She left each grandchild the same amount of inheritance. I really wanted to buy a 1955 Corvette, but upon finding I had nowhere near enough to do that, I put money down on a duplex
My new investment was built in a blue-collar neighborhood called Frogtown in St. Paul Minnesota. My duplex had started life as a 2 story log cabin, originally built on a half-lot that lay 4 blocks over and 4 blocks further east from its current location. The Prussian immigrant that had built it had been playing cards one night, and while in a drunken state, he “bet the farm” and lost it.
Realizing that the exact wording of the bet only specified his land, he rounded up his brother and friends and some hefty logs, and in the wee hours of the morning, literally jacked up and rolled his home over and down 4 blocks to his brother’s lot.
Presumably the winner of the property never noticed it was missing a house.
By this time he had improved the cabin, building on rooms, putting in windows, doors, gables, porches –and finally adding that mark of success: clapboard and white paint.
One day when Helene was four, she sat on the front steps, waiting for the postman. When he arrived to hand her the mail, Helene told him she wouldn’t see him again. Thinking the family was going on a trip, the postman wished them a good time. Helene explained no one was leaving, but she was going to heaven and wouldn’t see him again.
That night, Helene came down with a fever, and four days later she was dead.
Four years later, her parents had another child. That little girl inherited what had been Helene’s room, and her name. When she was four, her mother overheard her talking in her room. She stood and listened long enough to learn Helene had an imaginary friend, also named Helene.
And then she had a long talk with her daughter, and explained that before she was born, there was another Helene.
Years passed, the parents died, and the grown-up daughter sold the house to an single man. He was somewhat of a hermit, keeping to himself. After living there for four years, the man died alone in his home.
The house was sold for taxes, and the family that bought it were delighted to move their young four-year-old son into the child-size room right off the living room.
From the day they moved in, the house had voices—nothing frightening, but voices just the same. In the basement, they could hear a little girl giggling, and sometimes feel a little tug on their shirt and the steps to the second floor resonated with heavy footsteps they assumed belonged to the old man who had died there.
But, most interestingly, their little boy had found a new imaginary friend named Helene—a little girl wearing a long white dress and high-top black boots, who lived in his room, and liked to giggle and play.
Four years later, the couple sold the house, to me.
In time, I married and had a child, and that room off the living room seemed perfect for a baby room.
My baby slept through the night from day one. No midnight feedings, no crying and getting mama up.
Until one night, when she was almost a year old, and able to pull herself up in her crib.
I woke up—one of those mom things—and thought I’d check on her, just in case. She was standing in her crib, laughing and smiling at the other side of the room, at something only she could see. When I stood in front of her, she leaned around me to continue looking at…...what?
She actually waved her hand at…..what?
We had heard the giggling in the basement. The first time I thought the kids next door were outside and even went up and looked, but no one was there. The next time I felt a little breeze and then the soft laughing over by the furnace. The dog would stop and stare at nothing, and follow the nothing around the room sometimes. It didn’t feel scary or dangerous. It was just one of those things.
One day I was out painting my front porch and a woman stopped her car and came over to introduce herself. She had grown up in the house and wondered if maybe she could see the inside just out of curiosity.
This nice lady was in her sixties, and her name was Helene. She told me the stories of the house, including when she use to play with her long-dead older sister, mentioning her sister always dressed in a white dress and high-top shoes.
But I was the one who called the couple I bought the house from, and they were the ones who put their twelve-year-old son on the phone. He was the one who told me all about his “imaginary” friend, the one named Helene, and how she always wore a long white dress, and wore those funny old-timey high-top shoes.
And then his mom told me how they heard the giggling and the old man on the stairs, right up till the day they moved out and I moved in.
There was a long silence on the phone when I told them about my visit from the now-sixty Helene. They had never met her and had never heard the stories.
They did ask about the re-occuring numeral four: The house was moved 4 blocks over and 4 blocks down, Helene was four when she had her premonition she would die four days later, four years later her parents had another child, that child was four when she met her long-gone sister, the second owner—the old man—died after owning the house for four years, and the couple’s son was four years old when he met Helene in his room.
The four’s stopped there—I had been in the house for eight years when my daughter was born, she was almost 12 months old when she met Helene, and we moved long before she was four.
But me being me, I went and dug up the original deed to the house, the one dating it to the first lot the house stood on—before the poker game– located at 444 Edmund. The cabin's original construction on that lot was in 1874, by four brothers from Prussia, who paid $4.00 for the half-lot it would stand on.
All coincidence of course, one of those bizarre little twists of serendipity the universe thrives on.
Of course the second Helene—the one I met— had met her husband in 1944, had four children (one of whom is named Helene, and has four children herself, including a daughter, named Helene—making her the fourth Helene).
Do I need to tell you she lived in an apartment at 444 Grand Ave.?