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.