The Opening Under the Stairs
In the haunted house of life, art is the only stair that doesn’t creak.
– Tom Robbins
Although Casita Alegria had been transformed into a lighter, happier little house, I had to face the fact that I was sleeping in a haunted adobe. While lying awake during my first night alone with the ghost, I remembered an unusual conversation with a friend on the West Coast who had recently hired a ghostbuster. It seemed strange at the time, but I decided to call her the next morning.
With phone number in hand, I thanked my friend and dialed the ghostbuster, who answered on the first ring. I told her my name, who referred me, and the location of the ghost.
“How much do you charge to remove a ghost?”
“One hundred dollars,” said the husky voice with an Oklahoma twang. “But Honey, you have to give me a few days to see what I’m dealing with,” she insisted between drags on her cigarette.
“Don’t you need to come to our house?”
“No, Honey. I live in Colorado and I do ghost removals from right here all over the country,” the raspy voice affirmed.
Forty-eight hours later, the phone rang.
“Honey, you not only have a ghost, you have a portal,” her voice crackled at the other end of the line.
“What’s a portal?” I asked innocently.
“It’s an opening under your staircase that has entities coming in and out.”
“Well, are they good or bad?” I implored.
“They’re both! So Honey, I not only have to deal with the ghost – and he doesn’t want to leave – I need to round up all those entities and clear them out of there, then close that portal,” she announced breathlessly.
“How much does that cost?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“Another hundred dollars,” she coughed into the phone.
“You got a deal,” I said with a sigh of relief.
“But Honey, you have to stay out of that house for three weeks, “ the ghostbuster added.
“No problem, but can I still work in the garden?”
“Sure you can, Honey, just don’t step foot in that adobe,” she warned as she took another drag.
A few days later, I moved to the renowned La Posada hotel in downtown Santa Fe. It didn’t take long to hear the staff telling tales about the infamous Julia Staub, a ghost who lives in the old part of the hotel. I learned she had been featured on the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, and a book had recently been written about her, called American Ghost. I bought a copy and devoured it at night in my room in the new part of the hotel. By day, I enthusiastically worked on the garden design and installation with a team of talented masons, plumbers and gardeners. But I made sure that absolutely no one entered the Casita.
I was surprised to also learn through the hotel that Santa Fe has several ghost tours, some of which had been around since the 1990s. On one hand, I was comforted hearing about Julia and the other ghosts, as it seemed hauntings weren’t unusual in Santa Fe. Then, I started to feel guilty about calling a ghostbuster.
He Didn’t Want to Leave
After all, the ghost, who I was told wore a blue striped suit typical of 1930s attire, hadn’t really done anything bad. In fact, pulling the flower out of the vase was kind of a sweet gesture. But I was troubled to hear that the ghost continued to animatedly believe he owned our old adobe, and defiantly refused to leave.
After a while, the crusty ghostbuster convinced me that it would be in the ghost’s best interest for him to vacate the property. He had been stuck in the house for decades, and it was his time to go.
And so it was that the ghost of Casita Alegria finally departed, and with him all the entities from the portal under the stairs, which was now closed. I thanked the honest Oklahoma ghostbuster, who cleared the house in less than three weeks, charging only $200 for the whole package, as she put it.
Casita Alegria Felt Different
The house felt different when I returned – lighter and fresher. I opened all the windows and doors, and invited friends for dinner in the new garden. We gathered on the crescent-shaped banco for wine and cheese, and had dinner next to the fountain. Afterwards, we warmed ourselves by the fireplace, enjoying coffee and chocolate, while admiring the garden with its newly extended adobe wall topped with a coyote fence. The evening ended with ghost stories.
The New Garden
I have included before and after pictures of the garden, which unfortunately don’t match up. The before images were taken from the backyard right after we completed the interior remodel. The after images were shot from inside the adjacent garden after it was enclosed. The photos reflect the garden over several years, as the plants have grown in and flourished.
I Can Sleep at Night
While you’ll need to use a little imagination to piece together the garden layout, I think you can clearly see how this magical space filled with nature greatly expands the lower floor of Casita Alegria, and provides an enchanting place to read the morning paper. At night, the sound of the fountains drifts upstairs through the balcony doors and lulls me to sleep, even when I’m home alone.
Yours in the name of unsolved mysteries,