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Monday, May 24, 2010

Spooky Housekeeping

One would have thought I had an ideal childhood. Though our home at 64 Standish was beautiful and comfortable in every physical way, it was not a peaceful environment for me. My parents were very busy, so I was on my own much of the time. I had to figure out a lot of things for myself. In addition to suffering the usual childhood traumas featuring imaginary villains, my brother and I noticed something spooky going on in the housekeeping department. Mrs. Foales, our housekeeper, and Faith, her household assistant, seemed to be turning our household into a battleground of good and evil.

The Angel: Faith took care of cleaning and organizing the house, the clothes and the children. Faith wasn't her birth name. It was given to her by Father Divine. She was one of his "angels" and lived in one of the several communes he called "Heaven." She lived in Heaven rent-free and was fed and clothed by Father Divine. If she hadn't had a job, he would have found one for her. In exchange, all she had to do was turn over her entire salary to him every week. I guess the thinking there was that you don't need money in heaven. He needed money, though, to maintain his extravagant life style. I don't think he was as bad as the press made him out to be. He actually was interested in civil rights and did help a lot of people to overcome poverty. Even if he was helping himself to his angels' incomes, he at least was providing them with services, religious inspiration, a place to live, clothes and food.

Faith was a delightful, happy and contented person who took very good care of us. She quietly hummed cheerful hymns to herself while doing her work. I was fascinated by the way she looked because I had never seen clothes like the ones she wore. Father Divine apparently picked them out for her and all his other angels at thrift and second-hand stores. Her outfits may have been mismatched, but they were always clean, well pressed and colorful. The clothes she wore made her look like a clown of sorts. That was OK–I loved clowns and was happy to have a clown in the house. Once she bent over and I could see that she was wearing red bloomers with yellow polka dots all over them. I thought that was hysterical and burst out laughing. Faith admonished me, saying that I should not laugh at other people because I might hurt their feelings and God would be disappointed in me. I wasn't sure if she meant the God or Father Divine, but I wasn't taking any chances. I never made fun of another person's clothing ever again.

Once when my mother was out, Faith made my little brother Tommy two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I could tell that she was not that familiar with food preparation or sandwiches, because this is how she constructed it: bread, peanut butter, jelly; on top of that bread, peanut butter, jelly, on top of that, bread, peanut butter, jelly and on top of that bread, peanut butter, jelly. Poor Tommy couldn't even fit his tiny mouth around it. Everybody loved Faith and we, as kids, thought the sun rose and set around her.

The Witch: Mrs. Foales lived with us. She managed the household, supervised Faith, ordered the food and cooked meals. She was as colorless in her attire--gray dress, pearls and a white apron--as Faith was colorful. When she first came to the house I was very excited because my father told me she was from England and had worked as a baker in the Queen's confectionery kitchen. Even at a young age, I understood the implications of this--we would have great desserts! "Great hire," I thought. If she could make desserts that were good enough for the Queen of England, they were going to be good enough for me. However, all of her deserts were flops; her cakes never rose. Nor did she in my estimation. She explained that in the Queen's kitchen they used the metric system for measuring ingredients and she was confused by our American system of measure. There went that sweet dream. Only years later did I find out that England used ounces and pounds, just like we did. Also, her accent sounded funny. I used to imitate her much to her dismay by saying, "Blah, blaaaah, blah, blaaaah, blah, bla bla blaaaah." Try it, it sounds just like an English accent.

I frequently overheard Mrs. Folds doing something that I thought was really scary. She would lock herself in the bathroom repeatedly, sometimes for as long as half an hour and it sounded like all Hades was breaking loose in there. There were thumps and thuds and scraping sounds. But more frightening than that, her voice changed from that cheery little high–pitched English blah blaaah to a rough growl that might as well have belonged to Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons. Also the words didn't sound like any I had ever heard before. Might she have been speaking in tongues? When she emerged from the bathroom, she was flushed, sweaty and slightly disheveled.

I couldn't tell my parents about this, because I had already complained about the man with long, hairy, elastic arms and sharp fangs who lived under my bed and would try to hook me with his rubber arms and snap me under my bed, never to be seen again. This necessitated my jumping into bed from as far away as possible in order to avoid being ensnared and imprisoned. I might add that even when I jumped into bed I still was not entirely safe. As soon as I landed, the gathering of Golden Ladies convened. They would float out of the bathroom, giggling nastily with their high heels clicking down on the wood floor as they approached my room to get me. They made quite a racket bumping and stumbling against the long corridor wall and clicking their heels. I had never actually seen them, but somehow I knew they were beautiful, glowing evil specters with long golden hair streaming down their backs over their shimmering, diaphanous gowns. What particular brand of punishment they had in store for me, mercifully I never learned because just as the first one reached my door I woke up screaming. I complained to my parents about the Golden ladies, as well as the hairy, long-armed creep under my bed, every night.

In fear of losing my credibility with my parents altogether, I decided to keep my observations of Mrs. Foales to myself. Between Mrs. Foales and Faith, I believed that I was living in the midst of the classic battle between good and evil. After much contemplation, I was not that worried. I figured out–or at least hoped very much–that Faith's cheerful hymnal humming would overcome whatever evil Mrs. Foales was perpetrating in the bathroom. At a minimum, I hoped that the household would at least hold its own, remaining neither good nor evil but at least neutral. With that in mind, I kept my mouth shut and continued on with my daily life and activities. But I made sure I stuck very close to Faith.

Postscript: I lived at that Zoroastrian battleground of 64 Standish until I went away to college and then on to my own apartment in New York City. Mrs. Foales and Faith stayed in the house until my father passed away and remained there for about six months afterward to look after the house, receive real estate brokers and dispose of the furniture, furnishings. and clothing that remained. My brother, sister and I had left the house many years earlier, to conduct our battles elsewhere, and my mother was also gone. After the house was sold, I wanted to look at it just one more time, so I returned to my childhood home.

As I entered, I remembered how I had worried about everything as a child. I thought that I probably misremembered and misconstrued Mrs. Foales' nefarious bathroom activities. However, when I walked through the house, what I saw sent a chill up my spine.

Spooky housekeeping: The whole house was set up as if one person still dwelled there. All the furniture, furnishings and clothes had been removed, save for one of each item. In my parents bedroom, one suit, shirt and tie, hung in the closet with one brilliantly shined pair of shoes on the floor, and in the one bedside table that had been left was one set of underwear and one pair of socks. One of the twin beds remained and was made up with pressed linens and blankets. My father's pajamas and dressing gown were laid out on top and his slippers lay at the foot of the bed. In the infamous bathroom, there was one toothbrush, one bar of soap one towel and one washcloth. Strangest of all, in the dining room, the large dining table was gone but there was one place setting with a perfectly pressed napkin on our card table.

Outrageous! Dr. McLaughlin would never eat at the card table.


  1. Love it!..I do remember Faith!!!!! Great story! xxx Nancy

  2. Thanks. That is the way it was. Nobody should ever forget Faith. That would be like, well, forgetting faith.

  3. Did your mother not tell you to stay away from men like that?