This I Believe
I believe in ghosts. They whisper to me through old window panes on stormy nights, reminders of the kidnapper who fled my mother’s screams twenty-four years ago. They greet me in the soft murmurs of Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, tucked behind the locked door of my empty classroom. They echo with the laugher of my aunt in a picture taken seventeen years before she died. They comfort me with the voice of my grandfather, a voice that preached with compassion and strength. This is the voice that I hear through the feeble, fragmented tones resonating through his hospital phone.
I remember this voice from my childhood vacations to his Florida home. Every morning, I rolled from bed before the others and ran to the front porch. “Hello, Carrie!” he said as the screen door slapped the door frame behind me. He sat behind a table and held a knife above a bowl of freshly-plucked oranges. He offered me a slice and gently squeezed my hand over the pitcher in front of him. He laughed as I licked the sticky pulp and spread its citrus stain. Beside him I sat as he filled the pitcher and told me stories of how his family found their way to Florida. Of how his mother, a Connecticut belle, took to the South with an Indiana farm boy and his dreams of finding fortune in beehives. Of how hard the Depression hit, of how his mother addressed his black neighbors with “Sir” and “Ma’am,” of how my great-aunts weren’t allowed to skip in their skirts for fear of tearing the fabric.
It is this voice I hear, not the one that rejects the orange slices. Not even they can spare him from the metallic taste of his colon’s battle. I piece together his ramblings from the oncology ward. I picture him in his hospital bed, surrounded by makeshift curtains and metal instruments, a black television that he won’t watch hangs from the ceiling. He asks if I will still visit on Wednesday. I weep until I hear a sigh. A voice from the past questions what the teachers are teaching when his high school granddaughter cannot name the states that border the Mississippi, the countries that touch the equator, the Revolutionary War sites near her home in Pennsylvania.
The ghosts comfort me. I know that my grandmother hears them too. She waits in the passenger seat as my mother drives her to the hospital in the morning. She holds a purse in one hand and her Bible in the other. She sits by my grandfather’s bed and reads from the Scriptures. He tells me that he likes this. I want to ask my grandmother what the voice says to her, but she can’t hear me. She catches me watching her and puts her hand on my knee. She says that when she is alone in her room at night, she feels the pressure of a hand on hers.
I believe in ghosts.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.