One of the challenges telling the story of my paranormal roots is that many of the central figures to the tales, the first hand witnesses, are gone now. Stories were handed to me when I was very young, so the dust of time has covered the words and, as I peer through the veil, might get some of it right, but might get some of it wrong. Ghosties, I will do my best as we delve further into the hallowed, haunted halls of my brain.
We had plenty of land- eight acres to be exact. There were forests to explore with a stream that rushed quickly in the springtime, where I lost a brown mitten with hearts on it during one afternoon of exploration. There was a field of tall grass beside the barn where my older sister and I made nests in the grass and pretended we had our own houses, yet somehow neither of us has Lyme’s disease. The back of the house sloped steeply away toward the creek below, a place we found old indigo colored medicine bottles that sit on a shelf in my office and other detritus that had been thrown out by previous inhabitants. While we had plenty of land, there wasn’t much yard, just a rectangle caught in the crook of the L -shape of the house, squared off by the driveway and the dirt road. It was surrounded by holly bushes and a row of tall Tiger Lilies that offered privacy from I’m not sure who- no one really drove up the road. So it was quite a surprise that day, shortly after we’d moved in, that a car pulled up as my dad was mowing the lawn.
It was 1982. My dad was twenty-four years old, married, a father of two. He was recently out of the military, six-foot-five, bulky and imposing if you didn’t know that he was a teddy bear inside. It must’ve taken some courage to approach him, but they did. Two young men, somewhere around his age. He cut the motor on the mower, wiped his brow, and greeted them.
“We used to visit this place, it was our grandparents’…We heard you all were making renovations and wanted to see it.”
We had been making renovations. The main support beam to the house was rotting right out. The one bathroom was in poor condition, the walls were insulated with animal nests and balled up newspapers, and the floors slanted at odd angles. We set up camp in the barn for weeks while the house was swarmed with carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. I distinctly remember trotting down to the outhouse in the darkest hours of night, holding my mother’s hand and following the bobbing glow of the flashlight.
By this point, we’d been there for a while, renovations were mostly done, and the house was again habitable. The second floor now contained two master suites, each with a full bathroom. The makeshift insulation had been replaced with cotton candy pink insulation that my sister and I were constantly reminded not to eat. The support beam was replaced, so there was less tilt to the floors, though my Weebles wobbled quite a bit and matchbox cars could pick up some nice speed at one end of the living room. It was an extensive change for the house whose foundation was laid the 1700’s.
“Sure, of course. I’ll take you on a tour.”
My dad was a friendly guy, always a gregarious, welcoming host. I can imagine him taking them through, pointing out the details of each improvement. My grandparents were careful to keep the home’s original charms. The black iron thumb-latched doorknobs remained. The wide plank floors were still there, odd knots and gap-toothed spacing included. The huge, round-bellied wood stove squatted in the family room, a relic that was so impeccably built that it would outlast any of the newer models. Some fireplaces had been uncovered and restored to usefulness, while others remained closed but the paint had been retouched.
Dad turned to the stairwell, accessed through a back room, and the men paused, exchanged a glance. They appeared nervous, but followed along. For two men so intent on seeing the renovations, they’d had very little to say. Dad didn’t know if they hated the changes or had expected something more, something grander, and were disappointed.
The top of the staircase was an open sitting area in the wide hallway. It led to my grandparents’ suite at the far end of the hall and my uncle’s room to the right, reserved for whenever he joined us up the mountain. It was there that one man spoke.
“Ted’s happy,” he pronounced, and his brother agreed, nodding wholeheartedly.
“Ted?” my Dad ventured. “Is he…one of the workmen?”
They exchanged another glance, hesitating. “Uh, no, he’s our great uncle…Our grandmother bought this house for him…He used to play tricks on us here, when we would visit her.”
“Did he live here with her?”
“Not exactly…He died in World War II…and he haunts this place.”
It was certainly a conversation stopper of a statement.
“But he seems happy, you can feel it,” the man rushed on. “He must like you, like that you’re keeping up with the place, taking care of it.”
“He’s definitely happy,” the brother agreed, assuring my father, who was desperately trying to find his way through this new information.
They wrapped up the tour, returned downstairs, out into the cool mountain air. My father was silenced to few words, but thanked them for stopping by and encouraged them to stop by again, once the final renovations were complete. They didn’t; we never saw them again.
We were gone, my grandparents, mother, sister, and I, “down the hill” as we called it, off to town. As the car disappeared around the bend, my father looked back at the house, the new metal roof glinting in the sunshine. It was a bucolic scene, straight out of a Robert Frost poem, but the wavy old glass from the windows suddenly looked different, fun-house glass. You couldn’t see in clearly, couldn’t see who might be watching.
In the months to come, we would learn that there was always someone watching. We might be away, but we were far from alone. Ted was watching.