Stephen King scared the snot out of me

 
 

Chicago Parent staff

 

bronwynPosted by Bronwyn W.

I grew up in a family that liked scary stuff. My parents loved horror movies, novels and roller coasters when I was young. I actually have a theory that growing up in such a well-balanced, healthy family gives you a taste for the macabre. From the safety of that warm haven, you can venture out more bravely into ghoulish territory.

I have a lot of early memories associated with Stephen King. When the vampire book Salem's Lot first came out in 1975, my mother couldn't wait to get it home from the library.

The usual way things like this got read in our house was that my mother, a very fast reader, would ravenously devour the book, greedily turning pages while my father waited for her to finish it. She usually did so in a few days and then my dad would read at a more leisurely pace after dinner until our two-week checkout time was up.

Salem's Lot was no exception. My mother started on the book in the afternoon and by dinner was almost halfway through. That night, long after my father, brother and I were asleep, she perched on the living room sofa, unable to put the book down, glancing around the room at every shadow. Finally she finished it, with that rush of triumph and spine-tingling relief that you feel at the end of a scary book.

The book was there out in the living room, sitting on the table, chuckling malignantly to itself, spreading a dark fugue throughout the house. My mom laid in bed thinking about it, remembering it... and at last, she just couldn't take it any longer. She shook my father awake and told him that the book was so scary she couldn't get to sleep. She insisted that my father get up out of bed and take Salem's Lot out to the car, so it wouldn't be in the house!

Ah, but Salem's Lot was not through with our family just yet! A couple of years later they made a movie out of it. Now, my mom was an excellent mother and not the kind of person who would allow her kids to stay up to all hours, or watch just any old thing. But man, in these pre-VCR days, she REALLY wanted to watch Salem's Lot. The only problem was that my father had joined a local investor's club and had a meeting to go to that same night.

And my mother was too scared to watch the movie all alone.

I remember her talking in that sort of 'fake-fun' voice employed the world over by mothers telling their kids 'that shot won't hurt', that they should 'jump right in and the water will be warm', etc. She made popcorn and entranced my brother and me with the promise that we could stay up AFTER BEDTIME! and keep Mommy company while she watched her movie! As a precautionary measure, she covered us over with a crocheted afghan and instructed us that she would warn us when a 'scary part' was coming up and we could pull it over our heads and not watch.

Looking back, I remember this vividly--the excitement of staying up late, the creepy music at the beginning of the movie, my mom and my brother snuggled in beside me beneath the afghan, the big bowl of popcorn salty and greasy under my fingers.

I remember my brother's eyes getting wider and wider when the vampire scraped on the window and commanded the boy to let him in. My mother ordered "Under the blanket! Don't watch!" and we yanked it up over our heads - but we could still watch between the holes in the yarn!!

I suppose it didn't traumatize us too much. My brother and I both survived after all, and even absorbed my parents' love of horror films and books. I remember when the movie version of The Shining was showing on HBO and my best friend A and I begged my mom to allow us to watch it. She expressed doubts that it was too scary, but we assured her that we were having a sleepover, it would be fine, it was probably just dumb... even now my mom refers to her classic parenting mistake and how she ended sitting up with us at the kitchen table at 3 a.m. dispensing hot cocoa and toast and telling us that we could keep the light on in my room, but we had to go to BED.

Years later in high school, I was home alone around Halloween, reading The Shining, which proves Stephen King's talents as a great American horror writer and left me wrung out with nerves and jumping at every imagined sound in the house. When my ears picked up a creaking in the laundry room, I forced myself to investigate, prudently picking up a baseball bat from my brother's room along the way.

Inching through the living room, I rounded the corner into the laundry room and almost brained my brother with a Louisville Slugger as he reached out to grab me and yelled "BOO!!" at the top of his lungs. Little brothers are fun that way.

Last but not least, my mom does have one very personal connection to Mr. King. When I was growing up, she liked to write to famous authors and tell them what she thought of their books. After The Shining came out, she sent Stephen King a letter, telling him how much she and my father had enjoyed that book and its predecessor, Salem's Lot (I believe she left out the part about removing it from the house for the night) and telling him that he was a very talented writer with a great career ahead of him.

Of course this was before Stephen King was famous. So my mother was surprised and pleased to receive a letter in return from him, thanking her for her kind words. He told her that it was his first 'fan letter' for his new book. He and his wife were having dinner with his in-laws and he was planning on taking it with him to show them that he really was a 'real' author.

My mom still has this letter, along with others from other people. I suppose it must be worth something to collectors of King memorabilia, but to our family, it just shows that all of us who like spooky stuff have to stick together--you just never know what's out there.

 
 







 
 
 
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