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Two Family Ghost Stories: My Grandmother and the Angry Red Haired Ghost
In the previous two hubs in this series I talked about two novels about ghosts, and two memoirs by people who report direct experience with ghosts. In this hub I’m going to tell two ghost stories from my family. I didn’t witness either of these events myself, but I did hear each story directly from the person who believes they encountered a ghost.
Ghost Story #1: My Grandmother Meets My Future Husband
The first took place a few weeks before my wedding, which was in 1991. My fiancé, soon to be my husband, stayed overnight at my aunt and uncle’s house after we had all been working on wedding details. The next day he said to me quietly, “I think I saw your grandmother last night.” My grandmother had been dead for a year at this point. “Your grandmother was kind of a big lady, wasn’t she?” I nodded: my grandmother was from the Old Country, and she was a large lady all her life. She always shook her head over skinny American girls.
“So what makes you think it was her?” I asked in a low tone. I didn’t want my aunt and uncle in the next room to overhear. My uncle had taken his mother’s death hard. Also, my fiancé and I were devout Christians. The topic of ghosts had never come up, and like Gary Jansen, author of “Holy Ghosts,” I remained leery of a subject not often talked about in the faith I was committed to. I had yet to learn that my mother-in-law had quite an interest in ghosts, and had seen a few of them. My husband grew up hearing about ghosts.
“I don’t know it was her. That was just my impression. She was large, and I could tell she was interested in me because she was very interested in you, and what was happening with you.”
“What did you do?”
“I told her she’d better go away. I said it pretty forcefully.”
“You told my grandmother to go away?” He’d always had the best of manners with my family.
“Sweetie, she woke me up in the middle of the night. Besides, I had a strong impression that whoever the ghost was, it wasn’t supposed to be there. It was against God’s order of things. That’s why I spoke to it that way.” I was beginning to learn that despite his mildness, when he felt himself in the right he had a will of iron.
“Do you really think there is such a thing as ghosts?” I asked.
“The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost when He appeared after the resurrection,” he pointed out. “And He told them He wasn’t a ghost because He had flesh and bones. If ghosts weren’t real, He would have said so then, instead of explaining why He wasn’t one.” I had always thought of ghost stories as superstition, not something for an intellectual and a serious Christian. A theology of ghosts hadn’t occurred to me.
From the perspective of Mary Ann Winkowski’s book, my grandmother’s ghost wanting to meet my future husband makes perfect sense. Of her eight grandchildren, I was by far the favored one. After my parent’s split, my mother moved in with my grandmother, so I grew up in her house. Her will specified that her estate could not be divided until all my college expenses were paid: everything would be reserved for me until I was independent. As it turned out, medical bills ate up her small estate, but the intention was clear. Of her four children and eight grandchildren, I was the priority.
My grandmother was old school. She didn’t care for men as people, but she did think getting married was important for a woman, and finding a decent man rather than a humbug was important. When I came home from an eighth grade dance with the story of two boys spending most of the evening cutting in on each other dancing with me, she looked proud as a queen. I know she would have wanted to see me settled in a marriage with a reliable man.
That she would have balked at God’s natural order of things is believable as well. She might not argue, she might just say nothing, but good luck getting her to do something she didn’t want to do. If Winkowski is right in her description of the secret life of ghosts, they have the freedom to refuse to go into the light, the freedom to remain on earth although they don’t belong here. You might say they have the same sort of freedom living people do: the power to do things that aren’t right and don’t help anyone, themselves included.
Was it my grandmother in the middle of the night? I don’t know. I think it might have been.
Ghost Story #2: Bawled Out By A Fiery Redhead
My husband’s mother told me this story. I’m going to recreate it in her voice.
“I was getting the divorce, and Matthew was a baby, maybe a toddler. I wasn’t really taking good care of him, I know that. I was feeding and dressing him, but no emotional relationship. And kids need that. He wasn’t doing very well, I realize now. I was drinking a lot too.
One night I put him to bed in his crib, then went and mixed myself a cocktail and sat on the couch. That was what I did most nights.
Suddenly a tall ghost with long auburn hair walked into the room, holding baby Matthew in her arms. She walked right up to me, and she looked angry. ‘You are doing a TERRIBLE job!’ she said. ‘If you don’t do better than this, I’m going to take him back!’ As suddenly as she appeared, the red haired ghost vanished.
I jumped up and ran into his bedroom, and there Matthew was, asleep in his crib as usual.” She paused here, and got a faraway look. “She sounded so angry. But I did stop drinking after that. And I started taking better care of him.”
I wasn’t inclined to argue semantics with my mother-in-law, especially when she told me a story that must have been so personally embarrassing for her. But at the time I doubted the angry redhead was a ghost. In light of reading “Holy Ghosts” and “When Ghosts Speak,” I’ve rethought this. I had the impression that ghosts, if they existed at all, were traumatized individuals who were absorbed with their own wrongs, like Ann Boylyn’s ghost, who has been seen many times, wandering around bewailing her trumped up execution. But Winkowski describes ghosts being just like living people in adopting strong opinions about the right and wrong of things, and also liking to impress these opinions on the living if they can. In this light, the auburn lady could have been any ghost in the neighborhood who observed a young mother spiraling down into depression and alcohol and decided to throw a scare into her. The “take him back” threat would have been empty, just something to say for effect.
Before reading these books I always thought the redhead sounded more like a guardian angel than a ghost. Jesus himself said that children have guardian angels. But what to make of “take him back”? Guardian angels watch over the child, they don’t decide if the child should live or not. And I think an angel, unlike a human or a human’s ghost, would be unlikely to say something not exactly true for the sake of shock value.
I think it would be fair to say that Winkowski’s book made me see these old family stories in a new light. The stories actually make more sense if Winkowski is right, and earthbound ghosts can exist alongside the living, and every so often communicate a bit. Oddly enough, if ghosts are essentially the same as living people, their behavior in these two stories makes more sense.
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