www.canadianstories.net

Volume 24, Number 138,
APRIL/MAY 2021


I believe in ghosts!
by Sheila Jecks

I believe in ghosts!

Really, I do!

Because I used to live with one.

Actually, it was more like 14 or maybe five, but I was young, and had trouble with my numbers. I see you are grinning, and think I’m being silly, but let me explain.

When I was 5-1/2, I lived in a house with my mum and dad and older sister. It was a two-story house, that had a “cooler” built under the front steps. In those old days, refrigerators ran on ice, with deliveries made by a horse and Ice Wagon, and most homes in our neighbourhood had a box nailed to the outside of the house but accessed through a window in the kitchen that stored milk and butter for everyday use. We had that too, but we also had that “cooler” thing under the front steps.

When we moved into our “new to us” house, my mother was told by the man who sold us the house that the “cooler” was cold enough to keep ice cream firm.

My mother just rolled her eyes. When would our family ever have need of this newfangled “cooler”, she didn’t know, and besides, it didn’t look ‘new” to her.

She was a quiet, competent “housewife” from Saskatchewan, and she knew if you wanted ice cream kept cool and firm, you lowered it into the well. She hadn’t dealt with the fact yet that in the “city”, there was water out of a tap, not a well.

My sister and I didn’t care about the “cool” thing, pudding was pudding whatever the temperature, and ice cream was eaten the moment you saw it. It melted faster than your tongue could slurp. And, besides, ice cream was expensive and hard to come by so you didn’t store it in a cooler or anywhere else for another day.

We had Jell-O, but not often in summer. Again, the cooler thing. It didn’t cool near as well as the man who sold us the house said it would. My mother just frowned when the cooler was mentioned, and turned the conversation between my aunts to something else.

What does the “cooler” have to do with ghosts? Everything!

Soon after we moved in, the weather turned warm. We knew Spring was on the way, because it started to rain. My folks came from the Prairie Province of Saskatchewan, and spring there, I was told (quite often), was warm, with gentle breezes, and the land turned green, because everything grew, and the birds sang, it was beautiful every day!

I was a child, so I believed them.

My sister and I were very young when we came to British Columbia, and didn’t understand about the fun of a Saskatchewan spring.

What we knew was, B.C. rain... more rain... and then it rained again, big wet drops that turned your hat into mush, and ran down your face and dripped off your nose, onto the front of your coat. (My sister and I didn’t know rain was beautiful until they told us so at school.)

Rain... that melted into the ground and became mud.

Nothing wrong with a little mud! The rain made great mud pies, it was also good for throwing at the stupid boys that lived across the street. It really wanted to be friends with rubber! My daddy said so! Because when he drove home from work, his rubber tires got covered with mud and he had to stop and push it off with a stick. My sister and I thought it great fun, because his face would turn red and he would send us into the house where our mother would try to cover our ears so we wouldn’t hear the bad words my daddy was saying.

But I still haven’t told you about our ghost!

I was scared silly of that ghost, but my big sister claimed she didn’t care, and there was no silly ghost that was going to scare her. She was a big two years older than I, and more, three inches taller. No timid little girl there!

I should mention, the reason my sister didn’t care about the ghost was she didn’t have to go into the cellar (she learned to call it “the basement” eventually).

I did, too!

My mother believed in order. She decided if she made a list of chores she thought we could do, we’d just do them, and everything would always be orderly. Growing up on a farm as oldest, with eight brothers and only two sisters, she was good at assigning chores. And very good at seeing they were done to her careful scrutiny. My older sister got to choose which “chores” she wanted, and I got the rest!

I didn’t like chores....

Sorry, I’m getting lost all over my memories, but you need to understand, when we first came to live in British Columbia, my father worked on a farm on an island in the middle of the Fraser River. We knew the owner/farmer was glad my daddy came to work for him because he was a good worker and knew what had to be done; and then he would do it.

Because the owner usually hired single young men for his farm hands, he didn’t have a house for us to live in, but gave us use of a building (think old garage) that my daddy converted into living space for us. It was fine when we were small, but now that my sister and I were growing up (that summer she was going into grade III, and I was finally going into grade I), we needed more space, and my mother wanted to be closer to the school.

She often told us she had to walk five miles to school, and she enjoyed the time she had to herself, but in winter she could ride “Whitey”, the old horse. But as the oldest, she had to put the horse “away” before school started for the day. And that consisted of getting him into the horse shed beside the school building, unhitching him (he didn’t like the shed, even though there were other horses, it wasn’t as warm as the barn, and he always wanted to go back home), giving him some hay or feed, and generally doing boys’ work. She had to take her turn at shoveling out the horse stalls, because you know what horses do. They are not housebroken, and “stuff” accumulates. That was “boys” work and it bothered her, she was a girl, and it was demeaning to have to look after what the horses donated.

When she told this story, she always mentioned that she had to take her two younger brothers with her on the horse, and they kept fooling around. She said if one of them fell off the horse and broke something, her mother would have thrashed her soundly.

At this point, my sister and I would always shudder. We didn’t know what a “thrashing” was, but it sounded terrible, and we always tried to look sympathetic.

Back to the ghost - the reason my sister got the good job of setting the table for supper, and I got the job of going into the basement, creeping up to the cooler, grabbing the leftovers and whatever else my mother needed, and getting back upstairs before the ghost got me, was because my sister could lie with a straight face when it came to getting out of chores. She told our mother that she could set the dinner table better than I could, because I was too small to reach the cups, therefore, I wasn’t big enough or old enough to set the table.

Although I conceded, this was a handy talent, nevertheless, I was at a distinct disadvantage! Everyone could always tell if I was trying to tell a fib! I would turn red, and start to stammer, and I couldn’t help looking at the floor or the wall. Never at the person I was trying to fool. I am ashamed to say, after all these years of constant practice, I’m still no better than a six-year-old.

But, back to the ghost I was telling you about.

It was very fussy, it only lived in our basement during the spring and summer months. In winter, there was no problem, I could go down the steps through the outer room and open the cooler door, and nothing! I should mention at this point, this was an old house, and no one, in those days had electricity in the cellar. What we did have was a window, a small dirty window, on the wall away from the “cooler”. It had a curtain, not a clean one though, but that was OK because if you were a robber or a crook, it was too dark, you couldn’t tell where we kept our money.

No ghostly whoooo’s in winter, no fluttering sounds like sheets flapping around ghostly legs, no scratching of ghostly fingernails trying to catch me.

That year I learned to hate summer! And my mother learned how to can. I see you are looking at that word, and wondering?

Our first summer in the new house brought many new experiences to our little family. Our father would get up every day and leave the house; he went away to “work”, not out to the barn. He wasn’t a farmer anymore.

Our mother would work around the house and sometimes go into the yard. She would walk around and look at the grass and tsk tsk it, but it didn’t stay short, it just grew a little longer and wouldn’t look at her.

That night after supper, she would tell my dad, “The grass is long,” and my dad would harrumph and pull the newspaper he was reading closer so he couldn’t see her frown. That meant she would mow the lawn, and we would eat “leftovers” for three days.

My sister and I knew we lived in the city now, our “house yard” was sosmall you could walk around it in a minute, and the neighbours were so close you could look into some windows without a ladder. Since our house was set back on the lot, we could look directly into our neighbour’s kitchen from our front porch.

For some reason, the old lady who lived next door was not very friendly. Most mornings, my sister and I would stand on our front porch and watch as she walked around her house. We didn’t know some people didn’t like getting up until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., and liked to have breakfast in their big fluffy pink overcoat. My sister and I found this very funny, and we would point and laugh, and run for the front door of our house when she caught us looking in her kitchen windows. It took a couple of years before we knew a big fluffy overcoat was a “housecoat”, and when you wore one.

Sorry, back to the ghost.

Where was I, oh yes, I was explaining about the GHOST!

Anyway, that ghost was the reason I got into so much trouble that first year we lived in the house. Our relatives would come from all over Saskatchewan, and stay at our house, while they looked for a house of their own. That always took a lot of running back and forth to the cooler.

My mother fed everybody (all the time)! I hated that cooler!

One day I asked my mother why the relatives only came in the summer, why didn’t they come in winter when the ghost was gone. She just looked at me, and smiled, gave me a little hug and said, “Someday you’ll know.”

By this time, my cousins Morley and Leroy who also came to BC from Saskatchewan, had looked all over the house for the ghost, and always had a story about how they just missed it, or how hard they had to run to get upstairs because the ghost almost caught them in the basement.

I hated their stories!

One Sunday in fall, just before Morley and his family knocked on the front door to let my parents know they had arrived, I was sent to get the milk and butter and yummy coffee cake from the cooler.

I wasn’t concerned, I knew the ghost was gone. It stopped bothering me just after school started. I opened the cooler door, confident, but still on high alert, took the butter off the shelf and balanced the cake in my left hand. I looked at the butter and thought, hummm, I wonder if I can carry the jug of milk too. Then I wouldn’t have to make two trips into the cellar.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, was one of my father’s favourite sayings, so I put the butter in my hand, balanced the cake on my left arm, and picked up the big jug of milk in my other hand.

What was I thinking, I was 6-1/2 years old! How could I carry all this. Just as I started to lean down to place the milk on the floor, a ghostly whooooo, filled the air, and I dropped the milk and cake and butter onto the concrete floor of the cooler and ran for the door.

As this is a family magazine, I won’t tell you what my father and assorted relatives had to say when they realized there would be no milk or cake, but I will call attention to my two boy cousins, who were outside by the cherry tree laughing and rolling around on the ground.

That ghost tormented me until the spring of my second year at school and we learned about pigeons.

I came home from school that day and dropped my books and coat on the kitchen floor, and looked at my mother. She knew instinctively that “the cat was out of the bag!” and turned her face away from me and began to laugh and pulled me close for a hug. She was still laughing when my dad came home, and then they both laughed.

It took a lot of chocolate ice cream to make me forgive and forget about that “ghost”.

And, a lot of investigation into the “cooler” to prove to me that those bunches of twigs and dry grass hidden on the outside of our front porch were really pigeon nests and all the ghostly moans were really nesting mama birds calling to one another.