I recall no feelings of surprise when my afternoon kindergarten teacher, Miss Miraldi, knocked on our front door. After all, I didn’t know it was unusual. While she talked to my mother, I most likely petted my cat, Admiral Purry. Or maybe I enjoyed some Neapolitan wafer cookies with milk, although that’s a snack I typically ate while in kindergarten, not during an unprecedented home visit from my teacher.
At the time, I didn’t understand the visit’s point. Later on, though, I overheard my mother telling her friend that Miss Miraldi said I didn’t do well on my pre-screening tests. For example, when I was asked whether carrots grew on trees, I responded “yes” and that was inaccurate. She reassured my mother that, although I likely wouldn’t keep up with the other kids, that shouldn’t keep me from living a nice life.
In my defense—which my mother provided to her friend, although not directly to the teacher—I’d spent my first three years living above a funeral home where I was surrounded by asphalt. Even when we moved next door—with a grass-filled yard—no one was growing any carrots.
My mother likely tried to tease the truth from Miss Miraldi’s statements. The specificity of the teacher’s example of carrots, for example, was almost certainly true—and there was no reason to believe she would tell my mother I’d not done well on pre-screening tests if I’d aced them.
But was the conclusion true? That was the real issue. (Life, by the way, can be funny. I currently ghostwrite content for a well-known farmer who, yes, grows carrots. To help you on any future screening tests, I can tell you that, unquestionably, carrots traditionally grow underground.)
Another event from my childhood, when we shared stories that were—on the surface, at least—patently false ended up containing kernels of truth, after all.
To picture the scene, imagine a slumber party, an event that was a big deal when I was a kid. We’d trudge over to the Gajdzik’s house, a 19th-century home with a spacious living room. We’d each need to bring a sleeping bag, and mine was a psychedelic print one—after all, these parties took place in the late 60s and early 70s—with orange, fuchsia, sunshiny yellow, and aqua abstract splotches, along with randomly placed text that exhorted us to Vote for Millard Fillmore for President.
The goal of each slumber party, of course, was to stay awake as long as possible. So, when hushed darkness fell, we’d share toe-curling stories about what happened at the Gore Orphanage. Children without parents were unwillingly sent to this place, legend assured us, and then a blazing fire burned down the building. Even today, when people drive by the ruins at night, they hear the anguished cries of the children and smell the smoke in the wind.
As the slumber party went on, extra details would be added, such as a terrifying drip . . . drip . . . drip. If someone were to look at their windshield while parked by the former orphanage, a dead body would be draped over it, with blood cascading down the glass. And . . . right when you thought you’d experienced your peak terrors, you’d feel two hands with steely grips, grasping at your ankles.
The last two elements of our stories—the dripping blood and grabbed ankles—were likely borrowed from other tales of horror. Sometimes, we’d share how our ankles weren’t encircled by evil hands until we’d arrived back home, supposedly safe. Supposedly . . .
Myth busters have since shared that today’s Gore Orphanage Road was originally named Gore Road, referencing a narrow strip of lane (a “gore”) that was helpful when fixing surveying errors. The word “Orphanage” was added later because the Light of Hope Orphanage was built nearby. In 1908, a tragic school fire claimed the lives of nearly 200 children in the Cleveland area—the Collinwood fire—and, in 1923, the Swift Mansion, located on Gore Orphanage Road, burned down.
Blend those facts together and you end up with the Gore Orphanage folklore, whispered to enraptured others through several generations, embellished in unique ways by different storytellers.
In the future, it wouldn’t be surprising if COVID formed the basis of ghost stories. In an attempt to preserve personal details, our young adult son Ryan began to maintain a time capsule as soon as much of Ohio shut down in March because of the pandemic. The first item was a pin that he wore on the last day of in-class instruction at Lorain County Community College, one that encouraged people to vote for the upcoming school levy.
After that, he began adding 2020 pennies that were given to us as change—no buying or purposely soliciting them allowed—plus a mailed pharmacy ad sharing how, for Father’s Day, you could get Dad disposable masks and hand sanitizer; a water bottle that he used when jogging the pandemic stress away; a protective face shield; and much more.
He began adding newspapers with headlines featuring key events: the first vaccines to reach Lorain County; the nomination of Kamala Harris as vice president, with all her glass-ceiling-breaking firsts; when Joe Biden won the presidency; when an insurrection allowed the Confederate flag to fly inside the Capitol; when Donald Trump was impeached for the second time; and so forth.
I applaud this dedicated effort to collect factual information about how an ordinary person experienced COVID—while also recognizing how this is curated truth. Ryan is carefully selecting what’s included, and what’s not. In some cases, items placed in his large plastic crate have national importance, while others may only matter to him and/or friends and family members.
Memory, potentially faulty conclusions, snippets of truth buried in legend, embellishments, curation, and more blend with facts in ways that make seeking truth an ever-elusive process, often leading to this question: “Are you sure that’s what really happened?”