It was the time of day when no one thought to turn on the lights. A plate of clams was downstairs, and the sun had fallen below the tall hedges.

Dusk was making its way into the big house and up the stairs, where we cousins were told to read a book, play a game, get ready for dinner. We clung by age, draping off the top bunk, playing Uno, polishing toenails with a foot on the sink. I laid on the floor by the stairs with my chin on a fist, looking at an old nail bent wrong and thinking about the tasty cocktail sauce downstairs. Sand was in my sunburnt ears.

Dinner was slow to the table that night and the cousins shared a potato chip bag upstairs. When the dusk broke down into dark, we reached for the lights and started talking about the house’s ghost.

Our families called the ghost Grace. We knew about her history from the house’s owner, and even other renters. It made us laugh if we were outside in the sun at the beach, and our families bonded over this experience. Our own ghost! But if we were inside the house, when the sun was depleted, the cousins would stay downstairs in a large group until it was time for bed and go up together. No one spent time alone upstairs, even during the day, and especially not at night.

“Don’t leave me,” we’d say. Or a simple, “wait!”

The ghost never made an appearance, but she did make her feelings known. Some of us had come across a strong sense of anger while opening this one old door upstairs, and to me as an 11-year-old, this was evidence of somebody invisible. Was it left behind emotion? Or was she standing right there? It was anybody’s guess.

Finally, we heard pots in the kitchen. Laughter. They were having fun, telling their own stories. I could smell barbecue sauce and was relieved. My cousin and I left the younger cousins to play Rummy 500 on our bed. By this time, the dark had grown heavier. We turned our table lamp on, needing it to see the cards on the bed.

We were deep into the game when the lamp began to dim. Slowly. As if electricity was being pinched away. My cousin and I looked at each other, and turned our heads back to the lamp, watching it grow dimmer.

When the lamp light was gone, the screaming started. Cousins ran from the bedrooms hysterical, bare feet pounding down the thin hallway and stairs to the first floor, where we found more dark.

But the fireplace already had a fire so we held onto each other in front of it, shouting story upon story of what just happened, recounting the event already, while flashlights were found. “It’s Grace!” we said. “She’s here!” Adults talked about the island’s unreliable electric plant, how the wiring in the house was ancient, but we cousins knew it was the ghost. Dinner was by flashlights that night.

Photo by Pixabay on

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As always, xoxo Amy

Lady of the Ants

When we got out of the car and stood in the parking lot, Eva and I discovered we were Woodlanders.

“Across the field,” said a big lady.

I heard the word “bye” sprinkled around me like rainfall and I said my own bye – “See you in a week!” said my mother. I could see my sisters in the car, their faces at the window. I turned and followed my cousin across the field.

When we found the Woodlanders section Eva and I walked up the wooden steps of the first platform tent. I chose the cot next to the front tent flaps and Eva took the one close to mine.

Then we heard a rough shout and a whistle. We stopped talking and looked out of the tent. It was the big lady, and she wanted everyone to sit in front of her. She stood with her hands on her hips in a brown T-shirt and dirty jeans and she did not smile. I thought of my mother’s red and white tank top.

We sat cross-legged in the dirt in front of the big lady and she told us her name was Molga.

My cousin laughed.

Molga knew who laughed and held her stare on Eva. I giggled and knew my giggle was wrong. We watched as Molga’s arm raised in the air like a tree branch as she bent down toward Eva, and before I realized what was happening she slapped my cousin’s leg. She said a story about being good and I felt badly for my cousin and scared for me so I stayed quiet.

Soon we walked in a line to the lake in our one-pieces and learned from the swim counselor that the lake had fresh water sharks. I stayed by the edge until someone made me jump in for a swim test. I looked for sharks as I swam, panicking, and wanted to go home.

At bedtime we laughed with the girls in our tent about Molga and imitated her voice and pretended we were Frankenstein. But as the silliness of lights-out turned into dark, a true dark with no access to a kitchen light, the night became a hovering presence outside our tent. Serious questions about Molga began. We tied our tent flaps together and took out flashlights. When animal screams came from the woods we leapt near each other next to Eva’s cot, the dark now owning the tent we were to sleep in and our thoughts reflected the primitive shift – “maybe she’s a woods witch.”

Eva separated a space between the tent flaps and called the name in a spooky way…


We giggled, then crawled under our blankets. I hid my face underneath and held my flashlight.

The next morning I took out my toothbrush and sat on the edge of my cot. I watched Molga at the group sink. Her arm muscles looked like chopped wood. She did not brush her teeth dainty. I realized we had not seen Molga laugh or teach but maneuver around as if she lived in the woods with the screaming animals and did not know people.

“Are you going to brush your teeth?” asked Eva.

“No,” I said.

“Let’s leave now to eat,” said Eva, and walked down the tent’s steps.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Molga?”

My cousin started talking to a tentmate so I followed.

Eva led us through the woods instead of the path. We pushed back branches and crunched on dry leaves, the woods leaving small traces of itself in our hair and scratches on our skin. When we found the food building we ignored the Woodlanders and sat together in the corner. Between us was a nuance of survival, and it replaced our giggles.

A serious lady in a green blouse came over to us, hesitating. “Where’s your counselor?”

“We don’t know,” said Eva. The rest of us stayed silent and watched Eva.

Eva stood and announced she was getting food. We followed.

While we ate, I was quiet, hungry, but then a girl in our group broke the silence. Her open-faced peanut butter sandwich landed in the middle of our table and we laughed. It was funny! Then in a single movement we each grabbed the food on our plates and threw it at each other. Food went everywhere. On the table, in our hair, on the floor, and we laughed and laughed and laughed!

We were stopped as fast as we started and we couldn’t go swimming (who cared). We were given brooms and washcloths and we were to clean the mess. The adults were stern and angry, circling us like wolves as we cleaned. I was still hungry.

As we walked back to our tent, I lagged far behind. I was upset we had gotten into such big trouble. It made me want home more than ever. I hurried back to our tent and saw Eva sweeping the top step, and Molga walking over to her, slowly. I stopped. Other girls did, too.

Molga paused at the bottom of the steps and stared up at Eva. Her hands were in her jean pockets with her elbows sticking out.

Eva continued sweeping.

Molga said something. She placed one boot on the bottom step but in a single movement, Eva swept her pile straight into Molga’s face.


That night, in our tent, we started to get ready for bed. We now had chores amongst ourselves. I went to the rolled-up tent flaps in the back and started to untie them. Did I see rice krispees in the rolled-up flaps? As the roll unfurled a loud waterfall of black ants fell from the roll like hard rain on the tent floor. I screamed. We all screamed.

“Eva!” I screamed.

Big black ants scattered like marbles. The ants crunched under our feet. It was sickening. We pushed and swept and kicked the ants off the platform and back into the woods. We kept screaming as we worked. I don’t know how long it took.

We got rid of the ants by ourselves.

First Kiss

A group of us ran from the house and sprinted into the dusk, a silent getaway. A swell of laughter tried to overcome me but I stayed quiet, sticking with the group plan.

With the dusk so heavy, watching my feet accelerate across the golf course grass, it was then I realized I ran faster in the dark. We landed up in a circle, breathing hard. There was giggling when somebody took out an empty Dr. Pepper bottle and placed it in the middle. He did a test spin. It landed on me but he didn’t look up and didn’t follow through. Bats flittered above.

When the game officially started, I struggled with sitting properly. I wore a dress that was a hand-me-down from my cousin and it was a size too big. Its straps were loose and the blouse underneath had a collar that made me look young, like it spoke for me, and all of a sudden I didn’t like that.

When it was my turn, the kiss I gave and received came from a place of dare but the softness was so surprising, I think for him, too, that we held it longer than expected, and I decided that maybe I loved him. When the kiss was over, I sat back and felt older.

Soon the mother was calling worried through the dark, her voice traveling through the trees, and now that we were a changed group, we took our time acknowledging her. I called the boy I kissed by his first name as we ran back to the house. I stared at him instead of my fast feet. His white T-shirt carried over his frame and glowed with moon as he sprinted ahead of me, pumping his arms.

first kiss picture

Shake Your Booty

I knew I was forgetting something. I sat with my sisters in the back of Great Aunt Mary’s white Grenada and I was forgetting something important. I chewed on my thumb nail.

“Girls,” said Great Aunt Mary, pulling in to a spot. “I want to teach you something today.”

We got out of the car and looked up at Lyndhurst, beautiful and gray in the blue sky.

Since Great Aunt Mary was wearing her fur coat from John Charles, we knew to be serious, so we followed her in a line: Amy, Laurette, Rene, Jennifer. We each wore white Communion shoes. Mine were tight.

“We’re going in the front door,” she said, lifting the rope for us to go under. “Pay no attention to the sign.”

She breathed up the steps in her fur coat and pushed open the tall front door of the stone mansion once owned by people who made the railroad. The Hudson River twinkled white through giant windows.

“Now girls,” she said, holding the door open for us. “I want you to walk in like you own the place.”

We silently decided this room in front of us was a vestibule because our mother and father used that word at home, at 56 Lincoln. But this vestibule had no ceiling. I looked in. Oh there it is, I thought.

“Go on,” she said. “Shoulders back.”

We stepped into the tall vestibule and walked across the floor, our shoes silent against the rug. For three steps, I knew Lyndhurst was mine.


“Keep going, girls,” she said behind us. “Do not stop.”

I wasn’t sure where I should go but I walked straight and discovered a group with a tour guide in the next room. We stopped in back of that group and took the tour with the MA’AM man following us.

When we were on the third floor, I realized what I had forgotten. I tapped Great Aunt Mary’s fur. She leaned down. The tour guide was talking about style and long skirts.

“We forgot to the make the pork chops,” I whispered.

Great Aunt Mary took in a long backward breath. “What time is it?” she asked.

I looked outside at the sun. “I think around 4 o’clock,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Let’s go,” said Great Aunt Mary.

Back in the car, Great Aunt Mary drove pressing her body into the steering wheel. When we walked in the front door, Great Aunt Mary threw her fur onto the couch and stamped into the kitchen.

“Girls, I need your help,” she said. “We have people coming over tonight.”

“The railroad people?” asked Laurette.

“No, the play people,” said Great Aunt Mary, looking worried. “The people from your parents’ play. We gotta get-a move-on so where does your mother keep the baggies now?”

We pointed to the cabinet.

Great Aunt Mary created an assembly line.

“Girls,” she said, holding up the box, “you need to get the Shake and Bake onto the pork chops and put each pork chop onto these cookie sheets while I peel the potatoes. Do you know that song Shake Your Booty?”

I helped my sisters open their boxes and we each poured the sandy mix into a baggie, some getting on the kitchen floor.

“Should we wash our hands?” I asked from the table assembly line.

“Today you don’t have to wash your hands,” she said, looking for the potato peeler through the drawer, “the oven kills the germs.”

We sang: