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Every Life is a Story
    A place to share my own family stories

Monday, October 22, 2007

For Dennis

When my husband was serving a mission for our church, he got the news that his parents were getting a divorce. Then he got the news that his mother had remarried a very short time later. He returned home at the end of the mission to a completely different family, and a whole lot of confusion. He quickly left for BYU, and a short time later got engaged to me. To minimize our upcoming years of poverty, he came back with me to California that summer to work a good California wage and saving everything we could so we didn't starve to death as young married students. As a result, I did not meet my future mother-in-law or her new husband until the day before the wedding.

In the world of family politics and strife, we were in the middle of a messy one. Nerves, emotions, and hard feelings were high, and everyone was frazzled. I feared yelling and screaming fights when the ex's came face to face with one another. I was certain there would be several serious meltdowns in the middle of what was supposed to be MY perfect day. I had fully expected to completely and utterly dislike this new husband that had been the source of so much of the trouble.

Everyone had to be in the same room together the first time during the wedding rehearsal. Everyone was nervous, and there was a great deal of confusion. I was surprise when it was the new stepfather that stepped up and in a logical and unruffled manner managed to calm nerves and get everyone on the right track to making a wedding happen. He managed to turn everything around and his influence made everything turn out wonderfully. I was very grateful to him for his help.

In the years that followed, and time managed to mend wounds, I got to know Dennis better. He was fun, and funny, and dearly loved my children. They loved him right back, and looked forward to every visit. He played board games with me- when I have a really hard time convincing the rest of my family to play. His good cheer and funloving attitude set traditions for family campouts, birthday parties, and other events. I grew to love this man, who I had expected to hate. I have been very grateful for his influence in my life, and in the lives of my children.

Two weeks ago, Dennis died of cancer. It has taken me a long time to complete this post because I feel this loss very keenly. Naturally, I have thought over his story- and how his life came to be intersected with mine. Of all the incidents I could remember, this is the one that had the biggest impact on me.

He was the man I expected to hate.

I sure did love him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Girl's Camp Terror

It doesn't matter how many times I read or tell or listen to ghost stories, I always manage to scare myself. When I was a teenager, I would attend Girl's Camp for our church. We were the older girls, and were given the farthest campsite away from the main lodge that year. That meant, if we needed anything, we had a good mile or more hike to get to headquarters and leaders that could help us.

One night at camp, a neighboring camp leader came to visit. We had started telling ghost stories- a little early given it was still light out. She pitched in with stories of her own.

Boy, those were some stories.

These were not your average run-of-the-mill-everyone's-heard-these-a-hundred-times ghost stories. These were stories that had really happened to her. She told about a night she woke up to find a woman and a boy standing at the end of the bed staring at her. She told about the boy and how he would run through the living room, and vanish. She told about the poltergeist activity that followed with things vanishing and then turning up later in bizarre locations. I listened with my jaw dropped and my eyes wide open.

When she was finished, it had gotten dark, and she needed to escort her younger sister back to her camp. Nobody at my camp had thought to light a fire, we were too busy listening to stories. It was REALLY DARK. Instantly, several people volunteered to go with her, and everyone left. There were three of us left- my friend Sheila, another girl, and myself. No other leaders stayed. We lit a lantern and did what any group of girls would naturally do. We kept telling ghost stories.

We worked ourselves into a seriously frightened state. We tried to break things up by telling jokes, but it always came back to telling more ghost stories. Suddenly, the other girl in our group, who had been playing with the lantern, gave a scream, and started pounding my friend Sheila on the back! We didn't understand her strange behavior until she said, "Guys, I burned my fingers!" She had touched the metal knob at the top of the lantern, and when she showed us her fingers, they had been burned white. This was serious stuff. We quickly got her fingers under some cold water, but it quickly became apparent that she needed to see a nurse.

Who was at the lodge. A mile away. Through a very dark and scary forest. After we had freaked ourselves out telling ghost stories. We grabbed the lantern, and holding on to one another, we stumbled out onto the twisted trails that were not frightening at all during the day, but now seemed horribly oppressive. I couldn't look at anything but the trail at my feet because the dark between the trees was just too much for my panicked brain to handle.

We hadn't gone far when we ran into the rest of our camp coming back. They'd had even more adventures because their flashlight had gone out on the way to drop off the leader's sister. They had managed to shake it into giving off a tiny dim bit of yellow light, but that was it. When the leader saw our friend's fingers, she said, "I'll take the lantern, and get her to the nurse, you take the flashlight and head back to camp." The mostly DEAD FLASHLIGHT!!! All of us clutched onto each other like some big amoeba shape, and oozed our way back up the horrifyingly dark trail. The flashlight died completely twice, and was coaxed back to life to provide absolutely no help whatsoever. I was in tears by the time we got back to camp, I was so frightened.

We had to crawl into the big dark pitch black tent to find our own flashlights- images of crazy killers or ghosts that could lurk in tents to the doom of campers entering the tent. We had to get ready for bed- IN THE DARK. We had to lie there in the tent with all the flashlights OFF- the whole night! It was one of the longest nights of my life. I know I didn't sleep a bit.

Apparently, I didn't learn my lesson, because I'm still telling ghost stories, and spending at least one night every Halloween season with my lights left on to keep away the spooks.

I'm getting famous!

Rachel Hedman posted an interesting blog article on telling scary stories to children. This was based on a group discussion that she led at the last meeting for the Olympus chapter of the Utah Storytelling Guild. Loving scary stories the way I do, I put in more than my two cents worth. You can check it out here:


Thanks, Rachel!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Scary Stories

I have always loved scary stories. I remember the very first scary story I ever heard. It was on some television movie that was playing at the time, and they were telling some story about Bloody Bones. Except I missed most of the story, so my mother happily told it for me. If you've never heard it, the plot synopsis is as follows: Person sleeps in haunted location. Person hears voice say "Bloody Bones". Voice gets closer and closer until the finale which is "BOO!" or "I've Got You!" or something else that will make you jump.

I jumped. It was delicious! This was fun! I was three! By the time I got to grade school, I checked out of the library and read every single ghost story book the library had to offer. And wonderful person that I am, I shared all of them with my baby sister! I read to her bits and pieces from various books. Until the day I told her about Baba Yaga. It was in a book about various monsters- a page or two devoted to each spooky creature. Baba Yaga was in there, and I told my sister the story of the witch with the house on chicken legs that ate children. It didn't frighten me at all, I loved this stuff because it was so fun to get a little shiver. My sister, however, was terrified. She couldn't sleep, and was too scared to turn the lights off to go to bed. She cried. My frustrated mother turned on innocent little old ME, and forbade me to EVER bring another ghost story book into the house again.

Forbid. What a very strong and powerful word. It shook me up a little bit. She'd never used that word on me before, and I could tell she meant business. Not that I stopped reading ghost story books. I'd sit in the school library and read them instead. But, after that, some of the stories that I read began to get terrifying. I had only had fun with them, a happy shiver, in the past. Now, it was I who was leaving on the light, and suddenly afraid to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night for fear of what lurked in the hallway. I don't know that it was ALL from that one moment, but scary stories began to SCARE me.

That's when I read from a book a story of a box sold at an antique story. At night, out of the box came a long white arm, with one finger on the end of it, and a long black fingernail on the end of THAT. The fingernail would scratch at the lock, and the person purchasing the box would be hypnotized and get inside the box, and die. That one story caused more sleepless nights than I could tell you. That's because I retold the story at every sleepover and slumber party I ever attended, and managed to scare myself all over again.

I still love a good scary story. I love to get the shivers. I also still frighten myself to the point of wanting to have the light on. How appropriate that I now tell ghost stories to various audiences.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 1, 2007


I was always into costumes, and playing dress-up. It was by far my very most favorite thing to play. My mother had a small hamper that was filled with old costumes and old clothes we could dress up in, and that thing was used constantly. I think eventually we broke the lid, we were in and out of that hamper so many times. I would go to my cousin's house, and my Aunt Carol had all of these slips that were every single color of the rainbow- it was dress-up fodder! We would wear slips over our hair, a slip as a skirt, and a slip up under our armpits for a sleeveless shirt. We felt so beautiful.

Loving costumes the way I did, it was only natural that I thought a lot about Halloween, and what costume I would wear. I had exotic visions of myself dressed in ball gowns Cinderella would have envied, or whatever I was into each year. I would start asking about my Halloween costume in August.

My mother was not into costumes. Costumes were just one of those necessary evils that you had to put up with because it was Halloween. She did NOT want to be hearing me ask about Halloween costumes in August, and would get angry with me if I did. Usually, we would end up buying a costume a week or so before Halloween. Whee. Costumes then were plastic smocks with some pattern printed on it, and a plastic mask with eye and mouth holes cut out and a thin piece of elastic stretched from one side to the other. The elastic would always break after a short time, and the smock was about as beautiful as wearing a hospital gown- no matter what kind of design was printed on it. It did not live up to my glorious expectations.

I learned how to sew specifically to sew the costumes I wanted. I started going to yard sales specifically to find cool costume pieces (the best was a yard sale where the lady hadn't thrown out any of her clothes since the 1950's. I had real go-go dresses from that one!). My cedar chest isn't filled with linens, it's filled with costumes. There's a large box for clothing under my bed that's filled with costumes. I have about three costumes I'm planning on wearing this month for various events.

The only drawback with my love of costumes is that my children seem to have inherited it, and back in June, they told me what they wanted to be for Halloween. August, I could handle, but June??? And they didn't want to be just anything. They wanted to be Organization 13 members from the Kingdom Hearts Video Game. Yes. Really. There is no pattern for this, and the only place I could find that sells them has them for over a hundred dollars- special ordered from Japan. And all this for a costume that nobody is going to recognize! Everyone will assume they are dressed up as death with silver spiky hair.

Remembering my bitter disappointment in the costumes of MY childhood, I am reluctant to disappoint my children. Especially when I've already finished sewing my costume. My sewing machine is going to be really really busy.

This was not a consequence I had foreseen when I developed a love of costumes.

"To be a person
is to have a story to tell."

- Isak Dinesen  

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