My Life with Ghosts, cont.: Angels, Whisperers, and Other Events

Here’s my latest installment of stories from when I lived in a haunted house…

My Life with Ghosts, cont.
Angels, Whisperers, and Other Events

 These vintage objects which we found in “The House” most likely came from Cuba (cigar cutter), China (matchbox), and Japan (two disappearing coin magic trick boxes). I’m not sure of the origin of the bottom center wood box, but it contained several vintage pen points which I believed belonged to a Mrs. Warner,  a dear friend of my husband’s grandparents. Mrs. Warner traveled around the world from the 1910’s on, and all of these items probably came from her travels, for I know that along with many other destinations, she visited Cuba, China, and Japan. And I’m assuming that the pen points were used to write her travel diaries, for they were found together in a wicker carrying case up in our attic. Stories about Mrs. Warner coming soon…

Mid January, 2007: Female angels?
We had put the kids asleep. Lee wanted to stay up and watch a movie but I was too tired so we went to bed at 9:30. For some reason, I had ended up on Lee’s side of the bed so he crawled in on my side, something that never happens. Things felt backwards.
We live not too far from a major road in Atlanta called Ponce de Leon. Sometimes in the night, when things are still, you can hear the sounds of distant city life coming from that busy thoroughfare. Or perhaps it originates from an expressway that’s a bit further away. I’m not sure. Either way, I like to imagine that it is the roar of the ocean I’m hearing, and on this particular night, I let the soothing sound put me to sleep.
I had a dream. And in my dream state, the sound grew very intense, almost to the point of being painful. It was as if my hearing abilities had been magnified many times over and I was now in possession of some kind of super human powers.
Then, over the sound of the traffic, I began to hear faint voices. I could not make out what they were saying but they sounded feminine. And these voices were not of this world. No, they seemed as if they were from another time or another place and I, for a few brief moments, was privy to hearing them. Their voices formed a kind of celestial chord as if I were hearing the sound of earth and heaven at work.
Suddenly, I felt a couple of presences hovering over us. For the first time since living in this house, these presences felt like female beings. And as we slept, they moved in a slow circular pattern directly over our bodies. They were glowing and light and warmed my face. It was not a malevolent force. Rather, it seemed to be a caring one. Somehow, I sensed that they were there to make sure that we were all right.
All while this was occurring–the intense sounds along with the presence of these beings–I felt as though I was rising towards awakedness.
When I actually did wake up and opened my eyes, I saw in that briefest of moments a bright streak of light at the foot of our bed. It rushed up towards the ceiling, then disappeared with a bright flash. It was as if the beings had traveled up and away through the stream of light.
I was left feeling scared. Not because I felt threatened, but because perhaps yet another inexplicable incident had just occurred.

March 2007:
I had put the kids to sleep and then fell asleep myself. I once again sensed the approach of the “female angels” that had visited recently. The sound was at first very distant. It gained in momentum and built towards the “celestial chord” music, the same music which I had heard before. The presences moved close and began to circle above me. It was a very pleasant and happy feeling.
Suddenly, a noise from real life awakened me and the “angels” quickly dissipated.

March 19, 2007: The Whisperers
Other than the “angels,” the paranormal activity in our house had finally diminished to the point where I actually felt a sense of relief. We had not experienced anything out of the ordinary for quite some time. I began to be hopeful that it was all over.
Lee and I were asleep. I had been in a deep sleep for what seemed like a while when I begin to hear what sounded like whispering. The whispers hovered, sometimes over us, sometimes to either side of us. I had the impression that two or more “presences” were having a discussion, maybe even a disagreement. Their whispers grew louder. They now sounded angry but I could not tell if the anger was directed towards us, or if the anger was between themselves. I interpreted it as a squabble as to how to approach or think about something.
I woke up. My first thought was that it had been Lee talking in his sleep. It was not. He lay beside me, quiet. Once again, I had that unpleasant feeling of the air being heavy and thick. I was disturbed enough by my dream to go in the other room and sleep with my children.
The next morning, Lee told me that he had had the most amazing dream. I said: “Tell me, because I had something strange happen to me too.”
Lee’s dream went something like this…
We had opened the door to the attic and looked up. The attic was full of junk and furniture, just as it in real life. But in his dream, it was greatly exaggerated. The stairs were as if from a carnival’s crazy house, and the junk was packed to the rafters. As Lee walked around, he recognized some of the items,  such as a red over-stuffed chair, from his childhood.
There were two canvas straps hanging from above. Lee pulled on one. To our horror, a dead body fell down and landed near our feet. Lee pulled on the other strap. Another body came tumbling down. The bodies had indistinct features and were unrecognizable. Suddenly, a cousin of Lee’s (who in real life, is still living and who is one of Lee’s few living links to his past) appeared at the top of the steps. “It’s O.K.,” she said. “We’ve got them all up here.” We go up into the attic and there everyone was, all of Lee’s deceased family members, sitting around having a good time. Narrow paths had been cleared between the mountains of junk and in the small clearings, furniture and lamps from the 1930’s had been set up. There were other people there as well, but like the two bodies that fell from the attic, their faces were indistinct and Lee did not know who they were.
Did the whisperings which I had heard in my sleep have anything to do with Lee’s dream? Or was it simply a coincidence, after a near drought of otherworldly events, that we would both dream on the very same night about presences in our home?

March 25,2007:
My son wakes up early on a Sunday morning. It is still dark. He calls out for me. Luc tells me that he saw a ghost by his bed. He described it as a shadowy figure with a light coming from inside. He is afraid. I am tired of this. I want to live in a normal house.

May 28, 2007:
My son cried out in the night. When I arrived at his bedside, I asked: “Did you have a nightmare?” He replied: “I heard creepy voices.” I was frightened by my son’s words. So frightened that I could not sleep. When I finally did fall asleep, I dreamed awful nightmares. In one, I was standing in the corner of my bedroom, the same corner where I once “saw” the light whoosh up and out through the ceiling. In my dream, I took these stories that I am working on and placed them inside a manila folder. As I did so, I was suddenly enveloped by a dark, ghostly cloud. I was scared and woke up.

June 2007: Happiness and the smell of coffee
My daughter called out for me during the night. She told me that she saw a white shape. She thought it was a ghost. I explained to her that the color white reflects light and that it was probably the side of her white bookcase that she saw. I comforted her but I am disturbed the rest of the night.
The next day, my daughter tried to rationalize her fears from the previous night. She believed that her imagination had been carried away when she thought she had seen the white shape moving. Still, she remained uneasy and that night, I had to sleep with her. I was awakened by the sound of her laughing in her sleep. After everything we’d been through, the sound was like heaven.
Later that night, I had a dream…I was wandering through an upscale grocery store which was packed with people whom I don’t know. For a brief time, an old lady followed me. Is she death? I wondered. She disappeared. I came to an aisle packed with all kinds of coffee. Suddenly, I smelled the incredible aroma of freshly ground coffee. I was overcome by a simple, pure, deep, uncomplicated happiness. I was completely satisfied. I woke up and wondered, is this what all my soul searching and questioning of life and death had led me to? That happiness is simply the smell of freshly ground coffee?

August 30, 2007:
Two small incidents in one day… I was doing around the house during the late afternoon when I walked into my bedroom. I paused in the corner near the bathroom door. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blackish, grainy, flat shape pass by. I thought at first that someone, a child or my husband, had just stepped into the room. I glanced in the direction of the shape. There was nothing.
During the same time period, late afternoon to evening, I was standing near the computer in the breakfast room. I saw for just a fraction of a moment two spiraling, blackish wisps of shapes. The wispy shapes disappeared before it even registered that I had seen something.
The next day, I sat down at the computer to document these occurrences. Emma, our dog, sat close by. Suddenly, I heard three, distinct steps. They were heavy and tired sounding, like those of an older, heavy-set man. For some reason, I immediately thought of Barney (Lee’s deceased grandfather). They sounded like they were coming either from the hall, which was right behind where I was sitting, or from the attic stairs, which were close by. Emma heard it too. She jumped up. I had her follow me as I searched the house. Nothing. I doubted that I would sleep well that night.

October 4, 2007:
Katie is alone in the living room, playing the piano. She hears someone clap at the end of her performance.

October 5, 2007:
Luc hears someone call his name. This is not the first time that this has happened to him since living here.

March 29, 2008: The Breathing
On this particular night, it had been over five months since my last entry concerning our encounters of the inexplicable kind. I had settled into a feeling of comfort in our home, even during that dreaded time of two to five in the morning, believing that the house was finally ours and ours alone. So when Lee went wandering off in the middle of the night to put our son back to sleep, I was not too concerned. I actually welcomed the rare chance to stretch out and enjoy not having to contort my body next to my husband’s, who’s large frame is too big for our antique bed forcing him, and me, to sleep diagonally.
It was close to the first light of the morning when I was awakened to the sound of breathing. The sound was slow, steady, and quiet. But it did not sound like the breathing of one at rest. Rather, it was as if someone were standing nearby, waiting quietly, at the ready. I opened my eyes slightly and turned to see if my husband had returned. He had not. I looked to the foot of the bed–our dog was not there.
There were three possibilities, I later concluded. One, I had been dreaming; two, my own breathing had awakened me; or three, “it” had started again.
When I told my husband about the incident, he pointed out to me that we had made a few recent excursions to the attic. And I think it is possible that once again, we had roused the souls guarding the vestiges of their past existences.
If there are ghosts (emphasis on the word “if” for I remain reluctant to believe), I hope that they are not angry with us. Rather, I’d like to imagine that they are trying to direct us to something of great importance, whether it be of the materialistic kind or of the spiritual kind. If this is the case, then why not simply speak out? They have breathed on us, tugged our hair, poked us, turned on T.V.’s, and rung the phone. But beyond calling out our names, their voices seem to be paralyzed. And I wonder, if they could, what would they say?

April 19, 2008: The Dream of Resolution
I had a dream that brought me nearer to the end of my nine year journey of writing these stories of life in “The House”…
I dreamed that Lee and I were sleeping in a cottage by the ocean. In my dream, I wake up early in the morning. I tell my half-asleep husband that I wanted to feel better and needed to get away from the sad sound of the ocean waves. Lee mumbles something and goes back to sleep.
I get into a car and began driving inland. I have only a gone short distance when I find myself in a mountain valley very much like the valleys found in the Rabun Gap of North Georgia of my youth. With the exception of slight dips in the road, it is a straight shot ahead. It is a beautiful day and the light feels as if it is alive–very much like when, following Harold’s death, that beautiful “wind” came through and rushed around me and my sleeping children.
It is an scene full of rustic houses, barns, and farmland. Ahead in the distance are mountains, but unlike the gentle hills of North Georgia, these mountains are much more dramatic and reach far higher up into the sky than any I have ever seen. I wonder if the mountains are heaven.
Immediately after I enter the valley, I see a man standing to the right of the road. He is an older man dressed in overalls. Smiling, he proudly holds up a fish that he has just caught. And to my left, a middle-aged man stands by a pond; at his side is his faithful dog. There is obviously not a lot of money in this place but it is full of simple, pure pleasures and a sense of great happiness. I somehow now know that the road ahead of me is the path to heaven.
But before I can travel any further into this magical world, I wake up. I am sorry when I realize that it was just a dream.
The meaning of my dream seemed obvious to me. The ocean is a symbol for my sadness over the gradual loss of my parents as I’ve always associated them with our many trips to the beach together. And it is clear that I am finally moving away from my grief over the loss of my grandparents. It is time for this journey, the journey of looking back, to be done. I am hopeful that I can now move forward along a path where happiness can be found.

(to be cont.)

My Life With Ghosts: My Daughter’s Dream and Other Events

 

My Life with Ghosts: My Daughter’s Dream and Other Events

fullsizerenderA sampling of some of the 100’s of pieces of old ephemera found in ‘The House’

In the hard time of night, when I suddenly find myself awake and pondering all that has taken place, I think of things. I think of all those who have come and gone. I daydream of Mrs. Warner and of her exotic 1920’s travels to the Orient, Egypt and beyond. {Mrs. Warner was a dear friend of Lee’s grandmother and many of her things ended up in our possession}. I worry about our packed attic and basement and how I can possibly ever make sense of it all. And I think how life can often be tough.

But during the day, as I navigate my travels about my house, tripping over Barbie dolls and plastic dinosaurs and the toys of our newest friend, Emma, a dog which we recently took into our family, I think how life is also very good.

Over the years, our family of four has been augmented with the acquisition of a dog, two cats, several pet fish, and many millipedes, and collectively, all this life seems to be causing the ghosts to drift further and further away. There is simply no longer room for the dead here.

But apparently, even a house full of life is not enough to keep the spirits at bay. To my consternation, the strange dreams and inexplicable occurrences have returned. The following is a continuation of my documentation of those events that pertain to ghosts and which include both dreams and actual occurrences…

July, 2006: Uncle Martin                                                                                               It was the middle of summer when I was standing at the bathroom window that overlooked the backyard. I glanced out towards the bamboo thicket, as I often did, when suddenly, I saw a shadowy figure of a man crossing our yard. The “apparition,” which lasted no longer than a fraction of a second, was walking among the remains of a rose garden. He was a desolate figure, tall and thin, and dressed in a loose-fitting dark suit. As he walked, he was slightly bent with his face turned down, completely wrapped up in his sad solitude. Intuitively, I felt it must be Uncle Martin, for it had been Martin who had originally planted and nurtured the gardens from long ago .

But upon reflection, I sensed that it had not been an actual figure in the yard that I had seen. It was as if somehow, the veil of present time was peeled back and I was allowed to see for a very brief moment, a glimpse of the world as it was in the past.
I later described the man to Lee and he was chilled by my words. Lee told me that Martin typically wore his overalls and wingtips to do his gardening, but for his editing job at the paper, he would wear a suit–the same kind of suit I had seen in my vision.

Once, many years earlier, we had run into Uncle Martin at a local grocery store. I have a vague recollection of having to look way up at this tall gentleman. He had broad shoulders, gray hair, and a distinguished presence. It was the first and last time I’d ever see him. The apparition which I saw in our yard decades later was a younger, thinner version of the man whom  I’d met in the store.
Sadly, at the end of his life, Martin, like his mother Lessie, began to go blind from glaucoma. Depressed over his condition, he killed himself. And I had to ask…had Martin returned to find solace among the gardens that he had once loved so much?

September 2006: The Answer
Towards the end of September 2006, I was getting my son back to sleep after he had awakened in the middle of the night. I ended up falling asleep myself and had a dream that his bedroom door began to slowly open. The door blocked sight of who or what was entering the room. As it swung open, the room grew brighter, being illuminated by whatever it was that was entering.
Somehow I understood that the answer to the mystery of what had been taking place in our house was about to be answered—I would finally know what all the paranormal activity was about. But just as the entity entered, it exploded into a wild scramble of images and noises, like a churning, black and white cubist painting gone berserk. I woke up both relieved–I would not have to face my fears on this particular night; and disappointed–the answer to the mystery of our house still eluded me.

October 2006: The Circle Ghost
Once again, my son woke up in the night. Again, while trying to get him back to sleep, I fell asleep myself. While there, my son had a bad dream which awakened me. As I opened my eyes, I saw a wispy, gray circular loop about two feet in diameter hovering over me. In the center of the loop was what looked like a hand. It was extended out above my body as if about to grab me. I cowered low under the covers to escape its touch. I closed my eyes tightly as I went back to sleep, shutting out “The Circle Ghost’s” power.

My daughter’s dream:
Probably more frightening to me than anything else we’ve experienced is when these events happen to my children. For my children know nothing of our paranormal experiences since moving here, and it seems to only confirm my worst fears about our house. My daughter’s experience frightened me to the core for it was so similar to what had been happening to Lee and me. Early one morning before it was light, she called out for me. When I got to her, she told me that she had just had a bad dream. She added that as she was waking up, she felt someone poke at her leg. How many times since we’ve lived here have we felt something pull at our hair, breathe on our neck, or touch us? Lee told me that his dad, Harold, used to wake him up that way—not with a gentle shake on the arm but with a series of rough pokes. Katie sleeps in what was once Harold’s bedroom. Perhaps he was trying to help her by arousing her from her bad dream?

Angelic lights:
On several occasions, both before and after the arrival of Emma, I have experienced what I can best describe as angelic lights. On this particular occasion the “encounter” was the most defined to date. I was in a fairly deep sleep when I was awakened by what felt like a non-threatening presence. As I slowly went from a deep sleep state to a state of alertness, I became aware of a glowing, warm light near my bed. It felt peaceful and sheltering. By the time my eyes opened, it was gone. Like so many times before, I asked myself: was it just a dream?

 

November 13, 2006: Is someone there?
I was having a fitful night with a series of nightmares that were accompanied with that now familiar cold, prickly skin feeling I get when the “spirits” are at work. And each time I woke up, I feared what I might see as I opened my eyes. The finale to my uneasy evening was a dream where I finally brought myself to face my fears…
I was in a room that I was not familiar with. Before me was a brown leather chair. As I looked at it, the cushion suddenly depressed, then rose back up as if an invisible person had just sat down, then stood back up. I went to the chair and made myself sit in it. I gripped the arms of the chair as I faced squarely towards the darkness of the near empty room.
And I made myself do the thing I feared the most. I shouted out: “Is someone there?” Before me materialized the ghostly figure of Lee’s father, Harold. He was red-faced and muttered about something which had angered him. I had seen Harold like that in real life on many occasions. But the angry Harold disappeared and was replaced by a kind Harold who appeared as a reflection on a T.V. screen. He was now holding Luc, who was crying. Harold comforted him. This is the Harold I knew at the end of his life, when his anger had melted away and an almost angelic spirit took hold of him. I interpreted the dream to mean that finally I had the strength to face my fears.

December 9, 2006: The Hand
I was having a hard time sleeping and had been awake from midnight until about 2:30 or 3:00 when I finally fell back asleep. But it was not a restful sleep. I dreamed I was in a house with many rooms. It was not a place I knew. It was possibly a house that combined many of the homes I’ve known throughout the years.
I was leading my parents through the house. Neither spoke—they simply followed me. In one room there were numerous lit candles and lights. I turned out the lights and blew out the candles. I then went to another room where I could hear a huge wind blowing overhead. A man cried out from above: “Hurry! It’s howling up here!” I begin the ascent with my parents up the ladder towards the next level of the house. I felt like I was sending them away…forever.
I woke up. I had no time to reflect on the meaning of this dream for I immediately heard my son call out for me. In a half sleep state I got out of bed and as I stood up, I saw at the foot of the bed a hand. It was a glowing white-green hand of an old man, fleshy and thick as if it belonged to a worker. What was even more strange was that the hand looked like it was partially protruding through a slit in space. I have often written in my fantasy works about schisms or slits between one existence and another, whether it be between the dead and the living or between one universe and another. Was I simply living out this idea in my barely awake condition?
I forced myself to walk past the foot of my bed where I had seen the hand—helping my son was more important than any fear I might have. But just as I passed through the area, my dog Emma, who had been asleep at the end of our bed, suddenly sat up and shook herself violently. Perhaps just fleas but her timing was very strange. I couldn’t help but think that something had disturbed her as well…

More angelic lights:
One day over the Christmas break, my son opens the bathroom door, which is located right next to his bedroom, and gasps “Who put the glitter in the air?” He describes the bathroom as being full of colorful, floating dots. I rationally attribute this “vision” being a result of a knock on the head he had suffered the day before–perhaps he had bumped into the wall a little harder than I had realized.
But one thing really puzzled me. I had recently had my own “sighting” of floating color in that very room. I had been taking a bath in the middle of the day when I looked up and saw beautiful golden droplets suspended in the air all around me. At the time, I attributed the vision to the tricks one’s eyes play you as you age. But now, as I have so many other times since living in this house, I had to wonder…

(to be cont.)

My Life with Ghosts: The Civil War Twins

Here’s the next installment of “My Life with Ghosts,” a series of stories written about my experiences while living in a haunted house (the home that had been in my husband’s family for generations).  Once again, with our efforts at cleaning and purging the house, we had stirred up the “psychic dust.” This time, the  ghosts we encountered dated all the way back to The Civil War…

Ambrotype found in the coal dust…

One of my earliest memories of visiting “The House” was from when I first knew my husband some twenty years earlier. At that time, his father’s house was heated by a furnace fueled by coal, and on colder days, that coal would have to be replenished several times. I remember Lee taking me down to the basement where I would watch from the stairs as he opened the furnace door and shovel little pieces of shiny, black coal into a hopper, which then delivered the coal into a red hot flame. It seemed an antiquated process but a romantic one.

Years later, my father-in-law, Harold, replaced the coal furnace with a gas one. But in his typical style of neglect, the mountain of coal remained in the basement for many years after. In fact, the coal was still there when we eventually moved in following his death. Realizing that we might as well be living on top of a keg of dynamite, we hired a couple of workers to remove the coal–it took three days of shoveling and bagging before it was finally gone from our lives.

Not long after, Lee and I went down to the basement to clean up after the workmen. Lee was just about to empty his dustpan, when I saw by the bit of daylight that was creeping in from a dirty window the glint of something in the black coal dust. “What’s that?” I asked. Lee, of course, inwardly groaned. “Yet again,”  I could hear him thinking,.”She’s going to save another piece of junk.” But I ignored him. I picked the object up out of the dustpan. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, I saw that it was a photograph of a man, whose face was barely discernible in the dimness of the basement’s light. The effect was eerie.

We carried the photograph over to the window where we could study it closer. The picture’s frame served also as a carrying case, with the back side made of a black material, perhaps leather, and embossed with a decorative floral pattern. The front side of the case was missing. The old photograph itself, only a couple of inches across, was under glass and surrounded by a decorative gold border. The man in the photo was clearly a civil war soldier, and was dressed in full uniform with a rifle at his side.

Curious to know what we had found, we took the photograph to a local civil war shop to be appraised. They identified the object as an ambrotype, an early style of photography on glass from the 1850’s. They estimated its worth at several hundred dollars. But in order to give us more exact information about the soldier, the experts at the shop needed the man’s name. With the identification of the soldier, they explained, it would be worth much more. Lee knew that he had ancestors, twin brothers, that had fought in the war. Perhaps this was one of them. And our priority suddenly shifted from potentially making money from selling old junk, to seeking out a family’s story.

We returned to the basement and searched the site of our discovery, hoping to find clues to the identity of the soldier. There, immediately next to where the ambrotype had been swept up from the coal littered floor, were two trunks, both brown, dirty, and old. I had passed by them many times before, maybe even glanced inside, but I’d never made the effort to really examine them. On this particular occasion, when we examined their contents, I finally realized the full significance of what we were living with in The House.

We  opened one of the trunks and right away, found a small piece of wood covered with red velvet. It fit like a puzzle piece onto the ambrotype. It was the missing front of the case.

As we dug through the two trunks, we realized that we had stumbled across the “burial plots” of many , including a great-aunt, a great-uncle, a great-grandmother, and as we were about to discover, the Civil War twins.

We did not have to search in the trunks long before we found what we needed…an old reproduction of a photograph measuring approximately 2′ x 2 1/2′. It was of two young men, seated side by side. Each was dressed in their finest–white shirt, vest, black bow tie, and black dress jacket. At the moment at which the photograph had been taken, they were both looking solemnly into the eye of the photographer, creating the chilling effect that they were now looking straight at me some 150 years later.

It was one of the few photographs in this house with any kind of notation. I recognized Barney’s {Lee’s grandfather} cursive penmanship immediately, and miraculously, it gave us the information we needed. Written on the back was the following:

John and William McKinnon,
twin brothers of Catherine Amanda Cole.
One killed in War Between the States,
other died of typhoid during the war.

So here were Lee’s ancestors from the Civil War, the brothers of which he had heard of but knew so little about. Now we knew not only their names, but their faces as well. We noted how the twins differed in their features. They parted their mid-length hair on opposite sides; one’s mouth was turned down; and one had a rounder face than the other. But their light-colored eyes were almost identical, and their gaze was hard to shake.

Most importantly, we immediately recognized one of the men as the Civil War soldier from the ambrotype. I excitedly gave the experts at the Civil War shop a call and gave them the name of the soldier. Within minutes, the woman at the other end of the line was rattling off information about the soldier found in the coal dust:

John A. McKinnon had been a thirty-four year old farmer whose residence was in Moore County, North Carolina. On 3/13/1862, McKinnon enlisted in the 49th NC Infantry and was part of Ransom’s Brigade. On 9/13/1864 he was listed as wounded. Two days later, he was dead.

It was at this moment that it sunk in. It wasn’t that we were living in an ordinary house that happened to be full of interesting old junk. No, it was much more than that. This was a house full of history which was not limited to one family’s story. The house, piece by piece, was beginning to tell us a saga of times dating back a century and a half.

We continued to search the remaining contents of the two trunks. The items were largely from the early 1900’s–letters, receipts, small town Alabamian newspapers (apparently saved for the articles which detailed the deaths of various family members), boxes full of mementos, photographs, greeting cards, and a gift of a gold ring still in its Christmas wrappings. It was poignantly sweet how so many of these things had been tied up with string, ribbons, and even an old tie. My favorite find was Lessie’s box of mementos {Lessie was Lee’s great-grandmother}. Her brown box, which once held a bible, had been bound with a black sash and was a veritable treasure trove. It contained among other things a 1901 photograph of Lessie–a thin, serious young woman dressed in a floor-length dark skirt and striped shirt decorated with little black bows; another photograph of Lessie which notes the year of her birth, 1879; report cards for her children; a homemade collaged book given to one of her children in 1916, postcards; an antique valentine; Christmas tags from presents; a button hook; and a sad find–photographs of someone’s grave.

Many of the items in the trunks were simply too personal to bring up into our living space: a military hat (from WWII?); a woman’s mirror and brush and a man’s toiletry kit, both from the 1920’s. These stayed in the trunk. And there was a mystery–a large piece of white cotton splattered with what looked like blood. What had happened here? It was disturbing. The two trunks, it turns out, held within many lives, many mysteries, and I grew determined to get to the bottom of it all.

Unfortunately, an eerie pattern with “The House” was making itself known. For whenever we made an attempt to straighten and purge, some strange event was sure to follow…

That night, Lee and I both had nightmares. Unusual enough in itself. But what was even more disturbing was their similarity. Lee dreamed that there was an old man standing in the room looking at him.  And eerily, I had almost the exact same dream. It was of a frightening person lurking in the shadows. When he realized that I had caught sight of him, he tried to hide from me. It was as if the opening of the two trunks had had a Pandora’s Box effect, spewing into the world threatening and unwanted things. In our case, the unwanted things were troubled souls that haunted our dreams.

With the finding of the ambrotype, I had the same sensation I experienced when I found the handwritten “souvenir” dated Feb. 13, 1897 tucked in the antique volume of Tennyson. Once again, we had landed in a place trapped in another age.

The parallel nightmares we dreamed after opening the two trunks foreshadowed the many strange and inexplicable events that followed. And we found ourselves struggling to come to grips with the fact that otherworldly occurrences in The House were not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

My Life with Ghosts: The Imminent Passing

In going through some of my old writings from a time during which I lived in a house full of “ghosts” (see my previous posts), I came across this recounting that concerns the death of my father-in-law, Harold. The following excerpt really belongs at the beginning of my collection of stories entitled “My Life with Ghosts.” For this is where it all began…

Harold loved books, At the time of his death, he owned thousands of them. And he loved giving books. I was the lucky recipient of many, usually books about art, which he always inscribed with a kind little message…

My Life with Ghosts: The Imminent Passing 

For months, my husband and I had seen death heading towards us like a bleak tidal wavechurning, angry, and relentless. We tried to prepare ourselves best we could for Harolds imminent passing. Two months earlier, we had been through a dreadful experience when were told that Harold would not make it through the weekend. We experienced every possible emotion during those two days and later, we looked at it as a dress rehearsal for death. But no amount of preparation can help when that moment actually occurs, when the tidal wave finally hits with its violent impact, and you are left tossing about in the grayness that has just swept over you.

Death makes you feel like an idiot for you look around corners, glance into empty rooms, and listen out for the phone, all with the sensation that youve simply misplaced the person in question. If you could only take a few steps back in time to where you were standing just moments before, you’d find that person still living and breathing and talking about such topics as books and travel and what interesting kinds of things you had been doing lately. But because death makes you forgetful, you can’t remember exactly where you were at the moment when the tidal wave hit…and that person’s life is lost for an eternity.

It was about five days after Harold died when it happened. My children, who were two at the time, were taking their afternoon nap on a sleeping bag on our living room floor. I was completely spent, so I lay down alongside them. It was just the three of us in the house…and our two cats who were wandering around somewhere. Soon, I fell asleep.

Something awakened me. A crackling sound followed by a sensation of a breeze traveling through the rooms. But there was no movement of air inside our home. It was more like there was a presence which whooshed its way from one space to the next.

What happened then was both odd and absurd. Ernie, the childrens Sesame Street toy, suddenly called out from their room. “I feel great! he announced happily. Ernies voice is activated by lifting him into an upright position, but as we were all asleep, how could that have happened? I slowly rose to my feet and picked up a flashlight of all things, planning on using it as a weapon if needed. I carefully made my way towards Ernie.

There he reclined in his usual resting place on top of a laundry basket, which was heaped full of stuffed animals. My first thought was that one of the cats must have jostled him. I looked around. There was no sign of either cat. I moved quietly towards the dining room. There was our cat Yoyo, quietly asleep on a cardboard box.

I returned to the sleeping bag and lay back down. But I was unable to rest. I turned my head and looked out the windows. It was an incredibly beautiful day with bright, sparkling sunlight and a calm wind that made everything feel lighter. And I thought about what had just happened. It was as if all that beauty had taken a momentary detour, entered our house, taken a quick spin about, then exited, leaving behind a cloud of peacefulness that hovered lightly, then dissipated.

Harold, a math teacher and an extraordinarily learned man, was also an inventive person who would commonly bypass convention and often devise some original or unusual way to approach anything and everything. I couldn’t help but wonder. Had we been just paid a visit from Harold? And did he use the ridiculous voice of Ernie, not only to reassure us that he felt “great,” but to also celebrate his new-found liberation? It would be just like him to have the last laugh in figuring out some quirky method of communication between the dead and the living.

But the strange happenings didn’t stop there. Many times during the months following Harolds death, our children related to us incidences that puzzled, even chilled us. They claimed, in their earnest two-year-old voices, that Harold, or Danda as they called him, came to visit with them while they played. And, as our twins often do, they spoke simultaneously, telling their stories independently, but at the same time. There was no prompting. They told us how Danda would sit in the big chair by the lamp in the living room, the same spot where he had sat the week before his death. They spoke of how he would watch them play and chat with them. They had complete belief that their grandfather had been there. We did not know what to think.

Harold had died in November. The following spring, after the weather had warmed, we took a trip down to the Gulf of Mexico with the sad mission of dispersing his ashes. We went to a secluded, uninhabited locale along the beach which had been a favorite spot of his. We walked, with the twins at our side, quite a ways until we were sure that we would not be disturbed, all the while carrying Harolds remains as discretely as possible.

When a body is cremated, I had always assumed that you get back a cup or two of light, fluffy ashes, similar to the kind youd find in the fireplace after a chilly winter day. Not so. What you receive from the mortuary is a large, ugly, brown plastic box approximately the size of two large family bibles put together. Inside that is a plastic bag full of the deceaseds remains. The ashes are not soft and delicate and ethereal feeling. No, they are dense, coarse and uneven, and with tiny fragments of bones throughout. The ashes seemed disproportionately heavy, like a black hole where a huge amount of life got sucked into a tiny amount of space.

And there are no recommendations that come with the box of ashes as to where exactly to place the remains. Harold, in his ash form, has probably been in five or so different spots in our home since his death. For a while, when we were using the dining room as a storage spot, he was under the dining room table. At one point, he was in my closet. That gave me the creeps. He made it up to the attic but was brought back down when I begin to fear that we might loose him altogether in the piles of junk. He was then carried down to the basement and placed on a work table, but that seemed disrespectful. Harold finally landed in a cabinet at the foot of the basement stairs which was full of his fathers tools. I came to the conclusion that there was simply no good place to put a dead person. So I was relieved that we were finally at the moment when Harold was going to be launched off into the beautiful blue-green waters of the ocean which he so dearly loved.

We reached a secluded spot on the beach with no one in sight and where we could have privacy in our moment of sadness. Of course, there would never actually be a moment of sadness. Not with twin two-year-olds along.

Lee had worn his swim trunks, and was prepared to wade out as far as needed. But my son, Luc, had his own plans. He wanted to be in the middle of it all. As Lee struggled awkwardly with the plastic bag, trying to sprinkle out just the right amount, for we wanted to save a few ashes to someday sprinkle into The River Seine (Im not sure how the Parisians would feel about that, but Harold loved France), Luc followed Lee out into the waters.

And to our horror, the ashes did not sink gently to the ocean’s floor to their final resting place. Instead, they spread in an ever widening circle, growing and taking on a life of their own until the circle must have been fifteen feet in diameter. In the middle of all this was Luc, gleefully splashing about in the sickly mixture of the Gulf waters and his granddaddy. And just at that moment, perfectly timed, a flock of pelicans flew overhead. Since things were not going as planned, I hoped that the birds were a sign from the heavens that things would soon turn around for the better. Not so.

It happened to be one of those gloriously beautiful days when the Gulf waters were a perfectly clear with just the barest hint of green. The ugly gray ashes were now looking very much like a chemical spill. I looked anxiously up at the sky, fearing a plane or helicopter would catch us in action. And I thought with frustration how, just as nothing had never been normal with Harold, nothing had ever been easy with him either.

I suddenly realized that perhaps this was not the proper method in which ashes were to be sacredly dispensed into waters. Were we supposed to do it from a boat? Were we to have received permission? Would we be arrested? And I hoped that we would emerge from this experience unscathed.

But I didnt have time to dwell on ash dispersing techniques or what laws we might have just broken because my daughter, who was in the middle of potty training, insisted that she had to go to the bathroom that instant. And as every parent knows, you dont argue with a toddler when that happens.

I took one last look at our surroundings, trying to memorize the trees, desperately trying to find some landmark in case we wanted to relocate the spot someday in the future. I fumbled with my camera and managed to take a quick snapshot, and off we raced in search of a toilet.

That was the end of Harold.

It was not long after depositing Harolds ashes into the Gulf when another visit from Harold occurred. Katie and Luc told Lee that he had come and played with them again. After that, there would be no more talk from our children about their grandfather for many months. We felt that the presence of Harold was finally drifting away. We were released.

But there would be one more event involving our children seven months later, long after we thought that they had forgotten about Harolds death. This incident was after we had moved into Harolds house. One night, my son, who was at the time three years old, was going to sleep when he said to his father: God lives in this house. He went on to say: Danda {Harold} is still here. Luc explained that Harold once again,  had come and sat in the big chair in Lucs room while he played. Luc told his father that God is in that chair. Perhaps it was a three year olds way of saying that Harold was now with God. And maybe it was Harold’s way of letting us know that everything was as it should be…

A footnote…Five and a half years later, Lee and I were playing around with Google Earth, revisiting some our favorite spots from our lives together. After some searching, we found Harolds resting place on the Gulf. We zoomed in as close as we were able without the image going too much out of focus. I looked at the beach where we had stood that day and wondered about Harolds ashes. Were they still there? Had they ended up at the base of the dunes and sea oats that lined the coast? Did they wash out to sea from the force of the tide and then drift down to the ocean floor? Or have they long since wandered about the planet, visiting exotic locals here and there along the way? Harold would have liked that–he had loved to travel.

We still have the little bit of ash destined for Franceit rests quietly in the basement with Harolds fathers tools. We have not yet undertaken the last leg of the journey with Harold, but perhaps that time will come someday soon…