We can laugh now, but I was frightened of almost everything when I was little. So, when Darby O’Gill and the Little People was going to be on a special run in Washington, DC, and the ad campaign was often on our TV in the suburbs, no one should have been surprised that the Banshee scared the daylights out of me. It was Spring, I was five-pushing-six years old and the way the Banshee was portrayed in the movie was one of a ghostly white figure who was coming to take a young woman away. I was terrified that such a thing could come for me! I would have fainted, but I held on because I was afraid of what might happen to me when I was unconscious. We lived in a very small, one-level house, but I could not bear to be alone in my bedroom, (the only time I was glad that I shared it with my sister), or even to make it up the short hallway to the bathroom, unless someone was watching over me.
My mother tried to calm me, to no avail. It was so bad that my father even took pity on me. This is a man who knew I was easily frightened, but the few nights out of a year he’d put me to bed, he’d sing “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. (Those were the only nights that I did not get out of bed to go to the bathroom, hard as that was; I still get up at night.) My father told me that Banshees weren’t real, but since Dear old Dad was a drinker and some-time Scientologist, he said plenty of things that were not believable and I chose not to believe him that time, either. Mom wasn’t much help; she knew I’d never go for that, so she told me that they were “over there”. That made no sense to me; Irish people came over here and if this spirit-thing could come from wherever it was coming from to take that girl wherever they were going to, then surely one could make it over here. Dad started to tell me more, but Mom shot him a look that said not to bother. Since the Joyces were pretty far removed from the Old Sod, I don’t think he totally knew what they were. Had someone told me that Banshees are female spirits who are attached to a particular family to mourn or warn of the passing of a (male) member, I would have stopped worrying. We never seemed to do or have what other families did, so I would have thought it was just one more thing, (this time, for the good), that we did not have.
But the fear lasted for a long time with me. Slowly, it faded.
Christmastime came, I was six and a half and the older kids had a long vacation from school, made even longer by heavy snows that year. My brother had a growth spurt that left him without suitable clothes to return to school. These were the days of dresses for girls and the dress pants the boys wore were to reach the top of their shoes, no more, no less. My brother put on a pair of greenish slacks, but they were above his ankles. For some reason he thought and said, “Look, Tonette, I look like the boys in Ireland”. I didn’t think it was funny, but I didn’t want to tell him. He thought I didn’t understand so he added, “You know, like where the Banshees are”. The horror I felt must have come over my face, because his smile disappeared and he looked over my shoulder. I did too, and there was my mother, eyes bulging, shaking her head with a look that clearly meant, “Don’t start her up again!”
I actually found that funny. But when I went up the hall, I went slowly, looking about, lest a Banshee was there to take me.
[If you don’t hear from me right away, it won’t be because of a Banshee. Today I will be traveling back from seeing relatives,(mostly Joyces),who include my (last) aunt whom I have not seen in fifty years and a couple of cousins whom I have never met. I’ll try to catch up with you Friday night, or Saturday, at the latest. Thanks.]