We love it here at BoomerCafé when baby boomers send us memories of those innocent years of our childhood. So it is with Erin O’Brien, today from Redondo Beach, California. Born in 1961, she went to a Catholic school but her good friend Elaine went to a public school and exposed Erin to a few things she might never otherwise have done. They’re still friends today.
As soon as I’d hung up my Catholic school uniform and finished my homework, I had permission to go to Elaine’s house … unless it was a Thursday at 4:00, in which case Dark Shadows was on TV, in which case I was to come home immediately.
Once, I was at Elaine’s when the familiar TV theme song began. Elaine and her sister quickly began closing the gold living room drapes to create the proper atmosphere. I hastily said goodbye and hurried home, three doors down, where my mother’s billowy white Priscilla curtains framed our windows.
At recess, we girls played Vampires. The boys had a separate playground. The flag pole was daylight sanctuary from the resident vampire, expertly portrayed by Genny. With her searching eyes and wide grin, she slowly flapped her arms in a rhythmic motion, preying upon the rest of us as we “slept” at the concrete base of the flag pole.
At “night” one of us would be bitten on the neck and transformed as Genny was, and softly fly away with her. When the rest of us awakened, we feigned terror and made an oath to be on guard, lest we lose another family member to the vampires.
A parent volunteer asked what we were playing, and we all chimed, “Vampires!” Her expression was one of embarrassment, horror, and disbelief.
One day after school (not a Thursday), I changed out of my uniform and went to Elaine’s. She had a new game, and like Dark Shadows, it required darkness. Instead of drawing the living room drapes, which did little to diminish the sunlight, we closed all the doors in the hallway and found ourselves in almost complete darkness, except for the beam of a flashlight. Elaine and her sister presented a board game that had only one game piece, no dice, and no fake money: a Ouija board.
It resembled an old-fashioned chalkboard with the alphabet, numbers, and the words Yes and No in the bottom corners. With confidence, Elaine directed us to place our hands upon hers, resting on the triangular game piece. She asked whom from the past I would like to contact. There were lots of choices: Elaine had introduced me to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, was one of Wilder’s contemporaries; but we finally decided upon Helen Keller.
In a serious voice, Elaine asked Helen if she was there. An unseen force caused our hands to glide across the board to the bottom corner. Yes. Since Helen Keller spoke in sign language and read Braille, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to communicate with her. But Elaine continued asking Helen questions.
Elaine had summoned Helen to that dark hallway that afternoon. When the hall doors were opened, daylight streamed in, the Ouija board was put away, and it was time for tea with Elaine’s English mother.
I wasn’t sure I’d tell my mother, or the nun at school, about time-traveling to meet Helen Keller.