Halloween is past. That’s the day when spirits of the dead are said to walk the earth, if briefly. But if you ask me, I think they’re around far more than one day.
I’ve been a genealogist for decades (for myself and for hire), and have worked for two of the country’s best family history libraries. But that does not make me a ghost hunter, at least not for other people. Still, since I’ve “known” some of my ancestors for a long time, they’ve become more and more real to me (and incidentally, they provide a lot of story ideas). No, I don’t carry on conversations with them, and I don’t see them sitting in a chair across the room (although I know people who have laid claim to experiences like that, and I don’t question them).
I will say that I stumble over a surprising number of them purely by chance. One of my favorite stories is when I attended a fundraising conference in Boston, and started talking to a woman I’d never met before. Somehow the talk turned to ancestors, and I mentioned that several of mine had lived in Wellesley and Newton, and I knew which houses had been theirs. And when we got down to details, she said she knew the woman who lived in one of them and would I like to see it? Of course I said yes.
Once when I was wandering around a cemetery I’d never visited, searching for one particular person, I looked up and realized that I was standing in front of a burial plot that contained at least a dozen of my ancestors, from two sides of one family. I had no idea they were there, much less all together, but somehow they called to me.
I attended Wellesley College, but it never occurred to me to visit the local cemeteries. It wasn’t until my tenth reunion that I walked through the nearest one–and found a whole row of my ancestral Pratts waiting there for me. Think that had anything to do with my choice of college?
I could go on, but there are a few episodes that are perhaps the most “supernatural” that I have experienced. Toward the end of his life my father lived south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I lived maybe an hour away, in Swarthmore, and I’d take the back roads every few weeks to visit.
One weekend in winter I was headed to his house on a rural road and suddenly I was hit by a heavy (and heady) aroma of flowers. It was mid-winter, and all my car windows were shut. All I could think was that they smelled like funeral flowers. I looked around, and the nearest building was a church, set far back from the road, with a cemetery in front of it. I had to believe that I was smelling a funeral that wasn’t there. I slowed down (there were no other cars around) and inhaled deeply, once, twice. Yes, the scent was still smelling there. But there were no flowers in sight. I can’t begin to explain it, but it was real.
I’ve had only one other similar experience, and that one was more personal. A few years ago I was driving from Massachusetts to visit a friend in New Jersey. An hour short of her house I stopped in Westfield, where my mother was born and she and her family are buried. I’d been driving for four hours, so I stopped at a McDonald’s near the highway to get something to eat. I picked up my bag of fast food inside and went back to the car to eat it. And I was suddenly surrounded by my grandmother’s very distinctive perfume. I’d been in the car for hours and there was nothing in the car that had been hers, but there it was. I smiled, because I had planned to go to visit the family plot where she was buried when I finished my lunch, and I felt like she was welcoming me.
Readers: What about you? Have you ever had an encounter you couldn’t explain?
Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Nipped in the Bud, the latest Orchard Mystery, released a week ago. It’s set in a house built by an ancestor of mine, and the current owner says several people have seen a ghost (not me, alas–but I did find something in the attic there that I included in a short story before I ever knew about it.)
(Sheila has generously made this giveaway open to commenters from anywhere.)