I never believed in ghosts. Until I was in a room with one.
When we were young marrieds and had our first son, we moved into a house that was in terrible shape. (Young, assuming we could fix it up. I think easy was tossed around a few times. Idiots got tossed around a few times as well, usually by older family members.) The house had been in one family since the early 1930s, and had been the first house built in a field in south Baton Rouge–a field which would later become the Garden District, an inviting place of live-oak trees and Craftsman and Colonial homes, where families crowded the sidewalks and neighbors talked to one another. Our house had not kept up with the majority of the neighborhood, which had made fixing it up a smart deal. The trick was, the homeowner was the daughter of the original owners, and she only wanted to sell to a family, not to someone who was just going to renovate and turn it over. Her mom, she’d explained, had loved kids and had wanted to have many more and was unable to. She, the daughter, had been unable to have any children at all, and while her mom was alive, the neighborhood had deteriorated. It was only after she’d died (in the house) that the area had started to revitalize. But because the house was so rundown, no one but developers had made offers and the daughter was losing hope.
So we bought. I was pregnant, and the daughter was thrilled. We had a house, which was such an improvement over the apartment where there was a basketball court in front of our door (literally, five feet in front) and if I never heard the thoing sound of a basketball hitting concrete or the kathunk shwish of it hitting the backboard and then the net, I would be the happiest camper on the freaking planet. I really wasn’t squicked out that the old woman had died in the house, which seemed to bother a lot of people. It hadn’t been a violent death. Everyone’s gotta die somewhere–might as well be in bed in a home she loved.
Odd things happened in that house. Missing items showed up in strange places. Often, the very thing we needed was suddenly on the table behind us, or on the counter. We hadn’t remembered putting it there, but in my pregnancy haze and my husband’s hectic schedule, we chalked it up to forgetfulness. You know, how you’re standing in front of the refrigerator, looking at your glasses on the top shelf, wondering how in the hell did they get there when you just had them on in the living room. Stuff like that. Common. What wasn’t quite as common was walking into a room and seeing someone walking out of the other door, only to follow and find no one was there in the hallway or the porch. Tricks of the light, though. Highly active imagination. Pregnancy hormones. Stir craziness.
When Luke was born, he had colic. Bad colic, constant, and the doctor claimed he’d ‘grow out of it’ and there was nothing anyone could do to help. Luke was miserable, and rarely slept. My peace of mine and sanity slowly disintegrated with my exhaustion. One night, I heard Luke crying from his room and then suddenly stop. I’d already been on my way toward him when I heard him giggle.
Giggling was so rare, particularly in the middle of the colic pain, that all of the hairs on the back of my neck pricked, and as I entered the room, I saw an old woman bent over his baby bed. He was looking up at her, laughing, though I couldn’t hear her saying a word, and since it was three something in the morning, I shouted–because who in the hell was this woman and how did she get in my house and why in the hell was she standing over my child? I ran toward the bed.
And she was gone.
That was it. I thought I was unraveling. My husband came running in to see what I was shouting over, and I think I maybe said something like mouse because you do not say ghost when you haven’t been married all that long. I shook from the adrenaline, my husband went back to sleep and Luke? Didn’t cry for the rest of the night.
A few days later, we were battling another colic session, and I carried Luke around with me, dancing with him, keeping him moving, which seemed to bring his only relief. I stood in the kitchen, when I heard something creaking in the living room. When I looked through the kitchen door, through the dining room archway, the rocking chair… was rocking. By itself. Luke and I were the only people in the house. And it wasn’t just rocking, as if it had been bumped and was jostled, nor was it rocking as if to the rhythm of my movements with Luke, because I was standing still as a post and it kept rocking.
That rocking chair had been left by the daughter. It had belonged to her mother, she said, who’d never had the chance to rock grandchildren, and wouldn’t I like to have it? To which I’d said, "Sure," since at the time it seemed perfectly innocent to take a gift chair when I didn’t have a rocking chair yet.
I was seriously second guessing that decision as the chair rocked. By itself. For more than thirty minutes.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so beyond freaked out, that I actually looked at the rocking chair and said, "Would you please stop? You’re scaring the hell out of me."
And the chair stopped. Right then, just stopped. Mid rock.
Made it much worse, actually, because I knew then that I was losing my mind. Which then meant they were going to take away my child, so I just needed to shut up and not tell a soul.
So I didn’t.
The old woman returned many times after that. I used the rocking chair (see School of Denial, Valedictorian), and I got used to her being in Luke’s bedroom at night. I also got used to him sleeping more and giggling often and I ignored the fact that someone was leaving the room just as I entered and I started to enjoy the fact that I would always find exactly what I needed when I needed it, usually close by (especially if I was holding Luke). It was my own private little insanity, and I’d just as soon not advertise it.
We sold the house and moved when our second son came along and we needed more space; I took the rocking chair with me. I never saw her again, though, and the chair never rocked on its own at the new place. I also had to find stuff on my own, which was kind of annoying, but I got back into the habit.
One day, we were visiting my sister-in-law, who’d moved into a home down the street from our original house, and I noticed a ‘for sale’ sign up in our former front yard. The new owners hadn’t been there all that long, though, and it surprised me that they were moving already. I asked my sister-in-law why they were moving, and she rolled her eyes and said, "They think the house is haunted."
"They claim that every time they fight, something breaks or someone throws something. The kids are little and the mom said that the dad gets really mad and when he starts yelling, something of his is usually broken,which just makes everything worse. And someone keeps messing with his keys. The wife claimed that one time, someone hurled the keys at his head, and it wasn’t her–she was supposedly on the other side of the room."
"Weird." I’m pretty sure I affected a completely innocent expression.
She went on to tell me other things that the wife had told various neighbors–and I nodded. I must have not seemed surprised enough, because she cut a cynical glance at me. "You don’t believe it’s really haunted, do you?"
I did a quick calculation of how old my kids were vs. the length of time it would take to declare me insane and said, "No, of course not."
Do we hang around after death? Can we do something that has a lasting, positive effect? I don’t know. Whether she was real or not, I know that I was a scared, exhausted mom and she helped. Sometimes when I felt particiularly impatient and worn down beyond coping, I would see the chair rocking and remember how much she’d wanted kids and grandkids and never had them, and that knowledge helped me dig in and find the patience I needed. I’m not entirely sure how we would have survived without her there.
I really wish I could see that chair rock on its own again.
So, ghost stories. Do you have one?
My mother was a difficult person to love. Long standing difficulties (of a sort I am not qualified to diagnose) made her more than exasperating in too many ways. She died just after Easter in 2002, and as time has gone by, she is more clear to me, more loving in my memory, and, I don’t know, NICER somehow.
After her death, my father lived in a retirement complex about 75 miles distant from my home town, and we rented the house they had lived in since 1947.
One of my sisters managed most of his financial affairs for him, and she got a phone call from the tenant. The reason for his call seemed a litle trivial at first, until he got around to asking about our mother. Had she died in the house? No, why do you ask?
They had two big dogs, and one evening as they sat in the large family room which opened off the kitchen, the dogs alerted up from snoozing and stared intently into the darkness in the next room. After a bit, one of the dogs’ toy balls came rolling into the room.
On another occasion, the husband of the family was on his way down the hall to go to bed. He pushed open the bathroom door, and was startled to see a woman sitting on the toilet. His immediate reaction was that he had interrupted his wife, but as he waited in the darkened hallway, she called to him from the bedroom. He opened the bathroom door very cautiously and found the room empty.
The young couple living there had an infant son, and one evening after they had all gone to bed, the parents heard the little musical mobile thingy which hung over his crib. It was one of those which needed to be cranked up to play, and they usually let it wind down as their son drifted off to sleep. But they found it fully wound when they investigated.
I don’t connect nighttime visits to the bathroom with my mother, but the other two incidents – the dog and the baby’s mobile sound EXACTLY like the kind of thing she would enjoy. And those were reported to my sister by someone who never knew her.
We’ve since had other tenants in that house, and if anyone else experienced anything, they haven’t reported it to my sister.
Toni, I believe every word of your story.
Oh, my. That was weird. I had typed in this entire story and when I posted it there was nothing there!!
Toni,Woodstock’s story about the baby mobile happened to me, too. My mother, like hers, was quite difficult. She was also an antique collector. Because I’d written such a brilliant obit, the trustees of her estate (it sounds bigger than it was) told me that her large house would be a target for every burglar in town. So, while my husband and daughter stayed at our house, the baby and I moved into Mom’s.
We had a crank mobile that had been broken for weeks; I kept it on the changing table because it had black, red and white clowns and my baby loved when I jiggled them. I’d moved that table to the foot of my mother’s huge bed, so that I didn’t even have to crawl all the way out to change diapers in the middle of the night.
One particularly horrid night, when I felt alone and lost and all the weight of death and my bad relationship with Mom, I said aloud, “Mom, I just need to know you’re all right. That you’re not unhappy anymore.”
Then I fell asleep. About an hour later, maybe one or two in the morning, the mobile began to play. I held my baby close and turned on a bedside light. Nothing more happened . . . just the music for a full 10 minutes. Then silence.
I took it as a good and gentle sign, a loving visit on my Mom’s path to whereever one goes from here.
Dear School of Denial Valedictorian,
What a wonderful ghost story! I’ll save mine for my Tuesday post … if I get my act together in time.
Woodstock–thank you. And isn’t it nice to have some sort of validation of niceness after our loved ones are gone?
billie–that cracked me up. How meta.
pari–that sounds like a wonderful moment, especially since you’d asked for some sort of confirmation. I hope people I’ve loved have a chance to reach out, that there is something “there” after death.
Louise, thank you, and can’t wait!
Toni, what a great story. I’m with Billie, I don’t doubt it for a second. I love that you might have been able to give that woman some peace.
I’ll save my ghost story for Friday…
Sometime in the spring of 1989, a student at the school where I teach committed suicide. I had to break the news to his best friend, my student. (The boy who died had not been my student.) So, a year later, when I began having dreams that a student had died, I thought my brain was reworking that experience.Over the course of about 9 months, I dreamed several times of telling then-current students that a boy had died — but I could never recall his name in the dream. Then one night I dreamed of taking roll in my 5th period and knowing the boy had been in that class. Finally, in late December of 1990, I dreamed of going into a church, sitting in the front amid many flowers, and then having to speak at the funeral of this boy. I woke myself up with the strain of trying to recall his name.On Valentine’s Day of 1991, a boy in my 5th period class was killed in a freak accident. Two days later, his neighbor called on behalf of the boy’s parents to ask if I would speak at his funeral, as I had been his favorite teacher. When I arrived at the church, it was the same one as in my dream.A little more than a year later, in the spring of 1992, I had been assigned to help out at the spring band concert at the school. I’d worked late in my room, and as I locked the door to go to my concert duties, I felt someone behind me.I turned, but no one was there — yet, for no reason I knew, the image of the boy who had died came into my mind. I smiled and said, “Hello, Craig,” and began down the hallway. The sensation that he was walking at my side continued until we reached the first entrance to the auditorium, where I distinctly felt him turn and go in.I walked past, then grew curious and went back. Down in the front row was the boy’s family, and his younger sister was setting up her music stand to play. I hadn’t known she was in the band, but he’d come with his family to see her and dropped by to see his former teacher and say hello, just like any other kid might do, except that he was dead.
JT, great idea — I’m looking forward to reading other’s ghost stories.
APW — that’s an amazing story; I’m glad you were able to ‘recognize’ him. A question for you… did you mention to the family that you’d felt him there? (I never mentioned to the daughter about her mom. She had firm religious beliefs about heaven that would not have acknowledged her mom’s presence except, possibly, for negative reasons.)
Yes, Toni. I taught the next 4 kids in their family, so I knew them fairly well for awhile. The family is very religious and was fully confident that Craig had been there that night when I sensed his presence. They found it comforting.I suppose it may very well have been the product of grading too many papers, but I’ve never had anything like that happen before or since — even though I had a good deal of interaction with the boy’s family for several years after his death.Indeed, we just lost another member of the same class (now in their early 30s). One of the young women just died of breast cancer. But even with this on my mind (yes, I went to her funeral too), there have been no similar experiences.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop has a ghost story, but it’s best told in person because there are pictures. When you come in to sign, be sure to ask!
OMIGOD – Toni, I would’ve freaked out big time to see a ghost standing over my precious baby! Even if the apparition would’ve made the screamer quiet for a while (don’t miss those colic days AT ALL)
For me, first baby = unparalleled panic – am I doing this wrong, why won’t she stop crying? I would’ve been hysterical that a GHOST was a better mother than me.
However, it is funny you never told hubby or family or neighbors 🙂
Now if the ghost thing would’ve happened with baby #3? I would’ve shrugged.
Paperback writer,I just came back to read the additional comments and found your story.
Wow. I actually got goosebumps from it. Just beautiful.