I spoke to my younger sister, Michele, about the chore girl days, trying to refresh and confirm my memories of our splendid training for the world of work, and she shared this story that I had completely forgotten. Sometimes the two of us did the chores together, sometimes we took turns, heartlessly sacrificing our sibling to the dark so we could enjoy the comfort of a peaceful and well-lit evening indoors. I told her to write the story herself and she did:
Dog and cat chores – the last duty of the day before bed. Sounds simple enough looking back — mosey on out to the clinic and shed behind the house, make sure the two dogs and multitude of cats have food and water, pull all the doors closed and make sure all the animals are locked in. Did I HAVE to wait until after dark to do these duties? No, probably not. I’m not sure that doing them earlier occurred to me often, if ever. Summer was extra treacherous, between unwitting toads waiting on the well-worn path and junebugs springing from the lights we flipped on to say goodnight to the animals. Winter time was easier, and I remember pulling on my dad’s snowboots by the back door if the snow was deep, or sometimes borrowing his slippers (with the mashed-down heels — he never put them on all the way) for chores if there wasn’t snow at all… How far was it from the back door of our house to the lean-to? Waaay too far… Especially after a scary movie…
Apparently, on Jan. 27, 1978 (if the horror movie blog I just found can be trusted), when I would have been all of 8 years old, it was my turn to do chores that night. I couldn’t yank myself away from the tv because we were watching a scary, made-for-tv movie called “Bermuda Depths.” I don’t remember anything about it other than what must have been close to the last scene, the body of a man being dragged into the ocean by a giant sea turtle… But our animals must be fed, movie or no movie. Duty-bound, that image still haunting me, I went out into the cold dark to lock up the animals.
Now, just so there is no confusion — there is no sea anywhere close to where we lived. The largest body of water nearby was the watering tank for the horses, and in a South Dakota January, there was definitely no danger of a giant sea turtle dragging me to my death… These arguments didn’t matter at all to my freaked-out eight-year-old brain. There was definitely something in the dark that was going to come out and get me — maybe the ghost of that drowned person in the movie. So, tip-toeing through the dark, bright light at my back, my own, elongated shadow leading the way across the gigantic back yard to the shed, I was telling myself “it was only a movie” while the rest of my brain was certain I was going to die.
I made it to the corrugated steel shed with a bit of relief — so close to a light switch. I flipped back the metal hook from the eye to unlock the big sliding door, grabbed the smooth, cold handle and heaved it back. As the wall of grey steel slid past and the shed yawned open, I leaned in to flip on the light and a large translucent blue hand floated out of the dark to meet me, reaching for my face.
“Gaah!!!!” a strangled gasp escaped my lips as the hand ballooned out of the darkness. I was a goner. The hand slowly wafted down again in the yellow light from the stark incandescent bulb I’d managed to turn on. Drenched in adrenaline-induced sweat, I realized that what I was looking at was an O.B. sleeve — basically an arm-length clear plastic glove that our veterinarian father would use when examining female cattle. This one, (apparently unused) had the open end tied around the top of a CO2 cylinder for welding, leaving the hand-shaped end floating in the dark, reaching out for a short, unsuspecting victim who would free it with the movement of the door.
Giddy with relief and the afterburn of terror, I finished up the chores and returned to the house in record time, just glad to be alive.