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.
We all told our parents about the invitation and my mom called Mrs. Bradford the next week. They talked on the phone for a long time and when she hung up, Mom told me that we could indeed go over some Saturday. However, the next week the weather changed with cold rains and soon some wet snow. There was never a good Saturday although Mom talked with Mrs. Bradford several times during the next month.
Christmas was approaching and one day we drove past the October House again. It was decorated with colored lights and a wreath, but not as extensive as it had been for Halloween. Still it looked interesting. I asked Mom to call again and see it maybe we could still go over one afternoon.
When she got off the phone she told me that Mrs. Bradford had been a little bit ill. She wasn’t really sick or anything but she wasn’t feeling up to a party. However, she had invited Mom and me to drop by sometime.
I asked Mom if I could get a Christmas gift for Mrs. Bradford. I think Mom was a little surprised, but she happily agreed. I wasn’t sure just what kind of gift to get, but Mom suggested a small decoration of some kind and helped me pick out one with a candle and some pine cones. She also suggested that we make some brownies to take.
The next Saturday afternoon Mom called to make sure it would be OK and we made the short drive over to the October House. This time when we rang the bell, it was just a normal sound. Mrs. Bradford answered the door right away and invited us inside.
She showed us around the house. To me the inside of the house looked just as I would have expected. There were small decorations all over, many sitting on lace doilies. There were several fireplaces in different rooms. The kitchen looked modern but, except for a big flat screen TV and some other electronics, most everything else looked like it could have come straight out of a history book.
After the tour, Mrs. Bradford led us into the dining room where she had set out some cookies. She added the brownies we had brought and poured milk for me and tea for herself and Mom. She asked me about school, how I liked it and how I was doing, but mostly she and Mom talked.
Mom said, “It looks like you’ve lived here a long time. Is that right?”
She smiled. “All my life. This house was built by my grandparents. They lived here but when my mother and father were married, they moved south and left the house to my parents. I was born here and when Jack and I were married they gave it to us as a wedding gift. They said it was a great place to raise kids and they were right. My brother had joined the army and was always moving around. I guess when he left the service he didn’t want to come back to a small town.”
Mom had noticed the little play house out back along with the swings and asked, “Do you have children of your own?”
“Two boys and a girl. Now seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. But they are all scattered all over the country. Oh, they still visit - all of them - but none can see themselves actually living here. I guess the world has changed a bit.” She shook her head slightly but was smiling and didn’t seem unhappy about it. She went on, “Jack and I were lucky in that he was a writer and I taught school here. He could work anywhere he wanted and we were always happy here by the lake. We both retired some twenty-five years ago and decided to stay. Jack passed on eight years ago, so now I have the place to myself. And of course, Oliver.” She smiled and reached down and stroked the black cat who was resting by her feet. “I’m ninety-one now and expect to stay here the rest of my life.”
We stayed for another hour and I gave her the small gift. She thanked me profusely and said that I should bring my friends back after the spring weather turned nice and we would have that tea party.
Actually it was late May before we were able to do that, but one Saturday afternoon just before school was out, Norma, Sarah, Joan and I came over and true to her word Mrs. Bradford had a party for us at a table out back under the apple trees in her orchard. She had made a big cake and served us ice cream. She played a couple of games with use and watched while we played on the swings and ran all around.
I guess I should say something about myself. My name is Diane Schmidt. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I don’t have any brothers or sisters and when we had that party I was six, nearly seven, and was just finishing first grade. My parents own the hardware store here in town and both work there. I did well in school and got along well with the other kids, especially the three girls who came to the party with me.
The next day Mom suggested we write a thank you note to Mrs. Bradford and the four of us did just that. She sent back a nice letter and invited us to repeat it again sometime. Over the next five years we did repeat it several times. Usually two or three times a year Mrs. Bradford would invite us over, although the nature of our parties changed a little as we grew older. By the time we were in fifth and sixth grade she invited us over to help decorate the house for Halloween and Christmas.
When I entered eighth grade, Mrs. Bradford was ninety-seven. She was still spry and moved fairly easily but she wasn’t twenty-three any more. That September we had a heavy thunderstorm one Thursday. Actually a whole series of them. There were trees down around town and a lot of fallen branches. At school several of us were talking about the storm.
Norma had moved away, but Sarah and Joan and I were still friends. We had also started to notice boys and there were three - Jim, Zeke, and Ron - who often hung around with us. I especially liked Ron and he seemed to like me also. Anyway, the six of us were talking about the storm when a thought suddenly came into my head. “You know, I’ll bet that storm dropped a bunch of branches all around the October House.” Then I had to explain to the boys just what the October house was.
“Mrs. Bradford lives there by herself. She’s ninety-seven or so. I’ll bet she could use some help cleaning up around there.”
The two girls quickly agreed. “Why don’t we go over there in the morning and see if we can help,” Joan suggested.
The three boys looked at us and then quickly glanced at each other. “Suppose we come and help,” Ron said.
I smiled at him. “That would be nice. I’d like that.”
The other two girls looked at Jim and Zeke and I think those looks helped decide for them, because they quickly agreed. Anyway, Saturday morning at eight we all met and rode our bikes out to Mrs. Bradford’s house. I had been right in that there were a lot of branches and limbs blown down. I rang the bell and in a few seconds the door opened. Mrs. Bradford looked surprised to see us and I quickly explained that we had come to help her clean up the yard.
“That’s wonderful and very thoughtful of you. I was sure I couldn’t do it and was wondering who I could hire to clear things.”
We introduced the three boys and she told us where we could find some tools in the shed out back. The day was sunny and warm and we left our bikes at the end of the driveway and went around back and immediately started clearing things.
There was quite a bit to clear. We sort of split up into pairs. Ron came with me and I noticed each of the other boys went with one of the girls. Well, we were thirteen.
We worked hard all morning and were finally getting everything straightened up as noon approached. Just before noon Mrs. Bradford came out. She exclaimed how nice everything looked and again thanked us profusely for our help. Then she said, “Why don’t you stay and have lunch. We can build a fire in the pit over there and cook hot dogs.”
We thanked her and agreed. Joan and I went in with her to bring out the food. I found that not only did she have hot dogs but she had made some deviled eggs and heated some beans and had a couple of different kinds of chips. She also had a big thermos jug of lemonade. We carried everything out to the big picnic table along with paper plates and cups and long forks for toasting hot dogs.
There was a fire pit and some dry wood and soon we had a small fire going. Mrs. Bradford joined us while the fire was burning down and soon the boys were as comfortable talking with her as were we girls. The meal was just like any picnic and I don’t think that anyone noticed that one of us was older than the rest all added together.
After that weekend whenever there was a storm or later when it snowed, some of us would come over to help - sometimes all six of us, but more commonly just two - usually a boy-girl pair. Ron and I frequently spent a Saturday morning at Mrs. Bradford’s place. Usually she invited us to lunch and we found she was a very interesting woman to talk with. I once called her place the October House and then had to explain how I had come to think about it as such. She thought it a wonderful name and was quite pleased.
We discovered she owned about ten acres, mostly woods, with about two hundred yards of lake shore. She never mentioned it but I got the impression she was fairly well off financially. She told us stories of places she and her husband, Jack, had visited and things they had done. They had both had pilot’s licenses and were still flying when they were eighty. They frequently took a small plane and made a weekend pilgrimage to some interesting location. She also told us about how when she was younger they had SCUBA dived and even done some technical climbing. She had backpacked throughout the Rockies and the eastern mountains as well and I think she may have been the one to get me interested enough to try backpacking myself. Regardless, I have grown to love it.
By the time summer came, Ron had asked me out several times and although our dates were limited to around town since neither of us was old enough to drive, we had mostly started going only with each other. We still frequently spent some Saturday mornings helping out at Mrs. Bradford’s and usually went over there at least once a week to keep her grass cut. The others occasionally came if there had been a big storm or something, but not often. Neither of the girls had really paired up with the two guys, so I guess there was somewhat less incentive for them.
Anyway, when we started high school in the fall, Ron and I were the only ones who regularly came. In mid October we went to help decorate her place for Halloween once again. We each had something we had to do on Saturday morning so it was two or three o’clock before we were able to get started.
By the time we had all the decorations and lights in place, dusk had fallen. This wasn’t a problem as we had lights on our bikes and the weather was good. We showed Mrs. Bradford what we had done and she gave enthusiastic approval and thanked us for our work. Although she could still get along by herself, she was old enough that she would probably not have been able to do it all by herself.
When we started to leave, the moon, a day or so short of full, had just risen. There were some clouds scudding across the sky, now and then hiding it for a short time, but the bright silver light often flooded the world, reflecting off the lake, and dancing among the shadows of the fall leaves. As we started out the door, Ron asked if I’d like to take a walk out back. I nodded and we asked Mrs. Bradford if it would be OK.
She looked from one of us to the other and then smiled, a far away look in her eyes. “Of course. You can just leave you bikes here and get them when you leave. I’m probably going to eat a little something and then go to bed early. Thank you once again.”
We made our way around back. The woods had several paths through it and, in fact, part of the work we had done during the summer was keeping them clear. Now we headed down a path that wound through the dense trees and at one point looped out to the cliff above the lakeshore. When we reached that point we were holding hands and we stopped to look out at the lake. The moon alternately emerged and hid among the dark clouds. The air was cool by now - probably in the upper fifties - and a slight breeze was stirring the leaves, swirling the fallen ones with little gusts and inducing the ones still remaining on the trees to make a dry, crackling sound. All together a lovely, romantic night.
We stood, looking out at the lake. The breeze was making small waves break against the shore and the sound of their splashing rose from below us. Ron reached and took my left hand in his left, freeing his right, but not for long. His right arm moved up my back and settled around my shoulders. I snuggled a little closer, my head resting on his shoulder.
We stood like that for a couple of minutes. Then Ron said, “It is beautiful out tonight, isn’t it?”
I turned and looked up at him. “Yes, absolutely lovely.” I remained turned, looking up at him as he turned towards me. Then neither of us looked away. We just stared into each other’s eyes for what seemed a long, long time. I suddenly became aware that Ron’s lips were moving closer to mine and I felt my heart beating rapidly, unsure if I should pull away. Then I realized I had decided with no conscious thought; my lips were moving towards his also, not away.
That was my first real kiss. It wasn’t a peck but went on for several seconds. We seemed to freeze, still looking deeply into each other’s eyes. Then without a word we repeated the kiss and this time it lasted much longer.
We must have stayed there for some time. Neither of us looked at a watch, but when we finally retrieved our bikes and started home, it was nearly nine. Ron rode with me to my house. He waited while I put my bike around the side and came back to the front door. Then again without a word we came together for a kiss, although a much shorter one this time. Somewhere in the back of our minds I’m sure we were aware that someone might see us here.
Ron and I began to date more frequently and most evenings we’d find somewhere to spend a little time necking. Neither of us thought we were in love or anything. We were friends. Good friends. We had been friends for some time and liked each other a lot. Now the new aspects of our relationship did nothing to change our friendship but added a new dimension. Neither of us were dumb. We were fourteen and both of us knew that a lot of it was hormones. That didn’t make it any less exciting. Still, we never went any further than some serious kissing.
Halloween was on a Monday two weeks later. By now my group was a little old for Trick-or-Treating. We did have a party on the Saturday before and still dressed up. I went as a female vampire and Ron dressed as the Frankenstein monster with fake stitches along the side of his head. Then on Monday we went over to Mrs. Bradford’s to help her hand out candy to the little kids. We wore our costumes and Mrs. Bradford again dressed as a witch much as she had been that first time I saw her. She again thanked us for helping and before we left used a self timer on her camera to take a picture of the three of us. Later she gave each of us a copy with the inscription “From the Witch of the October House.”
During that winter we continued to go over to Mrs. Bradford’s to clear snow or help out in other ways. She was always happy to see us and ready to provide snacks, drinks or meals depending on just when and what we were doing. We both found her a delight to talk with. She had done so many interesting and exciting things, many of which we hoped to do ourselves someday. Thinking back, I don’t believe either of us ever regarded her in the slightest as out of touch or too old. And, yes, we did respect her but she also seemed to respect us and our opinions. She never treated us as little kids but was always ready to listen to what we had to say.
Ron had turned fifteen in March but my birthday wasn’t until just after school was out. I had been planning a big party, but two weeks before, problems arose. For some time we had known that my dad was going to have to make a trip for his work fairly soon but not exactly when. Now we found he would be gone for two weeks over my birthday. That wouldn’t have been so bad except that my mom got a call from her sister. She had to go in for some surgery and would need help for two or three weeks afterwards. Could my mom please come and help her out? Mom agreed - she really had no choice. I was old enough to stay by myself but my parents firmly said no party while they were gone.
At fourteen this almost seemed like the end of the world. Oh, not really, but I was very disappointed. The next Saturday Ron and I were over helping Mrs. Bradford with some cleaning and I happened to mention the situation. She thought and considered things for all of thirty seconds. “Suppose I call your mom and see if I can host the party over here?”
I was astounded. “That would be wonderful, but it would be a lot of trouble. You don’t really want twenty noisy teenagers running around here.”
She laughed. “Why not? It might be exciting.”
The end result was she did exactly that. At first my parents were a little hesitant but she convinced them she really wanted to do it and that I hadn’t even suggested the idea in any way. They finally agreed and said they would bring over all the food and things. Actually they would both be gone but Ron’s parents would be giving me a ride over and they said it would be no trouble to take everything over for them.
When that Saturday came, Ron and I were driven over to the October House with everything including our bikes. We would be riding them home and his parents would take us back the next day to pick up everything else. We got over there about one and spent the afternoon putting up paper lanterns with little lights, balloons, and other decorations. The weather was perfect. Clear, warm, no chance of rain. The party would be out back by the fire pit. We had borrowed three folding picnic tables to go with the big one there and had another small table to hold food. I think we must have had enough snacks and other junk food to last us a week, as well as the cake. We got a bunch of sub sandwiches to have as a meal and Ron brought over a portable CD player so we could dance.
Mrs. Bradford seemed almost as excited as I was myself. “It’s been years since there has been a birthday party here. I’m really glad this is working out.”
“Thank you again, Mrs. Bradford. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to have the party at all. You’re wonderful to let me. We’ll try to keep the noise down so it won’t bother you.”
“Nonsense! You can be a loud as you want. No one else lives close to here and I’m a little hard of hearing.” Then she smiled and teased, “I can always turn my hearing aid off if it’s too loud. Really, I love to see you having fun. Go and do what you want - just within the rules.”
When she had agreed, she had set a couple of rules. No drinking. No other forbidden substances. No sex. Then she had said that a little kissing was all right. This was followed by a wide smile and she added, “Even a lot of kissing. Remember, I was fifteen once.”
The party was perfect. There were about twenty of us, all fourteen or fifteen. Mrs. Bradford joined us for supper and cake but afterwards retired to the back porch where we could see her in her rocking chair looking out at us. We played some games, played music and danced. I got a number of nice presents. As darkness fell, the little paper lanterns provided enough light along with the stars and a moon just short of the first quarter.
We danced a lot and yes, there was some kissing. Quite a bit, actually, but nothing more. We stayed until after eleven when the party began to wind down. Ron and I thanked everyone for coming. Mrs. Bradford had gone up to bed earlier, so we shut everything down and closed the house for her. She knew we were coming back to clean up in the morning but I left her a note along with a big box of her favorite candies.
Ron and I rode together to my house. I invited him in for a coke before he went on home. Since my parents were both gone, the house was empty. When he had been there about fifteen minutes, I suddenly realized this. And it scared me. Not being by myself. No, I was scared because I suddenly had the urge to take him into my bedroom. But I knew I wasn’t going to do that. At least I didn’t think I would do that.
When he finished his drink, I think Ron had realized the same thing because he said, “Diane, I think I’d better leave. If I stay any longer I may try something we will both regret.”
With my smile a little shaky I nodded. “I might also.”
He moved to the front door and then turned and took me in his arms for a nice kiss. When he pulled back, we were both a little breathless but he managed to say, “Good night and happy birthday. I’ll see you about ten.”
After he left, I stood with my back leaning against the door for at least three full minutes while my pulse slowed and I thought about what might very well have happened if he had stayed.
During that summer we again cut her grass and helped with other things. Now it was almost always just Ron and myself but we had no problem with that. It also gave us a chance to disappear into the woods and spend some time in some serious kissing. Despite the way we had felt after my birthday party we never went any further than kisses. Not that we didn’t feel like it. No, we just were careful not to put ourselves in a situation where it would have been too easy to get carried away.
When school started again in September our trips to the October House became a little less frequent. We still went out there to help out but the grass no longer needed cutting and the snow hadn’t yet come. When October came we once more helped decorate for Halloween and again were there to hand out candy.
There was a long rainy stretch in early November and for three weeks we didn’t make it out there. The next weekend we called to see if she needed anything done, but she didn’t answer the phone. We tried again the next day but still no answer. I told my parents that I was concerned and they agreed someone should check on her and called the local police to ask them to check.
We later found that when the police stopped by, they found Mrs. Bradford in her bed, no longer alive. A doctor was summoned and his verdict was that she had died in her sleep two days before. He said it was probably the most peaceful death she could have had.
Her sons and daughter were contacted. None were truly surprised because of her age and all had talked with her at sometime during the previous three or four weeks. A funeral was set for the following Friday.
At fifteen I had never attended a funeral before. Ron had once for a great uncle but that was all. The service was closed casket and, as per her wish, the remains were cremated and the ashes scattered from the cliff-top behind the house with a strong wind blowing them out over the lake. She had once told us that is how her husband was treated also and that she planned to eventually join him. I hoped she had.
At the memorial service we met her children and grandchildren. Surprisingly most of them knew of us and what we had been doing for her the past few years. All thanked us profusely.
We also got the impression that all three families, as well as their own children, were pretty well off financially. This was reinforced a week later when, surprisingly, we were asked to attend the reading of her will. There were several individual bequests with the remainder of her liquid assets being divided among the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It was decided that the house itself would be put up for sale but no one was in a hurry for it to sell. In fact a realtor had said it was unlikely to sell easily or for its real value because of the age and location. So it would go on the market until someone made a good offer.
The most surprising thing was the two bequests she had made to Ron and myself. She had left each of us five thousand dollars. Her family all assured us they thought this perfectly fair and didn’t resent it at all. It would certainly help in two years when we went to college.
Life continued. Throughout the rest of sophomore year and through the next two, Ron and I continued to date each other. Were we in love? We never said so. We cared deeply for each other but neither of us knew if it would always be this way. Our amorous activity certainly continued and even intensified but we restrained ourselves from going too far.
We did still occasionally go out into the woods by the October House. The house itself remained empty. Partly this might have been because the grounds were no longer kept up. No curb appeal so to speak - even though out here there were no curbs along the road. It wasn’t that the house itself was in bad repair or anything, but it did look a little lonely and forlorn as any old Victorian can.
Something else did happen concerning the house. It somehow gained a reputation as being haunted. I never found out how this started, but from a number of sources I heard that someone had told someone who had told someone that they had seen lights or spectral figures around the house. However, no one could ever identify any of the original sources. One story was that an old woman was seen standing on the Widow’s Walk looking out at the lake. Another said lights appeared in some of the windows and then were suddenly extinguished. Still another proclaimed a ghostly figure walked the grounds, never leaving footprints or any other permanent sign. Of course, Ron and I never took any of these stories seriously but there were many of the kids we knew who at least somewhat believed them.
I did get a funny feeling every time I drove by the house but that was simply a sense of what had been and what we had known there. Especially at Halloween, when the old place sat dark with none of the decorations and lights that always were there in the past. But ghosts? No, I certainly didn’t believe that.
At last the end of our senior year arrived. Ron took me to the prom as he had the previous year and afterwards we spent most of the remainder of the night parked at an overlook above the lake some miles from the October House. While we certainly did engage in a lot of passionate kissing and our hands did wander a bit, unlike many of our classmates, we didn’t go beyond that. When he finally brought me home about ten the next morning we were both content and happy and any frustration was only physical.
At graduation two weeks later we managed to walk to the stage side by side and received our diplomas one after another. Afterwards both sets of parents took us to dinner together.
We were both going to college at the state school some hundred miles or so distant, so it wasn’t like we would be separating forever or anything. And there was still the summer before us. We both had jobs that summer. Ron had found construction work and spent most of the next twelve weeks building houses. I ended up clerking in my parents’ hardware store. Actually that worked out well for all of us. They didn’t have to hire another clerk and didn’t have to pay my social security tax because I was their daughter. That let them pay me a little more than they would have someone else.
Ron and I still managed to get together most weekends and sometimes during the week when his work was in town. When the end of August arrived we both headed to the campus. Of course, as freshmen we couldn’t have taken a car even if we had had one, so our parents drove us over. Also as freshmen, we would be living in the dorm, but at least we had managed to get in the same one.
We settled in to the college life with very few problems. Both of us had roommates we could live with and liked our classes. We still dated every weekend but, maybe surprisingly, we also dated a few other people. This didn’t just happen. I forget which of us originally suggested it but we agreed that we wanted to make sure we didn’t later regret not having done so. I do believe any making out was less intense with any other partners. I know mine was.
We made it through freshman year and had greatly expanded our amorous activities. We now enjoyed some rather heavy petting, but still remained virgins. This had disappointed a few of my other dates, but Ron didn’t try to persuade me otherwise. And by the end of freshman year we had both decided other dates were not as satisfying as were ours with each other anyway.
During that summer Ron again worked construction and I clerked at the hardware store. We were both nineteen then and a bit less restricted in what we could do than we were in high school. We even managed a couple of overnight hikes without bringing the disapproval of any parental units. Either they trusted us or thought we would do whatever we wanted anyway.