I was supposed to pick up (G)Nat from a post-school event at a certain hour; I arrived early, as is my wont. You want to eyeball the room, and if you don’t see your child right away and thus assume she has been kidnapped, you have a ten-minute head start. It takes a while to get the money together, you know. On the way into the building an outgoing mom said (G)Nat was calling home for a ride – they’d let out 15 minutes early, it seemed. Sure enough, she was at the phone. I walked up behind, signaled to the other kids not to give me away, and listened.
She got to the end of the recorded message, then said “Hi Dad, I’m done. Can you come and get me?”
“Sure,” I said, right behind her. “Be right there.”
Out of her skin she jumped. Mission accomplished. It was a good hearty delightful scare, though. We walked from the community center to the church, past the school – real Norman Rockwell country here, eh? – and chatted about my appearance before her class earlier that day. I’d read two books to the kids, and given my usual pitch to read the newspaper. Last year nearly all the kids in her class raised hands when asked if they had a paper in the house. This year, maybe five. That’s a huge decline in market share. It’s possible they declined to participate in the survey – heck, my own kid didn’t raise her hand. In fact she hissed STOP TALKING ABOUT THE PAPER at me and drew her finger across her throat. If she’d had a hook she would have pulled me off stage.
The kids were a good audience, and I enjoyed the opportunity to overact. But there’s nothing like ten minutes with a class of elementary students to make you sympathetic for the screeching headmasters of the old British public school horror stories who ruled with the bat, the stare, the dark sarcasm. Where was their advocate, I ask you? All we ever heard was the bitter tales of the naughty lads who got caned for spectacular acts of indolence and sin, like thinking of an elbow which could quite possibly be attached to a lady. No wonder their teachers lost their temper. I mean, really: how can you eat your pudding if you haven’t eaten your meat? It’s such a simple thing it would drive a man mad to find himself in a situation where the question has to be spoken aloud.
Anyway. The kids wanted to speak all at once at the beginning, because they sensed someone whose authority was transient and inconsequential. The teacher put a stop to that in eight seconds by counting to ten. They do not let her get to ten, I gather. This teacher lays down laws like John Henry laying down railroad ties. God bless and keep her. I read two books, part of a series, then solicited recommendations for a third. MAKE IT ABOUT A BAD DEAD FAMILY! Shouted one boy. Ohhhkay. Maybe not. Afterwards my daughter came up and gave me a little hug and thanked me for coming. If the moment had been any sweeter it would have been cube-shaped and wrapped with paper that said DOMINO.
But I’m jumping around. After the play, which was hours after the reading, we passed the old oak tree and the smithy’s and the penny-candy store and the gazebo where the band was pumping out “Ole Virginny Summer” and finally got to the church, for choir. First, pizza. (G)Nat had a piece while I had two; she ran off with her friends while I read a Flashman book. Fifteen minutes later she reappeared, flushed, pant legs rolled all the way up.
“Ronnie found a secret passage in the Fellowship hall? And we went up to the balcony and when we were up there we heard noises and we had to crawl on our stomachs and we saw the Blue Ghost but we didn’t look at it and when we went down the stairs in the secret passage again the lights went off and it was really scary.”
The Blue Ghost?
“Uh huh the Blue Ghost Ronnie saw it and if you look right at it and you see its eyes you turn to stone.”
I don’t think so.
"Uh huh it’s true. Okay I have to go."
She ran off. I went over to Ronnie’s Mom, and said the girls had discovered a secret passage to the balcony, and had met the Blue Ghost, but had not turned to stone. She thanked me for the update.
(G)Nat appeared again after ten minutes, just as flushed. She was scared, and wanted me to come up the secret passage so she could show me she wasn’t kidding. I said fine. Off we went – down the hall, into the Fellowship Hall – one of several Church Basements in the church basement – and up a side stairway. This would be original infrastructure, dating back to the 20s. It went up quite a way. Since we were ghost hunting, it was incumbent upon me to make a strangled scream and stagger backwards halfway up, which earned me a substantial quantity of remonstrations. It was bad enough that I’d given her a startle; I was disrespecting the gravity of the situation. There was a Blue Ghost up there.
The stairs did indeed lead to the balcony. It’s an old church. It’s a big church, too; the balcony is way-high, nearer my God to thee territory, and if you’re seven it’s quite a giddy place to be. It was dark, except for the crepuscular light struggling through the stained-glass window. (The blue stained-glass window.) It was dark down below, but the altar was lit. Off to the side was a pool of light in the choir loft, and there was music: someone was ringing a handbell, and someone else was drawing a finger around the rim of a glass. (G)Nat hugged me, and I could feel her heart banging away.
She had a point. Churches are scary. The old stone, the dark wood – there’s something here between the shadows, and it may not be on your side. She wanted to go and we left, and I looked back to see the final light of the day draped over the pews in the back. Faint; fading; the last whisper of sunset. It was blue.
Then they all pranced off to choir and sang their hearts out.
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