ROSE NOLEN: How my brother's secret cured my fear of ghosts

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | 6:32 p.m. CDT; updated 8:54 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The five years I spent as the youngest child in my family were probably the scariest of my childhood.

My great-grandmother lived in a community some distance away from us. Every night, one or all of my three older siblings had to spend the night with her.


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We slept on a big feather mattress in one of her bedrooms, with my brother wrapped in a blanket on the floor.

As soon as we got settled in the bed, my siblings would start telling ghost stories. I was only 4 or 5 years old at the time, and I was kept so scared  that I doubted I would live to see my sixth birthday.

Since I was the youngest, my greatest fear was that I would be left behind and not taken along when my siblings were allowed to go places.

In those days, my greatest thrill was to go to the post office with my brother. He was a great one for hitching rides on the back of a KATY train, and he knew the best times to go.

He would always arrange our visits to coincide with the times when the train would stop for a while, and we would get a chance to visit with the hobos. He knew them all by name, and we would have a great time talking to them about places they had visited and things they had seen.

At this particular time, my relationship with my brother was complicated. It was common knowledge that I was his favorite, and we did a lot of things together.

We went fishing together, we picked blackberries together, and I was always the one who accompanied him on his big adventures.

We built things together, such as stilts and scooters, and it was always my job to hold his tools.

The thing that complicated our relationship at the time was the fact that we shared a terrible secret. I had promised him that if he told me the secret, I would tell no one else.

After days of pleading and begging, he finally told me. The secret, he said, was that I was adopted.

From the moment he told me, I lived in total fear from day to day. I was sure that my sisters knew I was adopted, and I was scared to ask them for details.

My brother had told me that my mother was sitting in a car downtown when an older woman came up to her and pushed me into her arms. The woman ran away and was never seen again.

From that day, I was terrified that my family was not my real family, that they might go away and leave me behind. I was certain they must be plotting ways to forsake me behind my back.

One thing was for sure — after I knew real terror, I was never afraid of ghosts again.

All my fears threatened every breath I took. I probably survived in this state of fright for about two months.

My brother and I never spoke about it again. Then one day, I was sitting with our next-door neighbor winding strips of fabric into a ball for her to use to crochet rugs, and she started to tell me a story.

She remembered bringing her first crocheted rug for my mother to see the day I was born. She remembered my father sitting in a big chair by the bed, holding me in his arms.

I don't remember the rest. I was so thrilled and excited by what she had said, I only remember running out the door and hurrying to find my brother.

He said he was sorry he had upset me and promised never to do it again. He thought I had forgotten about his story since I never brought it up again.

I don't think I ever told him that he cured me from my fear of ghost stories, and I know I never told my sisters about my two months in hell.  

Frankly, I was so happy to learn that I was living with my own family after all that I forgot the whole thing.

Until yesterday.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at

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