When I was in Kindergarten into 1st grade, I was allowed to roam the block where I lived after school. Around the same time, each day after school, I would make my way home and then suddenly turn away from the house where I’d lived at teh time and run to the house across the street. Then I’d quickly knock on the door while hoping my mother wasn’t nearby or looking through our front windows where she’d probably spy me looking over my shoulder being suspiciously impatient while waiting for the door I knocked on to receive me.
The neighborhood house that I was regularly visiting was that of an older woman and her name was Ruby Keyes. I don’t remember if she was married, or a widow, but I remember she didn’t have any kids that lived at home and that she had a pool in the back yard of which I was never allowed to swim in. I was so young then, so I cannot recall her exact age. But I definitely remember that she was older than my mother which could have put her anywhere from 30 to 60. Age is relative, you know?
Mrs. Keyes always knew I was coming and she would joyfully open her door for me, promptly after I’d knocked, and then she’d whisk me in for our daily time together in her family room. She had large bay windows with big black-out curtains that she had always drawn closed in preparation for my visits. This was to insure that my mom wouldn’t find out what we were doing. We weren’t up to anything bad, we were just going to share something that my mother would never approve of.
I suppose she fed me cookies and lemonade. And most kids my age would have visited any “old lady” just for that. But I don’t even remember any of that kind of childish type of reward. And Ruby Keyes was not just some old lady whom I was trying to score candy or cookies from anyway. We were equals, she and I. We shared a passion. Me and Ruby Keyes loved drama and fantasy and horror and storytelling. And every day that I went over to her house, we’d sit in her dimly lit family room and together we’d watch the gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows was filled with tortured characters who kept scary and hideous secrets from each other. The sets were filmed in a black and white noir. And the creepy segue music between scenes alluded to the horrors that were going to befall the hero as he got too close to the mystery in each episode.
The main character, Barnabas Collins, was tall and ominous. And he seemed to be in charge of a large family, and he ruled his mansion by hiding near his secret passages where he’d eavesdrop on his family’s conversations. And yet I also remember that he seemed afraid and vulnerable because he acted like his family and fortune were always at risk by outsiders. Barnabas was a wonderful character. He was also a vampire.
I do not know how or when or how long it took for Mrs. Keyes to know that I was the kind of kid who wasn’t scared of monsters or never had nightmares from scary movies. And did she ever realize that I had a spark in me that would end up loving cinema, theater, TV, and writing? Or did she see that light in me all along so she fanned the flames? She took the risk of pissing off my mother (if she ever found out) by letting me watch Dark Shadows. After all, Dark Shadows was not for children. I didn’t tell either of my parents about my secret afternoons with Mrs. Keyes and so they never found out till later.
Ruby Keyes was one of first women in my life who shared something special with me that changed me. Because of her, I was able to tap into that love of story, a love of character development, acting, and TV and movies at a very early age. And for that, I thank her deeply.
When I was in high school I finally told my mother about Ruby Keyes and our Dark Shadow afternoons. You know what she said? “Oh, that explains everything.”