One of my family ghost story, one that I actually witnessed as a child… Happy Allhallows Eve!
I was a kid when my
grandmother on my mom’s side passed away.
We were out camping at the time, so word didn’t get to us until we
returned from the trip. My mom was
devastated. Her mother had choked on a
chicken bone during a midnight
snack, and Grandpa didn’t find her until the following morning.
Years passed and the tragedy
faded. We moved from Arizona
ending up in the heart of California’s
central valley. I remember this part
clearly, because we were living in a duplex.
At least three, probably four, years had passed since my grandmother had
Suddenly, out of nowhere, my
dead grandmother arrives via parcel post.
I don’t remember a whole lot
about this grandmother. She’s only a
vague image in my memory, because she passed away while I was so young. Being that she was only 14 years older than
my mom, she didn’t feel she was old enough to be called “Grandma” so
I was instructed to call her “Nana.”
Nana and her husband, my mom’s
stepfather who they all called “Spud,” were only occasional
visitors. I mainly remember them from
Christmas mornings. Grandpa Spud is
especially vivid in my memory because of the year he dressed up as Santa and
scared the holy hell out of me.
So, years later, Nana shows up
at our duplex in California
in a white box. She’d been cremated and
these were her ashes. Obviously they
didn’t wait this long to cremate her, but I’m at a loss for why it took so long
for the ashes to reach us. I’d hate to
think they’d been lost in the mail all that time.
The ashes arrived addressed to
my father, because Nana’s will stipulated that she wanted to be cremated and
have her ashes spread via airplane over a specific forest in Oregon.
My father, being a pilot with his own airplane, was the logical
choice. They had all lived in the same
area up in Oregon
in the 1950’s, back when my dad was in the lumber business. I guess this forest was someplace dear to
Nana; perhaps that’s where Spud had proposed to her. My father was familiar with the place. The idea of flying up there and taking care
of Nana’s last wish wasn’t a problem.
However, it wasn’t a priority either.
After all, she was already years dead, and my father was a busy man.
Nana’s ashes, still securely
sealed in the white cardboard box, sat around the house for a while. It would spend some time on the dining room
table, or the coffee table in the living room.
Or I’d occasionally see it sitting on the kitchen counter. Finally during a frenzy of housecleaning, Dad
took the box and put it on a shelf in the garage. There it sat for quite some time.
It was after Dad put the white
box in the garage that Mom started noticing weird things going on. She’d be cooking dinner, and have the oven
set to a specific temperature. She’d turn
away and take care of some other detail, and turn back to see the oven temperature
knob was not where she’d set it.
Puzzled, she’d set the knob back to the proper temperature, then later
discovered someone moved it again. This
was unsettling, especially since she was the only one in the kitchen the entire
Then Mom noticed that someone
kept changing the temperature on the air conditioner. This also was odd because it was happening
while my dad was at work and I was at school
There was no one else in the house.
These things had been going on
for a while before Mom finally mentioned it.
She didn’t seem frightened; she seemed bemused, almost comforted. It was familiar to her, because it was
exactly the kind of things that would happen when Nana was around. Mom and Nana always argued about what
temperature to set the stove or oven, and Nana always wanted it colder or
warmer in the house than Mom did.
This talk of Nana’s ghost
being in the house scared me, but I didn’t see any of these inconsistencies of
temperature settings with my own eyes. I
was 10 or 11 years old at the time. My
toys weren’t moving around, and I wasn’t seeing anything strange. Nana wasn’t appearing to me in a doorway or
anything like that. So I didn’t really
believe it. It still gave me chills but
it was fun to go along with it. Mom had
always believed in ghosts. Ghosts were
fun. Being scared was fun.
This changed when our little
dog, Taffy, started getting involved.
Taffy was a long-haired Chihuahua
that my dad used to call “Ten pounds of love in a five pound
package.” She was a tiny little
thing, but she thought she was a ferocious attack dog. Taffy had no fear, and she was on guard at
all times to protect her family. She’d
bark at the mailman, at other dogs and cats, and especially at visitors that
she didn’t recognize.
Suddenly Taffy had begun to
bark frantically at things that no one could see. Especially in the late evening, she’d
suddenly start growling and barking for all she was worth at a corner in the
dining room, or at a spot in the hallway.
It didn’t seem to be that she was barking at something she heard or
smelled, because she had her eyes fixed on a specific point and all her
attention was right there, right in front of her. She was barking and snapping at thin air.
This is something I witnessed
personally. It was very freaky. I remember that it even disturbed my
Dad. “Taffy!” he’d say. “What the hell are you barking at? Taffy!
Stop!” He’d have to bend
down and pick her up, and carry her away from whatever had her so upset.
Finally, there was the time
when my dad was gone on an extended business trip, and my mom and I were up
late and watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We were sitting together on the couch, with
Taffy at our feet, and Taffy started growling.
By this time she’d gotten a lot less frantic about the whole thing,
having become more familiar with whatever it was that upset her. She’d just stare and give a low warning
On this night, she did more
than just stare at a spot in front of her.
Very slowly her head turned as she was growling, as if she were watching
something cross the room from left to right.
It was weird. I remember sliding
over closer to my Mom. Taffy suddenly
stood up, still tracking something with her eyes. She was pointing toward Dad’s rocking chair.
As we watched, and as Taffy
continued to growl, the chair moved slightly.
Just a little bit forward, and just a little bit back, like something
was trying to rock in it. I remember the
look on Mom’s face. She turned toward me
to make sure I was seeing the same thing she was seeing.
I didn’t have to convince her
to let me sleep in her and Dad’s bed that night. We slept with the lights on. As soon as my dad got home from the business
trip, Mom told him that he needed to get Nana’s ashes spread over that Oregon forest. He needed to do it now.
Dad agreed. He took me along as copilot. Back then he had a single-prop Cessna 192 and
it took a while to fly all the way up to Oregon,
but he navigated us via familiar landmarks to where we needed to be and then
had me open the white box. Inside was a
thick plastic bag. I’d expected the
ashes to be white and powdery, like the ones in the fireplace, but they
weren’t. They were strange flat chips
colored black and gray. After all those
years, there was Nana — and now, as I’m writing this, when I think about Nana
this is all I can see. Not her face or
her voice, but these strange looking ashes.
In an airplane, you can’t just
crank down a window and toss something out.
The only part of the window that opened was this little five-inch hatch,
and when Dad reached across and flopped it open, the wind made an unbelievable
wail and it was like a tornado had been let loose inside the cockpit. I had a hole cut in the plastic bag, and I
shoved it up against the open window hatch as my dad dipped one wing low and
circled. Most of Nana’s ashes made it
out the window, but a good percentage of it swirled around us in the
cockpit. I even got some in my mouth. My dad was yelling and the airplane bucked
and jumped. The ashes stung my eyes.
There was a sudden THWAK, and
the window sucked the last of the ashes out along with the plastic bag. I shut the little hatch, and continued
spitting out ashes. Dad leveled the
airplane, and after a few moments began laughing. We turned south and headed back home.
After that day, Taffy no
longer barked at invisible things, and the air conditioner and oven ceased
changing the settings on their own. That
cinched it for Mom. For her there was
absolutely no other explanation than it being the ghost of Nana haunting the
duplex, waiting for us to fulfill her final wishes. I think my father was convinced, too.
Happy Halloween, everyone!