Are there certain people who have a gift for frightening small children? Not deliberately. I'm not talking about abusers, bullying teachers who shouldn't be in the profession, or neighbors who have OD'd on vampire stories and take Halloween to terrifying lengths. I mean people who might be warm-hearted, helpful, and kind to small animals, but who have mannerisms that little kids shy away from.
Or maybe it was just me. I was the kind of child who would have preferred to peer out at the world from the safety of my mother's skirts and who found most grown-ups intimidating.
There were a few neighbors, however, who scared me even beyond my normal tongue-tied shyness. One was a tall, quick-moving woman with a quick, sharp voice and a habit of blinking constantly in a quick, sharp way. I didn't consciously make the comparison at the time, but looking back now I realize she reminded me of a chicken—a large, fierce chicken. Given my prejudices against fowl in general and chickens in particular, it's no wonder I was suspicious of the woman, even though there was nothing unkind or fierce in her behavior.
Then there was the hard-working, ambitious man who owned more land than anyone else in the county. I remember being with my grandmother once when he stopped to talk with her, and he commented on my pretty brown eyes and said he'd like to take me home with him. I thought he meant it and was wary of him for years after that. As an adult, I learned that he had asked my divorced grandmother more than once to marry him. My first reaction even then was relief that she had said no in spite of all that land.
Then there was the good friend of my father's who had a loud laugh and did a lot of joking and teasing in a loud voice. In addition, there was something wrong with one of his bright blue eyes so it didn't quite track with the other, and it wasn't easy to tell whether he was looking at me or not.
I don't remember this, but I'm told that once, when I was three or four, he was at our house for dinner and I was too scared to sit at the table with him. Mother let me eat in the living room, where I was safely unseen and unheard—mostly—except to ask for, "More mashed potatoes, please."
One thing at least can be said for being a shy child. While you're hiding out of sight behind your mother, around the corner, or safely in the living room with your own private mashed potatoes, you get a chance to listen to a lot of conversations. It may not be much fun at the time, but it's great training for a future writer.