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After midnight on Christmas Eve, I curled up on the small bed tucked beneath the stairwell at Grammy's house, Baxter ever-present by my side. We both knew one of us was supposed to be the loyal protector of the other, but neither was quite sure who was assuming the duty that night.

By day, Grammy's farmhouse is a place of warmth, laughter and chaos. As with most happy houses, the merriment centers around the kitchen table, where folks pull up chairs and talk until the wee morning hours. It always starts the same way -- someone needs to go, but they just want to tell a quick story first. That story triggers another story, and three hours later, no one has left the kitchen table and everyone's cheeks are hurting from sustained laughter. Yes, by day, her world is magical.

By night, however, the homestead becomes a house of horrors. Guests refuse to sleep upstairs due to the sounds the old house makes and the stories Grammy perpetuates. A strikingly beautiful woman at 81 years, Grammy brushes her hand over her soft curls and smiles dismissively.

"Why, the house is solid as a rock," she calmly assures. "You're just hearing the old man and woman who live upstairs. They tend to walk around at night. We just don't hear them as much when we're talking and laughing in the daytime. I do wish they'd stop moving things around, though. I can't find a thing up there."

And with that, she goes back to tending chores in the kitchen. One might think she's grown senile, but she's been telling these stories for decades. And no one is entirely sure she's making them up.

Items have been found in odd places. Dust has been wiped away on unused furniture in undisturbed rooms. One lady played the piano and heard horses galloping.

To accompany the sounds, mid-century taxidermied owls perch high on walls, keeping watch over the taxidermied fish flaring their gills beneath them. A life-size, realistic-looking leopard lays outstretched in the living room. Clowns and dolls peer wide-eyed from shelves. Furnaces flicker. Shadows shift in the moonlight streaming through lace curtains. And the farmhouse comes alive.

Given the extended stay, I'd brought my rabbits, Gus and Woodrow, to Grammy's for the first time. Around 2 a.m., Gus stood straight up and thumped his back foot repeatedly on the floor of his hutch. It sounded like rapid gunfire.

Bax and I bolted upright, his eyes glued on the leopard. On the other side of the wall, Grammy slept soundly.

Come Christmas morning, Grammy and I sat at the kitchen table.

"Poor things, you fought predators all night!" she exclaimed. "Let's have some goodies from the fridge and talk about it." And the stories and laughter resumed.

Maybe the house has a little haunt in it, or maybe the enchantment lies in the storyteller sitting at its helm. It's the stories we choose to tell and laughter we choose to share that birth memories we hold dear. May our next 365 pages hold much joy ... and less taxidermy.

NAN Our Town on 12/27/2017

Print Headline: Tales of tinsled taxidermy

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