Baby It’s Cold Outside

sunsetbeach-house-moonIt’s not. It’s really, really not.  It’s 76 sweaty degrees in Florida today.  It’s gross.  My only consolation is that the pelicans fishing in the bay this morning made a lovely sight.

Last year this time, I wrote a post called “All I Want for Christmas is a Ghost,” which I never got . . . at least not from my old German house.  This year, all I want is some cold weather . . . which I’m not getting from Florida.  So I’m packing up for a few days to fly off to cooler climes.  I’ll post travel photos at some point, once I’m back.

Until then, I don’t want this space to fall fallow, so I am going to re-run my two part ghost story from last Christmas in the next few days.  Don’t think of it as a cheap way to cheat as a blogger; think of it as airing a Christmas classic during the season.  (Just humor me on this.)

Cheers

Christmas in Colmar advent calendar
Christmas in Colmar advent calendar
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Boxing Up My Life– Round Two

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In May of 2014, I posted “Boxing Up My Life,” as we packed and prepared to ship our household goods to Germany.  And then I blinked and it was June of 2016, and I find myself, once again, knee deep in the boxing up process.  I am amazed, and a little dumbfounded, by the inertia of my life.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion– but that doesn’t make the move process any easier.

Nobody likes goodbyes– it’s hard to wrench yourself away from people and places that you love.  And for some of us, even the simple motion of boxing up our domestic goods brings on certain pangs.  It’s a hassle, to be sure, but it’s also a poignant process– the handling, organizing, and thoughtful packing of the things you accumulate.  It’s a time to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to remember why you’ve collected certain items in the first place.  Some objects are curiosities, others are fond memories, and still others are nearly totemic in their connection to the arc of your life.

The handling and packing of these things is gratifying in lots of ways– it’s like watching a retrospective study on your life– but it’s also maddening to ship these things out, in hopes that they will come back to you intact in a few months.

Here is my perspective from two years ago:

My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.

And yet.

I’m a magpie.   I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest.  No, that’s not exactly it.  They become the fabric of my nest.   The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years.  So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.

And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too.  I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly.  But let’s focus on the beauty here:

There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart.  He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.

There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction.  It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door  and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.

There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost.  (We call her Emily.)

The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon,  England  (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking).  It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you.  Brides and widows.  Carolers and clerics.  Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden.  A microcosm of life on one short bench.

There’s the  old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially  hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes.  It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.

The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye.  He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend.  He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale.   All a little shady, but in a seductively  high intrigue way.  We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing.    And, yes, he  had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries.  Inanimate objects?  No way.

Some of it is just stuff.  But so much of it runs deeper than that.  The artifacts of a life lived and loved.  Who could possibly fit that into a box? 

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The Ghost of Christmas Past

I have no idea where this story starts– only Emily could tell you that, and she has been silent for years now.  I can’t fill in all the details, but I can tell you when her shadow crossed over our doorstep.

It was a fine and cozy doorstep in Ripon, North Yorkshire, England, HPIM1355 and it was our home for four fantastic years.  We dove headlong into the spirit of British life and tried to pretend that we were Brits ourselves.

We fooled no one, but we had a good time.  The kids attended British schools, my husband and I drove on the left side of the road (more often than not), and I learned how to make a mean steak and ale pie and sticky toffee pudding.

When we returned to the States in the summer of 2009, there was a posh lilt to my children’s speech, a cupboard full of treacle and hedgerow jam in my kitchen, and a ghost in our walnut chest of drawers.

These things happen when you live close to the Yorkshire Moors.

The old Queen Anne walnut chest -- did we buy more than we bargained for?
The old Queen Anne walnut chest — did we buy more than we bargained for?

The chest that housed our shadowy friend came from an auction house twenty minutes north of our home.  She is a beautiful old walnut piece–Queen Anne era, so roughly 300 years old– originally a chest on stand with longer, probably delicate, legs.  But three centuries of life had, literally, brought her to her knees.  Now she stands on stumps– ball feet that are likely over a hundred years old at this point.

I think the chest is beautiful. . . the hard knocks of a long life have made her quirky, but she still sings to me.

So I was overjoyed when we brought her home from the auction house and carried her into our dining room.  We dusted her off, gently cleaned the insides of the drawers, and whooped and hollered when we found a secret compartment.

It was cobwebby, and James shuddered as he stuck his hand in there.  We both hoped there would be old coins or letters, some relics of the lives lived in times beyond our reach.  But there were only cobwebs.

Or so we thought.

While we moved furniture to settle the new piece into its spot in the dining room, my daughter (who was about 7 years old) was upstairs digging into her dress up box.  She came down the stairs in a colonial era dress, saying that we must call her Emily.  It was cute, and she kept up the charade, never breaking character, until it was finally time to march upstairs and take a bath.

Meanwhile, after dusting our chest and admiring her beauty in a tidy corner of the dining room, we continued on with our life.  Dinner had to be made; children had to be bathed; bedtime stories were read, and, eventually, we all tucked in for the night.  Unsuspecting.

In the wee hours, someone woke me up.  My young children were standing at the edge of the bed.  Without even fully opening my eyes–as this was an all too common pattern with my son, and it was a ritual I could very nearly perform while still asleep– I got up and cupped my arms around my two children to lead them back to bed.  My left arm scooped my son, but my right arm came up empty.  I opened my eyes and turned to find Kate, but she wasn’t there.

“William, where’s your sister?” I asked.  “She isn’t here,” he said.  I shrugged it off, just happy to have only one child to put back to bed.

But I woke up the next morning and sat bolt upright:  two children, I thought, I saw two children.  I saw two children–a boy and a girl.  There were two, and then there was one.  I asked my son again that morning where his sister had gone, but he told me that she was never there.

I don’t spook easily.  I’m not particularly superstitious.  And, oddly, I was fairly pragmatic about this.  I told my husband about the incident and put it out of my mind.

For a few days.

Until I woke up in the middle of the night to find my husband standing up and running his hands all around the bed, looking for something.  “What are you doing?” was my question, naturally.  “One of the kids is in the bed,” he said.  “No,” I said, “there’s no one in the bed but me.”  But he wasn’t convinced.  Something was in the bed; someone had come into the room.

Someone.

There was really only one explanation.  Only one new member of the family in the past week.  And apparently she was more ambulatory than those ball feet let on.  Could a piece of furniture harbor a ghost?  We decided to call this maybe-ghost Emily.  I suppose she had tried to announce herself the minute she came into the house.

We spent the next few days sipping a strange cocktail of emotions–a shot of intrigue, a splash of fear, a dash of dread, and a big old chaser of humor.  Honestly, who buys a ghost with their furniture?  And a ghost that tries to climb in bed with you at that?  There is a whole lot of creepy to that–but, as  much as I squeezed my eyes tight the next few nights and swore to open them for nothing until the morning came, my motherly instincts kept asking why?   I mean, assuming there was a ghost and we weren’t just nuts whose imaginations had run away with them (not a sure bet, I know), why would a child keep just showing up in our room?  Loneliness, I suppose.

I wanted to know the story–this ghost was going to kill me with curiosity, if nothing else.  So my husband and I drove back to the auction house and asked the owner, Rodney, if he could shed any light on the piece of furniture we’d bought.  He disappeared in the back office and quickly reappeared with the only paperwork he had on that piece of furniture–paperwork indicating that the chest had been removed from The Old School House in Thoresway, Lincolnshire.

This told us absolutely nothing about the circumstances of the chest, but it also did nothing to quell our interest.  A School House?  A building with a long history of children, children, and more children?  Our heads were spinning.

But what can you do?  We didn’t have an answer at hand, we didn’t even have a problem on our hands, we just had a curiosity.  A couple of incidents in a couple of weeks’ time.  And plenty of friends to add in their two cents:  antiques have bad feng shui, and did we know that young children used to sleep in dresser drawers (pulled out) before there were cribs?  My favorite reaction came from the wife of the local cathedral’s canon:  Oh how wonderful!  I’ve always wanted to see a ghost!  DSC_0197

Within the next week or two, I purchased an old painting from an antique market: a portrait of a child with her dog.  We named her Emily and hung her on the wall by the chest.  If you can’t beat them, join them, right?

**

I’m not sure how to tell you the next part of the story. To be honest, I usually tell it to friends around a table where the wine is flowing freely. Somehow that puts people in a better mindset to hear it . . . and also makes them more understanding of this next twist.

I’m a softy, and I’m sometimes a kook, and when something lies heavy on my heart and I drink wine–you know.   Emily didn’t show up much in the next year, but this is no surprise because she and I had a heart to heart late one night, and I think this put her at rest.

James and I had been out to a friend’s party–homebodies that we are–and we’d had a very good time.  I had an especially good time, and came home feeling very generous and earnest and just a bit wobbly.  When we got home, I pulled a chair up to the chest and proceeded to tell Emily, at great length, that we just wanted her to be happy, and that we were terribly sorry if we acted terrified of her, but we’d be honored to have her in our home.

Because that’s how everyone talks to their ghost-furniture, right?

Well, you know, I meant it.  And it worked.  Peaceful nights from then on.

**

And then we moved Emily over the ocean on a slow boat and resettled her in Georgia.  We laughed a slightly nervous laugh and joked that she’d be really angry about that–brace for chaos.  But no chaos came.

We moved into a new house, re-floored, painted, and set Emily up in the formal living room.  The house looked good; the chest looked good; the feng   shui felt right.

And then my husband threw a curve ball.  He saw a wierd, shadowy something in the corner of the front hall–right by the living room.  He didn’t know . . .he was just saying . . .it was strange and his first thought was Emily.

But I didn’t believe a word of it.  James likes to play pranks, and as much as he insisted, I laughed and said right, like I would believe that.  End of conversation.

Until a few weeks later, when I was scrolling through messages and pictures on my new flip phone (it was 2009).  My daughter, then a 4th grader, had been having fun with the camera phone–catching her grandmother in her pj’s, photographing her brother with a cabbage on his head, taking a photo she entitled Haunted Hallway. . . . This stopped me cold. She had photographed the same spot in the house James had described and she gave it that caption.

I very nonchalantly asked her about the photo.  She said, “Oh, it just looked wierd, so I took it.”  No more reason, no more thought.  It was haunted seeming, so she took the picture.  The photo didn’t look that strange to me, but then how photogenic are ghosts?

And what a strange, strange coincidence.

**

You can be a skeptic, and I won’t blame you.  But me, I’m a big fan of Emily.  At least for now.

When we moved to Germany, we left her in a storage facility until we return next year.  That could make for one mad ghost.  Check back with me in a year, and see how she took it.  Or, better yet, come over and drink wine with me next year–we’ll have a heart to heart with Emily and smooth things over.

 

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.”
 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol  

 

This Old House: Your First Questions and Observations Answered

 

lego castleOur house sparks a little interest, a little concern, and a little inquisitiveness in folks.  So I thought I’d answer a few queries and concerns here.

Question Number One:  A friend came over for dinner with us and brought his eight year old son.  When we answered the front door, the son just stood there, looking up, then to the left and right.  “Is this a castle?” he asked.

Answer:  No, this is not a castle.  But it could play one on TV.

Question  Worrisome Observation Number Two:  I was standing in the kitchen, looking out the front window the other day when my son and daughter came walking home from school.  They stopped in front of the house and had a very animated conversation with a couple of kids from down the street.  Then those kids ran off  quick as lightening.        When my brood came inside, I asked them what that was all about.  “They said our house looks spooky,” was the response I got.

In answer:  Yeah, I guess it is a little spooky.  And you haven’t even seen the utility bills.   Aiieee!

(Drum Roll) The Most Frequently Asked Question:   Is it haunted?

Answer:  Thank goodness, nothing scary so far.  Some very creaky floor boards, and a few weird smells (possibly the house, possible my tweenage son), but nothing ghoulish.   If that ever changes, you’ll hear all about it.

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Boxing Up My Life

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My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.

And yet.

I’m a magpie.   I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest.  No, that’s not exactly it.  They become the fabric of my nest.   The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years.  So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.

And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too.  I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly.  But let’s focus on the beauty here:

There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart.  He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.

There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction.  It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door  and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.

There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost.  (We call her Emily.)

The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon,  England  (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking).  It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you.  Brides and widows.  Carolers and clerics.  Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden.  A microcosm of life on one short bench.

There’s the  old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially  hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes.  It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.

The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye.  He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend.  He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale.   All a little shady, but in a seductively  high intrigue way.  We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing.    And, yes, he  had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries.  Inanimate objects?  No way.

Some of it is just stuff.  But so much of it runs deeper than that.  The artifacts of a life lived and loved.  Who could possibly fit that into a box?

 

*If you have stories to share of “found objects” that have become part of your life, I’d love to hear them–leave a comment.

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The boxing has begun.