My Father, the Ghost Hunter

If there is thing you could say about my father it is that he left a memorable impression. He was the sort of man that seventeen years after his death family friends and acquaintances still speak of him with respect and wonder. I have memories of him that will astonish you, but if you knew the man you would just nod your head and accept it. It’s only now that I am an adult and can look back at my childhood memories with a new perspective and realize that he was more than just my dad. It is only now that I can come to terms with the idea that my father could see ghosts.

I suppose it will help to give you a brief history of my dad’s life, or at least the parts of it that I know — much of it told to me by my mother over the years since his death when I was twelve years old. Not much is known about my dad prior to his marriage to my mother, except that he was in the Air Force and worked as a “budget analyst” during the Vietnam War, or at least that what his paperwork said. I learned from my mother that he had some kind of top secret clearance and was always flying to places like Turkey and Greece. It’s also known that he was a sort of “human guinea pig” for the Air Force in the early 1960s but my mother tells me he was “very very quiet” about it and never told her straight out what it was they did to him. She suspects that he was given experimental drugs, and given the nature of his paranormal abilities, it’s quite possible that he was part of an secret Air Force experiment dealing with telepathy and extra-sensory perception.

There is not sufficient evidence to prove this suspicion, and unless my father contacts me from beyond the grave to validate it, no one will know for sure. But what I do have is the stories he left behind, some of which I experienced first-hand and some of which were told to me by my mother and older siblings.

When my father was in his twenties he was one of the leading advocates in the world for the Boy Scouts of America. He traveled frequently and set up Boy Scout camps all over the United States. Years before he met my mother, he traveled through a dreary small town in northern Michigan called Kalkaska. As he passed through, he sensed that he was going to fall in love with someone named “Donald” from this town. At the time it scared him quite badly, not knowing or understanding whether he was going to become homosexual. It was only years later, after he had met my mother at Michigan State University in southern Michigan that he was able to laugh at the incident. You see, my mother’s first name is Donalda, and she is a native of Kalkaska.

It wasn’t until I was ten years old that I realized there was something different about my dad. We were living in England at the time, in a tiny little town called Darley, near Harrogate in North Yorkshire, where my parents both taught school on the nearby military base. The principal of the school, Mr. LaLonde, had invited our family over to their house for a night of activities. This meant the adults would sit around the kitchen table drinking and telling stories while the kids were kept occupied in the living room watching a movie or playing a game. The LaLonde’s house was very old, and three stories high. Made mostly of stone it was in one of the oldest parts of Harrogate, set back from the road. It was large enough of a house to have been owned at one time by a rich baron a few centuries before.

While the children played Monopoly, my father led the adults in a séance, something he did occasionally with close friends. It’s difficult to determine if my father only did this as a party trick or whether it was completely authentic, but whatever it was it scared the crap out of the LaLondes. My father was able to tell them things about their house that only a home-owner would know. Like how the door leading to the attic would sometimes be found wide open, despite it having a tendency to stick so hard it took both arms to tug it open. During the séance that evening, my father slipped into a trance and reported what he was seeing. He said there was the sound of a young girl crying, hiding in a kitchen cupboard. The girl was crying because there had been a murder in the house, most likely a servant whose quarters were in a sub-basement below the house. This was the first time my father had ever been to the LaLonde’s house and there was no way he could have known about the servant’s quarters. After he came out of the trance, the LaLonde’s showed my parents the hidden passage that led to the sub-basement. When my father saw the servant’s kitchen, his face turned ash white.

In another incident my parents and older sister were visiting the Hellfire caves in West Wycombe in southern England. The caves are most famous for being the location where Sir Francis Dashwood and his inner circle of friends (the Knights of St Francis or Monks of Medmenham), including Benjamin Franklin, held secret meetings and performed black magic rites. My father snuck away from the tour group to explore parts of the caves that were off-limits. When he came back he was able to recount facts about the caves that very few people knew. It’s unlikely that my father, an American with little access to obscure British history, could know such things unless he learned them in his own way. No one knows what he did during the time he was away from the tour group, but it’s pretty easy to guess. My father was hunting ghosts.

I still have the deck of Tarot cards my father used to tell fortunes. It was a common party trick he performed regularly, usually among family friends. When I was eight years old my family was living in American Samoa, a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific. Our next-door neighbors were the happily-married Mehelis family, originally from Seattle, Washington. One evening after the popcorn had been consumed and the board games were put away my father got out his Tarot deck and began telling fortunes. After the cards were laid out, he looked at Carolyn Mehelis and said “There’s been a problem with your marriage, hasn’t there?” Carolyn turned to look at her husband and asked “How could he possibly know that?” It turns out that several years before Carolyn had left her husband for a short while and after they had reconciled they had sworn to never tell anyone.

My father also once told my mother’s fortune, something that is expressly forbidden by those who do readings. Notably, telling the fortune of a spouse will result in very bad luck. But my father persisted and proceeded anyway. He dealt the cards said to her, “You will be a young widow” and my mother replied, “You must be talking about my mother,” who was only 40 years old when her husband died. My father died young, at the age of 42. My mother was only 39.

Early in 1973, a few months before I was born my father came home with two new baby strollers. My mother asked him why he had bought two. He grinned, kissed her and replied “Two-for-one sale. We’re having twins.” My mother just stared at him. The doctor had said he was certain she was carrying only one baby. A month later and six weeks early, my twin brother and I were born. Somehow, my father knew.

On a Friday, four days before he died he came home from the hospital where he had been for four months, recovering from a massive heart attack. He locked himself in the den for the entire weekend and arranged bills and paperwork for my mother. All of the neighbors were pleased to see him home, knowing that our family had been going through a very difficult time. My mother tried to make him comfortable, and hoped he would spend some time with us kids but the drugs he was on made him very tired. When he wasn’t in the den, he was sleeping. When my mother asked him how he was feeling, he replied, “If I go back there, I’m coming out on a slab.” On Monday, he returned to the hospital. On Tuesday morning, he died. Somehow, he knew.

It’s difficult to know whether my father’s abilities were authentic or whether he was just unusually perceptive and picked up on things that other people ignored. To this day I still do not know. The stories lead me to believe that my father knew something, that he had some sort of extra sense that allowed him to know the things he did.

A few years ago I was alone, working late at night in my office in Manhattan. The office was on the eleventh floor of a building and my desk was near a window. I was sitting at my desk working on some HTML for a web application when I happened to look up and out the window where I saw a woman’s face staring back at me. Impossible! The hairs on my neck stood up and I felt a cold shiver travel through my body. My heart pounding from a rush of adrenaline, I froze and forced myself to look away. When I opened my eyes she was gone. Behind me I heard something fall to the floor. When I turned around I saw nothing but I felt an old but familiar presence and I knew right then, at that very moment, that I would be safe.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at October 31, 2002 11:59 PM

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