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Childhood memories are filled with Mrs. D's rapping spirits

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including "The Confident Writer," a grammar-based college textbook. Contact Withrow at ritewood@aol.com.

Boasting a white metal top and edged with a black border, Mrs. D.'s rectangular kitchen table was a product of the 1940s. My mother and I visited her often when I was a little girl. Mrs. D. was a middle-aged woman who was famous in our neighborhood. I never heard the word "psychic," but I knew she held séances and told fortunes. Her small cottage was also well known for its rapping spirits. During hard times, her business thrived. She was a creative entrepreneur if I ever saw one. 

I was always eager to accompany my mother when she was going to walk off our hill and across the street to visit Mrs. D.'s haunted house. I so much wanted to hear the rapping of the spirits. I never did, and so every visit entailed nothing more exciting than steaming coffee, cold milk and hot gossip. I do remember that Mrs. D. wore the same outfit each time we were there. The wild ends of her reddish-orange hair stuck out in all directions. Her bright purple turban was unable to control the random strands. A pin, encrusted with red cut-glass gems, sparkled on the front of her turban. Her print "house dress" boasted tiny flowers of pink and lavender. 

During each visit, she placed on the table one jelly glass and two china cups with saucers. She filled my glass with milk. After many years, I can still hear the rhythmic sounds of coffee perking, and I can still smell its aroma as it wafted through her cottage. As she served coffee, I noticed her fingers were adorned with huge diamonds and long nails covered with apple-red nail polish. Spellbound, I watched her move her heavy body about in her kitchen. I was both terrified of her and drawn to her at the same time, like drivers who fear wrecks but are drawn to those alongside a road. 

My mother told my grandmother that Mrs. D. had enjoyed a booming business during the Great Depression. My mother said everyone knew that's when she bought those large diamonds, not to mention the brand new Packard she drove, as big as a hearse, some said. Although the Depression had ended, the fortune teller plied her trade many times in the late '40s. Some of those who had lost loved ones needed assurance that their departed one's spirit was alive on the other side, and Mrs. D. knew how to offer that assurance. Others had lost jobs or loves and wanted to know their future. She supplied that information — for a fee.

Folks who sat on our front porch during warm summer evenings spoke softly of hearing the rapping spirits in that aging bungalow over in the bottom. In hushed whispers, they told tales of Mrs. D.'s séances. They declared that tables levitated — that is, if the spirits were in the mood. On really lucky evenings when the mystic could "get through," she relayed messages from the dead. Their deceased loved ones were always happy on the other side and were looking over those still living. Such messages reassured the survivors, and they left feeling better, so relieved.

Our renowned neighbor has long since joined those on the other side, as have her customers. I'm left to wonder if her services were of no value to her patrons or if she did offer some comfort to the grief-stricken. She gave to me the gift of colorful memories — memories of when I was a wide-eyed child absorbing tales of magic created in a small cottage.