I’m A Babysitter, Not An Exorcist!

By Mary Duggan

Mary Duggan

My Mom had a genius for friendship. She gathered her life long friends, from her childhood summers on a farm in Missouri to her pinnacle life experience as a day hopper at Rosary College. She kept them close, never seemed to lose one to quarrel or misunderstanding, and presented each of them to us as a unique exemplar of womanhood. She admired their height, their sense of style, their choice of spouse, their brilliant careers and of course, their children. Her friends were second string aunties for us and their children more like cousins. She filled our lives with her wonderful friends and expanded our sense of ourselves and our definition of family in doing so. She even loved the friends of her friends – and that is where this story originated.

When friends of our “Aunt” Catherine got a job transfer that predicated a move into our neighborhood, Mom welcomed them warmly, doing everything in her power to ease their adjustment. She assured them that they would be deliriously happy on Seeley Avenue, one of the oldest, loveliest, friendliest, and most historic streets in all of Beverly.  And when their Beverly experience proved to be something other than what everyone had predicted, she was there for them then, as well. Meaning she had a new assignment for me as her go-to girl for Moms needing assistance – in this case a babysitter with that extra something.

A series of whispery phone calls from first Aunt Catherine and then from her friend and our new neighbor, who I will call Mrs. B  (the need for anonymity will be clear later) brought Mom up-to-speed on the “situation.” She was conspiratorial and reassuring and told me only that she had a special baby sitting assignment for me. Now this is when I have to explain what baby sitting meant to me in the late 60s and early 70s. For one, it meant 50 cents an hour. Secondly, it meant missing out on lots of Friday and Saturday nights of fun with my friends – none of whom had my client base of lined up and waiting Moms.

I was a sitter in demand. And my Mom, no doubt about it, had lots to do with that. I am sure folks figured that a kid born right smack dab in the middle of a family of eleven would know her way around child care – and I did. Secondly, my Mom set high expectations for me as a sitter. Translation: she was on the side of the Mommys – not me. Which meant I was to “do up” any dishes I might find in the sink. And I was “not above” mopping a kitchen floor if it looked like it could use it. And “running the vacuum around a bit” was an absolute given. My instructions from Mom always included 2 things: 1. Moms are exhausted and never get out so make sure they come home to a little less work. And 2. Dads can be drinkers so do not under any circumstances get in a car with a Dad you think might have been drinking. Insist on calling home for a ride. Someone will come and get you. And with that I was sent off to work – constantly tending to kids and dishes and carpets and drunken Daddys and more.

But this assignment was different from the start. I sensed that my Mom had something she needed to tell me; but she had clearly decided that the less said the better. I was told only that the B’s needed a sitter for a very special family wedding they wanted to attend. I was told that they absolutely did not ever get out or use a sitter. It seemed their young son, not their daughter, was a bit of a problem child. I was not to be concerned that there were bars on all the upstairs windows. The bars were to protect him from trying to fly out the window – which he seemed to consistently have expressed an interest in doing! It was also why I would be required to tie him into the bed at night! My Mom responded to my bulging eyeballs with reassurances that I was not to be concerned. “They have,” Mom said, “involved the University of Chicago.” And that was that.

It was to be a long assignment, with an afternoon ceremony followed by a reception. But it was also a dream assignment from the moment I arrived. Their home was picture perfect decorating magazine gorgeous. Mr. and Mrs. B were smashing in their wedding outfits and thrilled me with the news that I would be paid the unheard of sum of $1 an hour, as it was going to be such a long day. They would make every effort not to be out too late and there were homemade chocolate chip cookies in the ceramic cookie jar on the kitchen counter and they knew my Mom had filled me in on everything else and they were off. I know I should have been a little more concerned with the Mom had filled me in on everything else comment, but there was no time for that. And I wasn’t concerned. The kids looked adorable and this was going to be big bucks with long hours at double the usual rate. Made in the shade.

The afternoon passed quickly with my repertoire of getting to know-you-games followed by hot dogs for dinner, and some final summer fun in the fenced yard. Before too long it was bath time and PJ time and tie the little guy in the bed time and then I could relax in their gorgeous living room with TV and that cookie jar stuffed with homemade chocolate chips that was calling my name. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have made any sort of fuss about these two darling kids; because that was clearly what all the whispering must have been about. Everything went smooth as silk until I went to tie the little guy into the bed. It was then I heard the piano. It was Fur Elise, a lovely rendition, coming from the piano in the living room below. I stopped immediately with my tie the kid to the bed task and looked at the two angelic creatures before me. “What was that?” I whispered. The spirits, they said in unison. They always play the piano when we are getting ready for bed. And it continued. The familiar strains of Fur Elise filled the air. Goose flesh covered my arms. And I couldn’t tuck those little angels in fast enough and get to the phone. To call my Mom. To say what the hell, Mom! But first I had to get to the phone which was downstairs -where someone or something was playing the piano.

I waited for what seemed like forever for the sounds to cease. My little charges had been thoroughly tuckered out by my skillful baby sitting and they fell quickly and soundly asleep. Heart pounding and hands dripping with sweat I finally made my way cautiously down the perfectly carpeted stairs, past all the perfectly framed family photos and into the kitchen to grab the princess phone from its mount on the wall. I entered the kitchen just in time to see the cookie jar noiselessly slide the length of the counter, stopping just across from me. I screamed, grabbed the phone off the wall and dialed home. Luckily Mom answered on the first ring. I don’t know if she just happened to be there folding the interminable laundry of close to a dozen children or if she was actually monitoring the calls. She had a kid on a very tricky assignment and I’d like to believe she was waiting there for any needed backup or support.

I screeched Oh my God, Mom, what have you done to me!? But never one to suffer any sort of outburst or drama, she was actually pretty supportive for my Mom. Tell me what is going on, she calmly said, and then I can help you. I kind of combination whisper/screamed into the phone about the piano playing itself and the levitating cookie jar while I stretched the phone cord into the dining room so I was neither in the living room with the piano nor the kitchen with the cookie jar. Oh my God, Mom, what is going on here?!?!?

exorcist_von_sydow

Of course, I was never allowed to see the movie. But I could live it – for $1 an hour plus free cookies.

She then brought me more completely and fully up-to-speed about my assignment. Oh Mary, she said, the Bs have been having the most terrible time of it. There is something wrong with the house, something spiritual and dark, and it has effected their little boy and they think it is some sort of spirit telling him that he can fly out the window at night and you know they are not Catholic but they have gotten a priest involved from the University of Chicago (okay right there that did not make any kind of sense – a priest (?) from the University of Chicago (?) – that hot bed of socialism and sectarianism and secular sinfulness) and they have made a lot of progress, she assured me. All that’s left is occasional piano playing and okay, I was not aware of the moving cookie jar, but I can assure you that you are in no danger. Do you hear me? No danger whatsoever. And I could not for one minute believe I was having this conversation with my mother, the most progressive but still traditionally devout Catholic of all time. Tarot cards, and trance channeling and seance were not part of her world at all. Though I now knew that exorcism clearly was. You better believe me they are rethinking not being Catholics now, she said. Now that they have this to contend with. And we actually had this conversation while I stood stock still and terrified beyond all measure in a haunted house.

Mom then went on to relay how tricky all of this was in terms of Real Estate. About how badly they wanted to move far, far away but how the house couldn’t be sold with any sort of underlying problem not being disclosed. And yeah, I guess demonic possession of a property could be a disclosure problem. Mom, I screamed, I can’t believe you did this to me. I’m a babysitter, not an exorcist! And actually she was pretty calming and apologetic and said she would send over my younger sister Joanie for moral support, except she had Joanie out “on assignment” for some other family and so I would just have to tough things out. She then made a suggestion that I followed. I sat on the screened in porch just off the dining room with the door open so I could hear the kids if they needed me – yeah, and the piano, if it decided to play itself – and wait for the Bs to get home.

ghostbusters

Who ya gonna call? In my case, MOM!

Mom reminded me of one final thing before she hung up the phone. I’m here if  you need me, she said. You know –  if anything else comes up. Now say some Hail Marys and an Our Father, that’ll drive the demons away. And Mary, remember, I’m proud of you, she said.  That young couple is at their wits end and they really needed a night out. You made that possible for them and I’m proud of you. And one more thing, don’t EVER tell anyone about this. Or they will never get that house sold. And then my mother, the future realtor and secret-keeper extraordinaire hung up the phone. And of course I never got even one of those chocolate chip cookies. But I did earn double-time pay for that long Saturday of baby sitting that no one could ever know about.

 

Read on for another story from Mary’s Mom Made Me series.

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About the author: Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks. And that was just the beginning. We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring duggansisters.com to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.

 

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3 Responses to “I’m A Babysitter, Not An Exorcist!”

  1. Lucia P. says:

    This made me laugh! I have never read any of your work before, but you really captured a certain type of Catholic mom perfectly.

    Consider yourself in possession of a new fan!

    Your mom’s dialogue was a hoot!

    Well done.

    Lucia

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Lucia, so glad you enjoyed our Halloween offering. Would love to know how you came upon the Duggan Sisters blog – I suspect the Midlife Boulevard. This story was episode two of a three-part offering of summer reads. You might enjoy more of our Mom in Episode Two, a blog post entitled “Auntie Vi and the Wise Guys.” Here’s the link: http://duggansisters.com/blog/?p=3486.

      Hope you keep following along. We always enjoy hearing from a new fan.

      Mary

  2. kim says:

    Oh my goodness!!!!! This is a prickly-gooseflesh read! You were the consummate “good daughter”! Myself and the children would have been outta there so fast…..!

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