a ghost story

not so ghostly then, early 60s

I don’t believe in ghosts. Not literally anyway. So I can’t explain this one, except that it’s a story my mother told me, and it seems the right date to tell it.

When I was about fourteen or fifteen, my grandmother, my mother’s mother, died.

My grandmother was from Scotland, born in Edinburgh, somewhere. I tried looking it up once, but it seemed I needed to know exactly where, and I don’t. In fact, when I tried to figure out where my grandmother was born, I realized I didn’t even know her birth date, let alone the borough/county/area she was born in.

But that doesn’t really matter, as I do remember her, she did exist, and now she doesn’t. Which makes her a good candidate for a ghost story, yes?

My grandmother had cancer, which is hardly uncommon. She was ill for a long time, in my memory, and for what was probably a tortuous time for her; she even stayed in our house for awhile, perhaps to recover from some surgery, or just so my mother could look after her.

It must have been awful, because my mother worked, and we three kids were teenagers, and not particularly helpful. I remember one time my grandmother pointing out to me (impatiently? appalled?) that vacuuming in the middle of the room was rather useless, as most of the dust was in the corners, and under furniture. I thought she was a real pain, and I wasn’t very nice about it, though I have ever since found it very hard to ignore the dust in corners. It’s not my only memory of our relationship; there are many good ones, but I do remember my churlishness at that point, and wish I could apologize. (Maybe she’s still haunting me!)

After a while my mother must have figured out this was hopeless, or maybe my grandmother just progressed in her illness, and could no longer sit in our living room all the time. She must have slept somewhere, but I don’t for the life of me remember where. There was no spare space, and it is no exaggeration to call the place we lived a hovel. I’m sure it didn’t help my mother in whatever need she might have had for her mother’s approval. So it was with great relief all around that she eventually got back to her apartment on Granville Street.

I don’t remember the exact timeline, but eventually I do remember that my mother hired a nurse to look after my grandmother. This woman stayed in the apartment  for several weeks until Grandma died (and my mother gave her one of Grandma’s fur coats, as a thankyou).

My mother was the executor, and the only one of her siblings in the city, so  made all the arrangement. We had a memorial service, which I remember as it was one of the few times we’d all gone to church together. My grandmother was a member of a bowling club, and it turns out had friends; I remember many people at the service, and then afterwards at her apartment all sorts of people came for tea. Old people, as I recall.

I think of this now, and think my mother had quite a challenge, in putting on this proper tea for her mother in her apartment, with her rather unhelpful children dragging along behind. My grandmother always disapproved of my mother, and maybe it didn’t help that we were such an unprepossessing lot at that time, but I think it was especially important to my mother that the tea be done properly (and I rather suspect it was).

But my memory is foggy. I remember people leaving, but I don’t remember staying to help (and doubt my brothers did either). I do remember though, what my mother told me after, that she could still feel the presence of her mother in the apartment, and that it was strong.

So M0m cleaned up after the tea, and then left the apartment, the job done quite satisfactorily, she thought. But as she was locking the door, she clearly heard her mother’s voice speaking (sharply, actually.)

“Catharine,” she said. “The stove!”

So my mother went back into the apartment, and saw that the stove was still on, and that there was a pot sitting on the stove, starting to scorch. She turned off the stove, moved the pot, looked around, and then left the apartment again.

She once more locked the door, but she could feel it: Grandma was gone. The place was just an empty apartment.

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