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!

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?

    1. 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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