We would build a haunted house in the basement every year around Halloween. It would be ad-hoc, meant only for the parents to walk through once or twice, and the materials were limited to whatever toys we had in the basement. Headless barbies were strung from above, bedsheets from storage creating endless tunnels of darkness. My cousin Amber played dead on a couch, rising with a shriek and a cackle when people passed by. Corey, the smallest and most flexible, was curled up in a wicker chest, from which he would spring when cued by the guide – in this case, me. I led my brothers, the architects of our small House of Horrors, on a run-through tour, describing each terrifying tableaux as we approached them. The barbies were the banshees, Amber was a zombie, Corey was a mummy. Above the wicker chest where Corey waited patiently, Mike had strung up a glow-in-dark orb from their Construx set. Here, my invention ran out, and I said, “And above the mummy’s tomb is… the… fearsome… glowy thing?”
Instead of springing from the chest, Corey merely popped his head out. “GLOWY THING?” he said, his voice dripping with disdain. Mike and Bryan laughed. Amber cackled from the couch, and throughout the rest of the evening, one or all of them would occasionally intone, “The fearsome… GLOWY THING!” at my expense.
The family room is different now. For one, my parents replaced the carpet with tile and the wood paneling with drywall and wainscot. Mike’s former bedroom became dad’s office. When I was in high school, my parents tore down the wall to one of the storage rooms and effectively doubled the size of the basement family room. They argued for weeks about the placement of an egress window, until one day I came home from school to find my dad, who worked from home, had taken the afternoon off to create a hole in the wall where he desired it. This was November, so the window had to go in toot suite.
The whole house is different from the house my parents purchased shortly after Bryan was born. They added an expansion when I was eight. Pictures from my first communion show the renovation in process. A house fire in 2000 resulted in a complete overhaul of doors, windows, and certain shorted out electrical sockets. The kitchen linoleum I used to curse as I mopped it throughout my teen years is gone, traded in for an easier to clean wood laminate. White siding was replaced with brick and brown siding. The house was built in the seventies, but it looks brand-new.
When we weren’t building haunted houses, we were having wars and playing Capture the Flag. The glowy things, as we came to call them after my Halloween faux pas, made perfect missiles for a war of total darkness. A pillow stuffed in the only window at that time darkened it considerably, and the stairs created a perfect boundary between two sides. With the lights out and the glowy things charged, it became a game of listening and crawling to get to the other side. The combinations of opposing sides were endless: girls versus boys, older kids versus younger kids, everyone versus just Bryan, who was wily enough for the challenge. As our younger cousins grew older, we indoctrinated them into the game, allowing our cool teenage selves to slip away as we introduced them to the sheer joy of pelting each other with Construx in the dark.
Alternatively, we set up Fisher Price villages on the pool table and knocked them down with billiard balls, creating an elaborate story about a corrupt village run by a corrupt leader who hid from justice. Finding him and knocking him down was the most satisfying part of the game. The corrupt mayor was inevitably played by the clown piece, because clowns were the worst.
When I went home last week, the for-sale sign was sticking out of the snow, half-buried by this endless winter. I asked my mom when the Sold sign will be amended, and she wasn’t sure. Probably not until after the inspection.
We packed huge bins with what to keep and what to send to good will. Dad and I packed the moving bins into the truck, and we took the first load up to the lake house – itself far different from what it once was. The main floor is already livable, some of the furniture having already made it up there. The week before, Bryan and his wife Ali celebrated a belated anniversary at the lake house. Ali took the opportunity to fill the place with a few celebratory welcome pieces – a blow-up bear head on the mantle, chocolate hearts on the pillows of the master suite, a basket of snacks on the counter. I snapped a picture with my phone of Mom and Dad under the fake bear head on the mantle, grinning happily, like a pair of newlyweds.
Mom and I spent a peaceful day unpacking that first load and putting things where she wanted them, moving furniture, making plans for the next load of furniture while Dad put up the old kitchen cabinetry in his basement workspace. I bossed her around about how the guest room furniture needed to be arranged. We talked forever about where their offices should be, since they both work from home. Dad and I had a discussion about just how many golden retrievers they would have to adopt once they got settled, and what their names should be. I’m rallying hard for one of them to be named Scout, like from To Kill a Mockingbird. “It’s one of your favorite movies,” I said to my dad. Mom joked that one of them should be named Peggy, because she had neighbors growing up who had two golden retrievers, both named Peggy. “At the same time,” she clarified. “Peggy One, and Peggy Two.”
This is the bear. We laughed until we peed when we saw it.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Easter early. My SIL Bipa and I had a shower to attend for a college friend, and she and Mike had decided to both come and bring the kids for a weekend trip. Bryan and Ali brought up the girls, since, as Bryan said with the sentimentality he’s acquired as an adult, “It’s probably the last time we’ll all be together in the old house.” Mom made the traditional Bunny cake with seven-minute frosting, giving my oldest niece and nephew the duty of decorating it with M&Ms and licorice. Ali brought piles of plastic Easter Eggs, and I fretted about the cats and Davy-dog getting into them, because sometimes I like to ruin fun.
She also picked up a pack of glow-sticks from the dollar store, giving a bunch to each of the four cousins to play with in the basement. My brother Mike and I watched them play, chasing each other around and laughing ecstatically After Mike cracked a joke about a toddler rave, I brought up Pandora on my phone and made a Trance Station, which the kids loved and they started dancing.
As they danced I asked Mike if he remembered the battles we used to have with the glowy Construx, and the haunted houses, and the pool table villages. We laughed and reminisced over all the stupid-fun we had in this house.
We will keep having stupid-fun. We’ll just be having it in new places.