Two by Two

Episode 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 told the troop as they stood in flannel jammies and slippers outside the common area.  This was two hours after we’d finally found the damn place, gulped down a dinner of Hamburger Helper and settled in.
“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, lived and breathed scouts, even wearing her badge-filled sash proudly at Brownie events. She was the perfect girl scout leader as her energy and cheerfulness exceeded all reasonable boundaries but, for reasons which I would soon learn, the other mothers often treated her like a necessary evil.
“I don’t know.”
“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 I could find (from the Girl Scout’s website)

“Great!  She drags us to this, this place on a dark and rainy night and then decides they need to be spooked!”  Ruthie’d smuggled a couple of bottles of wine in with our supplies which was a big scouting no-no. Then, after being scolded like a child by Sylvana, Ruthie calmly informed her that 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.
The first time was on the road. After following her station wagon round and round the soggy side of Mt. Tam, Ruthie insisted we pull into the gas station in tiny Fairfax to get a real map of the area and the other mothers agreed.
The gas station didn’t have any maps but the lad at the cash register claimed to know the area well.  “Arequipa?” he asked, “I’ve never heard of it. You mean Hill Farm?”
“It’s supposed to be a major girl scout retreat!”  Ruthie scowled. 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. 
“Oh right!  I heard they was using the old asylum for something.”
“Yes ma’am.  The lunatic asylum.  I think that’s the place you mean.”
“It was a tubercular asylum!”  Sylvana laughed, “not an insane asylum.”
“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 to the nuthouse but my daddy used to deliver milk up there 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 (or maybe not) Mr. Service Station knew what he was talking about. Soon we found ourselves slip-sliding up a muddy road until finally reaching a dark circle of wooden structures. Sylvana stopped her car 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!” Then she laughed hysterically.
I should point out that we’re not talking about a Brownie troop whose mothers have vast experience breaking and entering.  Marith, a tax accountant from Norway,  frowned severely when anyone cursed; Cate never left the house with a hair out of place nor a nail undone; and Ruthie hosted Christmas brunches every year during which the highlight was her toy poodle dressed in a Santa suit. They watched Sylvana jostling with the windows as the girls began shouting gleefully to each other “Mrs. Robinson’s gonna break in!”
At that point I was certain the headache moving in would never leave.  “Can we get out now, please?” my girls all pleaded.  No girls.  That would be the frosting on the cake to have twenty girls running around in the dark woods looking for banana slugs (their favorite activity.)

Troop 93’s mascot – the Banana Slug

Then I remembered I had a copy of the facilities’ usage manual (which I hadn’t read) in my purse.  According to it, the key was hidden in “the phone booth,” one of the structures scattered haphazardly around a pool. However by the time I made this brilliant discovery,  Sylvana had climbed through a window and begun turning on lights. The girls bounded from the cars with great whoops of joy!  Indoor camping was going to be sooooo coool!    
Before they’d run completely amok, Sylvana took the whistle that always hung around her neck for such occasions and loudly blew.  “Troop 93 – help unload the cars!’
th-4Many sleeping bags and boxes of groceries later we were finally able to take a breath and look around. The building we were in (the hospital) was rectangular, with an industrial-sized kitchen, like one you would find at soup kitchens and churches, at one end and the two sleeping wards at the other. The bunks were the sort you’d find in a military barracks but, though moldy-smelling, seemed clean enough.  A common area with several well-used sofas, coffee tables and a fireplace built of stones sat in the middle.

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.”
“And roast marshmallows!”  The girls chimed in.
th-7“Oh Lord,” Ruthie said just loud enough for me to hear.  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:  Episode 3, Are there trolls in Marin County?  You bet!

20 thoughts on “Two by Two

  1. What a truly memorable setting. Can’t wait for the next installment. Your mention of banana slugs reminds me of when I took a picture of one on the Oregon Coast. The flash came on and it’s little eye-like things n the ends of its antennae (I’m no biologist) practically popped out of its head. I probably blinded the poor thing.

  2. This is great, Jan!! As a former Brownie mom, I can attest that you’ve got the dynamics right. In my experience, there’s always one Sylvana and a bunch of others who somehow got their arms twisted into being involved. Is this based on a true story?

    • It is based on a true story. The sanitarium more or less fell apart the year after we were there – although the GS still camp on the grounds. Do you have any Brownie Fright Night stories?

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