There comes a point in every human being’s life when they find out one integral part of their childhood is a complete lie. We’ve all been there; that earth shattering day when your bratty older sibling spills the beans about how Santa Clause isn’t real. Or the day you turn 16 and you become smart enough to realize Sparky, the family dog, didn’t go to Florida to retire in the warm weather with your Great Aunt Beatrice. My story is a little different. I did eventually find out Santa Claus was just a chubby relative in a red velvet suit. My cat, Darth, did not move to a special pet hospital where he could be given the extra care and attention that he needed. (I was literally in college when my parents pulled that one on me, and I believed them!) This story, the real story about how I found out my entire childhood was lie, is very differrent. And yes, you can blame it all on my mother and father.
Most children grow up with one thing in common; the beautiful gift of knowing their own parents would never lie to them. Unless, of course, you’re talking about my parents. I’d be willing to bet one out of every 3 people go through a phase where they’re convinced they are adopted. Your parents would sit you down, wipe your tears away, and whole heartedly reassure you that you are their very own flesh and blood. You’d have a very 7th Heaven moment, hug it out, and move on with your happy lives. When I was young, too young to even remember this, my mother came in to my room and found me sobbing on my bed. When she asked what was wrong I had to fight back my tear to ask her if I was adopted. I’m not sure why I got it into my head that I was adopted, but I’ll just blame it on my older brother Shay. I was waiting for the hug, for the confirmation that I was the result of my parent’s love for each other and no one else’s. But that is so far from what actually happened. My mom stared at me, and all that came out of her mouth was a blunt, yes. YES?! So it’s true. I was adopted! She went on to tell me that my real mother was Susie, the woman who owned the Chinese restaurant down the street that we went to for dinner at least once a week. I was even born with a different name, Ching-Chang-Cha-Wah-Chen. Yup. Oh but don’t worry, she included my brother too, wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out. Shay was really a young boy born in Mexico with the birth name, Paco. I threatened to run away once and my mom actually packed me a little bag, took me out to the front yard and waited for an Asian family to drive by. That was the one and only time I ever pulled a stunt like that. So let’s just say, I had no room to be surprised when I was 17 and found out an enormous chunk of my childhood was an absolute lie.
Down the street from my house there’s a cemetery with a well known gravestone plotted there; a large stone monument with an old woman carved into it. The tombstone alone is enough to give you nightmares, but the story my parents tacked onto it is enough to make sure you couldn’t even fall asleep at night.
Being that my father used to be a cop in Oceanport, his story was pretty credible. Looking back on it I’m not even entirely sure how the story originated, but this is what it was. Buried beneath the mound of eerie stone was a man who was murdered. My dad, being on duty at the time, was the first one to arrive at the scene. He found the victim lying in his bed with his throat slit open. (Sorry for the graphic details, but keep in mind I was but a child when I heard this story for the first time myself). The murder weapon was a butcher knife from the kitchen which was later found stashed away in his wife’s dresser drawer. Bingo, the wife was the murderer they were looking for. Unfortunately, there was just not enough evidence to back up the case, and the wife was never convicted. Over time she became crazy, literally insane. She would sit in the graveyard all day and night just watching the tomb stone, waiting for other mourners to pass by and attack them. She was convinced everyone was out to get her. Legend had it, she would sick next to his grave stone with that exact butchers knife clutched in her old, wrinkly, bony fingers.
My family had a karate school that was located in the next town over from ours, and to get there we had to drive past this frightening cemetery. This particular tombstone was plotted close enough to the street where you could see it from the road. One Thursday night on the way to a class, one of my parents had the genius idea to drive through the graveyard to scare my brother and me. And scare us, they did. They crept past the tombstone at a whopping .5 miles an hour while Shay and I hid under the backseat screaming and crying. Luckily, the Old Lady in the Grave, as she was eventually known as, was nowhere to be found. At this time, my mother had a gigantic Mitsubishi van that could easily (but not comfortably) hold about 20 people. After the class was over and my parents told everyone about our crying episode, everyone wanted to see this tombstone for themselves. We obviously had some tough guys in our class who would “show that old lady a thing or two” if she tried to pull anything. Right….ok. We piled everyone into my Mom’s van and took off the graveyard. Same thing, my dad drove about .5 miles an hour and everyone shoved themselves out of the windows trying to get a closer look. And again, the old lady was not there. Phew! I tried to play it cool. I was what? 6 years old? I didn’t want to look like a baby in front of all the older kids. But inside, I was counting my lucky stars that the old lady had called it a night early. I was hoping with everything I had in me that that would be the end of it. We would all go home forget about it and it would all end there. I was a fool.
Everyone became OBSESSED with “The Old Lady in the Grave.” Everyone at our karate school made it their mission to find this old lady and just get a glimpse of her, or maybe torment her a little bit? Either way, they wanted a pieced of the Old Lady in the Grave. My parents, being the wonderful parents they are, decided to take a class trip to the graveyard. It was organized well in advance and became known as “Fright Night.” The title speaks for itself. A few weeks later we piled about 25 or more people into my mom’s big blue astro van and headed down to the graveyard. I was sitting in the front seat with my cousin Rickie, who is about 10 years older than me. I was 6 or 7, he was well into his teens. We were both shitting our pants. I cried, I did not want to go. But alas, I was thrown into the front seat of the van against my will crammed into the front seat with Rickie. We drove past the graveyard nice and slow inching our way into the far entrance on the opposite side of where this dreadful tombstone was located. The anticipation was literally killing me. I was already crying… I think I started crying before we left the karate school. My parents are evil. As we made our way across the cemetery someone shouted out, “Is that her?!” I heard someone else yell “there she is!!!” I had my eyes closed, I didn’t want to see her. That’s when I heard it… someone gasping, “Is that a KNIFE?!” That was it. Under the seat I go. Long story short, by the end of that car ride everyone was fighting to get a spot under the seat. She chased our car with her butchers knife, threatening all of our lives. You would think that would be enough to scare the hell out of all of us! But no, we became addicted. We had to see what this old lady was all about. We made several trips throughout my childhood to that cemetery, and would you believe it, she was there every time? And it only got worse. She would throw things at our car at first, a rock or two. Then after the fourth or fifth time she would attack our car with her knife. One night she was smart, she had a car there. She chased us through 4 towns before we finally lost her. This literally continued every now and then until I was in high school. One night, my brother took a group of his friends out for what we called “Fright Night.” There was about five or six of them stuffed in the car. By now my mom’s big blue astro van had gone to car heaven so our trips became much smaller. It was the usual experience; we drove slowly through the graveyard, she was there, she was angry, she chased us. She tried as hard as she could to run alongside our car, (even though she was chasing us, my parents refused to go above 15 miles an hour). At this point, we were all freaking out. My next-door neighbor, Albert, was calling MY mom, mommy. Screaming at the top of his lungs, “go faster mommy!!” And once again, we eluded her. At the end of the night my brother and his friends end up back at my parent’s house for the usual post Fright Night sleep over trying to get a hold on their nerves. We’re all hanging out in the front room when we hear something tapping on our front window. My brother’s friend, Marty, opens the front blinds and what do we see? An old lady, tapping on our front window, with a butchers knife. It was absolutely terrifying. After a long struggle, my father eventually “chased her off of our property.” This experience was so terrifying that (without mentioning any names) about 3 of those kids slept with their parents for weeks. That was the last time we ever did a Fright Night. It just became too close for comfort at that point; she now knew where we lived. We had to stop tormenting her, she was obviously crazy!
At every sleepover I ever had I would bring up that story when it came time to share ghost stories and scary stories. By the end of my story all of my friends would end up in a huddle, holding each other for comfort. I have a few friends that can’t drive past that graveyard without speeding. Basically, everyone who knew me, my brother, my parents, or anyone who had ever been “lucky enough” to take a Fright Night trip knew this story and knew the Old Lady’s reputation.
Well, the point of this story has still yet to be touched on so let me get to it. When I was a senior in high school my dad and I took a trip to New York with his friend to see our friend’s band, Lynam, play a show. We took the trip together in a small limo, my dad, Lou, me, and the band which included Mark, David, and Jacob. Halfway home my dad and Lou were having some random conversation that I wasn’t really paying much attention to until I heard the words, “Yeah, Rachel believed that most of her life, until a few years ago I think.” In my mind, the tires of the limo came to a screeching, smoking halt and the world stopped in its tracks. “Believed what?” I asked. The words that followed changed my entire life. “About the Old Lady in the grave, you believed that was real forever.” Excuse me, what?! My face turned a lovely shade of red and I felt like cartoon smoke was about to pour out of my ears. And just like that, my whole childhood came crumbling down around me, lie by little lie. The rest of the ride home I learned how throughout the years different people were “playing” the role of the Old Lady, but even before that, there was no murder in Oceanport. I should have known better, the most exciting thing to ever happen in Oceanport was a horse escaping from the stables in the racetrack. There was no husband hating, butcher knife toting, crazy old lady running around the backstreets of Oceanport. It was more like my cousins, Paul, Dave, Charlie, or Shaun dresses in a moo-moo and a wig chasing our car through a graveyard. Looking back on it… it was a little strange the Old Lady has legs like a gazelle.
Why my parents decided to play such a cruel joke on us and keep it going for so long, I will never know (or understand). My mom and dad certainly wouldn’t win any parent’s of the year awards for me after that little stunt. It’s not even that they took us through a graveyard and convinced us that some crazy elderly woman was trying to kill us…it was more the fact that they lied to us about it. As much as I hate them for that, I cannot deny that it was a genius prank. When I have children that are old enough to be utterly terrified by something like the Old Lady in the Grave, you can put money on it that I will be taking trips through that graveyard in the driver’s seat with my kids in the back of my own car. I posted a picture below so everyone can envision exactly how frightening this tombstone actually was on its own, and even more frightening it can be when you think that woman carved into the side is an insane murderer. Enjoy 🙂