Ghost Stories

I was recently listening to my favorite radio program and they were discussing a new television program called “Celebrity Ghost Stories”. Of course, they pointed out how ludicrous the entire premise was. Anyone that has experienced anything supernatural is just crazy and/or needed money and/or attention. I mean really. A ghost? What kind of weak minded, drug ravaged individual would publicly declare such asinine mumbo jumbo? Me? (he said timidly raising his hand sheepishly while crouching in the corner of the room)

When I was younger, I was like most in my beliefs of the afterlife. As a former Episcopalian alter boy (never molested by a priest. woohoo! ), I knew exactly what happened. We die and then we go to an idyllic place in the sky, hosted by a very cool dude with a beard and all of our loved ones will be there and there are no mosquitoes but all my past pets will be there. (Is there a special heaven for mosquitoes and sharks or do they go to ours and just be chill? Maybe they go vegan!) Or, you went to hell and that was a crappy place to spend eternity but you needed to be REALLY bad to go there. For the sorta shady, day to day things, you can just ask to be forgiven and you are. You’re golden! It was pretty cut and dried. Let it be said that I was never afraid to walk thru the cemetery at night and “Poltergeist” never gave me nightmares. I do admit that “The Exorcist” gave me the willies though.

My first “experience” came when we were living at my in-laws house after we moved to Minnesota. Upon arrival, we were informed that there were a lot of unexplained events happening in the home. TVs and radios would reportedly turn on in the middle of the night with the volume up full blast or turn off at critical times during shows or games. Lights would turn on and off without a switch moving. Most of the activity seemed oddly centered on my young brother in law although others were not immune. Let’s say I was skeptical. I would think it to be a series of coincidences tied together with active imaginations although switches and fixtures tested for shorts came up fine. My beliefs began to change when a very regular and ordinary friend of my father in law had a close encounter of his own.

Joe was a man in his late 40’s or early 50’s who had just separated from his wife of many years and spent a lot of the time around the chaotic home to ease his loneliness. There was never a lack of activity in the dwelling that housed 3 active boys under 10 years old and 4 adults. This was also the center of all the adult children’s lives. It was not uncommon to have 8 adults and a half dozen kids running around the 4 bedroom rambler but on this night, it was just Joe and my father in law, Rich, watching baseball in the family room during the early fall. Joe excused himself and went to the hall bathroom on the other side of the house. He claims that he closed the door but knowing there was no one else in the house, didn’t lock it. Upon finishing his business, he casually attempted to turn the doorknob only to be met with resistance. Not the door is locked kind but someone holding the knob kind. He called out to Rich to stop screwin’ around and let go. No answer came from the other side of the door and the pressure continued. He said that he would feel like he was moving the knob a little and was making progress only to have it ultimately brought back to neutral. This continued for nearly a minute when suddenly the pressure released and the knob turn freely. He quickly flung the door open to find an empty dark hall. He flicked the light on and did a check of the rooms with the doors already wide open. He then quickly returned to the family room to confront his friend regarding his shenanigans only to find him in the exact place he left him: curled up in his favorite chair. My father in law is/was not exactly fleet of foot. The speed necessary to maneuver the distance in the short time span would have left him needing CPR (and a cigarette) and the gasping for air would have been a dead give away. He also recounted the events of the game while Joe was away from the TV. The home was searched for pranksters and came up empty. The story from that impartial, sane, mature man brought a great deal of skepticism to my original closed thoughts.

A couple of months later, we had moved out of the in laws house and had an apartment a short distance away. The passing of Thanksgiving brought the Christmas season and the ever popular shopping excursions. My wife and I made the most of these adventures as we passed up and down endless aisles of toys and gadgets for pre-teen boys. Having vowed to never grow up, this was like shopping for myself and had to test every toy in the store. Eventually, Dawn would have had enough of my childishness and would demand dinner and cocktails. Next stop Red Lobster. (God bless her. This was her favorite restaurant. I can’t explain this phenomenon. Hundreds of great places in the Twin Cities and as many or more in the Milwaukee area where we were from and her favorite was Red Lobster. I tried everything to get her to different places but she liked what she liked. One of the reasons I loved her: simple (and inexpensive) tastes. Even during our extended separation, we continued our annual Christmas shopping tradition. ) This was our ritual and it worked enough that we really looked forward to it. 2 or 3 drinks into our “reward”, she told me of a recent incident that had frightened her little brother and family. The story goes that he was lying in bed, asleep; when around 11:00 the entire bed elevated and began to shake violently. Petrified, the 10 year old boy awoke but was frozen in fear. It’s hard to tell how long this went on for with the only record being the memory of a terrified child. Seconds can seem like minutes. The bed then abruptly stopped shaking and everything returned to normal. Other unusual events had picked up in regularity after Thanksgiving also. Lights, televisions and radios turned on and off more and more frequently. Unexplained and rapid drops in room temperature were mere nuisances and in time were rarely mentioned.

During the course of our dinner conversation, the back story came into picture. The previous owners of the home had lost a 13 year old daughter while they lived there. The details of the auto accident were not clear other than she was not sick and that her life ended very unexpectedly. Now 4 or 5 cocktails deep, we started putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Here was a young lady that lost her life before it got started. Her dreams would never be realized. She was pissed! And she was 13. (My recollection of 13 year old girls are that they can be, shall we say, moody and a bit catty at times.) AND IT WAS CHRISTMAS AND SHE WAS DEAD!! The lights, radios and TVs were simply pranks and the shaking of the bed was a tantrum. She had every right to be angry and was taking it out on the “new” child in her house around her age. AND IT WAS CHRISTMAS AND SHE WAS DEAD!! It all seemed logical at the time.

After dinner, the final stop of the day was to hide the gifts in the basement of the in laws. Our small apartment would have provided little challenge for our curious children. (It would have saved time though. If they know all the presents, no need in wrapping, right?) When we arrived at the house, it was dark, empty and quiet. It was rarely this way but perfect for our mission. Dawn commented that she was more than a little creeped out about the spirit becoming aggressive. It was a great tale to tell at parties but now… The too many trips in and out with bags of gifts were finally completed and safely hidden away. Dawn was clearly very uneasy about being in the darkened, silent house. I didn’t know what inspired me to deliver a monologue to a house but I did.

I marched through the rooms pontificating that we knew who she was and we understood of her situation. I invited her to stay as long as she wanted. The only condition was that she needed to stop frightening the kids. They were not the cause her being in her situation and didn’t deserve her wrath. I explained that she knew that we were somewhat amused at the practical jokes but the shaking of the bed was a bit much. I congratulated her on the doorknob prank. That was a good one. She could mess with the adults but leave the kids alone. This rant went on for about 5 minutes. Dawn took a seat in the dining room and sat quietly while I expounded my thoughts and wishes. After I felt that the subject had been sufficiently covered, I asked Dawn if she had anything to add. “No, I think you covered it all.” she said with a sheepish grin and twinkle in her eye. With that, we got into our brown Dodge Omni and headed silently for home. I was never sure if at that moment she thought I was crazy or not. I never asked. She did tell her mom what I had done the following morning declaring the house “ghost friendly.”

We talked about that night many times afterwards because from that point forward, all the activity stopped. Though they continued to live there for many years after, there were no more flickering lights or chills in otherwise warm rooms. There were times that I felt that maybe I was too hard on her. That I had been too heavy handed in my “lecture” being the father of boys. It was a ridiculous feeling but one that I had none the less. The poor thing was just frustrated that she had her future ripped from her. It was her house. AND IT WAS CHRISTMAS AND SHE WAS DEAD!! I can’t think of a better reason to be pissy.

What it really did was open my mind to the genuine possibility of something after this heart stops beating. Something other than the pearly gates because given that belief, this poor child was in purgatory. What could a 13 year old have done to not be simply welcomed into the pillowy city in the sky after an auto accident? This all asks far more questions than it answers but I am now reasonably sure that there is a something. It expanded my acceptance for what was to come years later.

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