Fear of... You name it, I probably had every one of them already. I’ve overcome some fears and others I simply keep; they’re too hard to surmount. I decided to go back to my childhood and up to present day, to see if I could figure out where these fears came from.
My first encounter with fear was the Boogie Man. I never truly saw the guy in all my 70 years on earth, but I believed in him a long time. I think each of my nine siblings, and myself, became connoisseurs in the art of scaring each other. All of us, at one time or another, hid under a sibling’s bed, waiting quietly for them to come to their bedroom, lock the door and climb into bed. Of course, the timing had to be perfect for “the hand” to make its move. We all loved the shriek of terror!
Even into teen-hood, I continued to check under my bed and the closet. I recall one late night when Mom forced my door, due to my blood curdling screams. Eventually, she realized, the Boogie Man I saw, clad in a dress, was my very own dress hanging from a floor lamp. The Boogie Man must have loved all the attention he received from me. He followed me no matter where I moved.
In my first marriage, my husband had to leave for work in the middle of the night. No matter how tired I was, feeding babies during the night, or up with a sick child, I was never too tired to carry and prop a kitchen chair under the door handles for both back and front doors. It worked. Those chairs kept many a Boogie Man from entering and harming me or the children!
Some 20 years later, and into my second marriage, I found the Boogie Man still at my doorstep.
My husband attended most of the Penn State football games. Usually, he’d sleep over at his parents’ home the night before the game. This meant I had a choice. I could stay over with one of my sisters or my children, which I sometimes did. But, I also loved alone times to read into the wee hours of the morning.
When I decided to stay home alone, my husband pampered me. Before leaving, he’d check windows, and with a smile, he’d say, “Carole, I checked all over the house. There is no Boogie Man. You’ll be just fine.”
I trusted my husband completely. Yet, just in case, I kept a bat and an open container of pepper under my bed. For extra protection, I would keep a light on downstairs and a hall light on upstairs.
I imagine I was about 55 years old when I said to myself, “Carole, this is ridiculous about your fear of the Boogie Man.” I decided to do something about it. For one year, almost every day, I did an affirmation: “I am no longer afraid to be home alone.” It worked. Easton is the last city in which I had any almost encounters with the Boogie Man.
Recently, I just learned about a new product on the market for children. It’s a spray to get rid of the monster’s in a child’s bedroom after a nightmare. Geez! If only this would have been out when I was a kid, I could have conquered this fear by the time I was seven!
I also have a fear of giving change when someone gives me money. This one, I know how it got started. I was about 13 years old when I joined a 4-H club. We had to do some kind of farm project. I decided to raise chicks. Chicks are cute when they are little, but then they “poop” and you have to change the paper in the cage every day. Eventually, they grow into pretty good sized chickens. Once they were “of age” they got butchered. I hated every minute of it. Finally, Mom had the chickens dressed and ready to sell.
On one particular day, Mom and Pop had to go somewhere. Mom told me someone was coming for two chickens. She told me how much they cost. The party buying the chickens arrived and handed me the money. I took the money and stuck it in my pocket. The lady then said, “I’ll need change.”
My fear kicked in right then and there. Sure, I had learned to count change in school, but this was a real live person standing in front of me. I did find Mom’s purse, and the lady helped me with the counting. Ever since that day, I have shied away from giving change. It’s not that I can’t do it, and it’s rare that I have to, but when I do, my memory cell clicks in from that darn chicken episode!
I believe I can trace back my fear of public speaking to my one-room schoolhouse days. We had to memorize poems. Once memorized, we had to stand up front and recite the poems in front of some 30 kids. That was where you heard snickering if you forgot your next line, while stuttering and stammering. Not a fun time.
In these one-room schools, the children always put on a pageant for the Christmas season. Parents were invited to attend. It was this particular Christmas, my teacher, Mrs. Kutz, chose me to memorize “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I loved Mrs. Kutz, but this was the most terrible thing she could have asked me to do. It was hard enough to recite poetry in front of your peers, now I had to do it in front of dozens of parents. I got through it all right, but I truly hated every minute of it.
It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I realized how far my fear of public speaking had gone. The senior class was presenting a humorous play. I loved humor. I found out they were looking for auditions for a music teacher, who had very few lines to say and didn’t need to carry a tune. I knew this would be perfect for me.
I was among two others who auditioned for the part. All we had to do was go on stage, read two to three lines with emphasis and then sing “do re me” off key. I waited in anticipation, following the other two auditions. Now I was on stage. I read my lines with the most horrible croaky voice I could muster. When it was time to sing my off key notes, absolutely nothing came out of my mouth. That ended my speaking career for a long time.
It wasn’t until I became a church secretary, close to 45 years of age, I tried again to overcome my fear. My pastor was retiring. I loved to write and decided to write up a “roast” for his retirement party. I hadn’t really thought about reading it in public, but felt I could handle it. I did just that. Got lots of laughs.
Soon I graduated to reading scripture from the pulpit. I figured, “What the heck, you can read, Carole!” I will admit I had anxiety the first few times. But, I worked at positive statements: “I can read with poise and ease” each time I was scheduled to read. Before long the anxiety was gone. I had overcome my public speaking fear.
I have a few animal fears. Mice for one. If I have to set a trap for a mouse and actually catch one, I throw the mouse and the trap away. No mouse ever ran after me and chased me around the house. I just don’t like the critters.
I’m wary of snakes too. When I was a young mother, one summer, I decided I’d get some large stones from the creek behind the house and place them around my flower beds. In reaching and lifting a stone a small snake jumped out at me, hitting my arm. That ended the stone carrying. I was now in fear of snakes.
Many years after the first snake incident, I was working for my brother. A nephew of mine also worked for my brother. He knew of my fear of snakes, but he was mischievous. One day my nephew ran after me with a little garter snake. I ran away screaming. He ran after me dangling the snake from his hand. Tiring, I stopped and yelled, “If you don’t stop, I’ll faint.” I was about to do just that, when he stopped chasing me. I thought that was the end of it. That evening, I opened my jewelry box only to find “the snake” in it. I grabbed that box with the jewelry in it, took it outside and threw everything in the trash. I don’t know if I was more mad than scared at that point!
I have one more fear. I guess I’d call it a miscellaneous one. If our ketchup bottle is near empty, my husband places it back in the cupboard upside down. He wants to be able to get every last bit of ketchup for his next use. If I find that bottle upside down, I immediately turn it right side up. Why? Any kind of vibration could make that ketchup bottle fall over. If I’m ever alone in the house and hear something like that fall, I might revert back to that darn Boogie Man again!
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to everyday stories.