My father was a salesman who spent much of the week on the road. He was the type of man that made friends very easily, never met a stranger, yet had a demeanor that commanded respect. Doormen, waitresses, store clerks were all “partner”, “sweetheart”, “darlin'”, or “babe” to him. He was a tall man; very confident. He had a wide, quick and inviting smile that put people at ease, yet a big booming voice that could make those same people shake in their boots.
My mother was a gentle, quiet woman. Perhaps she hadn’t always been, but by the time Doug was born, gentle, quiet and shy is who my mother had become. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my parent’s marriage, I believe she became a shadow behind my father. I suppose that’s the case in many relationships when one spouse, such as Dad, has such a dynamic personality, the other just takes a back seat in life. She was kind to everyone; always a pleasure to be around. Sweet, sweet personality… normally.
Sadly, Mom was an alcoholic. The long lonely weeks that Dad spent out of town took a toll on her. She drank, I suppose, to drown that loneliness. When she drank, she became a completely different person; never mean, just not pleasant. She didn’t just sip a cocktail now and then, she drank to get drunk and drunk she did get – falling down drunk.
On more than one occasion while living back at my parents house, Doug would talk about “the other Nana” or say something about “two Nanas” living with us. At the time, I believed that perhaps he was seeing the two different personalities my mother had, one sober, and one intoxicated. In retrospect, I wonder now, if even as a tiny little boy, his mind was playing tricks on him. Was he, even way back then, seeing people that weren’t there? I remember asking him one time why he thought there were two different Nanas living with us. He said, “One Nana is laying down in the bedroom and one is in the kitchen cooking.” His “two Nanas” left me completely puzzled.
I had a wealthy aunt that died when Doug was still 3 or 4 years old. While her estate was being settled, my dad asked my sister Beth and I to live in her large house to stave off burglars and vandals. So Beth, Doug, and I packed up our belongings and moved into this wonderful huge old home.
While my aunt was still living, she’d subscribed to a very expensive alarm service after the death of her husband. The service included not only a loud sounding alarm that blared throughout the neighborhood if security had been breached, but it also included an automated phone call to the police department and to my parents house. I recall several middle of the night phone calls waking my father alerting him that my Aunt’s home had been broken into, only to be followed in short order by another call from my aunt telling dad not to worry and not to come over, that she had purposely set off the alarm to time how long the police would take to arrive. She tested them often. My aunt was a bit of a drinker herself.
By the time Beth and I had moved into the house, the alarm service had been discontinued as requested by various family members or heirs that wanted to save money for the estate. Beth and I were not worried about not having an alarm system. My aunt’s belongings and valuables were already spoken for and removed from the house. We were there with just our meager belongings. Admittedly though, I was afraid. The house was big and made a lot of unidentified noises. I had always believed in ghosts, and now, I was sure, I was living among them.
On one of the prettiest spring days I can remember, Doug and I were in the front lawn playing hide and seek beneath the huge oak trees my aunt had always been so proud of. Dad had called earlier and suggested that we join he and Mom for dinner out at the fish camp down on the lake. He’d mentioned how beautiful the weather was and that we could eat out on the deck, which was always a favorite thing for Doug. So after playing hide and seek for a while, I took Doug in to give him a quick bath and get dressed for dinner out.
Suddenly, while Doug was playing in the tub, the alarm went off. It was the loudest, most ear-piercing sound I’d ever heard. I grabbed Doug up out of the water and ran downstairs to the alarm switch in the kitchen. I found the switch but it needed a key. I searched all around and could not find any keys. I called my parents. Mom reminded me that the alarm service had been discontinued and the actual alarms had been dismantled and removed by the alarm company. Dad got on the phone and we discussed how even if the alarm system was, for some reason still in place, the weather could not be blamed for setting it off, it was after all a gorgeous day. Dad said they’d come right over.
I had put Doug down while looking for the key. After I hung up the phone with Mom and Dad I picked Doug back up and tried to act like this was no big deal. I said, “Let’s get back upstairs and get you dressed before Nana and Pap get here so we can go out to eat.”
On the way up the steps, with the noise of the phantom alarm still blaring, Doug asked, “Mommy, who is that man upstairs?” I stopped short, put Doug down, and asked, “Honey, what man?”
“Mommy, the man standing at the end of the hall when you got me out of the tub.”
The noise of the alarm stopped as suddenly as it had started.