By Patricia Komar
The Howlery Growlery House, a forbidden place, dared children to enter. The name itself found its way into nightmares of little ones who resisted while hiding beneath night time blankets. Maybe it started out simply as a plain and ordinary, old wooden door, situated at ground level and attached to the side of the white painted wooden house, leading to a scary place below the ground. Then one day someone calls it “The Door to the Howlery Growlery House” and it becomes a place kids avoid at all costs.
Frightening monsters that crawled, flew or slithered around became lead characters in Howlery Growlery House stories. The stories exposed what they would do to little children who dared to enter and kept most children away. Maybe they glanced, but only while sidestepping around the door. With each passing year stories revealed to even the most courageous that if they open the door, life, as they knew, would cease to exist. The door’s reputation remained that way until the day grown-up children dared to venture down to the depths, to that ominous place, the Howlery Growlery House.
We had such a place, my cousins and I. Ours was behind Grandma’s house, a place I had not visited for quite some time. That would soon change. Could it be that the Howlery Growlery House beckoned, calling me back to where it all began?
Grandma’s house stood vacant with a sign that read in big letters “For Sale” planted in the earth in clear view of those who might drive by looking for a place to begin a new life. Standing there, some years later looking at the old house, I think about the unspeakable door and all that comes with it. Was it all for sale? The house, the door, the monsters? A fright of shivers crawls up my arm. The taunts call out, daring me. “Go on, go on down, go on down to the Howlery Growlery House.” I decide to take that childhood dare, dying to see with my own eyes the horrors roaming the depths below.
I begin my walk to the back yard, what had seemed to me as a child to be half a day’s journey. The scent of lilacs beckons me. I follow the scent that’s growing stronger with each step I take on the crusty old cement walk leading up to my Grandma’s house. I’m careful not to step on the chipped corners of the stairs. Bits of loose gravel roll under my feet. The old gate stands to warn me not to go any further. The gate squeaks as I push against the old wood with curls of worn white paint exposing the gate’s brown wood. I latch the gate behind me and step off the walk onto the overgrown grass. Lilac bushes burst into sight with their full blooms boasting shades of purple and lavender. I press my nose into a full blossom and capture a rich scent that fills my head with the sweetest lilac aroma. Childhood memories rise from the recesses of my mind. Family reunions, picnics and the sweet smell of overripe plums swirl around and around.
I see my childhood self along with my cousins raking crackling autumn leaves into gigantic billowing piles. We run and jump high into the air and land gently onto the colorful mounds. We giggle and roll around to see the sky and name shapes of clouds. A dog, a cat, even bears!
I leave the giggling children and walk to the back yard where the plum tree blossoms with pink specks. I can taste tart fruit and feel the sting of wasps hovering above fallen plums bursting with overripe fruit.
The door waits for me. Not just any door. It’s the door that covers the hole in the ground, better known as the door to the Howlery Growlery House where monsters lay in wait and innocent children gather around with shaking knees. I pull on the old, slanting door. It pulls back. I pull again. Stuck. I try once more and a musty scent escapes its imprisonment from somewhere far below. One more pull and the door opens and I fall backward landing on my bum.
Peering down into the big black hole, I see nothing. I take one step down onto the wooden steps. Another step into the darkness going deeper and deeper into the monster’s lair. The creaking of each step is swallowed up by the dank, earthy puffs of air. No echoes. Not a sound. I reach the bottom. The earth is soft beneath my runners. My nose fills with a scent only nature can stir up and it’s not the stench of hideous monsters. It’s the smell of earth and dampness.
My eyes adjust to the dusty, dim light stealing through the opening at the top of the stairs. Shapes begin revealing themselves to me. Outlines of shelves running along the far wall still holding bottles of jams, jellies, whole peaches, and plums. These are the treasures held ransom by the Howlery Growlery House. They are protected by imaginations.
In this dark place, silence devours all sound. Nothing is hiding behind crooks or crannies. Nothing jumps out threatening to get me. I can see now that for my grandmother this was not a place that harbored monsters but instead just simply a root cellar that protected her homemade treasures.
For me, this is a place that harbors my childhood memories. Memories that are now being set free, swirling around and around with a dizzying effect. I sit down on the wooden steps relishing in the sweet taste of cherry jam. I can see the backyard cherry tree and I can hear my mother’s voice as we sit on the porch pitting the sour cherries one by one readying them for pies. My mouth waters as I watch my cousins dipping rhubarb stalks into mounds of sugar then sucking the sweet tart taste from the stalk. Hide and go seek in the back yard. Flaming marshmallows roasting over the fire pit. Mud pies. My memories are alive.
Time is passing. The light stealing through the opening is beginning to fade. I make my way up the creaking stairs and carefully close the cellar door to protect the monsters that guard. The treasures of summer are safe once again.
I see the porch that surrounds my Grandma’s house, open the door and walk the length of the porch. Floorboards creak and vivid memories begin to seep through the cracks. I can hear the cheerful chatter all the cousins make when we gather. The scent of coffee swirls past my nose. I walk into the kitchen and see the silver colored coffee pot on top of the gas stove gurgling its way to a strong brew. The scent of coffee fills the small kitchen that’s barely big enough for the round hardwood table and the gas stove with the big percolator. In the middle of the table sits a freshly baked loaf of saffron bread bursting like the sun with the brightest hue of orange I’ve ever seen. Lace from an embroidered doily scallops around the edges of the round loaf.
A kind of growling sound is made as chairs are pulled back against the hardwood floor. We all sit, my cousins, aunts, mother, and grandmother, all huddling on chairs around the round table with the doily in the center. Cups and saucers circle from one to the next as we listen to the gurgle of the percolating pot. A smoothly cut square of butter joins the company of cream, saffron bread and doily resembling a still life painting on the big round table.
Grandma walks slowly but deliberately to the old gas stove that holds the awaiting brew. She places her right hand on the handle of the big pot and begins to lift. Her left hand joins the big pot with a thick crocheted potholder of yellow and orange that she uses to balance the brew. She circles toward the table as if performing a pirouette then dipping in a demi-plie she places the steaming pot as a compliment to the saffron bread.
My aunt begins slicing the bread revealing the wonderful secrets within. Bits of yellow, red and lime green fruit dot the orange bread. The coffee is poured with grace. The aroma from the bread and coffee circle our gathering like a scarf in a dance. Then I watch the tradition of combining sugar and cream in making the most sumptuous brew. Everyone adds an extra spoonful of sugar and another dollop of cream. Butter makes its journey around the table. My Cornish grandmother insists that we all enjoy the bread by adding an extra clump of butter. She says, “My dears, if you are going to eat butter, then eat butter.”
The chatter fades away as everyone begins sipping the thickest, strongest and sweetest brew ever. It proves to be a welcome companion to the unfamiliar but sweet taste of saffron bread. My grandmother, in her way, is sharing memories and a tradition she brought across the seas from her ancestral home in Cornwall, England.
I find my way back through the memories. When I reached the gate, I turn and take one last look at Grandma’s house. Now I know about the monsters that live beneath the forbidden door. They are guardians of time past, of the Howlery Growlery House.