a while. We believe, and believe, and believe, and the river of blood keeps flowing. Horror isn’t something outside or supernatural or Other: It’s us. It’s the monster in the face of the person you love, or in the mirror.–Sadie Doyle

This is my grandma’s brother, Harold. See what I mean? I love this guy and I never even met him, just based on this photo alone.

I, Too, Hate How I Look in Pictures

I want to show you a photo my brother posted on Facebook this morning.

It is impossible for words to express how much I adore this picture, which mush have been taken this summer, if only because the ROTC has taken my oldest nephew’s hair since school started. I like to think about how my brother’s great grandchildren might look at this picture, should they find it, fifty or sixty years from now. I mean, I think of it in comparison to the photos I have of my great grandparents, with only Teckla smiling, the rest looking so damn dour.

And I hope they appreciate the strain of silliness in our family. I hope they look at this picture and imagine that we were ridiculous and playful and, for all our bullshit, beautiful.

This is why I’m trying to be better about having my picture taken, which I hate. Because the people who love you have a.. right may be too strong a word… let’s say the people who love you have a claim worth honoring to mementos of the people they love, even if you are a woman who’s looking more and more like a grouchy German man.

I want old people to be able to point to pictures of me and say “That was my dad’s Aunt Betsy. That must be where you got your curly hair, your love of writing, your fascination with ghost stories.” Or just “That was Aunt Betsy.” Just that is fine. Let me be some familiar stranger with a friendly smile.

And let them delight that we were alive once and silly, you know?

The Creep

Yesterday I met up for coffee with S. under a picture of some motherfucking creepy bunny people, a picture so simultaneously creepy and awesome that I wished I had $500 to take it home with me right that second, where I would then, promptly, put it in a room where I wouldn’t have to look at it.

Anyway, so there we’re sitting talking about shit when a guy walks in and is standing way too close to everyone’s tables. If you’re a regular patron of the Starbuck’s on 21st where that guy comes in and asks for money or chases people through the parking lot asking for money, it had that kind of vibe. I clutched my purse closer, but S. felt pretty confident that though dude was way too close to people’s tables, he was just looking for an outlet for his laptop.

Fast forward ten minutes or so and the table next to us opens up and he comes over, sits down, and does indeed plug in his laptop. And I’m feeling slightly bad for thinking of him as a creepster. So, now, there’s a big bench under the rabbit-masked people with two tables along it. We’re at one. He’s at the other. He’s sitting right next to S. We continue to chat, he seems to be working a little bit. Then, at some point, I glance over and he is just full on staring at S. I mean, looking at her like there is no one else in the place. He’s not looking away. He’s not glancing around the room. He’s just watching her.

And now I’m watching him. My first thought is that maybe he’s staring past her out the window on the other side of the room, you know, like kind of staring off into space, past her? But no, his eyes are focused and he’s looking right at her, not two feet from him, not past her.

My next thought is, how long can a dude stare at a person like that? Like just as a matter of curiosity, I wonder how long he can go on. I wonder how long he was watching her before I noticed. But then, he just doesn’t stop. We’ve moved from talking about some cool thing she’s doing to some cool thing I’d like to try back to some experience she’s had trying something similar and he’s still staring. He’s staring at her so intently that when I’m like “We need to go.” and I point with my eyes over at him and she gets a nervous, uncomfortable grin on her face, he doesn’t even glance over at me to see what she’s reacting to.

We regroup by the bathroom and I tell her that we need to somehow need to make it less clear how near to the coffee shop she lives, just for my own peace of mind. So, we sit outside for a while and then we both get in my car and take a big, long loop around East Nashville, before heading back to her place in a way that doesn’t go by the coffee shop.

I was kind of embarrassed because she also had gotten a creepy vibe from him, but hadn’t noticed the staring, and I wasn’t sure if I was overreacting or not. But it was like some fight or flight instinct kicked in. The longer he watched her, the more my heart started racing and I was like “We have to get the fuck out of here.”

It was weird. The whole thing. Maybe he just wanted our spot and was prepared to make us uncomfortable enough to leave? I don’t know.