My mom was a storyteller. Some of her best stories were those involving ghosts and the supernatural. She swore they were real–the ghosts and her stories. I’ve been thinking a lot about ghosts lately, half-wishing she was one hovering lovingly nearby and half-wincing at what a terrifyingly unlovely thing that would be. Still, I’d have her as a ghost in a heartbeat. Until then I have her stories.
In the 80s my mom found herself on a solo trip to Stonehenge. The destination was befitting a woman who loved mythology, and history, and science, and especially loved them all rolled in to one mysterious circle of stones.
She believed that science is crucial, that it’s what makes mankind better through explanation and invention. She loved history, the wretched and wonderful story of where we’ve been. And mythology because it’s an ingenious gap filler that provided answers to the questions that surrounded mankind in a time before science took hold.
God, I miss her.
So there she was on a tour bus to Stonehenge. A stranger sat down next to her and the two introduced themselves as civilized folks do. The woman was from Honolulu. So was my mother.
They compared notes on places and restaurants, and played that game where you try to find a family or person you know in common. And they found one, sort of, as they listed neighborhoods and addresses at which each had lived. The conversation came to an abrupt end soon after they discovered an address they shared about a decade apart.
So, did you see…I mean, did you have trouble in that house?
My mom nodded. Not trouble, but something, she said.
The woman stared out the window and they didn’t talk again.
The something, according to my mom, was a ghost. Not an aggressive, horror movie kind of poltergeist but something.
My mom was a teenager in that house and the stories she told about that time were ones I asked her to repeat over and over again. How the lights would flicker as she saw odd human-form shadows. How the television would go on the fritz at odd times almost always accompanied by a strange chill in the air. How there was one night when she was not supposed to go out but her parents were gone at a party, so my mom took a chance and absconded.
Her parents should have been out until early morning because they loved a good party. So she wasn’t in a hurry that night as she walked down the sidewalk just a few houses away from home. Then suddenly she felt a touch on her back and turned. No one was there. So she started walking again and this time felt the touch more firmly, a hand between her shoulder blades now pushing. She started to run but the touch did not let up until she made it to the back door of the house. And just as she closed the door behind her, spooked and shaking, she heard her parents’ car pull up the driveway. The ghost had saved her from the worst fate a teenager could face—being grounded.
Ghosts are myth. Sometimes created to scare or to enforce societal norms. Sometimes they’re simply entertaining fable. Sometimes they are figments of heartbroken imagination.
Than again…who knows, maybe they’re real. Just as much of science was myth before it became real, maybe the same is true of ghosts or spirits or souls. I’m not sure what I believe about any of it—but her stories are my history and I believed her.
And like I said, I’d have her as a ghost in a heartbeat.