My grandmother’s home was filled with ghosts. She had sand dollars that never stopped producing sand even after years on display. She had a statue of Saint Francis that shattered during an earthquake. Only Saint Francis was harmed. The animals remained intact. Ever protected by their loving guardian, even in white porcelain form. She heard lions roaring inside The Colosseum. She once smelled her grandfather’s pipe tobacco in the dark hallway of a museum when walking alone.
She read palms at parties, but, one day after seeing the faded lines of a stranger’s hand, she refused to proceed. She never agreed to serve as the palm reader at a function again. She didn’t have to say more than, “Sometimes, there is too much darkness.”
She had a set of Tarot cards that smelled of cedar. I would often look at the pictures on the cards. Fascinated by the colors. Fascinated with my young, tingling thoughts of beautiful pictures holding knowledge of a life not yet lived.
Right before her death, she called and asked to spend some time in our home with her great-grandchildren. She spent the day telling us stories, holding the children on her knee. She was creating memories. Not the memories of our childhood. She wanted them to be based in our adult present. Less of the childhood ghosts and more of our small children on her lap. That day, she gave me the Tarot cards. In a small, plastic Ziploc bag; still smelling of cedar.
When I am at a crossroads, I pull them off of the shelf where they sit tucked behind board games. I hold them in my hands and think of her. I stare at my palms searching for secrets. I count the cards wondering if I sit still enough, and for long enough, maybe I will find the scent of my own grandfather’s pipe tobacco.
I wait to hear the roars of lions while surrounded by the roars of children. I have none of her foresight. I can not see what may be.
But, she is here. In the strangest of times, I will smell the lilac in candles or on the rag of a mother cleaning her counters and think of her. When my daughter is painting, I see a look on her face that is so much my grandmother that it leaves me breathless. In her paintings hanging on my walls, I drink in the colors deeply, wondering how much of her is in the brushstrokes, peering over the breakfast table, watching the children eat scrambled eggs.
My grandmother’s mother was a bird lover. My mother swears that when each of us was born, a beautiful, rare bird would come to visit the babies. Once, a crane. Once, a cardinal that inspected my sister with such care that my mother wept.
When we moved to Vermont, a blue jay came to my windowsill and stared in to our kitchen. For what seemed like a lifetime, I stood silent. Staring. Waiting for one of us to flinch. After watching my frozen body at the sink and inspecting the children with head tilted, the blue jay flew away. To this day, I wonder. Bouncing between acknowledging the ludicrous idea and wanting so desperately to embrace it as truth.
The magic in our ghosts. The ones that reside in only our memories. The ones that reside in stories, making them real. Tangible.
I tell these stories looking for belief. I’ve heard more often than not, “I don’t believe in ghosts.” I’m not sure if I do either, but, I believe in telling ghost stories.
I tell them softly and often because when I do, lilac becomes my grandmother. Beautiful birds, my great-grandmother. Pipe tobacco, the smell of a loving father and grandfather. Tarot cards, the mark of a great decision. Stories, the memory of our ghosts.