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Spirits of the season

Biltmore House, Asheville NC

The baby’s crying upstairs, but I can’t go up there.

It’s October 29, 1977, and the Saturday night before Halloween. I’ve snagged a primo babysitting gig for a family of three charming children who live in an 1880’s farmhouse several miles outside of our small southern Ohio village. The parents have gone off to celebrate Halloween in whatever fashion befitting young parents of that era, which as I recall, involved beer and rural cemeteries. They say they won’t be getting back until late and that’s fine with me ‘cuz I’ll get paid extra for mastering nothing harder than just watching their kids sleep. Easy peasy, mac and cheesy.

I know it sounds like folklore, but in the days before cable TV’s, DVD’s, and PC’s we didn’t have acronyms. No, what I mean is, we teenagers of the 70’s were forced to design our own wholesome entertainment or else we’d be out there drinking beer and graveyard hopping or something.  So, considering it’s dark outside and anyway, I’m stuck inside with three little kids in their PJ’s, I gotta find something to do that’s more interesting than staring at the carpet stains. There’s only four channels on the TV on a good day and this isn’t one of them. Good thing I was one of those higher thinking teenagers (geek who didn’t have a date on a Saturday night) and had the sound idea to bring a book along with me.

This is where the smart thinking stops short like a drunk tripping over a tombstone. My tome of choice for the evening was the recently released Amityville Horror.  A True Story! the book cover exclaims in big red print. An old house possessed by evil entities! Red glowing pig eyes watching the children through the windows! Dripping walls and flying pests of biblical proportions!  Disembodied voices shouting GET OUT!  The perfect book to read for Halloween! Count me in!

Perfect, indeed. But not this night for this teenager. I can hear the wind blowing through the trees outside and the old farmhouse creaks and groans as if it’s awakening from a deep slumber. And what the heck is that weird noise in the basement anyway? All neighbors are way past any viable screaming distance in this rustic country setting. And you know what they say, a possum rustling through a corn field makes the same exact sound as three men with an axe.  I have my teenaged self so worked up reading this horrific story that every little sound has me sinking further into something like a fetal position, but with one hand still out there to turn the pages.

Then the toddler starts crying upstairs.

Gah! I say.  I’m now standing in the center of the living room and staring at the ceiling. Mind is whirling . . . why is she crying, did something scare her?  Does something have her?  I have to go up and check on her, of course.  Yep, I do.  I need to go up there. I really should go up there now. Yup.

A retro reminder for y’all.  The year of 1977 is post-Exorcist but pre-Freddy Krueger.  Teenagers of this era had not been desensitized by slasher movies and rated-M video games. Our hormone enriched imaginations were much better equipped  at creating deep levels of dread and fear back then, I think. Well, at least I was pretty good at it.

So, yeah I did go check on the precious little girl and was able to calm her back to her pretty princess sleep. I had to, of course.  It was the moral thing to do facing those imaginary red-eyed demons and well, financially speaking, the smart thing to do if I wanted another sitting gig with this family. But I will tell you, with very little sense of shame, that it was absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve ever made myself do. To take on that creaking stairwell and walk straight-backed down the hall and into her darkened bedroom.

Oh, I did it. But I couldn’t look out her bedroom window. Because I knew there would be a pair of glowing red pig eyes looking back in.

Sure, that’s, um, interesting, you say, but why tell us this now, some thirty years later?  Because it’s Halloween, you guys. And especially because I captured this neat photo of a sentinel lion sculpture during our tour of the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.  And then I spookified it up to make it all creepy and stuff. Which reminded me of the lion statue that bit the guy’s leg in Amityville Horror, which then brought the memory tour bus full circle by drudging up that Babysitting in Hell House nightmare.

And by the way, the ‘rents came back in the wee hours totally skunked and the dad had to drive me back home in that condition.

In a Pinto wagon.

That, my friends, was the truly for-real frightening part of the night. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

I vant to bite yer leg

So, anyway

On the patio at the Arbor Grill.
Yax is trying hard to ignore a
french fry under my chair.

Right, so anyway we capped off the fall road trip by stopping by the Biltmore House for a tour of the place. No photos permitted inside the home, but we could take some shots outside and at the nearby shops. The lion above is one of a pair just outside the mansion’s entrance. And the snapshot at the very top was taken from one of the gardens.

Anyway, it seems these Vanderbilts are particular about their fancy stuff, as they don’t allow dogs in the mansion. Only service dogs, so we opted to leave our fellows to relax in the RV during our tour of how the other half lives.

On the rest of the grounds, we found it to be pretty darn dog friendly.  We stop for lunch on the patio at the Arbor Grill where Yaxley becomes a mini celebrity of sorts.

Two kids at a neighboring table come over to take photos of Yaxley.  Which became an open invitation for the junior paparazzi to swarm in. Digital camera flashes come from all angles as Yaxley turns his head from side to side to accommodate all his admiring shutterbug fans.

I’m tellin’ ya, it’s like hangin’ with a rock star
sometimes.

The Biltmore House has their own line of fine vino and I think a wine tasting will be a nice touch after lunch.  And Yaxley needs to check off Wine Shop on his socialization list. Um, again.

This really was a beautiful place at the Biltmore Estate; well worth the drive in the rattletrap RV to get here. Yaxley was warmly welcomed everywhere we went and, as his usual style, became a social bridge for us to meet some remarkable folk. Everyone is really just a fellow tourist, unless you have a caped dog with you. Then you find out that one fellow has a brother with a disability and would love to have more info on CCI. This young girl ruffling Yaxley’s ears just lost her thirteen year old dog she’s known her entire life and is missing her terribly. And that petite lady petting the pup is actually the mother of a famous Iditarod musher from Alaska.

Incredible to think of all the people we pass by with just a ‘scuse me.

Didja see it, food lady? Here’s that stuff you like.

I think I’ll close with a few images of our walking tour around the shops and farm.  Enjoy . . .

You know what, Cedric?  I think we’ll turn to stone before she throws that ball.

Hey! HEY!  Oh I get it.  Just ‘cuz you’re a Vanderbilt
you can’t talk to the working class.

Hey food lady, put down that wine bottle and lookit me!   
I’m on the wagon! 

Yaxley supervising the smithy

Showdown during an intense game of chicken.
The bird would have blinked first, but Yax said it didn’t have eyelids.

I have no fear of these spirits.

About Donna Sword

Lover of all things Dog.

5 responses »

  1. LOVE it!! Your writing is the BEST!!!

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  2. Gotta love this post, Donna! You're such an excellent writer/photographer! It makes your posts quite intriguing. I can truly say that makes “Raising A Super Dog” one of my favs. 😀

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  3. Aww we used to live in Asheville! Biltmore area is beautiful…now we're about an hour .5 away..! Look us up next time you're in the area 🙂

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  4. I love your story! (And the wine photo at the end cracked me up.)

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  5. Elle, Elijah and Pup Fan – thanks so much! You guys are great — and amazing bloggers.
    Erin – thanks for the invite,I'd love to stop to say hi next time we're through Asheville.

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