The Mean Lady and the Zoot Suit Man

Happy Dia De Los Muertos.  I hope you had a good Halloween and a blessed Samhain.  I continue my story with the story of a real haunted house that I lived in with my family in the 70’s.

The house was an old white wood two-story located on the main street of town, half a block from my grandmother’s house and the Shop – the cabinet company my grandfather founded. The house was old – so old that there wasn’t central heating.  Instead there was a large space heater on each floor and as soon as it got chilly you would find me warming my feet beneath the largest one in the living room.  The ground floor had a living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom and the upper floor held the bedrooms and an unfinished room that we used to store things. My sister and I shared a bedroom at the top of the stairs in front of the house, my parents room was to the left of the stairs and in the rear of the house. It held the space heater for the floor. Our brother’s room was through my parent’s room and next to the attic.

In the winter our room would be so cold that frequently there was a half-inch of frost on the windows. My mother would send us up there to play and then it was my job as the big sister to pick up the toys and put them in baskets.  One day we had played for a short time and as my sister went downstairs to eat lunch I cleaned as I always did.  After I picked everything up I went down for lunch. My sister, who was 3, had fallen asleep at the table and my mother carried her up to bed.  In a few seconds, I hear her angrily calling my name.  I get to the top of the stairs and see all of the toys, even the ones we hadn’t played with, scattered across the bed and all over the floor.  My mother takes my sister to her room and then comes back to punish me. She stood over me as I picked the toys up, berating me for being a liar, and then spanked me and sent me to bed.  As I lay there shocked and crying I hear a little laugh come from by the window. I see the shape of a small hand form in the frost of the window.  This was the first time the Mean Lady, as she became known to my sister and me, showed herself.

After that the harassment became worse.  The sheets and blankets would be pulled off of our bed, our feet touched and pinched, hair pulled and once I was slapped so hard a hand print raised on my back.  I bore the brunt of most of the abuse. We would hear our names whispered, the sounds coming from my parent’s room. My father explained them away as the sound of the space heater and our wild imagination.  We would frequently both be spanked for “telling tales” and the punishments seemed to feed the ghost’s activities.

Then one day I was standing at the top of the stairs and I felt a sharp push. I toppled down the stairs and from the bottom I looked up and saw her.  She had a young face but she was wearing a house dress and apron from a time I didn’t recognize… And she was laughing at me. I was frightened and bruised but I couldn’t move.

The ghostly attacks became so bad that I was afraid to fall asleep and I would fall asleep while I was in class at kindergarten. The teacher would send a note home to my mother, my mother would spank me, the attacks would get worse and the cycle would continue.

One night I fell asleep with my sister by my side (we shared a bed for warmth).  She put her cold feet on my back to stay warm and I dozed off to the sound of her gentle snoring.  Then I was awoken, unable to breathe. A pillow was pushed over my face and I couldn’t get it off.  I thought I was going to die.  And then, a noise and the pressure on the pillow lifted.  I saw the Mean Lady quickly floating away from me. She seemed to be looking at the doorway where there was a shadow of a man in a suit.

Years later when my sister and I compared notes about this time she told me that she had seen him standing in the doorway before that day and she first thought he was our dad, but our dad didn’t own a suit so she knew it wasn’t him.  We called him the Zoot Suit Man, because we thought his suit looked like what we thought a zoot suit might.  In retrospect, I realize that the shoulders of the man inside the suit were very broad and the added padding of the shoulders created an exaggerated look.  The Zoot Suit Man would mostly appear to my sister.  When I was being abused by a relative, he would show up and the relative would stay away.  While the Mean Lady wanted to hurt us, we both felt that the Zoot Suit Man loved us and was there to protect us from her.

One afternoon my mother took me shopping with her.  My sister was taking a nap so she left her at home. My father was working on his car in the yard and drinking heavily. We came home to my extremely intoxicated father shouting out of the window of the attic.  He had been locked in.  We rounded the back of the house and found my sister sitting in her playpen, happily playing with an old doll we had never seen before.  My mom went upstairs to let my dad out and my dad said that he heard a man’s footsteps before the attic door swung closed and the hook and eye catch.  He himself had placed the hook and eye latch 5 feet up on the door jamb so we couldn’t get in there. He accused my brother of locking him in but my brother was down at my grandma’s house mowing her lawn and doing odd jobs for her so it wasn’t him. My mom asked him why he went up to the attic and he said that he saw a man in the upstairs window and my sister was crying so he went to check it out.  He said that he heard my sister crying in the attic so he went in there to find her.  No one ever figured out how my sister got outside. It wasn’t spoken about again, but my sister and I knew that it was the Zoot Suit Man protecting my sister from my father’s drunken ministrations.

We moved away from the house when I was in fifth grade. It was falling apart and the landlord was trying to sell the land for development. Another family moved in after us and I heard from the boy that was there that his sisters would never sleep in the front bedroom.

After I grew up I met a lady who knew the family that had owned the house during World War I.  She told me that the man who lived there was a widower with 2 little girls.  The war was raging and he wanted to enlist but he had nobody to watch his daughters so he married a young woman who was impressed by his social standing and the lovely house he brought her to live in. About a month after they married he enlisted and left to fight on the front.  The young wife was left with the children and a large house.

She couldn’t afford to keep the help on her husband’s military stipend and was soon overwhelmed so she took her anger and sadness out on the girls.  One day the man came home on leave and found the girls filthy, thin and battered by their abusive stepmother.  The man was so angry at his wife he packed her suitcase and banished her from the house in shame. She was not welcome home with her family so she headed to Chicago. Some say she became a bar maid and others a prostitute, but she died of influenza a few years after she moved away. The man sent the girls to live with distant relatives and he went back to his unit.  He was killed in battle shortly after returning.    It seems that the two had not resolved their issues in life, so they met back at the house and continued their roles of abuser and protector in their afterlives.

The house is no longer there and every business that occupied this corner has gone bankrupt or went out of business in short order.  It is currently sitting vacant.  Every time I go past I get the chills and wonder if the Mean Lady and the Zoot Suit Man have resolved their problems and have moved on to the afterlife. I honestly don’t think that they have.

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