"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


My father, for all his endearingly quirky personality traits, is not prone to flights of whimsy.  That is why it startled us when he recently insisted he had seen a girl in a yellow dress walk across the room in front of him and then disappear into the wall.  Granted, he had just awoken from a nap in his recliner, but he insists he was not dreaming her up. (Nor does he take any medication that might cause hallucinations, nor is he senile in any way, shape or form.  Crazy maybe, but not senile.)   He at first thought it was me, then blinked and realized it was not.  The experience quite surprised him, though he was not at all unnerved.  (He is 88, not much unnerves him, take my word.)   

The house my parents live in was built in 1702, though many parts of it were added on through the years; the room where Dad sits and watches his TV is the original section of the house with the fireplace, wide floorboards and low ceiling.  You would think that in all the years since my parents bought it -- more than forty years ago -- there would be a trace of something paranormal about.  But there really hasn't been much to report, which has kind of disappointed us in a way.
I love a good ghost story and I always have.  I still have two Scholastic books I bought in grammar school that have ghost stories in them -- some funny, some stupid, some scary (when I was a kid, that is).  As an adult I used to turn off almost all the lights in the room, sit next to one of my little nephews on the sofa and read one particular story out loud about a woodsman who finds an egg that hatches goblins.  The nephew would scrunch closer and closer to me the more I read.  This was probably a bad thing to do, but I guess I figured a good ghostly tale read aloud by Auntie Laurie in a familiar house would do no harm and maybe pique their interests in this wonderful genre of literature, which notable authors have claimed as their own: Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Ambrose Bierce,  Robert Louis Stevenson, even Charles Dickens.  And  after all, you know they were going to hear the Hookman legend sooner or later, and being country boys, they would probably be parked out in the state forest when they remembered that tale and the hair would stand up on the back of their head a few times when they thought of it.  Urban legend or not.

There is something about old cemeteries that I love, too.  We have several here in town that date back to the early 1800s.  The gravestones are narrow and cut roughly, and give the appropriate information but nothing much more.  I don't much like to go to the cemetery where my family members are buried, but this is because of sadness, not fear.  (I did used to sneak there with my pals when I was a teenager so we could drink beer.  It was down a long dirt road, very wooded, and up hill into an area completely hidden from the main road.  But it was close enough to town to walk there, and we did.  Not that that's relevant to this story, but anyway.)
I find walking through the "Old Burying Grounds" calming in a way.  Obviously, it's quiet there; the sigh of a tree branch rubbing another in the wind, the chitter of squirrels or the chirping of birds is all you're apt to hear.  But there is something else too: the almost-privilege of walking where these others have walked, imagining their lives -- good and bad; the only time that my own mortality can be acknowledged in even a faintly serene way.  Knowing that these people mattered and that they still do, and so do I.

But see a ghost?  A "full body apparition," as contemporary ghost hunters refer to it?  Or hear ghostly sounds?  Or feel cold spots?  Nope, not me.  Not my family.  Except for one thing.  Cats.  Ghost cats, yes.  We had a wonderfully smart cat named Pupsy (okay, laugh) when I was a kid; she lived 18 years and was an "only cat" for quite a slice of that time.  After she died we began to see her shadow -- her image in a split-second, more like the realization that a cat was there than the actual materialization of one.  It was a "don't blink or you'll miss it" deal out of the corner of our eye; it was an automatic sudden shuffle-walk, the way you step carefully and try not to trip when a cat is slinking around your feet and legs as they do, when no living cat was there.   Now we didn't tell the nephews about this, feeling it was hitting a little too close to home.  But one day the older of the two boys was sitting on my mother's bed when he suddenly said "Gramma, I just saw a black cat over there."  Then we told him in as matter-of-fact a way as we could: we had a black cat, Pupsy, and she was a wonderful kitty and we thought she was coming back for a visit now and then because she was curious and because she loved us.  He took it in stride.  But interestingly, no one outside of the family has ever seen or heard a ghost cat in that house.

Heard?  Yep, we heard 'em too.  I have the habit of sitting up late to read in bed.  You know that up-up-up-UP-UP-UP-UP-UP!!! sound a cat makes when it's running up a flight of stairs, right?  As if the devil himself was chasing it?  I'd be lying in bed when I lived there, and everyone else would be sleeping, and I would hear this noise.  That's to be expected as we had cats, plural, at the time.  So I'd wait and see which one would show up in my doorway wanting to go out and in a few moments I'd realize there was no cat standing there looking in.  More than once I'd have to get up and go downstairs to check, and all the cats were present, accounted for and very deep in comfy slumber.  No hairs stood up on my neck, though, and no shivers ran up my spine.  Our cat ghost was welcome whenever she wished.  Actually it made me smile.  She was a good cat and we loved her.  In a way it was reassuring.

But that's all.  Nothing else.  In a house that old.  Seems odd when you consider all the people who left their lives there throughout the years.  So after all this time, who was the girl in the yellow dress?

Somewhere I heard or read that people who loved you will not scare you after death.  They will not do anything that would upset you if they were to come to you.  I think this is true.  When my aunt was hospitalized and terminally ill and we had gotten the phone call that she'd taken a turn for the worse, I went to her house, as she had instructed, to get her strongbox and all its accompanying important papers.  

That night I dreamed that I had done this, and that my uncle, who had died several years before, was outside in the driveway looking in the window at me in the kitchen.  He was young and healthy, the way we remembered him, blue eyes twinkling and a lovely smile.  I was startled, but delighted to see him again in the dream.  I yelled out the window to him, "What are you doing here?"   And he smiled even wider and said happily "Waiting for her!"  That  was my dream the night before my aunt died, and I think maybe it wasn't all a dream; I wonder, did my uncle sneak back here in a dream so he wouldn't frighten me?  Maybe.  Makes sense.  He wanted us to know he was going to be there and take care of her when she crossed.  It was a very vivid dream, and to this day I can recall it in exact detail in my memory.

When another uncle's beloved second wife died suddenly and young of heart failure, everyone was shattered.  She had two boys of her own and was very close to my uncle's kids.  She died, to the best of everyone's knowledge, of some sort of electrical failure of the heart's function.  The next day the odd electrical stuff began, first with the doorbells ringing and no one standing at the door.  One of my cousins watched incredulously as  her microwave started up and the turntable went around by itself.  Another cousin was reading when her living room lamps began to flicker; she was startled, alone in the house, and said "No! don't scare me, okay?" and the flickering stopped.  A third cousin's TV turned on out of the blue.  Electricity = energy, and energy cannot be destroyed; it can only change form.  The flickering lamp thing also followed my uncle wherever he went for some time afterward.

The influx of ghost hunting shows on TV never ceases to fascinate me.  Most of the time these people don't find anything going on or you swear they're making it up.  Very Hollywood.  But once in awhile something really, really creepy happens and you just sit there flabbergasted.  A while back a local group did a free lecture at a nearby public library; my friend Holly and I attended and it was pretty interesting, but a second group that we saw there just a couple of months ago actually showed us, hands-on, their ghost-hunting equipment and an amazing photo they'd taken on an investigation of that very building.  

The "E.V.P.s" -- electronic voice phenomena -- these creep me out.  Mike, the founder of the group, put them on his web site but I can't listen to them at night when I'm alone in the house.  But Mike's going to come to my parents' house with his tape recorder, ask some questions and hopefully we'll get an answer from the girl in the yellow dress.

The only "pop" song ever featuring my name.  Guess it's just not as popular as Sue, or Mary or Donna.  Anyway, this is a cool song -- listen.


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