by Kathleen Kersch Simandl
It was late April and time to plan the strategy for our second encounter with Mrs. Pittscarin. "I don't want to," I whined. "Nothing to it," my sister Karen
bragged. Middle-sister Kay's opinion? "You're both crazy." But, we knew what must be done.
Usually we had but one encounter with our next door neighbor. And, that was when it was time to sell our Girl Scout
cookies. Our troop did the peanut butter sandwiches, Trefoils, and – my
personal favorite – Thin Mints. Selling the cookies was one of my first
obligations, outside of the family, and while I hated the hours of trudging door to door, there was one advantage: It provided
a legitimate reason for my two sisters and me to peek into some of our neighbors' houses and lives.
The one place which we dreaded, yet perversely anticipated, visiting was Mrs. Pittscarin's house. She was our closest neighbor to the north. My family's beige-brick ranch house marked the edge of Glen
Ellyn, and her place was beyond a broken-down fence, a rough, empty field, and a thick line of bushes. Mrs. Pittscarin lived alone, and clearly out-of-town.
As we plotted this year's unprecedented second approach to our neighbor's house, Karen turned to Kay and giggled, "Do
you remember how scared Beano was when we went last time?" They both looked at
me, and giggled even harder. “I thought you were going to… lose your
cookies," snorted Kay, struggling unsuccessfully to suppress her guffaws.
“Ha, Ha. Very funny,” I replied,
trying to downplay my terror in remembering the occasion.
Then, as always in the many years we'd attempted to sell our neighbor cookies, even approaching her front door was
a challenging experience. First of all, we had to walk in the road - right down
the highway! - to reach her property. We'd left the civilization of sidewalks
behind. Then we had to wrestle the loop of rusty, old wire over the upright pole
of her gate. This un-oiled gate, of course, always screeched as it opened, announcing
either entry or - more usually - terrified retreat.
Last time, my sisters and I had made promises to one another not to flee, and proceeded through the gate to pick our
way toward the house. Mrs. Pittscarin had no front walk. There was a sort of
a path, but it disappeared under moss, and scraggly weeds underfoot, while long, prickly branches grabbed at our faces and
arms. The rest of her yard was covered with three foot high grasses and weeds,
which the old woman burned every spring. A very un-suburban thing to do, in our
"I thought we'd never even get IN there alive!" squealed my sister Kay - a comment which elicited even stronger gales
of helpless mirth. But then, slowly, the laughter subsided as we slipped into
a collective reverie about our last visit to see our neighbor. I remembered
it rather like one of those never-ending nightmares… one of those where you keep on dragging along, yet never really
make much progress… kind of a mental glue-trap:
After what had seemed like an eternity, Karen, Kay and I emerged at Mrs. Pittscarin's front door. Sucking in my breath, I announced, "Okay, I'll knock." Then
hastened to add, "But, I won't talk." Karen and Kay, stiff at my side, nodded
their heads - eyes wide.
Mrs. Pittscarin flung the door open, a scarce second after I knocked, sending the three of us into an even more terrified
state. And, she glared as us. Her
hair was white, and brushy. It surrounded her head much as the weeds did her
path. Her face was a study in craterous wrinkles, and her eyes were almost lost
in their folds. Her little, tiny, piggy, mean eyes.
"WHAD'YA KIDS WANT?" she shouted. I turned to run. My oldest sister Karen deftly caught my wrist and answered, "Cookies.
We're selling Girl Scout cookies again. Would you like to buy some?" The crone looked behind her, then back at us three clustered in front of her door
and answered, "Whadda yew think?" And slammed her door.
After we'd fled, squealing, out of her yard - back into the civilization of suburbia, we breathlessly told our mom
how it had been this year. We spared none of the details comparing Mrs. Pittscarin
to a witch. And we eagerly reported that yet another twelve months had gone by without even the tiniest smile cracking our
neighbor lady's scary facade.
"Girls," confided our mother. "She acts like she hates EVERYBODY." We nodded seriously, and in unison. "But,"
added Mom, "you're old enough to understand this, now. Both her husband and kids
were killed in a terrible car accident on Roosevelt Road. Years ago. When her house was still painted white, like the picket fence. And,
she had roses and lilies growing on either side."
But, it was obvious to Karen, Kay and me that THAT Mrs. Pittscarin - the one with the flowers and the painted house
- had been possessed or replaced by her evil-twin. And, our mission had begun
to take form that very day.
Now, it was time. We gathered our assigned materials, then set out to
Mrs. Pittscarin’s house… uncertainly passing the point where even the sidewalk dared not continue.
Creeping as quietly as possible through the tall weeds crowding her porch, we took our positions:
Karen wedged the nosegay of violets and lilies-of-the-valley into a crack, Kay knocked, and I carefully placed two
Thin Mints alongside her flowers. At the same time we all three shouted like
only three little girls can: "HAPPY MAY DAY, MRS. PITTSCARIN!"
We raced to hide in the
thick bushes along the edge of her yard, and to watch. The traditional May Day
"rules" that my sisters and I had learned from our mother forbid that the recipient of the flowers see who was giving them.
Within seconds of our crawling
into the shrubs, our neighbor flung open her door. And, looking down at the spring