My family and I had been at our grandma’s house for a little while now. We had been talking with her, giving her updates about our school, our jobs, and our lives in general. As dinner time approached, my grandmother ventured into the kitchen as the rest of us sat and watched tv, waiting for our meal. The fiery aroma of her Spanish spices moved into the room as the sounds of the TV were drowned out by the sizzling of frying yucca and plantains. After a while she served her meal that she assured us she had made with love. We said a quick prayer and dug in. The flaky texture and seasoning of the fried fruits and vegetables danced along my tongue. Whenever I would eat my grandmother’s food, I’d always begin to wonder and reminisce about her homeland. With these thoughts in my head and a meal in my belly, I asked her if she could tell us a story from her home.
This is the story she told me.
In the 1960’s, when I was still a young girl, I lived in the coastal city of Colón, Panama. My father was an American who had moved to Panama to work on the famous Panama Canal. He started a family with a local girl, my mother, but he’d never lived with us. He lived in his own separate house that was near the canal, while me, my mother, and my 6 siblings lived in a separate house on the outskirts of town where civilization slowly began to give way to untamed wilderness, mountainous terrain, and the sweltering jungle.
To get to my house you’d have to take a series of hilly unpaved dirt roads that would turn into impassable puddles of mud during the rainy seasons. Once you got to my home you’d be greeted by the two story home’s mint green and vibrant pink patterned exterior. The tiles of its roof were shaped like tiny barrels that would descend down to the ends of the roof in an alternating pattern of earthy red, bronze, and clay colors. Outside the home we had a chicken coop and a family garden. The coop was guarded by our dogs and our little garden was guarded from pests like mice and moles by our cat.
The inside of our home was kept clean by my mother. She would spend most of her time cleaning up after me and my other sibling’s messes that the 7 of us would make. When she wasn’t cleaning up after us she would be busy cooking big meals for all of us or tending to the chickens or the gardens. Our house wasn’t small by any means, but we had more children than rooms, so we had to share our rooms between all 7 of us. My siblings and I were allowed to roam outside the house and play, but we couldn’t stray too far from our house. The jungle around us was home to many nasty creatures that you don’t have to deal with here in Missouri. We’d all seen huge poisonous snakes, mischievous packs of monkeys, and dangerous big cats like jaguars or cougars.
On the night this particular story took place, me and my siblings were trapped inside our home with nothing to do. A turbulent thunderstorm was battering the coast as they often do during our rainy season.. The terrain around our home was far too muddy for us to play outside. We risked being swept downhill by a mudslide if we ventured too far from the safety of our paved driveway. By the time it started to turn into nighttime, we’d already run out of things to do. I shared a room with my sisters Andreá and Mary Ann, but all we could think of to do was talk about school or other silly things like that. We tried to pass the time by talking, but our conversations were often cut short by a symphony of booming thunder that would signal the animals of the surrounding jungle to begin a deafening uproar that could last for up to 5 minutes. After running out of things to talk about, we decided that we’d all try to come up with an idea that would stop this boredom.
We tried thinking of things for a few minutes, but all of our ideas were either impossible or more boring than just talking. After a bit Andreá remembered a conversation she had with our oldest sister Jenny. Jenny had told her that Armando had recently gotten something pretty scary that he’d stored up in our home’s attic. Jenny wouldn’t tell Andreá what it was, she said it was something that little kids shouldn’t play with. We were all nervous about going up there at night and rummaging through our brother’s things, but now we’d all gotten too curious about whatever Armando had bought. We’d made up our minds, so we quietly snuck out of our room into the hallway. We gently opened up our attic’s latch and climbed up into it before shutting it back up as quietly as we could.
This attic of ours spanned the entire upper portion of our home. It had a low triangular ceiling that was pretty tough to fit into for somebody as tall as my brother. He was about 6ft tall, but all of us were still little girls. We were all short and young back then, now I’m just short. The attic always reeked of damp wood and dust, and since we’d always have to leave the latch shut, the smell would just be trapped in there to brew. The room did have one small window at the very end of one side of the room, but we’d have to keep that shut so as to not let any of the jungle animals inside. We didn’t have lights in the attic, so we brought two candles with us to light our path.
We dug through many boxes in that attic until we found what we were looking for. Inside that box we found A Ouija Board. I think I was too young to know what it was at the time, but Mary Ann told me what it was. I still don’t know why Armando had that board or why he kept it. My mother was a very devout Catholic. If she would have found that evil thing in her home she would’ve whooped Armando’s butt with a wooden spoon. It didn’t matter how old he was, she would’ve spanked him anyways for bringing something like that into our home.
Since we didn’t know just how evil this object could be, we rushed over to the window and set the board up underneath it. I had to open it up to get some fresh air. The light from outside didn’t give us enough light, so we put the candles next to it so that we could see the board. When we moved the candles next to the board we saw the entire alphabet, a bunch of numbers, the words “yes” and “no,” as well as something we didn’t understand, but I know now that it said goodbye. I didn’t know how to use it, so Mary Ann explained to me that we’d all place our hands on the magnifying glass that the board came with. After that we’d ask demons or spirits questions and they’d move the magnifying glass around to the letters and numbers on the board. Whatever they hovered over would tell us what they were trying to say. I think we were all a bit scared, so we said a prayer to Jesus and Mary to protect us, just in case we needed their protection.
We were a bit surprised after we started using it. It wasn’t as scary as we thought it would be. Our fear had subsided and we pretty quickly started making jokes and laughing as the magnifying glass moved across the board. As we continued to joke the board changed from an unholy object to just another board game. We played with it for so long that we stopped noticing the attic’s nasty smell and we stopped paying attention to the sounds of thunder that had started to be drowned out by our laughter.
Unfortunately for us, we had let their guards down too early. In a flash the once empty window sill produced a loud bang and a shrill voice screeching “hola!” We all thought that a demon was trying to get us, so we didn’t waste any time. We didn’t even turn around to look, we just got up and bolted back to the middle of the room where the latch on the floor was. In our haste we had left behind their candles, so the floor was too dark for us to find the handle to open the latch. We’d basically trapped ourselves in the attic with whatever the thing was. I was really frightened and I’m ashamed to admit I was saying some curse words because I was so scared. I looked over to the window to see the thing that I thought was trying to take us to hell. As my eyes drifted up from the candles next to the board I looked up to the window and saw a silhouette that was being illuminated by the dim light of the candles and the light from outside. Once I saw that this figure was covered in dazzling green feathers, I knew what the ghost actually was.
I told Andreá and Mary Ann to calm down and look. The three of us walked to the window and we were greeted by one of the local parrots that called the jungle home. I recognized the parrot as one of the ones that would stop by our house in the mornings. We used to feed the parrots seeds with my mother just to hear them talk back to us when we’d say hola to them. This parrot was probably just trying to find some shelter from the rain, so he’d come to our house. Once we realized what had happened we all laughed about how stupid we’d been. We put the Ouija board back in its box and went back downstairs. Our mom had heard the loud ruckus we’d made upstairs, so she confronted us about the noise and we just told her we were playing and we didn’t realize how loud we were being. She just told us that it was late and we needed to go to bed, which we were happy to do after that bird scared the crap out of us!
As my grandmother finished her story, laughter filled the room. My other family members and I were still laughing as we cleaned up our plates. As I turned on the sink to wash my plate I began to think back on all the stories that my grandmother has told me over the years. Even though I’ve never been to Panama, my grandmother’s stories have always instilled a deep connection to the country that she called home. As my grandmother’s gotten older and as my other grandparents have started to pass away, I’ve come to realize that one day, my grandmother will pass on. While I know that I’m going to miss her and her stories whenever that happens, I know that these stories she’s told me, no matter how simple or mundane they may be, have made sure that I’ll never lose that connection to her and her homeland that she loves. So I hold her stories close to my heart and I cherish them as much as I cherish her.
Dominic Harton is a student at Lindenwood University. He is currently working towards getting a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Journalism. He’s been inspired to write by many things in his life, but he’d like to make a special mention to his family, Pro-Wrestling, and the band System of a Down.