Ghosts I’ve Known

Spring has arrived, and with it daffodils and crocuses and sunshine bright enough to promise a long season of growth.  This is the time of year for looking forward and welcoming new life.  But I’ve been thinking about the past . . . and about ghosts.  I realize that ghouls and spirits are the stuff of Halloween, but spending time in the garden raking away the debris of the fall–leaves and twigs and dead flower-heads–reminds me that the past is always with us.

Recently, a distant cousin of mine responded to a request on a family-history site about my great-grandmother and kindly sent me some photos of ancestors and cemeteries.  They reminded me of the first “ghost” I saw: my great-grandmother (on the other side of the family).  I was eight, if I remember correctly, and deeply shattered by her death.  One night, I woke from what I thought was a deep sleep to see the curtains blowing.  My father had painted the windows shut to help insulate the house.  But there they were, moving as though in a wind.  And at the foot of my bed stood my great-grandmother.  She touched my toes, then held my ankle in her hand.  Then she let go and I was asleep again.  The next morning, I was relieved of the pain of grief.

Of course, I didn’t tell this story to anyone.  Since then, I’ve seen a few odd things.  Again as a child, on a field trip to the James Whitcomb Riley house in Indianapolis, I looked into a bedroom that had been cordoned off and saw, in a rocking chair in the corner, an old woman.  I wondered who she was.  When I looked again a few seconds later, she was gone.

A few years ago, my husband and I rented a house outside Kilkenny, Ireland.  I was well into my forties, no small, impressionable child, but one morning I saw a child run past the kitchen window.  I went outside.  No child.  The house was pretty isolated, with fields all around, but there was no one to be seen.  A few days went by.  The child zoomed by the window again.  Again, no child was in the yard when I went outside.  And then there was the night I was trying to sleep and felt a very heavy, very cold weight on my left collarbone, just sitting there.  I tried to move but the weight would not shift.  It was not frightening, not threatening, and finally I said “Get off me.”  And it went.

Now, I wouldn’t say that I’m much of a believer in many of the haunted tales widely available . . . and I’m not sure exactly what the phenomena I’ve experienced were.  Figments of the imagination?  Projections of emotional states?  Perhaps.  All I can say for sure is that they felt and looked very, very “real.”  As real as the faces and hands of daylight people.  As real as the flower-heads from last fall that crumble when I touch them.  Hamlet tells Horatio that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy . . . and whatever their source, I believe he’s right, even in the springtime, when the new life tries its best to obliterate the old.