The Night the Devil Chased My Mom

Old School Circus35 Comments

The night the Devil chased my Mom, I was six-and-a-half years old. We were living in a crumbling part of downtown Steubenville, Ohio, in a rickety two-story house with paint so peely I could pull it off in strands. The house had three bedrooms: one for my sister Alyson and I to share, one for my single mom, and one for Sister Helen, the nun who had been hop-scotching from house to house with us for the last two years. Downstairs, there was a kitchen, a dining room, and a small living room, which Mom and Sister Helen had turned into a chapel. This was the first of many chapels in many houses to come, so its novelty to me at the time made me especially attuned to its aesthetics. It had bench seating that lined two opposing walls, and an altar on the back wall, complete with Sacred Heart of Jesus and Virgin Mary statues. Flickering red votive candles just like you see at Mass were set up around the altar, and a dish of real holy water, blessed by priests, was set at the room’s entrance so people entering could smack some on their foreheads.

Every morning, noon, and night, if we weren’t at school, Mom and Sister Helen would drag us into the chapel, and we’d have to sit there for an hour while they chanted from these Latin prayer books called breviaries. This, by the way, is exactly what nuns and monks do in monasteries and convents. In the morning, these prayers are called Matins; in the afternoon, Vespers; and in the evening, Lauds. My sister and I were mostly completely insane with boredom during these times, but sometimes we would join in, reading along and sounding out the words.

So what does all this have to do with the Devil in hot pursuit, you ask? I’m getting to that. But first I need to explain why it would even occur to a kid that the Devil COULD in fact take earthly form and try to bum-rush her mom. I mean, would your kid even dream about something like that? I know mine sure as hell wouldn’t. Maybe a Minecraft creeper or a particularly scary-looking Skylander, but the fiery pitchfork-carrying dude that lives in a lava-house and comes to claim your soul if you’re BAD and DEAD? Um, no. I try to keep those kinds of reassuring thoughts away from my kids. They need their fucking 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. Anywho, my mom thought about these things differently. There was no Good in this world without Bad, so it was important to remember that Satan and his evil spirit minions were always flying at us, trying to tear us away from doing the right thing.

So how was this lesson illustrated in our daily lives? Well, let’s say my sister or I were experiencing an ornery phase and acting like little assholes. Naturally, my mom would then just rally the troops to pray over us, exorcism style. Mom, Sister Helen, random freaky religious college students hanging out with us, or sometimes priests and monks would all put their hands on our heads at the same time and pray that the evil spirit would. . . BE GONE! In these cozy prayer sessions, holy oil was used instead of water (more moisturizing, better permeating?) and was crossed over our heads as part of the process, which was called “anointing.” Unlike my sister, Alyson, who would always close her eyes along with everyone else (probably in an effort to transport herself out of the land of fucking OZ), I would always open mine and study the faces that surrounded me. With their eyes closed, the adults looked like different people, in the way people sometimes do when they sleep, except it wasn’t peace but ferocity that transformed the lines of their faces. Pretty creepy.

Speaking of creepiness, along with this spiritual package of warding off evil spirits came Mom’s constant warnings against childhood dalliances in the occult, like effing around with Light as a feather, Stiff as a board, Bloody Mary, or Ouija boards. These games were considered sacrilegious, and playing with them could open up a door to the spiritual realm that you did NOT want to open. Back then, that was enough of a warning for me. We were already in Evil Spirit Overflow, so was I about to willingly creak open a door to another dimension, peek out at the general spirit population, and wave them on in? HELL NO.

At some point my mom could see that all the evil spirit, demon, and Devil chat was scaring the shit out of us at night, so she took great pains in reassuring us before bed that we were safe. I said my bedtime prayers fervently, hoping that if the Devil ever did show up, he’d have to go through Mom before coming for me. She prayed 10,000 times more often than me, so I was sure she could take him down. As it turned out, that is more or less what she did.

macrame  Mom had something called a macramé hanging in her room, which was a popular home décor item in the 70s. After my sister  and I had gone to bed one fateful night,  I guess mom went back to her room and had the genius idea of lighting some candles right next to where this highly flammable object was hanging. The door to our bedroom was open, and just before I dropped off to dreamland, I heard pounding footsteps and screaming. I shot up in my bed and looked towards the door, just in time to see Mom running down the narrow hallway with a fiery beast behind her. I scrambled out of the covers and ran out to find my mom, who’d bee-lined for the bathroom. (Of all places to go at a time like this, I thought confusedly. I mean, damn, Mom, this situation gives me the runs too, but deal with the Devil first, woman)! Her plan became clear a second later, when I saw that she’d thrown the Devil into the bathtub and had turned the shower on him much like you’d turn a hose on a feral cat. Almost too afraid to look, I parted the shower curtain just slightly and poked my head in, realizing slowly that not the Prince of Darkness, but Mom’s charred and smoking macramé had been vanquished.

Obvi, it wasn’t the Devil who’d chased my mom that night, but because I had been SO SURE that it was, this event marked the beginning of an eventual disillusionment that would continue into my young adulthood. It dawned on me that there could be discrepancies between what I learned as a kid (things I’d accepted about religion, evil spirits, God, and the Devil) and what was actually happening in REALITY. I realized that it was up to me to sort out my beliefs, and what I eventually decided is that I still believe in God, but not so much the Devil. I know evil DOES exist in the form of fucked up people who do fucked up things, but not in the form of flying spirits and demons and Black Magic.

Last weekend, my 7 year old son wailed to me one night at bedtime, breathless and almost unable to tell me what was freaking him out. He’d heard about good ol’ Bloody Mary from the kids on the bus, and he was scared shitless. I remembered that feeling all too well, and it really pissed me off. So the next morning, we lit a red candle, turned off the bathroom lights, looked into the mirror, and chanted “Bloody Mary” three times, something my mother would probably have rather died than do with me when I was a kid. When nothing happened of course, my son just beamed from ear to ear and walked out of the room. I stayed behind, still gazing into the mirror, remembering the days when I would’ve shit my britches at the prospect of Bloody Mary coming through the glass to pull me over to the Dark Side. I smiled, shook my head, leaned in close to the mirror, and said, “Bring it, BITCH.”

The Night the Devil Chased My Mom

35 Comments on “The Night the Devil Chased My Mom”

  1. Rachell S.

    All I can say is your son is lucky, lucky, lucky!!!! to have a mom like you! And I’m lucky as all get out to have found this blog and met you through the magic of the world wide web….because your first mention of Bloody Mary earlier in this post made me freak out a little–old timey trauma–but you cured me. I was even able to say, “Bring it, Bitch” out loud, and I never swear! 🙂

    Great writing, great healing on your part from an unusual childhood, and great parenting to your sons!!

    Oh, and loved the expression “hopscotching from house to house”

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, Rachell – you’re always so sweet and supportive. And so funny – I didn’t know you never swear…you must have a field day with some of my posts. Yet you like me anyway, thank you. 😉 I’m so glad I found you, too, friend.

      1. Rachell S.

        I enjoy and admire your colorful posts! I don’t mind people swearing, I just never have. Old timey trauma!! Seriously, once in a creative writing workshop people tried to help me overcome my inability to swear, so that my dialogue would be more realistic! The whole class was spent using swear words in every sentence uttered! You are fantastic in your humor with what was obviously a scary experience as a child. And of course I like you. Impossible not to. Especially after this posting. Yay you!

        1. Ashley

          Thank you, Rachell. Was laughing out loud over your creative writing workshop cursing intervention! Too funny, and too cute. Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Samantha

    BRILLIANT! My son was just telling me two days ago about his friend, Guthrie and how they were testing “Bloody Mary” at school. Guthrie went into the bathroom alone, TWICE, by himself and my son stayed in the hall. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear that nothing occurred and recess continued uninterrupted. I’ve always been super prone to nightmares of the most potent kind, so that stuff messed me up big time as a kid. I can’t imagine dealing with all of that. The closest I can get is the Pentacostal church my Mom took us to. Snakes, speaking in tongues, all of it. Creepy.

    1. Ashley

      Well, then Samantha – you have dealt with the worst of it! The Catholic church Mom was associated with was a sort of mix of Catholic and Pentecostal, seriously! Minus the snakes. But speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit, all that was commonplace at our church. I had a lot of nightmares too, but I’ll be damned if I let my son have them without trying to use a little logic and reason. I’m glad your son has already disproved the urban legend of Bloody Mary, with a little help from Guthrie! 😉 Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  3. Foxy Wine Pocket

    There is so much that I love about this post. Your use of vivid imagery (LOVED “paint so peely I could pull it off in strands”) is perfection. I adore the humor and the flaming devil/macramé–hilarious. And I love your multiple perspectives and how you intertwine the past and the present. Great post!

    1. Ashley

      Thanks so much, Kelly, and I have to give credit where credit is due – you actually pushed me to write this post! It was tough, but I appreciate your support and your reminders to BREATHE. Thank you, friend.

  4. Leigh-Mary

    In part, my favorite lines…

    … or a particularly scary-looking Skylander, but the fiery pitchfork-carrying dude that lives in a lava-house and comes to claim your soul if you’re BAD and DEAD? Um, no.

    …(probably in an effort to transport herself out of the land of fucking OZ)

    ….leaned in close to the mirror, and said, “Bring it, BITCH.”

    Loved reading….Cheers, LM

    1. Ashley

      Thank you so much, LM. It’s so nice to hear your favorite parts – thank you for your kind praise! If you knew how much I was stressing when I clicked “publish,” you’d know how very much your words are appreciated.

  5. Sarah

    What a great story, and what a triumphant mothering moment (for you, not your mother)!
    It’s difficult to question your upbringing and even more difficult to move past it. I am impressed with your ability to look back at it with such humor.

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, Sarah – your words mean more than you know. It’s difficult – you’re right. The humor helps me to process it as well as write it. Still, I don’t always know how others will receive it. I was really sweating this one. i appreciate that you read it, liked it, and took the time to tell me so!

  6. Margaret Rose Caro

    I may be the only person you know who doesn’t (didn’t) know Bloody Mary. So when are you going to put this all together and create a non e-book I can read in bed ? Be grateful … your experiences are rich (and I hope they bring you riches).

    1. Ashley

      Margaret, I’m not sorry you missed out on Bloody Mary in your childhood. Ugh. There actually was a real Bloody Mary, so I reasoned with my smart boy and we looked up Mary Queen of Scots, whose nickname was “Bloody Mary” for political/religious reasons, and I showed him a bunch of pics which were not scary. That also helped to defuse the legend. Ehhh, the book thing is still a dream but you know these things are sensitive plus incredibly hard to achieve! Thank you for your continued support – maybe someday?!

  7. Aussa Lorens

    I started giggling like a maniac when you said she was running down the hallway with a fiery beast in pursuit. This is too funny. My upbringing wasn’t THAT intense, but I do remember having the fear of the devil put into me… and I’m pretty sure that my house was once anointed by a roommates Mom after I had a stalker in college. There was oil and incense and chanting. Because that’s not weird at all.

  8. Gary Sidley

    Reading about people’s early life experiences never ceases to amaze me that more of us did not grow into disturbed adults.

    Thank you for this compelling glimpse into your past.

    1. Ashley

      And thank YOU for thinking I’m not disturbed, Gary Sidley. I hope I don’t disappoint you someday! 😉 Thanks so much for reading and commenting, my friend.

  9. Laura Jo

    That macrame yarn is so flammable, it probably made a “whoosh” sound!
    My fear of God even extended to passing gas. When I was 5, if I farted, I’d say to myself, “Thank you, God, for all my health, and for keeping me safe with Smokey the Bear.”

    1. Ashley

      Wow, Laura Jo! Way to go for incorporating God and Smokey in the same prayer – not an easy feat! Lmao. Thanks so much for reading!

  10. Angela McKeown Momopolize

    That macramé does look pretty devilish! My son had a sleepover once and they were down in the basement and came up screaming because they had summoned Bloody Mary and were convinced they had seen her. They wouldn’t go back down to the basement so brought their sleeping bags into the family room instead. Being the wonderful, compassionate Mom I am…I took lipstick and red food coloring and wrote Bloody Mary on the powder room mirror with two bloody handprints. Hehehehe. Some of the boys accused me of doing it but one boy said “no way! She wouldn’t have done it because SHE is the one who has to clean it up!!” I probably traumatized those boys for life. They will send me their therapy bills one day. 😉

    1. Ashley

      LOL, Angela you crack me up! That’s pretty funny. Maybe when they’re older I’ll mess with them but right now their nightmares would interfere too much with my own sleep! It’s all about me! 😉

  11. Amy Denton

    EVERY YEAR we have Bloody Mary issues in 2nd grade. Some kid brings it up to other kids and then parents email me (since it’s my fault..) to tell me their kids are now terrified. Makes me need to drink Bloody Mary’s. What an awesome idea to just do it with your son to prove to him it’s not real. You are such a good mom!

    1. Ashley

      I was just thinking about you, Amy! Going to send you an email. Lol, makes me want to drink Bloody Marys too! I’m glad we did the test because he hasn’t brought it up – not even once – since that day. Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I know you are a busy woman these days!

  12. Ariel

    I’m so glad I found your blog! You’re a fantastic writer with some obviously great material :). I loved the contrast with your son’s experience and I loved the last line!

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, Ariel! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. 😀 I have been reading your blog this morning – praise from you on writing is a high compliment. I love the way you write. Just about to comment on some of your stuff and share too!

  13. Eve

    How funny! Thanks for the giggle AND the blast from the past Macrame. My mother loved making things with string back in the 70’s. Thank goodness there were no Macrame bikinis though! lol Eve

    1. Ashley

      Thanks for reading, Eve! I love your web site – your business is so cool. I didn’t know there were circus classes – awesome! Btw, I am sure I’ve seen macrame bikinis in Miami before! 😉

    1. Ashley

      Don’t have one, Mason! But you can just write LIKE in the comment section, and then I’ll know you approved! Thanks for subscribing! 😀

  14. Sarah

    OMG – this is hilarious! Also – born and raised a Catholic I am loving all of your references!

    And – I couldn’t have done the Bloody Mary thing you did with your kids….I’m still scared shitless. But bravo for being so brave! LOL

    1. Ashley

      Sarah, thanks so much for reading! I never was brave enough to try the Bloody Mary thing as a kid, so I did get a little nervous while doing it. 😉

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