Make New Friends

SnoopyAs promised, the end of Brownie Fright Night.

To recap the story thus far, twenty girl scout brownies and their chaperones (mothers) caravan in their mini-vans to an abandoned tubercular asylum for a stormy weekend retreat. After settling around a struggling fire and singing girl scout songs, one of the mothers begins a ghost story set in her native Norway but before she can finish, the lights flicker out.  The mothers decide it’s time to turn in.

th-1Ruthie finally got more wine (once the girls settled down.) By that time, we all really needed a drink. The little darlings had chosen to bunk in the large room at the end of the sanitarium because it had enough cots that they could all be together. The problem was the room also had an exterior door and we had at least four flight risks. After much debate we agreed that one mother would bed down with the girls while the rest of us chickens slept next door.  Sylvana, of course, volunteered.  She just couldn’t get enough of “her girls.”

Once things were quiet, Cate, Marith, Ruthie and I slipped down to the kitchen where we drank wine from metal cups by candlelight. Outside, branches from nearby trees raked the side of the building but at least the rain had abated.

“Do you think the girls will get any sleep?”  Cate asked.

“You haven’t been on too many sleepovers, have you?”  Ruthie chuckled. 

“Well then, maybe one of us should sleep in there with poor Sylvana.”

“She’s the heaviest sleeper I’ve even seen,” I assured them. “As soon as her head hits the pillow, she’s in Snore City.  At the girl scout jamboree she slept through the tent collapsing and all those girls screaming their bloody heads off.”

I thought it was funny but Marith didn’t smile.”It is not normal to have so much energy and then to drop into a sleep like that. Maybe that is why she goes to Dr. Paulson.”

 “You don’t mean Sam Paulson?  Gwen’s husband?” Ruthie asked.

“Yes, she sees him three times a week.  Gwen says she even shows up at their house!  Uninvited!”

“Shit!  You know what Sam’s specialty is, don’t you?” 

We shook our heads no. 

“He’s the shrink who testified at Meryl Ottoman’s trial.”

“Meryl Ottoman?   

“You weren’t here then, Cate. Meryl Ottoman slashed her sister to death a few years ago – with a machete! She claimed her evil twin did it.”

“Don’t girl scout leaders have to take psychiatric tests,”  Cate asked.

I had to laugh.  The only reason I’d signed on to be a girl scout leader was because no one else would and Sylvana made it clear that if no one signed on to assist her, there would be no Brownie troop. “I had to get a TB test and that’s it.  I’m sure Sylvana’s just depressed.  I don’t think things are going well in her marriage.”

She crashed my Christmas brunch last year dressed as a clown! She scared Winston half to death, poor little thing.  He peed all over the carpet.  Maybe we better get back there.” With that Ruthie corked the wine and put it into the cooler.  In the space of a few minutes Sylvana had gone from being the world’s best girl scout leader to a clown-faced axe murderer with an evil twin. 

We returned to a scene of relative calm.  As I’d predicted Sylvana was dead to the world leaving the girls to entertain themselves with the flashlights they had been ordered to turn off.  A lantern in the hall provided just enough light should one of them need to visit the bathroom.

After confiscating the flashlights and responding to their complaints – two girls had upset tummies, one couldn’t find her sleep bear, one demanded to call her mother and the “usual suspects” wanted to take a midnight stroll to find banana slugs – we took to our bunks fully dressed, knowing we probably wouldn’t get much sleep.  

th-4The lantern in the hall provided just enough light to bring splotches of pealing paint on the ceiling to life. I kept thinking that only a few decades before the room in which we were trying to sleep housed patients in various stages of tuberculosis, some even dying. As I tossed and turned within the tight constraints of the sleeping bag, those splotches grew and shift-changed into the former residents of my bed singing their sad stories in my ears, or so I dreamt.

I woke to a grumble and then footsteps as Ruthie made her way down the hall. She has to go to the bathroom, I thought. Better her than me.  Walking the halls of the old sanitarium, with its creaky wooden floors, bleached beyond character, and yellowed walls at night with a flashlight, well, let’s just say, I’d really have to pee. 

After a few minutes Ruthie returned.  “Jan – I thought I heard someone sobbing but I checked on the girls- they’re all okay.” th-2

Cate snapped to a sitting position.  Followed by Marith.  They’d only been pretending to sleep or maybe like me, had been haunted by previous residents.

Ruthie lit another camp lantern.  “I’m not sitting here in the dark. I don’t care if we don’t have enough fuel…”

She was cut off by a low rumble.  Earthquake, I thought but nothing moved. Mudslide? Rivers of mud run under and destroy the foundations of many structures on the mossy side of Mt. Tam.  Was the sanitarium about to be washed away?

Then we heard the howl of a lone wolf.  Followed by another and another as their pack assembled somewhere not far away. 

I tried my best to make light of our situation. “Well thank goodness we’re not in tents! The wolves probably just killed a deer and are inviting other wolves to… ” 

“Shush!”  Ruthie ordered.  “Do you hear that?” We sat around the lantern listening to what sounded like a pack of wolves sniffing and scratching just outside the undraped windows.  “Go see what it is.”

“Me?” I asked. 

Before any of us could move, there was a racket at the back door, shortly followed by the screaming of brownies.   A pack of wild dogs now snarled and tore at the flimsy door. The usual suspects viewed the whole event with great glee and somewhat perverse scientific interest while the others ran into our room. 

The “usual suspects” view our plight with delight!

“The kitchen!” Ruthie cried. I’m not really sure why it made sense but we gathered the girls and off we ran down the halls with hearts racing.  Once there I realized why it made sense.  The kitchen windows were small and far above the floor and the exterior door, for reasons I can’t fathom, was metal.  Quickly we did a head count – yup all twenty girls were present and accounted for. 

“Where’s my mommie?”  Sylvana’s daughter cried.

“My god – she couldn’t have slept through all that!” Ruthie said. “Shouldn’t we…”

But there was no reason to worry about Sylvana.  A howl just outside the kitchen door, quickly followed by the scurrying of the rest of the pack informed us that the dogs had followed us to the kitchen.  

Don’t scream girls,” Marith pled, as they began to shriek. “This metal door is strong.  If you scream it gives the dogs what they want.  Let’s sing a song. I’m sure Mrs. C knows a good song.”

I had only one thing on my mind at that moment and it wasn’t a Brownie song. “Ah, ah..  let’s see.

th-7“We should call for help,” Cate said.

“Who’s going to volunteer to fight their way through mad dogs to the phone booth?”

The usual suspects stepped forward, one of them pointing out that she had a yellow belt in karate as she kicked imaginary dogs with her fluffy pink slippers.

“If we sing the dogs will know we are not afraid and they will leave.” Marith explained.  “That is what we do Norway.”

“How about Make New Friends?” One of the girls suggested.

We survived that night by soothing mad dogs with girl scout songs but left in the daylight as soon as the coast was clear. Our first stop being the coffee shop.  Sylvana, who’d slept through the whole thing and awoke bright and perky, risked her life by suggesting we at least take one short walk in the nearby woods before leaving.

Thank you so much for reading!  If you want to read the whole story without breaks – click here.
Happy Halloween!


#ThursdayDoors: Carousel

CarouselWhen I was a child these were my favorite doors!  Who doesn’t love a carousel? Last Saturday found this carousel during a Halloween celebration in Howarth Park (Santa Rosa) thus all the children (and many of the adults) were in costume.

Check out other Thursday Doors on Norm Frampton’s blog.


This isn’t a very good picture but you can kind of see Minnie Mouse in her polka dot dress!

Here’s a link to some of the world’s “must see” carousels.  Which is your favorite? Mine, of course, is the one on Pier 39 in San Francisco.

IMG_0992Tomorrow, as promised, the conclusion of Brownie Fright Night!

Day is Done, Gone the Sun (and the power)

Part 3 of Brownie Fright Night 

IMG_0946To recap the previous two episodes,  twenty brownies and their chaperones (mothers) set out on a rainy evening for a weekend campout in Marin County California.  On their way the troop gets lost and pulls into a service station for directions where they learn that the place they’re headed to is an abandoned sanitarium.  When they finally get there, it is dark. The only phone is in a booth across a now flooded parking lot.  They settle in, fix the girls dinner and then assemble for ghost stories.

And now. . . Part 3:

When Marith volunteered to tell the first ghost story I stifled a ho-hum. I’m afraid I’d formed yet another woefully misguided first impression of someone, this time based on a stereotype which my Norwegian grandmother encapsulated so brilliantly: the frigid, humorless, unimaginative Scandinavian. I was in for quite a surprise.

We’d all gathered around a stone hearth in the common area as the girl scout leader, Sylvana, led the girls in song while Ruthie and I managed to coax a reasonable fire using Sterno logs and old newspapers.  Sylvana had tried to convince us to retrieve real wood from the woodshed but we said “not on your life.” Beyond the dim light cast from the asylum the world had fallen into an inky black pool.

“Shall we sing another round of Kookaburra or listen to Mrs. Hansen’s story?  Sylvana asked.

“Story, story!!” 

Poor Sylvana.  If it were up to her, Kookaburra would have stayed in the old gum tree all night long. However she set her guitar against the wall and prepared to relinquish her audience to the stoic Norwegian now walking toward the hearth from the back of the room. Marith sat down on the stone with her back to the flames as the girls moved closer to her on the floor.

“I come from a farm in Norway which is very far away, girls  I have come here when I was a young woman …”

“Why?” One of the girls asked.

“Oh, it is for adventure. Then it is for marriage.”

“Do you ever go back?”

I’m certain Marith had been asked that question many times but for some reason she paused, stared across the room blankly and then said, “Sometimes there is nothing to go back to.” 

One of the most haunted places in Norway – Nes Church Ruins where “unknown forces” will shove you to the ground. (From Haunted Norway)

For just a second the room quieted of babbling girl noises.  Then an errant wind whistled down the chimney, scattering bits of burning paper over the brownies.  We grabbed the iron fire grate and put it in place as the girls stomped to death the fire sprites.

“Let’s let Mrs. H. finish her story and not interrupt her with questions.”  Sylvana ordered as the scene of frenzy calmed. 

“I could use that wine now,” Ruthie whispered in my ear, as we moved to the back of the room to assume Marith’s abandoned guard position. The usual suspects had already escaped once and, let me tell you, banshees couldn’t shriek as loud as those two.

Because our daughters were friends Ruthie was the only chaperone I really knew. Cate had recently moved to California from New Jersey and Marith worked and thus was rarely seen. “I could use a drink too.”

Marith settled back on the stone.  “I once had seven brothers and three sisters and we all sleep in the attic.  Even my parents in the winter when the snow is high.  Sometimes we just open the window and ski to school from our bedroom.  Can you imagine?” 

Norwegian children sharing a bed (Lisbeth Zwerger)

Many “wows” broke out in bubbles in the room.  Skiing out your window, how cool is that! 

“Between the farm and the town are thick forests like the one we are in now. They are filled with trolls and other wild animals. Do you think there are trolls in Marin County?”


“Do you believe in trolls?”

“Nooooo!” Scattered giggles.

“Norwegian children believe in trolls.  That is why we do not go into the forests.  We may be eaten.”

“They eat children?”

“That is the thought of many people who live on farms or in small towns.  Legend is that trolls were once like humans but after living under rocks and in the mountains for hundreds of years, they changed – some growing quite large while others stayed short.”

“Have you ever seen a troll?”

“Oh yes.  Many times. You do not believe me?  It is true. Here is my story and we see if you believe or not!  Many many years ago, before the time of my great grandmother (whose story this is), a young boy arrived dirty and half-naked on the steps of a church in Akerhus, which is now part of Oslo but was then small.  The priest, who was a kind man, took him in, fed him and gave him clothing. But when the townspeople heard, they were not happy.  They thought he was a th-3changeling: A human baby who had been kidnapped by trolls.  Rumors spread that he had been sent to lure their children into the woods to be captured and eaten. Which is how the trolls used changelings.  Their panic grew when they learned the little boy did not like to go out during the day.  Then strange rocks began to appear in the town square.  (If a troll is hit by a beam of light he turns into a large rock.)  So the townspeople thought the trolls had come into the town because they wanted the boy back. They went to the priest and demanded that he return the child to the woods but the priest couldn’t.  Instead he took the boy to a farm owned by a older couple whose children had all died. There the boy grew and grew – until he was over ten feet tall! He was ugly and lazy and soon refused to help out around the farm. One day the priest noticed that the older couple hadn’t come to church for a while and he went out to check on them.  It was a dark and rainy day like today.  As he neared the farmhouse he saw the boy, now a man, watching him from the forest, his eyes growing red and he knew what had happened to the older couple.” 

“Great!”  Ruthie groaned as the lights flickered. “A slasher story.”  After a second more serious flicker, Sylvana sprang to her feet. “Ladies, let’s assemble all the flashlights and lanterns in case we lose power,” she said, meaning the chaperones. “Girls, I’m afraid it’s time for revelry. We’ve got to hit the hay in order to conserve our batteries – we have one more night to live through, ha, ha!” Then, to the moans and groans of disappointed girls (it was only ten o’clock), she began singing: “Day is done, gone the sun.”

“Gone the sun and the power,” Ruthie mumbled as the room went black.


Next Friday:  The End.

#ThursdayDoors – Brooklyn Bridge


Arches of the Brooklyn Bridge – doors to Manhattan

Here’s my addition to Norm Frampton’s always fascinating  #ThursdayDoors challenge.  Check out other doors here 

You would think on a Monday afternoon in October this bridge would be an enjoyable walk. Unfortunately it was packed with tourists. The worst part (and I’ll probably get in hot water for saying this) were the bicyclists in a hurry to get somewhere.  Especially if some poor unsuspecting tourist from Slovenia inadvertently stepped into their sacred space to get a picture.

IMG_0847I thought this building was very interesting considering the current debate over illegal immigrants.  Harkens back to the time when we welcomed the poor and needy.

Two by Two

Part 2 of Brownie Fright Night 

“Two by two they must enter and take their seats by my side. Only then can the witching hour begin.” Sylvana informed her troops as they stood in flannel jammies and slippers outside the great room.  She sat on the stone fireplace in flowing robes of purple and orange like some high priestess at a druid orgy.  What lighting there was in the old sanitarium was dim and dusty.  The old wood floors and high ceilings echoed every sound.  Luckily the kitchen at least had a working stove and running water which was all we needed for our scrumptious supper of Hamburger Helper. 

“Is this some kind of strange girl scout thing?”  Ruthie whispered in my ear.  Like me, she’d only gone so far in scouting.  Sylvana, on the other hand, lived and breathed scouts, even wearing her badge-filled sash proudly at Brownie events. But her energy and cheerfulness exceeded all reasonable boundaries, making her the perfect scout leader no matter how odd her behavior both in and out of uniform.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“I don’t like it. It’s like some kind of Satanic worship thing.”

I laughed. “I think she’s just trying to spook them.”

Only picture of Arequipa I could find (from the Girl Scout's website)
Only picture of Arequipa Girl Scout Retreat that I could find (from the Girl Scout’s website)

“Great!  She drags us to this – this godawful place – and then decides they need to be spooked!”  Ruthie had smuggled a couple of bottles of wine in with our supplies which was a big scouting no-no.  No alcohol on scout events. Then, after being scolded like a child by Sylvana, Ruthie blew a fuse. After getting lost not once, but several times, in the rain and the dark, she intended to have a drink.  The other mothers agreed.  Two bottles of wine split between five ladies was hardly anything to get worried about.

It was the second time that evening we’d rebelled against Sylvana.   Our first act of rebellion was to stop for a real map at the tiny gas station in Fairfax. Unfortunately the gas station didn’t have any maps but the lad at the cash register claimed to know the area well.  “Arequipa? I’ve never heard of it.” Then after more thinking he said, “You must mean Hill Farm? The old nuthouse.”

“What? It’s a girl scout retreat!”  Ruthie cried. She’d just spent hours in a carful of silly girls with the promise that this place (when we found it) would be well worth the effort. 

“It was a tubercular asylum!”  Sylvana laughed, “not a nuthouse. And yes, it was once called Hill Farm.”

 The gas station guy continued: “If you say so. I dunno. But to find it just keep on going down this road.  About a mile and a half down, just past Grossman’s Pond, you’ll see a sign.  I’m not sure what it says but you can’t miss the pond so just turn after you see the water. I ain’t never been up there but my daddy used to deliver milk and he says the driveway is pretty crazy and it’s not paved so mind yourselves in this rain.  Water runs off Tam like crazy.”

Woods on Mt Tam

I could tell what Ruthie was thinking because I was thinking the same thing.  If we were smart, we’d get into our cars and return home but that would mean dealing with eight irate girls in lousy traffic for another couple of hours so we climbed back in our cars and resumed the caravan. 

Luckily gas station guy knew what he was talking about and soon we found ourselves slip-sliding up a muddy road until finally reaching a dark circle of wooden structures. Sylvana stopped  in front of the largest building and ran up the stairs to the door, flashlight in hand.  

A few minutes later she yelled back at us “The door’s locked! We’ll have to find an open window and break in!” 

should point out that we’re not talking about a Brownie troop whose mothers have vast experience breaking and entering.  Marith, an accountant from Norway,  frowned upon cursing, Cate never left the house with a hair out of place, and Ruthie hosted Christmas brunches every year during which the highlight was the appearance of her toy poodle dressed in a Santa suit. They watched Sylvana jostling with the windows as the girls began shouting gleefully, “Mrs. Robinson’s gonna break in!”

Troop 93’s mascot – the Banana Slug


After managing to break in, Sylvana turned on the lights and blew the whistle that always hung around her neck for such occasions .  “Troop 93 – help unload the cars!’

th-4Many sleeping bags and boxes full of groceries later we were finally able to take a breath and look around. Besides the great room and rudimentary kitchen there were two sleeping wards with bunks the sort you’d find in a military barracks. Though moldy-smelling, they seemed clean enough.

Tubercular Sanitarium in the 1930s. Fresh air and sunshine were considered key to recovery thus they often had floor to ceiling screened windows.

“I thought you told us that this place had phones.”  Ruthie said as we concluded our tour. 

“It does!  The pay phone!” 

“And where would that be because I didn’t see it and if I don’t call Bruce to let him know we’re okay, he’ll bust a gut.”

“Oh, it’s over near the pool.  Don’t worry. I brought lots of quarters!  Isn’t this fun girls?  I tell you what.  After dinner, let’s start a fire and tell ghost stories.”

“Oh Lord,” Ruthie said.  She was looking out the window towards an unlit phone booth which stood in the now pouring rain approximately 500 feet from the hospital.

Next:  Part 3, Are there trolls in Marin County?  You bet!