Saturday, October 27, 2012

Spirit in the South: A True Ghost Story

When my aunt Sharon and her boyfriend Greg pulled up to our house one summer day, my little brother and I became enthralled by the beat-up camper they had hitched to their beat up Volvo. They had quit their jobs, and were relocating from Connecticut to Florida to start a new life. Everything they owned was in that camper. We were mesmerized.

That day stands out in my memory, serving as a sort of prequel to what I found out years later, long after Sharon and Greg had moved back up north again. Sharon told us an amazing story. I've told the story before, and I tell it again around this time of year.

My favorite aunt had seen a ghost.

Here's what happened, best as I can recall.

On their way down the east coast, Sharon and Greg stopped here and there, sometimes sleeping in the camper, sometimes staying with friends. The most anticipated stop was North Carolina, where they were excited about plans to reunite with old friends. If memory serves a bunch of Sharon's old art school friends lived together in a big old house where a sort of artist community had set up, and most of them were bikers. Sharon described the motley group as eccentric and wild, but friendly and fiercely loyal to each other. The reunion was going to be fun and sun and barbecue all weekend.

When Sharon and Greg chugged into the driveway, they found it parked chockablock with Harleys and vans and cars. Greg cut the ignition, put the Volvo in park and they looked at each other. Something was wrong. It was very quiet. When their friend (let's call him Jack) came out to greet them, as Sharon tells it, it was clear that Jack, though warmly welcoming, had forgotten about their visit. He was morose, distracted. Sadly, plans for a happy reunion were put out of mind because his close friend had just been tragically killed. It had just happened, and Sharon and Greg arrived just as everyone was gathering together to mourn, and funeral plans were being discussed. The deceased hadn't been someone she'd known, but it became obvious that this man was a well-loved friend of the group. The entire community was devastated.

Everyone said that Sharon and Greg should stay anyway, they should make themselves at home. They were given a nice room and stuck around a few days.

The southern way to deal with death is a sort of celebration. Like in New Orleans, the funeral starts with a parade and ends with a party. This weekend was like that. After the cemetery, there was food and booze, and it lasted all day and all night. The whole clan was off somewhere getting good and wasted and remembering their friend in their own way. Sharon and Greg had the whole big house and land to themselves, which they used to relax and enjoy their respite from the road.

Late that night, Sharon was up reading by lamplight in bed. The quiet was exquisite. Greg snoozed next to her. She got up to use the bathroom. She padded across the room, down the hall and into the bathroom.

In old houses like that one, the windows are tall, the sill located lower than on modern houses, and as she sat to use the commode, Sharon could actually see quite well out the window. She gazed down into the yard, really just a big clearing in the secluded woods. She saw a woman down there on the grass, only the woman was more like a dim white light. Clear enough for it to be obviously a young female, but transparent, a faded spectre giving off enough light that she illuminated the grass.

A ghost.

The woman was walking around the clearing, at times kneeling down as if to pick flowers or look idly at a grass blade, then rising up again, walking around. As Sharon watched, it became apparent that this woman was waiting for something, or someone, the way she was looking around, but not appearing to be in a hurry. Sharon watched too, frozen in place, wanting to go back and wake Greg, but too curious to see what was about to happen, somehow knowing that if moved or left to get Greg the woman would be gone when she got back.
It didn't take very long. Out of the woods walked a tall man. Unlike the gentle vague light of the woman, this man was very bright and quite clear. His big smile indicated that he was very happy. He was also, as if this wasn't strange enough, wearing a rather dashing top hat.

The smiling man in the top hat walked toward the woman, who turned and saw him. In an obvious reunion, they embraced, held hands, and walked off into the woods in the opposite direction.

Sharon scrambled up and went to wake Greg to tell him about the two ghosts. He was more interested in sleeping.

When they woke up late the next morning, the house was abuzz with the funeral-goers who'd returned from their marathon party in celebration of their friend's life. Some were asleep on various couches, others were making breakfast. Sharon went to find Jack. She wanted to express her condolences, but she also wanted to tell him what she saw...or as Greg was saying, what she "thought" she saw.

As she described the faded white-lit woman, her apparent flower picking action and "waiting" stance, and the brighter man, Jack listened with interest but not with disbelief or alarm. Jack accepted without a trace of doubt that Sharon had seen two ghosts in his backyard.

He nodded, then he got up and went to the kitchen, came back with a box of stuff from the funeral. He pulled out an large blown-up photo, considered it a minute and then turned it to show Sharon.

"Is this him?" The man in the photo was smiling. He was tall. And he was wearing a rather dashing top hat.

I love this story. What did Sharon witness? Why her? Did she get chosen to witness this, or was it pure chance? She hadn't known about the affectation of the recently departed, his top hat, so she couldn't have made it up. Did she see him? Do we take it as read that once we give up these bodies, we move on to another plane where our loved ones wait for us, to embrace us again and guide us to whatever's next?

I hope so. What do you think?