I can say, for example, that someone died in my bedroom (It is an old house) and I have yet to see any specter on a dark moonlit evening. No screeching screams demanding I leave the premises; nor have I felt even the slightest presence in the room. For my children, it is the refuge they go to after a bad dream or to seek comfort. There is nothing there to scare them away.
One of my favorite stories about the “unknown” comes from my little brother when he was a kid. He and one of my young cousins got their hands on an Ouija board and decided to talk to demons. He came running up to me later declaring that they had spoken to Satan!
I, being the arrogant teenager I was at the time, said something like, “Oh yeah? How did he spell his name?”
My brother proudly replied, “S.A.T.I.N.”
My grandfather, my last grandparent, passed away earlier this year (I wrote about writing his obituary here). To say my grandparents had an impact on my life is to put it mildly. Next to my parents, they were one of the most important influences on my life. They were my safety net and they caught me numerous times while growing up.
My grandmother, Mary Jane, was the first female head of curriculum in the state of Michigan. She taught kindergarten for decades before then, and, I kid you not, every time I went out with her, someone would come up and greet her with a hug. It was like being with a celebrity! And what was more amazing, she could look at any adult, no matter how old, and remember the child they were- from their name to something they did in her class. Yes, she could still see the child in their eyes! And how those former students would light up each time she did it! It was incredible to behold.
My grandfather, Charles, was, to put it mildly, a character; always ready with an inappropriate joke. He would take me to ball games, and was always one phone call away when my brother or I would need a ride. He taught me the importance of a dollar, by working out a payment plan for two different saxophones back in the days when I thought with enough practice I could catch Charlie Parker. (I, of course, didn’t catch the Yardbird, and he is forever far in front of me.)
After my grandmother died, I found a picture she took of me that took my breath away. See, every Wednesday after school I would go to Catechism at my local Catholic church. I hated the classes (even then questioning, to my teacher’s annoyance, the point of a lot of the stories), but I would love the tradition afterwards, since it would involve going to my grandparents, having a fun dinner, and video games. My grandmother would take me to the local video arcade, give me a bunch of quarters and leave me there to play while she went shopping; always remembering that I once complained that I wanted to look cool in front of the other kids there, and a grandmother watching you play Donkey Kong doesn’t cut it.
And the picture? Well, the picture she took was of me from the back playing a video game, not knowing that my grandmother was watching me doing it the entire time, probably every time.
Both of my kids have my grandparents’ names as their middle names.
Anyway, my parents have sold my grandparents’ last home, their condo, and they asked me to come in and help move material out. A part of me really didn’t want to go in. The last time I had been to the condo we found a tape deck my grandmother owned. She had parkinson’s disease and she was dictating into the tape deck a letter to me and my brother (we were both living in Los Angeles at the time). So I sat in that condo, on one of their old beds, listening to a letter my grandmother never sent to us.
It was tragically beautiful.
The Last Home
My grandparents lived in their condo, but they didn’t really live in it. They moved into it during their retirement, and it never felt like their home; not like their house I remember them living in for most of my life. The only room in the condo that once had any personality was my grandparents’ living room. Here is what I mean: my grandfather had once wallpapered an entire wall with the map of the globe.
Yes, an entire map of the world covered an entire wall from ceiling to floor.
The hilarious thing though is that the map was too large for the wall so its top snuck onto the ceiling and the edges flopped onto the walls on the side. Now, while most people would have centered it up and sacrificed bits of Antarctica and the Pacific Ocean (and some random islands) to make it fit, my grandfather wouldn’t do that.
He wanted the entire map on the wall and he was going to do that, and there it was.
Frankly, it looked awful, really bad. With all of the countries in different colors, and the alignment being off on it, it looked like a mess, and we all gave him our opinion on it, but he loved that wall map because he loved pointing out the different place he had been on it, as well as the distinct accomplishment he achieved in circumnavigating the entire globe during WWII. Of course, in the many years that they lived in that condo the world changed, so the accuracy of it diminished each year, but that didn’t change his love for the curiosity.
That wall represented his past, his accomplishments, and he was proud of it. In a way it represented an end to one part of his life and the fact he was now in retirement, taking care of his sick wife, and not able to travel and explore the world like he once did.
Also, in the living room was a couch I loved. It was red and hardly comfortable (More rough than soft), but I still adored it. As a kid I could use the cushions to make a little fort, and I can’t begin to guess the many times I probably fell asleep on it. Now, I would not have wanted the couch for my house, it was definitely a product of a bygone era, but it represented something.
Yet, like I said, the condo was sold, and the couch and the wall map were gone. It was now nothing more than an empty condo with white walls. Nothing to discover, nothing to find, just a clean home waiting to start anew with that intoxicating smell of fresh paint.
I remember thinking strangely at the time that it was now empty and vacant.
One of the strange little side effects about being obsessed with stories is that you start to confuse them with life. Strangely, where once I feared going back to the condo, I now felt sad I didn’t return earlier.
Was I secretly hoping for some kind of a dramatic closure?
Embarrassingly, I think I might have wanted another opportunity to say goodbye to both of them. But they weren’t there, and I didn’t feel their presence anywhere in that condo. There were no ghosts. And, honestly, if they could haunt someplace I don’t think either of them would have chosen that condo; in a way they had already haunted it enough.
The time of last hugs, wishes, and regrets had passed and this is all that remained: me, in that condo talking to my parents about the great work that they did, their plans, and the upcoming weekend. It could have been any house, any place.
Upon returning to my home, and speaking to my wife for thirty or so minutes about my trip, I decided to take my dog for a walk. It was a beautiful clear evening and my dog was perfectly happy walking alongside of me, and at that moment, after a few deep breaths, I felt I could have walked all night…
I just don’t know where to.
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!