Cleaning a House – My True Ghost Story – II

My second paranormal encounter happened years later, about two miles from where I saw the ghostly apparition on Halloween night. This patch of town is charged with stranger things. I had a friend, actually he and his mother were friends of my family for years. Not quite sure how they met, or what sustained the relationship because they were so unlike my parents. They were secretive, tightfisted, aggrieved. The mother, Eleanor, had a sense of humor, but her son Thomas, not Tom, always Thomas, was a bundle of ticks and neuroses. They were not unkind people just troubled. Part of the glue that held this friendship together was, I would guess, that they and my family were residents of the area for a long time. I’m harping on this, but the relationship between mother and son, I believe, is key to the creepy things to come.

Thomas’s mother passed away after a long illness, and I was living at my folk’s place sort of in-between things. By default, Thomas and I would occasionally go to a movie, meet for a meal. I think I felt sorry for him, he seemed so dissolute without his mother – they were uncommonly attached – and he had never lived on his own. He remained living with Eleanor. He never seemed to have a girlfriend, had never married. What he did with his time was a mystery. Eleanor was quite wealthy and the property spanned 40-50 acres of prime real estate. Neither worked yet they lived well, traveled extensively. There must have been a significant coffer from which money was drawn.

During my time of hanging out with Thomas he asked if I would house-sit for him. He was going to Paris, Zurich, and Turin – for “business.” He had four semi-feral cats, to whom, he was uncommonly attached as well. I agreed to house-sit. Dumb.

Thomas’s house was traditional – I don’t know the style – it was attractive and there was a cottage (unoccupied) on the property. The house was situated on a hill with a beautiful view. No neighbors in sight. It was decorated tastefully yet fussily, a lot of white and Biedermeier. During Eleanor’s reign, if you were allowed into the living room for tea or a drink, you couldn’t relax for fear of spilling on the white damask and brocade, wriggling under Eleanor’s hawkish gaze. Good times! What’s the point of having stuff if you don’t use or enjoy it. More often, to my relief, we would congregate in the kitchen which was the only room that had any degree of warmth. It was spacious with an oak table by a stone fireplace.

The house had a strange vibe. It was hollow and a little sad – devoid of personality. Thomas told me that there had been a fire years ago and most of the house was rebuilt. Thomas’s mother was gone nearly ten years, but he tentatively moved around the house and agonized over moving or changing anything. He was an only child and had inherited the lot, but acted like he still needed permission from mom.

I go to get instructions on the care and feeding of cats and house. After all this time of “knowing” the family I had only seen the first floor. Neither upstairs nor down. When I got the tour I was barely allowed to see the upstairs but did get a tour of the basement which should, had I been a sensible girl, have sent me running. It was unfinished and ramshackle with many stone and dirt creepy crawl spaces wherein the cats would mysteriously disappear. The basement was the truth – the main floor the lie, and I was to discover, the upstairs was the awful truth.

I was told to sleep in the guest room on the first floor. It was inexplicably freezing cold. Since watching movies and shows about the paranormal that was a sign: cold spots. Teeth-chattering shivering cold. Thomas called from Europe and I told him about the Ice Station Zebra problem. He hemmed and hawed and finally said I could sleep in his mother’s room. Hallowed ground! I knew this was a big concession and something he didn’t want to do. Thomas’s bedroom was also upstairs, which I was instructed not to go into, and by glancing from the open door why would I? It was pitch dark and full of junk. A black hole. Across the hall was Eleanor’s room which resembled a Golden Age Hollywood starlet’s bedroom combined with Rebecca’s bedroom from the movie. Ultra-opulent and feminine. Boudoir. Which was strange because Eleanor was none of those things and quite unattractive. That was sad too. So I slept there. One night. It was slightly less frigid than the room downstairs.

The following morning I woke up and was cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm things so I went into Eleanor’s walk-in closet/room hoping there may be an old sweater handy, and I jumped. Among the rows and rows of negligees and fancy slippers was a mannequin head with a red wig on it. Everything was as if Eleanor would walk in at any moment and need a peignoir to entertain guests. Now I’m thinking Norman Bates.

I had enough and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and devise an excuse to get out of my obligation. I was in the kitchen and the sun was pouring in. Another sign – the sun would come in but it didn’t warm or light the house in the normal fashion. As I turned from the stove holding the kettle I see – Eleanor. Dressed in flowing white – but not a shroud. She glances at me and moves through the swinging door into the dining room. I froze. I couldn’t believe it. I put down the kettle and followed her. The door was still swinging and I caught a glimpse of her back as she turned the corner and vanished.

I got into my car and drove to my dad’s house. I didn’t say anything but I did call the girl at the vet’s office (who was the backup plan) to go care for the cats. I planned to leave it at that, but I called my sister’s Wiccan friend, Helen – I wrote about her in an earlier essay – and told her. I had to tell somebody, and Helen would understand? I made her day because she was amped and told me, “Clare, you have to clean that house! Thomas is holding his mother there and she wants to leave!” How did she know? Helen also had some choice observations about Thomas and his cats, but I’ll leave it at that.

Why did I agree to this “plan?” On the surface it’s pretty stupid, but I was curious and wanted see what, if anything, would happen. I have to say that Helen knew her stuff, she rattled off a list of things I would need which took me a day and half to assemble. Including a trip to Home Depot and a sizable length of thin copper wire which a kindly salesclerk cut into 4″ lengths. He looked at my quizzically at one point and I said, “Don’t ask.”

The day of battle arrived. I drove to the house fully equipped and with Helen’s written instructions because this was complicated business – I won’t go into detail. The first thing she told me to do was to light a white candle in a silver candlestick holder – in the room where I saw Eleanor. I placed the candle and holder on the kitchen table and went to light it and realized I didn’t have matches. I walked to the other side of the kitchen where they were on a counter, and the candle flies out of the holder at me. Like someone whipped it – hard. This was the moment where I should have reevaluated the situation. I had goosebumps but I kept on. I put the candle back and proceeded. The interior cleaning took time because it had to be done exactly as Helen prescribed. After that process, where I could feel myself getting physically exhausted, I was to extinguish the candle, close the door to the house and start on the copper wire.

According to Helen, the copper wire is an energy conduit, and as I had “cleaned” the inside of the house I needed to create a route out for Eleanor. Luckily there was a water source at the end of the long drive, and I was pushing the wire into the soft earth from the house all the way down to the stream. As I was nearly finished, it was a sunny cold October day, I looked back at the house and I heard what sounded like many doors slamming violently. More goosebumps.

Helen told me not to reenter the house, to let it rest at least an hour before returning. No convincing needed! Happy to see the place in my rear-view mirror. Later, when I had to go back to get my things, I talked my father into coming with me. I told him nothing, not because he wouldn’t have believed me, but he would have shaken his head and thought that we – I, Helen, Thomas, Eleanor and the cats – this is what we had time for? So we go, and as we’re walking towards the house glancing at two inconsequential garage doors, my father, who was a marine and feared nothing said, “You know, this place gives me the creeps.” Validation! From a sane person!

As Helen predicted, the house was different – better – and the cats were upstairs. Had Helen’s recipe worked? Still I didn’t stay. The cats were attended to by the vet girl and I went home. When Thomas returned, he called to thank me for house-sitting and at the end of the conversation he asked, “By the way, what did you do to the house?” Nothing, I said, and he dropped it. My guess is that he was weird enough to conjure Eleanor back, but I never returned, so I can’t say.

I didn’t see Thomas much after that. A couple of years later we received a postcard with a picture of a renovated cottage and a charming apartment. Thomas had moved to Geneva, why I don’t know. Maybe they have scarier ghosts there, or in the spirit of Swiss neutrality, ghosts without an agenda? I heard through the grapevine that Thomas had subdivided his sizable landholdings, made millions, and leveled the house.

Shortly after my “white magic” encounter, I was in a bookstore that specialized in theology, New Age and crystals. Something for everybody. It was a delightful store and the staff was knowledgeable. One of the last privately-owned bookshops. I was at the register and the woman who was checking me out did a double take and said, “You just did some major housecleaning!” I was impressed. We became friends until she died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I close, remembering the experience and Eleanor’s and Thomas’s unhappy backstory – which I had to leave out because of length, I feel uneasy and a little sad. All those people, for better and worse, are gone from my life and so is any semblance of where they inhabited. Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing and am grateful I was shown something….unusual? And, maybe in some small way I helped Thomas move on.

Happy Housecleaning,

Clare

 

The Squirrel Raises the Stakes

I admire tenacity, I really do. However, my ongoing struggle with our intrepid squirrel continues. In the last few weeks, well first of all it’s been uncommonly warm, so the flowers keep blooming and my guardianship of them grudgingly continues. I did give up on even trying to stop Brother Squirrel from destroying them. Just to mess with me, he’s completely ignoring the begonias and has instead adopted another tack. He is now using our deck as a storehouse for his winter food supply. I found one morning piles of hickory nut husks – his treasure trove –  one of which was heaped into the top of one of the flower pots. Exhibit A: 

In case I didn’t get the point, Brother Squirrel left a partially eaten hickory nut on the railing. Exhibit B (below): Point taken! Territory marked!

Now here’s the curious part. There are no hickory trees surrounding the back yard where the deck is. There are maples and oaks – the usual. So I am imagining that he’s hauling these nuts from wherever the nearest hickory tree is (one by one?) and depositing them onto the porch which is elevated. There’s effort involved. Is this some sort of evil genius at work here?

In my fantasies of what makes Brother Squirrel tick, I see what may be his “end game.” I imagine him in our home, lounging in the recliner – maybe wearing a smoking jacket – with his paws (?) behind his head, and a big old smile on his face; while we are huddled and shivering out on the deck scratching to get in. 

I know that I haven’t even gotten to the endless battle with the family cat, and she too has upped the ante in her efforts to usurp power. Are she and Brother Squirrel having secret meetings, late at night with the screen door between them like Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Are they trading pointers and sharing strategies?

There is more to come. Of that I am sure.  

Peace

Clare Irwin

Clare versus the Squirrel…and the Cat

We’re having summer weather still and it is perfection. I’ve spent more time outdoors than blogging which makes me feel guilty. But, I know that in short order it will end, so carpe diem is my motto of the moment. I can see the subtle changes, the green of the trees is muted, some are changing color just a little. The song of the earth is different too – plenty of birds, but less birdsong in the early morning and early evening. There are a lot of monarch butterflies around, I tried to capture a photo of them, but they move too fast for me. They’ll be heading to points south soon; I wish I was going with them.

Where I live we have a family of squirrels who live in a hollow of a tree off the porch, and they look adorable when they are peaking out of their little home. They’ve been with us for a while, especially the male, the alpha male, of the brood. I recognize him because he has a mark on his right flank. Normally he and I have a good relationship. He has the run of the place and I enjoy watching him doing his gravity defying leaps and twists. However, depending on what flowers I plant in the spring, that is when the cold war begins. He loves to tear and dig up and eat all the flowers. I come home at the end of the day and find the carnage strewn over the deck. So, I Googled what squirrels don’t like and some sites said hot sauce or pepper flakes, another said coffee grounds. I was getting weary of replanting everything so I started putting out the hot sauce and flakes. That seemed to work. Then we rearranged the flowers and suddenly the hot sauce wasn’t enough! Was he taking an antedote? I decided it was time for the coffee grounds. Which worked. Yet the obvious purpose of flowers is their beauty and their flourishing, but with the hot pepper and the coffee grounds – it’s a mess. From a distance things look nice, but on close inspection – well it’s just ridiculous. 

About a month into the coffee ground period I stepped outside one morning and found, nearly at the first step, a nice little pile of squirrel poopies! How’s that for throwing down the gauntlet? This was a clear protest. Okay! So he wants a war, we’ll have a war! I upped the coffee grounds and things settled. I did make the huge mistake of looking on the internet for cleaning up the “droppings.” One guy has a website meticulously documenting every kind of wild animal poop with descriptions and photos. Amazing. Who has this kind of time?

Then I made my second mistake and looked up the best way to clean up the area. I had already removed, with a paper towel, the offending pellets, and then figured I better do more than that or Brother Squirrel will make this his new bathroom. Well, the alarmists were out there in full force- you can get this from squirrel urine and feces, you can get that – and THEY ARE ALL FATAL! Maybe I should just burn the house down, sow the ground with salt, and call the undertaker and short hand the whole thing. One suggestion was to use bleach and dish liquid. I’m sure I did more harm to myself inhaling the bleach fumes than from the gift Brother Squirrel left me. I also called my friend who’s a nurse, and she said as long as I didn’t handle it with my bare hands I should be fine. This was in a voice mail and she added, “Clare, think of all the s%$t you touched and put in your mouth when you were a kid and nothing happened!” She’s absolutely right! We went around barefoot through deep woods and fields all summer long, God knows what we touched and walked on. One of our dogs used to enjoy eating deer poop. And, as my dear friend said, NOTHING HAPPENED!

In the last week the coffee grounds are not working! Does Brother Squirrel have super powers? Was he bitten by a spider whose diet was hot sauce and coffee? So there’s been a bit of tension because I’m just trying to get the flowers to make in through the next weeks until a cold night decides everything. Then Brother Squirrel can have it. But it’s a battle morning and evening. As I am writing this he is lying on the railing of the deck, lounging in the sun and looking right at me. He’s a real agent provocateur.

The other morning I found him in the same position and went to shoo him off, and I must have startled him because he jumped and lost his footing for a second. I felt terrible – I’m attempting to draw boundaries not give the poor thing a coronary. Then I remembered one winter a couple of years ago. It was relentless, one blizzard after another, the kids hardly had school and people were starting to crack. During that long winter of discontent, Brother Squirrel came to my back door and looked mournfully at me. There was so much snow he probably couldn’t forage. I swear if I had opened the door he would have come in and we could have all sat by the fire with graham crackers and milk and waited the winter out. I started to leave him little plates of chopped apple and other fruit and peanuts in shells, and I would find the plate quickly emptied So all this nonsense now seems like a bit of a betrayal – weren’t we cool?

In the final analysis I believe the animal kingdom will defeat me and maybe that is as it should be. I was going to also discuss the unending power struggle with the family cat – who is 14 years old. That’s 70 in cat years. She’s also a female, so there’s that. Happily she’s still pretty frisky – I guess 70 is actually the new 40? Either way her will wins out over every issue. No quarter is given with her. Ever. You would think I would learn, but am I foolishly trying to bring some order (which we all know doesn’t exist) into our world, and animals don’t bother with order. Let’s face it they’re both smarter than I am.

To be continued…

Clare Irwin

To All the Pets We’ve Loved Before…

…and will again and after.

Bull Dog

Bull Dog

A dear young friend of mine lost her beloved pet this past Thursday night. This young lady is a special soul, intelligent, sensitive, creative and loving. A wonderful person, beautiful inside and out. She possesses the pale beauty and perfect features that one sees in paintings of the Northern Renaissance — I am thinking of Jan van Eyck as an example. She loved her pet and cared for her in a fashion that was so touching. My heart aches for her loss. Many of us know the grief of saying our goodbyes to the pets we love with all our hearts: dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, all of them. Of course there is other devastating grief. But I am thinking of this unique and wonderful bond we are able to have with these beautiful creatures who simply love us.

Girl with horse

Girl with horse

Whether it’s a pet from long ago or a recent loss we hold the memory of them in our hearts. They stay with us always.

Baby Mice

Baby Mice

I remember vaguely a movie where a man thinks he has died and gone to heaven. He awakens on a beautiful deserted beach and a dog comes happily running up to greet him. The man says, “Oh, I was hoping there would be dogs here.” Nice. I’m hoping and believing that all the creatures we love will be there too. I recall in prep school singing the lovely Anglican hymn, “All things bright and beautiful,/All creatures great and small,/All things wise and wonderful,/The Lord God made them all…I realize that not everyone shares this belief, but I hope all can take comfort that wherever our lovely pets are they are happy and frolicking and forever beautiful and well.

Black Cat

Black Cat

Clare Irwin

P.S. I hope you will share your remembrances of your much loved pets with me.