Whatever you’re afraid of is legitimate if you’re afraid of it. It doesn’t matter if other people criticize you for having an irrational fear of, for example, toilet paper or salamanders. The fear response is still there, no matter how silly it seems to others.
Having said that, I was a particularly fearful kid, and looking back on some of the things that scared me is cringeworthy.
As Halloween approaches, I thought I’d share some of those fears I had as a kid that now seem ridiculous in hindsight. You know the drill: Share your silly fears from childhood below.
My great-grandmother died when I was 10 years old. She was in her late 80s, and we only visited her house on Christmas Day, which was a day of mixed emotions and horror for several years in my early childhood. After Santa’s visit in the morning—a concept that should’ve been scarier than it was—our family would drive to my great-grandmother’s stuffy house for an afternoon of kisses and formality. Whatever joy we brought her with our visits was overshadowed at the time by my fear of her smiling at me with her single-toothed grin and leathery face. She was, by all accounts, a wonderful person—having lived through the Depression—but her tendency to save everything from buttons to fabric lint in Mason jars that she kept in every room was disquieting and odd. I’m ashamed she scared me so much.
The house we lived in had a hallway. It wasn’t a particularly long hallway, but it was the only way to move from the living room/kitchen to my bedroom in the back of the house. The hallway also contained doors to the bathroom, a guest room and my parents’ bedroom. Any of those doorways could harbor something sinister that might reach out and attack me. This was especially true at night when nature called and I had to visit the bathroom or risk disappointing my parents with wet sheets. I still catch myself moving quickly through hallways.
The Tooth Fairy
Santa Claus was cool, the Easter Bunny was my parents before they could convince me it wasn’t, but the Tooth Fairy was something to be feared. I remember the first time I lost a tooth and my father, cleaning the blood from my mouth, casually telling me to “put the tooth under a pillow” for the Tooth Fairy. OK. He said she would visit while I was sleeping and exchange money for the tooth. “What does she do with the teeth?” I asked, but he had no knowledge of her need for them and offered no explanation. Santa Claus visits and leaves presents—in another room, away from my sleeping body—but this Tooth Fairy invades my slumber, maybe even lifting my head, to access a part of my body that she needs. I was having none of that. The Tooth Fairy visited often for several years. She picked up my teeth in the kitchen and left money there, never invading my sleep.
Getting a haircut
There was a brief clip in some movie I watched as a child where a barber accidentally nips off a piece of a kid’s ear with some scissors. That image was with me whenever I had to get my haircut. It didn’t help that the person cutting my hair would often joke with me about getting “my ears lowered.” No, sir, that is not why I am here today. Please focus on the hair and not lowering my ears with your weapon. I would dread having my hair cut and cringe the entire way through the process, waiting for the moment when I felt a sharp pain and my ability to hear went away. To this day, I sometimes cringe while getting what little hair I have left trimmed.
The sea captain
My grandfather had a small 8-by-10 portrait of a sea captain in his bedroom. It sort of looked like this one, but the colors weren’t as intense. The sea captain’s eyes were what scared me; they seemed to be staring right at me, knowingly. Even in the dark, I felt his eyes on me, and when I was brave enough to look at him, I almost thought I could see them moving. There were nightmares about this captain. I thought at night he could step out of the painting and get me in my bedroom. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all to wake one night and see him standing at the foot of my bed. I hadn’t seen the painting in years until we found it inside a box last Christmas. All the memories came back.
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