My grandmother, Alice, was 17 years old in the summer of 1934. She was babysitting at the local doctor’s house in her small hometown of Oxford in upstate New York. The doctor and his wife had gone to Norwich, a town about eight miles away, for dinner and to see a show.
My grandmother had just put their little boy to bed upstairs. She sat down to read on the end of the large, hump back sofa, near the floor lamp, in the living room of the big Victorian house. She told me it had been an unbearably hot, muggy day. The doctor and his wife had left all of the windows in the big house open to try to cool it down after such a steamy day.
The sofa faced two of those enormous windows. Ordinarily, from that vantage point, one could see past the porch railing and into the sloping front yard. The moon was out, but it could not compete with the bright lights in the living room. Grandma couldn’t see anything but darkness out of the windows. She was thankful, though, that since the sun had gone down, there was a bit of breeze blowing softly through the lace curtains.
Suddenly, she distinctly heard heavy footsteps running up the stairs of the big, wrap-around porch. But nobody rang the doorbell. The big old house sat on a secluded lot up on a hill overlooking Oxford. She was all alone and someone was outside on that porch.
In spite of it being so hot, she ran around to every window on the first floor, and closed and locked them all. Then she realized that even though the windows were shut and locked, whoever was outside could still peer in at her through the lace curtains. There were no shades to pull! She told me she had never felt so scared before in all her life!
She ran around and turned off all the lights. Then she huddled in a corner of the sofa, in the shadows. With the inside lights off, the moonlight was enough to make out the shadow of the enormous maple tree in the yard beyond the porch railing. Then she saw the shadow of a man walk past the first living room window, and then the second window. It looked like he was carrying a knife! My grandmother thought her heart was going to explode and she had to clamp her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. If she had screamed, it would have given away her location.
She told me she sat there in the dark for another hour until she heard the doctor and his wife drive up in their sedan, get out, and shut the doors. Then she turned on the living room lights and ran to the front door. She could barely stammer out the words to tell them about the stranger on the porch.
By then it had cooled down outside, but with those windows closed, the first floor was still sultry. The doctor and his wife didn’t chastise her for it. They could tell by her wide eyes and fearful demeanor how scared she was, although they tried to calm her down by telling her it was probably a teenage boy pulling a prank on her. My grandmother said she never babysat for them again because they didn’t have shades on the windows. Anyone could stand outside at night and spy on those inside.
I don’t remember how old I was when she told me this story, but just before dusk, I always pull my shades down! I become extremely agitated if it is dark out and I am in a place where someone can see me clearly from outside, but I can’t see them. People think I am a bit irrational when it comes to this behavior, but I know my grandmother would understand.