Nouvelle Haunted House

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(HOST) On this night of ghosts and goblins, commentator Stephanie Montgomery remembers that when she was growing up in the fifties, away from city lights, the nights were very dark indeed.

(MONTGOMERY) Our recent brilliant October days have gotten me thinking about Sunday drives when I was a kid. My parents would take us off to Mad River or some such natural wonder just to go "just to see" just to spend the day together. On straight-aways Dad might bring our Woodie station wagon up to 50. Mostly though, we putted along by farms and through villages -inspiration for our games of animal-vegetable-mineral.

In the long shadows of the homeward journey, my brother and I would scheme over our homemade Halloween costumes. He would be Zorro or Peter Pan; maybe I should be a gypsy this year. When it got dark Mom would tell a ghost story. In the back seat I gripped his hand and held my breath.

Often Mom served up tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then I was bundled off to bed where I watched the moons flickering shadows on the floor or listened to the darkness for any sign of the terrible creatures that lurked there, taking considerable comfort in the thought of Dad and the big shiny flashlight he kept on his bedside table.

With these nostalgic images in mind, I started closing up the house the other night and realized most people don’t sleep in dark houses anymore. With the lights out, our coffee maker declared the hour; its little Auto light glowed red. Same with the microwave, the stove, the portable phone, and the clock radio. Our battery chargers, smoke detectors, thermostats and motion sensitive lights gleamed with readiness– Forever ON. Together they made a nightlight on the landing look low-tech quaint.

Our house glowed, dimly but surely, through the night, sucking energy. How can children thrill to the darkness I wondered, when there’s so little of it to be had? By the time I reached the top of the stairs, I was embarrassed by my cultural snobbery and admitted to more concern over the grownups, myself included, who had grown so accustomed to the entertaining invasion and occupation of smart gadgets. To live on the grid is to live in the company of a host of beacons and beeps. For all my credentials as a former flower child and lifetime organic gardener – despite our family’s efforts to live lightly and conscientiously– it was plain we’d capitulated to the claims of convenience. Our home is ready for a gadget purge, I thought. But, of course, we can’t unplug everything any more than Mom and Dad could just give up their Sunday drive. In 1955 when they blithely called out Filler up! they couldn’t imagine a gas shortage, let alone the concept of environmental damage. Lacking their ignorance I struggle anyway to imagine a heated-up planet. Lacking their innocence I resist seeing myself as the villain, let alone the wicked witch of fossil fuels.

And I can’t decide between creating a retro, creepy darkness around here for Halloween or going Nouvelle Haunted House and letting the ghostly gadgets reign supreme.

Stephanie Montgomery is the Director of Memoir Cafe, an online writing service for women.

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