An old house on a hill, hidden in the Eucalyptus trees, was reputed to be haunted – and so we “haunted” the eucalyptus grove around the haunted house. From our cover, the house looked abandoned, but I remember seeing a broom on the porch at the rear of the house, and I remember an old truck that groaned up the hill from time to time, and so surmised that the house was not abandoned, but that it was haunted – because that was what was said about it by the kids in our neighborhood, some of them older (and more experienced) than us.
Then one day, when I was creeping around the woods by myself, I spied the spook, and the spook spied me. I froze with fear, staring at a tall, thin man, wearing a plaid shirt. Straightening, he slowly placed one hand on his hip; I noticed that his fingers were very long and very brown. His face was shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat, and he wore glasses, but I could feel the question in his eyes: “Who are you, and why are prowling around my house?” I do not remember what happened after that, but somehow the stigma faded, and we grew up – and then, and then . . .
Recently, my brother brought up the case of the spook house and the spook. He had heard that black people were called “spooks,” at one time and in some places. Our spook was a black man (I think) but we did not know prejudice. I remember that people who were different in some way made me feel shy, and I imagined that it was the same for them. That was the extent of it. Anyway, don't all kids need a haunted house?
I did not learn about the meaning of prejudice until I was school age; my parents did not teach it: they taught kindness. My mother encouraged my sister, Grace, to make visitations to the old ladies in our neighborhood, curiously, something she was inclined to do. She helped me become organized so that I could collect pennies for Meals for Millions. My dad approved when I gave my pencil box to a little kid in school who did not have one, but he discouraged me from parting with my blue bunny – which I could not have done anyway; I felt rather guilty about that.
Speaking of guilt: I fabricated sins when I went to confession. Seriously, I did, but eventually, Father McLaughlin caught on and asked me if I told other lies. Ah ha!
“Why do you lie?” asked this good man.
“I don't know.”
“Lying does seems like the best thing to do, sometimes, doesn't it?”
(I had imaginary friends; somehow, they were not lies.)
He asked me if I had ever heard the story about the boy who cried “wolf.” He said, “After awhile, people won't believe you anymore - if they catch you lying – and they will catch you, just like I did.”
I decided to be a storyteller (rather than a liar). Stories were received better than lies, I decided. My sisters appreciated the imaginary friends who came to visit me (and them) in my bed every night, and would often say, “Tell us a story.”
P.S. This story is subjectively true. Hopefully, that does not make it a lie.