Tag Archive | "tales of the unexplained"

A True Tale of Things that Go Bump in the Night…and the Day!

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A relative stone’s throw beyond the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, New York became the repository for throngs of immigrants.  As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, refugees who had flocked from all parts of Europe to Our Lady of the Harbor arrived with dreams of a new and better life as well as time-honored traditions and rituals.  My grandmother was one who, at the age of thirteen, made her way into Brooklyn via Ellis Island, embracing her adopted nation and holding tightly to her Roman Catholic faith.   That faith, which helped to temper her in fire when those “streets paved with gold” failed to appear, also became the basis of a number of rather incredible stories whose veracity other family members have verified.   When I moved to New Jersey, like many other ancestors of immigrant Brooklynites, I took those stories with me.  This is one that I have never forgotten — one that humbles and uplifts me and dances gooseflesh down my spine all at once.


Because my grandmother was the eldest of six children, and because she was nine years old before her first sibling entered the world, I grew up, played, and made mischief with second cousins very close to my own age.  One cousin with whom I did not grow up, Anthony died before my parents were married.  My mother — his first cousin — still possesses but a single, dog-eared photograph of him; through that photograph, his face is forever burned into my memory for its beauty and pain.


When Anthony was no more than two years of age, he required a trip to the hospital.  The reason he was admitted has passed into oblivion in light of the terrible transformation made manifest upon his discharge.  Suddenly, this once-bright, lively chatterbox had stopped speaking all together, his muscles began to atrophy, and his spirit was crushed.   The doctors either refused to admit the source of the illness, which was not present when the child entered the hospital, or they themselves were truly confounded by the disease. At the age of fourteen, Anthony passed from this world.  Between the time he left the hospital and the moment of his death, he required near-constant care. 


One day when Anthony was but a few years old, two of my great-aunts decided to give his mother a respite by babysitting for him in the Red Hook apartment in which he lived with his parents.  For purposes of this story, let’s refer to my aunts as Angela and Maria; we’ll call Anthony’s mother Lucia.  A devoted woman who sought divine protection for her ailing child, Lucia had hung a large painting of Mary, Jesus’ mother, above my cousin’s crib.  Angela and Maria had fussed over the child, eventually lulling him to sleep in his crib.  When Anthony dozed off, it was early afternoon, mid-week: a time when the men who lived in the building were all at work and the older children still in school.  With my cousin sleeping soundly in his crib, the apartment was quiet, and my two aunts were its only other occupants.


Certain that she would not be overheard by anyone but her Maria, Angela lifted her eyes to the painting, with anger.  “If you are so powerful,” my aunt demanded of the woman in the painting, “why don’t you cure this child?  You watched your own son suffer and die on the cross; must my sister’s son also suffer?  You have no heart!”


Terrified of the consequences of this blasphemy, Maria exhorted, “Take it back, Angela! This is the Blessed Virgin.  You cannot say such things of her!”


Ignoring her sister’s advice, Angela once again sneered vehemently at the painting, “I say again, you have no heart!”


At the precise moment that the words had cleared her mouth, there emanated from the painting the sound of a heart, a human heart, beating steadily and loudly.  This continued for several minutes, despite Angela’s rather frenzied efforts to attribute the sound to anything other than “something beyond.”  As Maria looked on, shocked and frightened, Angela removed the painting from its hook and rapped on the wall beneath it.  “It’s rats,” she chattered nervously, trying to convince herself as the blood ran cold in her veins.  “It must be rats in the wall!”


With great dignity, Maria stated, “Our sister keeps an immaculate house.  There have never been rats or even mice in this apartment!  It is the Blessed Mother, come to show you that yes, Angela, she does have a heart!”


Did this really happen?  Did the Blessed Mother make her presence known to my doubting aunt with the sound of a human beat pounding within an inanimate object?  My grandmother and Aunt Maria swore that it did. Anthony, as I’d mentioned earlier, died before I was born; by the time I had come along, many years had passed since this incident had occurred.  As a child curious about the tale her grandmother had told her, I would ask my Aunt Angela about it.  But I never received an answer to the question that my aunt has taken to her grave. Her only response was to turn as a white as a sheet, make a hurried Sign of the Cross, and purse her lips tightly, refusing to speak.

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