By Hannah Subega
You would think that the typical honeymoon would be spent somewhere tropical, romantic, or at the very least, comfortable. So a bedroom in a supposedly haunted, centuries-old Scottish castle doesn’t really scream “honeymoon suite.” Alas, this was where my mother dragged my father after their wedding and it was a blast, at least according to her.
Though she is a bit of a kook, my mom is indeed a lovely human being. During the day, she dedicates her career to assuaging people’s problems through marriage and family therapy, and at night she is without-fail available to send paragraphs of advice over text to her homesick or worried college children. Her truly unique devotion to people is one of her defining qualities. Another is her (obsessive) love of folklore, nineteenth century history, and the afterlife.
You could say that much of my young life was spent with said afterlife. I was born into a house with more Civil War ambrotypes on the walls than family photos. I have memories of coming home after preschool to eat lunch in front of a horror movie. And when I turned six and my brother Spencer was eight, my mother dearest decided it was an appropriate time to grant us the same treat that she granted my father; she began taking us to haunted houses. Over the span of twelve years, as I grew from a toddler to an adolescent and then to an adult, I’ve been from Louisiana to Pennsylvania to New York and more to spend the night in “haunted” bed-and-breakfasts.
That first house I visited is in Casper, Wyoming. It’s said to be haunted by several spirits, including its original owners, Mr. and Mrs. White, who finalized the building of the house in 1940. When Mrs. White passed away, a new couple dolled it up into a bed-and-breakfast. The husband, who allegedly disbelieved in ghosts before living in the house, is now a paranormal investigator. When we arrived at the house, my mom felt someone lie next to her in bed despite my father being in the adjacent room with my brother and me. And when she fell asleep, she experienced a horrifyingly vivid dream of a man trying to “merge into her body.” She woke up screaming and sweating, petrified to her core. Evidently, she was still shaken up some hours later, because my dad heard her in the bathroom several times during the night. Some time later, we discovered that women who stay in that room often have the same “dream” of a man walking to and from the sink. Perhaps a scarier discovery was that my mother claimed she hadn’t gotten up at all that night. Cue scary organ music.
And despite this, she was jealous some years later when my dad and I heard a storm in a Gettysburg inn not too far away from the battlefield itself, and felt the bed shake from thunder. Except this storm had never happened; it had been completely still and dry outside. Mom excitedly pondered whether it could have been cannonfire from one hundred fifty years ago.
Mom will remain excited and engaged on any of these trips. She signs us up for tours, encourages us to listen to other ghosthunter hobbyists’ stories, and stays up until the wee hours of the morning to learn about EMS detectors or research the history of the stuffy, humid rooms we’re staying in. During breakfast one morning at a haunted inn, my mom told me an experience of hers that had happened the night before. As she explained, she’d been in her room, opening dresser drawers to check out the toys that visitors left for Jeremy, the nine-year-old ghost who roams the house. While she was perusing the knick-knacks and plushies, she heard a high-pitched giggle near her ear. She immediately spun her head toward my brother Spencer, who looked her straight in the eye and said without prompt, “I heard that too.” A little bit later, she heard the sink turn on in the bathroom. When she went to go check it out, the water turned off.
After hearing her story, I gave her a desperately worried look, to which she smiled and laughed. Smiles like those encourage me to change my negative, apprehensive attitude into one of fun, excitement, and appreciation for the peculiar, the unexplainable. As she’s taught me, when you really open yourself up to scary things–when you’re willing to make fun of a situation–you let the fun and curiosity run wild.
A more run-of-the-mill mother might claim that fun pretty much plateaus after a summer spent in a resort, or with her kids away at sleepaway camp. My mom says fun doesn’t peak until you’ve been on a Gettysburg graveyard tour; until you’ve crawled up to the attic of a dead axe-murderer; or until you’ve laughed at the pitiful situation of sleeping in a dusty, creaky house where things go bump in the night.
It’s certainly one of the purest forms of fun to get an adrenaline rush as you enter the house you “have” to sleep in. It’s an adventure of its own form to stay up past midnight as an eight-year-old and to play with spirit-detecting gadgets. Taking them on vacation is not a typical method of “spoiling” your children, but I can certainly say that my experiences taught me more about open-mindedness, adventure, and engaged experience. How many kids get to eat a traditional New England dinner in a tavern with hoop-skirted waitresses?
I am thankful for my mom for allowing me to not know the answer to some things. All Ivy League students are familiar with the competition associated with “success” that breeds on campus. We are hard studiers and truth-seekers. We are quite accustomed to reaching the “goal” of knowing every answer to every question, to proving our points with evidence and empiricism. This is especially true in science fields, where it’s almost impossible to approach a scientific question–and carry out experimentation–with a completely open mind, a mind that is “okay” with getting suboptimal results. Among the many important life lessons that my mother has gracefully taught me, perhaps one of the most enduring is the notion that it’s okay to experience things for what they are… even if they’re more paranormal than “normal.”