Monday, October 31, 2011


My grandma grew up here. It was built in 1894 by my great-great grandfather.

After looking at my museum every day, it seems plain as hell. But it is rather fancy for the area, which is still a tiny farming community in Iowa.

I stayed there twice. The first time was fine, because I had to share a double bed with my cousin Emily and stayed up all night scaring her with ghost stories and asking was that a branch on the outside of that window, or...a hand? Too easy, until I later woke with the bathroom light on and no blanket as Emily had co-opted it for protection. The second time I was on my own, and slept in a tiny upstairs back bedroom with shag carpeting. There was an electrical storm that night and I had nightmare after nightmare. Like a scene in a bad horror movie, I woke at one point from a nightmare right as a thunderbolt clapped and the room lit with lightning, and screamed. I think the scream is what really woke me. I lay back down with eyes as big as saucers and wondered if I HAD actually screamed. I've never done anything like it before or since.

There is a sad mystery that I will probably never unravel about my grandma's aunt Julia, who I think died in the house very early. She and my great-grandmother were sisters and best friends. My grandma told me about her just once, and apparently never told my dad because he knows nothing, which is unusual. She said Julia was pale and small, with black hair and big dark eyes and died in childbirth in the house. She (my grandma) was a rather morbid storyteller (hmm) and I recall she said there was so much blood that it was running across the floors.

I've always thought about Julia and this story, and later researched her to no result. All I found was a record of birth as "Julia Angelia" and a claim staked in her name in S. Dakota which I knew about. No record of a marriage and no stories of a husband. Did she really die in childbirth and if so, where was he? It's a rather sad story and I would imagine my great-grandmother was much affected by the experience. A distant cousin sent me a childhood family photo of her, and she is innocent and sweet in a white dress, with loose hair around her face and her mother's hand rested protectively at her collar. She seems to be about five years old.

Everyone on this side of the family looks the same, with thick dark hair and dark heavily lashed eyes that look black. Maybe that's partly why she stays with me. She looks like, as my uncle puts it, "us". There's a photo of my grandma at this age that affected me deeply when I first found it. She looks like the picture of Julia in it. She had died about six months before I first saw this yellowing photo showing a little girl in a sack dress leaning against a split rail fence. Her hair is cut into a shiny black bob and she is barefoot and dirty, sticking her tongue out at her brother. I wanted to pick her up and stroke her hair and her child's face and it was a strange feeling to have about a grandmother that you last saw in a coffin.

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