Country life: July 2008 Archives

Our idea of foreplay

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I became both fascinated with and terrified of the macabre back at my family's creaky old lodge in the Ozark wilderness. My villainous older cousins showed me the game Bloody Mary there once during our family's Christmas party. The lodge was an imposing character by itself. It sat a couple of miles off the highway down a narrow, nondescript gravel lane which opened up to a quaint clearing in the middle of the woods. It was Bavarian in appearance and unsettling anachronistic: a three-story tall gingerbread constructed of wood and stone with a giant stone fireplace running up both floors. There was a pond with a waterfall on the property; a half-mile up the lane was a small dam where a foot-wide, fifteen-foot tall slab of concrete held back the dark, still waters of a small lake. My cousins and I used to walk across that slab all the time, unbeknownst to our parents. Falling one way meant certain death on the rocks below. Falling another way seemed worse as we had no idea what lied in that mini Sargasso. Even further up the ridge and deep into the woods was a large, hidden lake. It was pristine and beautiful but we were too afraid to hike down to it because coyotes and pumas were common in the area.

Inside the lodge's interior décor was dated and neglected. The lamps were amber glass; the furniture was gold, olive, and 70s. The atmosphere had that same sepia hue visible in all photos from this era. My aunt and uncle were the property's caretakers; the lodge's owners were a group of rich doctor friends who would stay there a few times throughout the year. Otherwise, we had the run of it.

The lodge was a horror film setting waiting to happen. You have to understand this to understand my horror film neurosis. 

We had our holiday parties at this lodge and while our parents drank, played pool, ate, and visited downstairs, my cousins and I would climb the dark, narrow back stairs and play in the maze of bedrooms on the second floor. During one Christmas party the girls dared the boys to go into the bathroom and say "bloody Mary" three times with one of our folks' stolen cigarette lighters. We were all too chicken except for one cousin who did it, only if we all went into the bathroom together. After the third "bloody Mary" we were spooked and convinced that all hell was after us. It didn't help that the lodge was built like the Winchester house with secret storage areas and multiple staircases. It was the perfect environment for fear to fester. My entire youth is a series of odd vignettes like this, another reason I assume why I'm drawn to kookiness.

Also why I am simultaneously a fan of, and a total pansy about, horror stories and films. (One time in elementary school, after a kid told me a story about murderous teddy bears, I went home and blindfolded and tied the wrists of all the stuffed animals in my room. Then I was afraid to untie them because WHAT IF? They didn't have a motive before but THEY SURE DID NOW. I really wish I was joking.)

Fast-forward to last night. We had just finished watching a ridiculously stupid, yet still pretty freaky horror movie called "Dead Mary" and headed to bed. Chris kept teasing me: like when I was brushing my teeth he'd flick off the lights, poke his head in and whisper "BLOODY MARY." He thought it hysterical. When we climbed into bed, I rolled over, turned off the glass lamp, rolled back towards Chris, and felt a lump in the bed between us. Every synapse in my body simultaneously screamed "FREAK OUT FREAK OUT EVERYBODY FREAK OUT!!" I flipped over, turned on the light, and when I rolled over towards the lump I saw this looking at me:

And because Chris was exploiting my neurosis as a joke and holding it up, I ended up accidentally socking him in the face. Luckily my aim was off because I was half-blind; otherwise I might've broken his nose. He made a big dramatic deal out of it, saying Ohmygawd, it was only Elmo and I was all ohmygawd EXACTLY why, WHY do you do this to me?? Even after the drama died down and the lights were off he giggled into his sheets about it for a half-an-hour. He thought I was asleep ... but really I was just plotting my payback.

One of my favorite memories is of a humid, downright sultry summer evening in the Ozarks at my grandparents' small whiteboard house situated on the outskirts of town. My grandmother was either lonely or having a crazy spell because she allowed me and my cousins to spend the night at her house.

We spent the evening lazing on the porch swing; wading in the creek across the road; walking up the holler and catching fire flies on our way back. She picked honeysuckle blossoms from her yard and showed us how to eat the nectar from the blossom. She gave each of us girls ten Bugle chips and showed us how to put them on the tips of our fingers to make witches' fingernails.

We ran barefoot in the yard until it was too dark to see in front of us and the cacophony of frog grunts and chirping crickets matched the decibel of our own voices. She threw us each into the bathtub, let the girls use her body powder, and gave each of the boys a dab of Grandpa's cologne from the bottle which sat on his dresser next to his Bible and John Deere hat.

We climbed under old, but sweet-smelling sheets right in the middle of her living room floor. Grandpa was out hunting so she stayed up to watch the local news until the last of us was asleep.

There was an aesthetic to that night that I've since tried to replicate within my own household. People in my family remember Grandma a lot of different ways, but that's how I remember her.

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