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Birthdays and Gifts from Ghosts

If I believed in ghosts, I would say one led me to their journals . . . Here’s the story.

Mary and Bob circa 1964

In August 2006, the week after Grandma died, I traveled to her home in Morenci, Michigan to be with my family. Her house was in disarray – most items out of place – half-packed and sorted for distribution to relatives, Good Will, garage sales, the landfill. Those couple of days in her home were filled with lots of traffic and chatter – practical discussions about which grand-daughter in-law would take which set of silver and how to ship the old post office desk without damaging it. The great grandchildren were set up with stacks of old bills and the shredder; neighbors continued to come and go. The place was noisy.

But the nights were different. My parents slept in Grandma’s room and I slept in the guest room. My brother, his family and the rest of our extended family stayed in nearby hotels and with Grandma’s sister, who lives in the same small town. That first evening after my parents went to bed, things finally got quiet. By lamplight, the house didn’t seem so taken apart.

Even though I was exhausted from two flights, hours of delay in O’Hare, the emotional high of seeing family after too long apart, and the anxiety of how to comfort loved ones in mourning, my thoughts raced. It would be hours before I could sleep. I wanted four things: a strong drink, dessert, a made for TV movie, and the lowered brain activity that was sure to come from all of the above.

Decades earlier, when Grandpa had been diagnosed with heart problems, his doctor prescribed periodic nightcaps. Right up until her death, Grandma continued the ritual of sporadic spots of Canadian Club at bedtime. It didn’t take much hunting to find her stash. Not far from the bottle of whiskey, she had a bag of chocolates stowed. I poured an inch of alcohol and followed it with Vernors and ice cubes. It was then, while I unwrapped a few mini candy bars and arranged them on a plate, that the inexplicable thought came. It was simple and direct.

“Go to the back bedroom.”

So I did. And as soon as I arrived in the doorway of the bedroom, I thought,

“Open the bottom drawer of the dresser.”

So I did. I saw folded blankets, but without pause, I somehow knew to lift them.

And there they were — stacks of Grandpa’s diaries, dozens of spiral notebooks, titled with the words, “Mary and Bob’s Journal”.

The odd thing is, I wasn’t surprised. There had been no hunting, no searching, no memory of the journals. It was as if I had been directed straight to them by an outside force.

I would be spending that evening with my grandparents. Both of them.

Late into the night, I sat in Grandma’s chair sipping her Canadian Club and read about visits to the library and games of solitaire. Page after page, Grandpa had chronicled their retirement activities in third person with luxuriously mundane detail. Day after day, there are wake up times and temperatures, golf scores and errands recounted. Rarely, if ever, did he mention emotions or qualitative judgments. Things simply were. I read for hours, entranced with the peaceful rhythm of their days.

“October 6, 1979

“Happy Birthday to Mary!!

“Bob up at nine-thirty and Mary shortly after. . . . after goofing off a while he and Mary went to Toledo. Mary bought a blouse at Lion Store and also some writing paper. Bob bought a Parker refill for “The Big Red”. Then they went to Best and Co. for a Texas Instruments TI-1025 calculator and to Bill Knapp’s for Mary’s birthday supper and cake. Back home quite early (about seven) and to bed around eleven.”

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In 1987, when Grandpa took ill and was admitted to the hospital, Grandma’s handwriting replaces his. Several pages later, she wrote this entry:

“March 7, 1987

“Bob died at 1:16 a.m.
“Harlan Correll and Ruth
[her sister] went to Toledo Hospital with me but we arrived twelve (12) minutes too late.”

Grandma continued writing the journals for years after that. She continued using the title, “Mary and Bob’s Journal.”

“October 6, 1987

“Gray – cloudy, misty day. My birthday. It’s been a nice one. Ruth [her sister] took me to Toledo shopping and to Bill Knapp’s for a very nice lunch. . . . received several cards today . . . .”

Happy Birthday, Grandma.

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One thought on “Birthdays and Gifts from Ghosts

  1. I just found your post, and it resonated with me. My grandmother lived in Milan, which is not too far from Morenci. We lived near Chicago, but we would visit her for weeks at a time during my childhood. She too had a back bedroom in her house, where she would sleep during our stay. Bill Knapp’s was always a part of these visits. When she died in 1975, we all ate at Bill Knapp’s the evening before her funeral. Your post has brought back pleasant and bittersweet memories for me. Thanks!

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    Thanks for sharing that, David. Best wishes, Ruth

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