To preface things slightly, I grew up in an old Italian neighborhood. Many of our neighbors were fresh off the boat or were first/second generation American born which meant for those of us later born to be in an environment where the couple down the block are sneaking raising chickens, nearly every woman over 50 going around in the obligatory black dress, and enough whispered talk of signs and omens and whatnot.

It makes for interesting life experience when as a kid you can remember everyone flying into serious abject terror that a black bird flew into the house because it’s a sign that someone’s going to die soon and then as a teen when Grandma’s in near hysterics screaming ‘it’s a Sign!’, running for the rosary because she cracked open an egg that ended up having a bloody yolk and all you can think is 'God I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get my own place away from here…'

Most of my Mom’s side of the family lived either in the neighborhood or in the ones just around it. My maternal Grandma was from a typical sizeable 20s era family, five sisters, two brothers surviving and two girls and a boy who died while very young. When I was on maternity leave and due to complication was assigned bed rest, I got a wild hair going on about working on a family genealogy because I was bored to all hell and one can only watch so many talk shows.

I figured to start on Mom’s side since they were all really close and at the price of sifting through rambling while sitting on plastic covered furniture surrounded by dusty capodimonte, it was something to do.

Lot of it was family stories I’d long heard before like the time some strange guy tried to grab my grand-aunt Ro as a kid while she was playing in the yard. Great-Grandpa and his brothers chased the guy off with bats. It left her with a pretty wicked scar and when she had kids of her own, she watched them all like a hawk.

I tried to find out more about the siblings who died, but all anyone would say was they were really young when it happened and when the family was out in the country. I did try to get some death certificates but those were apparently lost in a move or flood and hadn’t been microfiched.

Also around this time my grand-aunt Liz’s alzheimer’s had progressed pretty bad and her daughter was the one taking care of her at home. Anyone who’s been around that knows it’s rough, so I’d volunteer to sit in for a few hours so my cousin could get a break. Overall I didn’t mind it and half the time my grand-aunt would think I was my Mother who’d passed on some years prior. I’d humour her since it wasn’t worth causing a commotion.

One of the nights, she was more talkative than usual. Talking quite a lot of the old days and in particular her son Mikey. He died when he was five. My mom had been there playing with him, she was three at the time. What I’d been told was it was some lung problem and he just keeled over, but some of the things my grand- aunt said that night got me wondering.

Thinking I was my Mom, she said she was happy that at least 'He’ didn’t get me like he got Mikey and tried to get Ro. It made no sense so I tried to question carefully. Where they were living at the time had a thicket abutting the yard, and my grand-aunt had been watching the kids playing out back from the kitchen window. The man was well dressed, and she couldn’t see his face well. She hadn’t been worried at first since he didn’t look like a bum or a gypsy. But as he came out of the woods, my Mom ran to the house and Mikey ran to him. They had the thicket cut down not long after. She was still sad that they had to have a closed casket funeral for him.

I would’ve tried to dig out more but my cousin came home.

I ended up putting the genealogy thing on the backburner once I had my son. Since I was still on maternity leave and we were still in the middle of clearing out stuff to make more room, I started on that. Most of it was stuff from my Mom and Grandma that we just boxed up to deal with later after they passed. A good chunk of it had been water damaged or mouse nibbled so other than flipping through book pages since we’ll use anything as a bookmark, I was throwing a good chunk out.

Not sure why I paused on it, but it was one of those old diaries that my Mom tended to pick up and just write poetry and doodle in. It was pretty torn up, fountain pens and water don’t mix well. One page drew my attention. It had a large blurred blot on it and most of the poetry there was illegible. Something about cold woods, something pale clad in darkness reaching.

At the time I chalked it up to Mom being Goth before it came into vogue and went on with the cleaning up.

But… reading around, it gets me to thinking.

An old story told about me was I somehow managed to get out of the locked house and was found wandering around outside as a toddler in a diaper until one of the neighbors brought me in and called my Mom.

Talking with her years later, she said it looked like I was running away from a man in a black suit and had a cut on my arm. I’d also been wearing a sleeper that they never found, and I do have a faded scar on my arm that I don’t remember how I might’ve gotten hurt.

I think at this point, I’m going to chalk this up with the bloody yolk signs, black bird omens and howling dogs are ill tidings. I don’t think I want to think any further.

But then, the other day talking with my ex-husband, he said our son asked if he could cut down the tree near his window since it was scaring him at night like it was reaching in for him. I told him it’d be a great idea to cut it down…and to keep an eye out of anyone odd he might see.

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