I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE

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In 1941, when I was  seven, I often asked  my mother, Lillian Lenore Van Arsdale, to take  me to  a house on Main  Street in Belmar,  New Jersey. I was drawn to  this house,  and  thought I had lived  in it before, thought my mother denied  it, and she wouldn’t  lie to me. Yet I knew its rooms and furniture,  even the  window  drapes.

Mother was concerned, and at times angry with me as I chattered relentlessly.  I even  told her all about the woman  living there- what she looked like, what she  wore while  cleaning the house, and her cooking and baking apron.

Inside the front door was a long mirror with wood carvings on the top that hung on the entrance hall wall. There  were gold coat racks on either side of it, and a bench to sit  on. On the right, there was  a long table in the dining room.

At the table were eight dark,  wooden chairs, with big, high backs and blue cloth seats.  Only the  two chairs at the  ends of  the table had arms on them. A picture of three  horses’ heads hung on the left wall.

I will never forget it. On  the same wall were big gas  lights, one on each side of the  picture, and one on either side of the two windows on the  right wall, overlooking the front porch.

I described  the tablecloth- white lace, with the  same  blue cloth under it as on the  chairs. A tall, dark wood and  glass china closet was on the  longest wall. In it were  many  pretty  blue dishes and blue water glasses with long  stems.

There were three bedrooms upstairs. The first room on the left was  the biggest, containing a bed as  high as my   shoulders. The headboard almost reached the ceiling,  and was carved with pictures of flowers, baskets and ribbons.

On this bed was a white bedspread I often described  to my mother, but she  wouldn’t  believe me. She said I had  never ever been inside. When I cried for the  umpteenth time, Mother took me  by the hand, walked right up to the  front door, and rang the bell.

A pretty woman answered the door,  and I was sure I had  seen her before. I knew  the ring on her hand, and the  apron she wore was as I  described. I stood  still  and  held my  breath. She bade us come in. While she  and my mother talked  in a hushed tones, my eyes roamed around the entrance  hall and into the  dining  room.

When we went in, everything was as I  had described ,  before we entered each room. My mom  was surprised, but  the lady was shocked and had tears  in her eyes. She  hugged  me tightly for  a long time. Mom thanked her,  and was glad  that I was  satisfied.

I was happy that Mom finally believed  me. My compelling urge was gone. One day I heard Mom telling my aunt  Emma  Gifford  that a five -year-old girl who had  lived in that house  died of  scarlet fever on May 23,  1934, the year I  was born.

After  that we never talked  about it.  Mother said  I was not  to ask to go there again. I never did. I then  believed  that I had  known  the little  girl very well, but as  I grew older,  I realized  this was  not so  I remember  more things  about her  and the house  when I  see blue glasses or white lace tablecloths. Could  I really have been her, keeping some of her  memories?

Jean  Brown

New Underwood, South Dakota

February 1994

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