The October House still had its old Victorian shape —two tall towers, three and a half stories high, small rooms with low, sloping roofs at the very top, a Widow’s Walk above a closed porch, two stories and a huge attic. Inside, it had become more modern. When we finally bought the house three years after we graduated from college, we had spent another two years upgrading the wiring, plumbing and a new, more efficient heating system along with much additional insulation. There was even CAT6 cable strung throughout. Many windows had been replaced with low-E glass and other improvements made throughout. Ron had a lot of experience in construction and between us we were able to do most of the work ourselves. Otherwise we could never have afforded it all so soon, but we had gotten the house at a good price since it had been on the market for so many years.
We still had some of the old furniture but it generally wasn’t really our style. We were slowly replacing most of it with pieces that were more to our liking, even if some of it we would definitely keep.
The house came with ten acres of land, almost all woods, and had two hundred twenty yards of shoreline on the lake, almost all of it a twenty foot cliff above a mostly rocky shore. We had cleaned up the apple orchard and had fixed up the little playhouse out back. The swings had new chains and a fresh coat of paint and we had added a nice slide. Our three loved it and the few times Mrs. Bradford’s grandchildren came by, their kids loved it also.
There is still the long drive with the pathway running parallel on one side. The two rows of lilac bushes flank the pathway and in spring their scent is heavenly. And at Halloween we still string paper lanterns with little orange lights along the path and put Jack-o’-lanterns by the big iron gate out front. The porch usually sports a couple of ghosts and more lights and on that night the doorbell makes the most incredible sound when the kids ring it for Trick-or-Treat.
Many of the apple trees in the orchard are still the original ones - at least the ones that were here when we first saw it. We’ve replaced a couple and added two pear and two plum trees. In the fall there is always a lot of fruit. There is still a marker near the cliff top where Oliver rests and I know someday - but I hope not soon - our own black cat will join him to rest there. There are worst fates.
But now it is late summer, the orchard is full of fruit but not yet ripe. The grass between the trees is thick and soft. Tonight all three kids are visiting their grandparents and Ron and I have the house to ourselves. I expect we won’t use the house a lot. The weather is warm and clear, our favorite patch of grass beneath the apple trees at the edge of the orchard is inviting and I expect we will be spending the night right there - on a blanket, to be sure. But no clothing, to be sure, also. We never tire of our nights outside the “haunted house.”
As I contemplate the evening to come I wonder if Mrs. Bradford will be watching, smiling her approval and remembering her own loves.
The house was there since my earliest memories. It was just outside of town and we’d see it whenever we drove along the road by the shore A big, old mansion. I later learned it was a Victorian style but as a little girl it was just a big, really big, old house with towers and attic windows and a Widow’s Walk high up over one of the enclosed porches. There was a high iron fence surrounding it and a big iron double gate across the driveway. The house was set some thirty yards back from the road and there was a pathway from the double gate that ran parallel to the drive but off to the side, flanked on either hand by lilac bushes. The house sat on a rise above the lake shore where the waves could crash against the rocks some twenty feet below.
I know the house has been there always, but my first specific memory of it was when I was five. It was two days before Halloween and my parents were taking me over to a party with some of my friends who lived farther out in the country. Halloween was on a Sunday and Trick-or-Treating would be that night. The party was at Sarah’s house and it was two days early so we could all go out on Sunday. It was still a Halloween party and I was dressed in a Princess costume my mother had made for me Long pink dress, a tall pointed hat with a veil trailing from the point at the top, and a small, silver tiara with a bunch of fake jewels set around it.
As we passed the big, old house my eyes locked on it and I stared until it was out of sight. There were Jack-o’-lanterns on top of the posts on each side of the big iron gate. There was a big corn shock with a stuffed scarecrow reclining against it. Each of the many windows in the front had a candle - probably an electric one - resting on the sill in the center. A row of orange lights surrounded the front door and two ghosts wearing white sheets hung on either side of the entrance. I think that’s when I first started thinking of the house as the October House.
When Sunday came and my mom and dad took me around Trick-or-Treating, we went up and down the streets by our house. When we had covered those and started back home I suddenly asked if we could go to the October House. Both Mom and Dad seemed quite surprised when I finally explained what the October House was, but after I pleaded over and over they relented and we all got in the car to drive the mile or so over to it.
The house was still lit and decorated as before and I did see a couple of other kids coming back down the path from the front door. Mom and Dad probably thought I might not want to go up to it by myself, but I didn’t hesitate and when they stopped the car I leaped out and started right up the path. There were paper lanterns with orange lights strung along the lilac bushes on either side as well as some low lights along the driveway, so it wasn’t really dark or anything. I did meet two other kids coming back out just as I started down the path but otherwise I was completely alone.
I stepped up onto the porch and reached up to ring the bell. Instead of a chime or bell, it made a whole bunch of sounds which I later learned was the doorbell from the Munsters TV show. All I really remember is thinking how neat it sounded. In a few seconds the door was opened - by a witch! Well, she was really dressed like a witch - a really good costume. She was all in black with a tall, pointed black hat with a wide brim. She was wearing pointed toe shoes and red and white striped socks. She was holding a broom in one hand and a big, black cat was rubbing against her ankles. I thought she looked wonderful!
She was an old witch. I could see she was even older than my grandparents and, when you’re five, grandparents seem like they have been living forever. But she had a friendly face and a wide smile. I said, “Trick-or-Treat,” and she smiled even wider and said something back. I don’t remember exactly what she said but it was something about how cute my costume was and then she dropped a big bunch of candy in my bag.
I thanked her and for the next minute or two we talked. She asked my name and where I lived and how old I was. She said her name was Mrs. Bradford and she lived here. I asked if she lived by herself and she looked a little sad and answered that she had for the last eight years since her husband had died - just her and the black cat, Oliver. She asked if I would like to pet Oliver and when I did, he purred and rubbed against my ankles. I liked him immediately. Finally I thanked her again and started to leave. She asked me to come back next Halloween and I promised I would. Then I headed back to the car.
Next year when Halloween came, I remembered Mrs. Bradford’s invitation. That year I was going around with three of my friends from school. We again covered our own neighborhood and then I asked my parents to take us out to the October House. I had told them about Mrs. Bradford inviting me back and this time they agreed without the pleading. So the four of us piled into the car and my dad drove us over to the big Victorian.
He once more waited in the car while the four of use made our way along the walk, again strung with small orange lanterns. This year there were still the two ghosts by the front door and also a Frankenstein monster sitting in a chair off to the side. We rang the bell. I knew what to expect from the previous year but all of my friends squealed with delight at the unusual sounds. Mrs. Bradford quickly answered the door, this time dressed as a wicked queen a la Snow White.
In answer to our “Trick or Treat” she placed a large bunch of candy in each of our bags. She surprised me by calling me by name. I had only met her that one time the previous year but somehow she had remembered me.
She talked with the four of us for several minutes, commenting on our costumes and asking our names and a few things about ourselves. We all got to pet Oliver and I think he remembered me, too. She urged us to return the next year and then when we finally started to leave she said, “Why don’t the four of you ask your parents and some Saturday you can come over here and we can have a tea party or something.”
We thanked her and said we would. Actually all four of us thought that would be a lot of fun. I mean the house looked fantastic even when it wasn’t decorated for Halloween. And when we had ridden past it sometimes during the daylight we could see an orchard out back along with other big trees. We also could hear the waves crashing and knew the lake was just below. All together it seemed like someplace that would be fun to go.
.... There is more of this story ...