My Life with Ghosts: The Crying Woman and The Funeral

My continuing tales of having lived in a haunted house, documented as the events occurred…. 

 

At times, it seemed as though the whole  world had gathered in The House, largely due to Barney’s diverse collections (aka hoarding) along with his astute eye. He had great insight to current events and trends and what he saved reflected that. (Barney, Lee’s grandfather, was the first generation of the family to live in the house. He and his wife, Eloise, bought the house back in the 1940’s using money from the estate of their dear friend, Mrs. Warner.) These stamps are just a few of  which I tore from the 100’s of pieces of mail  found during our purge. Much of it was business correspondence–Barney sold industrial equipment, and often sent off for various brochures and catalogs. These examples show postmarks from all around the country.

 

My Life with Ghosts: The Crying Woman and The Funeral

My hyperactive brain did not allow me to be still for long. Once again, I had my poor husband off on a quest. This time–to retrieve from the basement the jewelry boxes which we had gathered over the years from various parts of the house. Having belonged to several generations of the women in the family, they contained everything from costume jewelry to boy scout pins to saved baby teeth. And there were a few gold items as well. Gold prices were high and I thought it would be a good time to sell off all of the little broken bits and pieces. But why I felt compelled to undertake this project at that particular moment, I’ll never know. It was as if I were driven by something much more powerful than myself. Soon, the real need for a visit to our basement would be revealed.
My “goldmine” of treasures from the jewelry boxes turned out to be a dud. All except for one of the quirkier finds–a gold filling, which I proceeded sell for 40 or so dollars to a nearby jewelry store. Selling what was once part of someone’s mouth caused me to reflect how my life had not quite turned out how I had hoped. But one of my lines to live by is that if you set out to find one thing, you often find another.
In this case, I made a rediscovery of sorts. While winding our way through the maze of junk in the basement in search of the jewelry boxes which I had tucked away somewhere on a shelf, we passed the very spot where our adventures in the house had first begun. The place where we had literally swept up a Civil War ambrotype. It was also where the two trunks still sat–one of which held the photo of the Civil War twins which had helped us identify the soldier in the ambrotype {see earlier story, The Civil War Twins}.  And it was because of these discoveries that we had first grown aware of the incredible history with which we were residing.

Coffins for the dead. That was my grim first impression of the two trunks years earlier. But that was not my thought this time around as I stopped to look them over. Instead, my artist’s eye inspired me to think how they’d make great coffee tables. So there  we were, heaving one of the huge, heavy trunks up the stairs to its new home, the living room. Out of the dimness of the past and into the light of the living…
As we emptied the trunk’s contents, we found inside things once belonging to Lee’s distant relatives–a family from around the 1910-30’s who had lived in a small Alabaman town. This family consisted of four brothers, a sister, and a father, C.H. (Lee’s great-grandfather), three of which came to tragic ends. And there were also items belonging to the mother, Lessie, who had endured those losses so early in her life. We placed their possessions into white garbage bags, which we then carried into our dining room for sorting. All the while, I worried about what was in store for us that evening, for once again, we had dared to disturb the lair of the ghosts.

Sure enough, I had an uneasy sleep with the cats and dog jumping up and down on the bed all night. As I lay there wishing that they would settle down, I heard a sound coming from the hall. It was the antique armoire’s door creaking eerily, seemingly opening on its own. I hoped that it was simply one of the cats trying to find a warm spot to curl up and sleep.
A little while later (it was the middle of the night by now), I was awakened by crying. I thought it was my daughter having a bad dream. But when I tiptoed into her room, she was sound asleep. I stepped inside my son’s room which was directly across the hall. He was asleep as well. Perhaps the crying came from outside, I thought. I went back to bed.
The next morning, I reflected on the previous night. I began to think that the crying had sounded like a grown woman weeping. With that realization, I grew increasingly uneasy for I did not know what might lay ahead.
A couple of days later, I told Lee about the weeping woman. Once again, it turned out that we had had simultaneous, inexpiable experiences. For on the very night on which I had heard the crying, he had been awakened to the feeling of being poked in his shoulder by a finger–the same way his dad, Harold, used to awaken him as a child. And the same way my daughter had once been mysteriously roused from a nightmare. I grew worried about what I might find among the trunk’s things.

What had taken twenty to minutes to drag up from the basement ended up taking weeks to sort through. Here is some of what I found: photos, newspaper clippings, a teaspoon, blueprints, red and black wooden candlesticks, school scissors, a Coty manicure kit, a white lace shirt, composition books, cotton mill books, a Look magazine from 1945 featuring Maureen O’ Hara, a Handy-Andy lunchbox, two arrowheads, a fuse, golf tees, a cork screw, a ball of white string, and a ball of red string.  A portrait of a family’s history sketched out with this random collection of odds and ends.

One evening, as it neared bedtime, I had finally reached the last object from the two trunks. It was a small white box full of cards, with a different name printed on each. A few of the cards had the hand-written words “deepest sympathy.” Many had little wooden posts attached with wire, and many were still in their wax paper envelopes. And some of the cards had been crudely created from little pieces of ruled paper, as if hurriedly torn from a child’s school notebook. I realized that what I had found were sympathy cards which had once accompanied flowers at a funeral. And then it hit me that once again, I had been thrown back in time where I found myself at the doorstep of  someone’s death.
Judging from the sheer number of cards (over eighty), I guessed that this had been Lee’s great-grandfather’s funeral, where it had been reported in numerous papers from around the state that the entire town had showed up for C.H.’s service, and that the quantity of beautiful flowers that filled the room was extraordinary. {Having built and run a cotton mill in Alabama back in the 1920’s-30’s, Lee’s great-grandfather, who I will call simply “C.H.,” had been an important figure in the area. The story goes that he had been murdered, supposedly by a partner, for his million dollar life insurance policy. The cotton mill had been hit hard by The Great Depression, and from the letters that I found from that time, many people in the largely rural area were desperate.}
I scanned the names on the cards, many of which sounded familiar–probably from all the papers and letters that I had read since living in The House. And then…I was shocked to the core to see the name of the very person whom the family had suspected of being responsible for the death of C.H. It was a chilling moment to realize that C.H.’s murderer had most likely attended his funeral.
I felt like I did when I had dipped my fingers into Harold’s ashes years earlier, curious to know what they felt like (a mixture of fine powder, sandy material, and coarse pieces of bone). Handling the notes of sympathy was as if I were dipping my hands into the core of a dead person’s remains, the cards from nearly eighty years earlier the ashes of the deceased.
I showed the cards to Lee. He had that same pained expression I’d seen so many times since we had began the purge of the house.
I suddenly had to stop. It was simply too much. I left the cards and other objects from the trunk strewn about the dining room floor, like a cremated body having been thrown to the wind with its ashes landing randomly across earth’s landscape.

The next morning, Lee saw the mess and asked “What’s this?” When I explained, he simply shook his head and walked off. I packed the trunk’s contents and put them out of sight.

Ever since that day when we brought the trunk up from the basement and into our lives, I have often thought about the woman’s crying which I had heard later that night. I can’t help but wonder if it had been Lessie, C.H.’s wife, grieving for her murdered husband.

As our time in The House progressed over the years, the more it was emptied through yard sale after yard sale, carloads of donations, and trash lined up like an army along the curb at the beginning of each week. At times it was difficult for me, for as we emptied it of its memories, whatever seemed to have a hold over The House felt as if it were dying. I couldn’t help but feel as if we were ripping out the very heart of The House.  And I began to realize that my attachment was too great. It was, after all, just a house. Wasn’t it? And I wondered if it weren’t time for us to think about  leaving.
But the events continued and here’s a couple more incidences…

It was the night before Valentine’s, 2009. My son was sick with a high fever and I had fallen asleep in his room. And just like a similar occurrence years before, I was awakened in the middle of the night to the sensation that my hair was being pulled.
The next day, Lee and I were hunting about in the attic, with the usual pretext of organizing, but with the real purpose being to seek out some stray adventure, perhaps overlooked during our previous forays to this strange land that resided above us.
While rummaging around, we suddenly heard a voice from the opposite end of the attic.
“I feel great!” It was Ernie, the toy from my children’s early days. {See earlier story, “The Imminent Passing.”} The very same toy that had inexplicably called out a few days following Lee’s father’s death some eight years earlier!
“Lee…?” I asked, befuddled. Ernie had long been packed away with other special items to save, and had been exiled to the rafters where it had been in storage for many years. There was no way that we could have triggered the motion-activated Ernie, as we were standing at the far end of the attic, many yards away from this odd toy that seemed to have come to life on its own.
I waited for Lee’s logical explanation.
He had none. He simply replied, “I know.”
What could we do but laugh? I suddenly felt a lightness in the air. The same lightness from when “Harold” had whooshed about us following his death. Jokingly, I asked out loud for Harold {my father-in-law} to help us find something valuable. And within seconds, we found a Sheffield silver plate and crystal bowl set, NIB–or New in Box, as they say in the business. But I complained out loud. “That’s not quite valuable enough.” And immediately we make another discovery. Actually, a recovery. We unpacked an object that had once sat in the living room before the big cleanup  began. It was an antique bisque pot, made in China, with beautifully detailed carvings of men and trees and clouds and other oriental motifs. It was perhaps more of sentimental worth than anything else, for it most likely had belonged to Eloise’s friend, Mrs. Warner, who had probably purchased it during her legendary travels around the world. I carefully carried it downstairs so that it could be  returned to its rightful place.

The event in the attic on Valentine’s day had me thinking of another find in our house. One that happened many years earlier {see earlier story, “My Life with Ghosts}. Our latest encounter with Ernie took place exactly 112 years after some unknown soul from the late 1800’s had inscribed a small, white card with the words “Souvenir–Saturday night.” The date indicated that it had been Valentine’s Eve. That person had then tucked the card inside a leather-bound edition of Tennyson’s poems, the card remaining hidden away from the world, its meaning lost forever.

And because our house was full of not only ghosts but of strange occurrences as well, I seemed destined to be the one to find this particular book. For one day, as I was going about my chores, surrounded by the 1000’s of books which had been packed into our house throughout the generations, I had been inexplicably drawn to that particular volume of Tennyson’s. As if an actor in a play, I felt compelled to slowly open the book to the very page that had held hidden for decades a message from some ancient night.
And it would be that book that had first revealed to me the magic contained inside the walls of our house.
A beautiful book, a beautiful card, winding their way through time and space, to me.
I began to notice how there were odd connections and overlaps between lives, both past and present, in our house {which I documented and will be told in another story}.
And I am starting to recognize how life continually makes its patterns…circular, intricate, beautiful, through space and time, on and on, forever and ever…
This is what my life with ghosts has revealed to me.

(To be cont.)

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