Strange things trigger buried memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 8, 2017

Isn’t it amazing how something you had forgotten creeps out of your consciousness after years and years have passed? It has happened to me several times, like the time a memory was triggered by a small wicker basket of fresh flowers sitting on top of a piano in a little country church.

The basket held deep purple iris and other blossoms of dark red and burnished orange. Dark green lacy fern hung out the sides. A strange feeling came over me almost the minute it caught my eye. I wondered why. At that moment, I could not put my finger on it nor could I keep my eyes or thoughts diverted from it. I did not feel fear, but it was not something pleasant either.

As I went through the motions of singing hymns along with the congregation, a picture slowly began to form like a butterfly unfolding its wings to take flight. I was starting to remember that it had something to do with when I was a five-year-old first grader beginning school in a suburb of a small West Florida town. That day, I was excited because my mother had finally consented to let me walk home from school with some children who lived in our neighborhood.

Within a block from the grammar school was a big, rambling house with peeling white paint. It sat tucked under a tall, healthy water oak tree. The massive branches spread shade over the yard where a sprinkling of flowers and small patches of grass struggled among tall weeds. Mostly, that yard was as sandy as a yard in West Florida can get through years of neglect. Obviously, the house had been unoccupied for a long time.

One of the older little girls leaned over to me. “That old house is haunted,” she whispered, and quickened her pace as we walked toward it. I thought of how my mother always discouraged the idea of anything being haunted. But there I was in a strange new world with older children who knew about that house. They passed it every day.

My heartbeat began to accelerate. I swallowed hard and tried to act brave as we walked closer and closer, but I was scared, especially when others said they heard noises sometimes when they walked by. Once past the house, we followed a path through a cemetery and then veered off on a shortcut toward our destination. As we moved through the cemetery, I noticed a grave with a wicker basket of fresh flowers of dark hue and lacy ferns on the mound of sandy soil. I had regained my senses when I saw the bouquet. My heartbeat slowed to normal.

I never told Mother and I never remembered the incident again until that little wicker basket on top of a piano turned a key in my subconscious.

Looking back, I find it strange that I found solace in a graveyard from my fear of a haunted house.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.