Being fifty-something, I know what it feels like to be scared, that heady mix of fear and adrenaline that enlivens your senses.
When I was very little, I was scared of most things at Grandma’s house. I only have vague memories of our rare visits there. I see snippets of dark and busy Victorian décor, black and orange vases, brass jardinières and menacingly large clocks that ticked loud and incessant.
I have a memory of staying overnight and sleeping (or not) with my sisters in Grandma’s parlour amongst the scary stuff. Scariest of all were the family photos that graced the walls … unknown ancestors captured in monocolour, trapped in oval wooden frames beneath concave glass. You know the photos I mean. Where their steely gazing eyes follow you around the room. Mona Lisa style. But without the smile. Never a smile because Victorian portraiture was dour and dark. And scary.
I suspect my sisters encouraged my fear, telling tall stories and pointing out shadows. The only escape was to head beneath the blankets where I eventually found sleep.
In the light of morning I was more courageous and joined my sisters giggling and laughing, poking fun at the ugly scary ladies and men. Somehow, it felt good to have been scared and to wake in the morning with no fear. Me: one. Scary lady: none.
That’s why I take great delight in the “scary lady” who lives in my dining room.
Personally, I don’t find her scary at all. She’s a large original portrait painted by My Girl in acrylic on canvas. I love the tilt of her head and how her expression exudes attitude, maybe angst. She’s one of my favourite things in the world.
But to my pre-school grand nieces (Miss A and Miss E) she is the scary lady. Even in full daylight.
When they visit, Misses A and E can’t help but stare at the scary lady. Nor can I. Like most munchkins, they love to find a looped route through a house where they can circuit ‘round and ‘round. In our house, that route inevitably takes you up the stairs into the dining room and directly past the scary lady. I love to watch the girls chasing after one another then slowing and huddling in close as they inch their way past her, their eyes transfixed by hers. Their little faces transform into mock horror and they seem to edge near tears. But the tears never come. The girls make it past the scary zone and resume their giggling play. I’m hoping it feels good to them to be scared, to manage that fear and bounce back to fun.
It’s the stuff of horror movies and suspense novels, of Halloween and rollercoasters. It’s healthy fear that enlivens the senses and makes us feel alive.
If you’re feeling brave, I’ll let you in on a secret. There is something in my dining room that is much more fearsome than the scary lady painting.
Cue Twilight music.
Here it is.
That’s right. The scary lady harbours a dark secret. Beneath her confident demeanour hides a grim eighties-style air conditioner. That’s why she hangs there: to cover up this beast that emerges only once or twice a year when the temperature nudges into the forties. It’s something I’ve learned to live with. When we arrived here, the beast was mission brown. We added a period decorative trim and painted it cream, hoping the camouflage effect would have it disappearing into the wall. It did not.
Lucky for us, the scary lady stepped in and saved the day.
And lucky for Misses A and E.