CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I was a child I lived in a very large house.It was very large when I was a child, but had shrunk enormously when I visited 60 years later. Before the days of concrete slabs and two-story houses, we were accustomed to having a basement and an attic. I grew up with both.My father, a "swinger" of the 1920s, had his personal bootlegger and kept his stashes of bottles in a closet in my third-story playroom. Dinner parties were frequent and called for an assortment of cordials. When one of these ran short, I was called upon to "run upstairs" and fetch a new bottle.Adjoining the playroom was an attic -- and that is where the ghosts lived.
Now, as everyone knows, ghosts are nocturnal, so, during daylight hours, it was quite safe to navigate the wooden plank to delve in the old trunk under the eaves, where an assorted collection of my mother's retired dresses provided a rich source of costumes.After dark was an entirely different matter!As I crept up the staircase, I could feel the cold chill of a ghostly presence emerging from the shadowy recesses of the attic. I wasn't sure what a ghost looked like or what it would do -- and I didn't want to find out. I grabbed the desired bottle as quickly as possible and ran down to the safety of the second floor, thankful that I had survived one more expedition.
The basement too had this dual nature. It was a fine place to play, with a ping-pong table, and in inclement weather there was room to roller skate. My friends and I made a stage for our marionettes and invented plays. Other friends paid one penny admission to sit on the stairs for the show.Our house was heated by a large iron furnace. My father stoked it daily, bedded it down for the night and disposed of the ashes. In a corner behind the furnace there was a small damp, muddy hole in which lived my friend the toad. He was fat and brown and apparently survived on whatever worms and insects found their way to his lair.Adjoining the basement was the coal cellar. It was filled with shiny black anthracite delivered periodically by a truck parked in the street with a ramp to slide it into the house. The dank, dark cellar was another ghostly abode. Although I never had any occasion to go down to the basement at night, I knew in my bones that the ghosts were there waiting for me, lurking among the anthracite in the utter blackness.I went there only in my dreams, from which I would awaken in terror and run to seek the safety of my parents.At Halloween it is important to keep in mind the nocturnal nature of ghosts. It is quite safe to trick-or-treat in the early-evening hours -- the small ghosts you encounter are probably your friends and neighbors.But be wary of the larger ghosts roaming the street when darkness descends.Dorothy Wehrle Dixon, of Charleston, can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.