(Let’s just pretend I haven’t posted in six months, mmkay? Mmkay.)
I believe in ghosts. Living things are made of energy and I believe some of that energy can cling to places, objects, and even people. As long as you invest your own energy into carrying the memory of someone, they’re living on in you, even if only a tiny bit.
We’re all haunted, for better or worse, by the people we choose to put energy into remembering, then. I am haunted by my Nana on the daily – whether by seeing a bird or flower she liked, smelling a scent that I associate with her, or thinking of a specific time I was with her. My paternal grandmother, Marion, haunts me often by way of my love for fiber arts and textiles. She was an amazing knitter and seamstress, and had aspirations in her early days of becoming a fashion designer. When I see a beautifully made piece of clothing or I sit down to knit for a while, her energy is there in my hands, if not my head, making me itch to create.
Can you be haunted by someone you’ve never met, though? Someone you have no memories of to feed your own energy into? I think in some cases, yes. Maybe you visit a place where someone’s energy is still clinging for whatever reason, like in a classic ghost story of a grisly death or unrequited love, where someone’s spirit can’t leave. Their energy might not even be trapped there due to bad circumstances – maybe it was a place that person loved so deeply or made it so much their own that they willed part of themselves to stay there long after their body had left. Perhaps there’s an item that was so important to someone that it ended up absorbing some of their energy. Whether a cherished object or a utilitarian one, the things we surround ourselves with and use on a daily basis can certainly carry echoes of us far into the future, I believe.
If you’ve gotten this far you’re probably wondering why I’m even blathering on about this woo shit. It’s not my normal LOL-fest, after all (please read that with the intended sarcasm. On no plane of existence would I have the audacity to judge my own writing an actual LOL-fest. Apparently I DO exist in a space where I refer to things as LOL-fests now, though? I’m not sure I’m ok with that, but I’m quickly sliding headlong into a black hole of parenthetical digression and I need to back away from that particular event horizon before it sucks me in and disintegrates me. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about space lately, can you tell?).
Where was I? Oh yes, explaining why I’m talking about ghosty woo things.
So, the reason I bring all this up is that I’m being haunted. The spirit of one of my great-great-grandfathers, Harlan Godfrey, has been all up in my grill for quite some time now.
I’ve always been really interested in old stuff. I was never really great in history class in school because that involved a lot of memorizing names and dates, which put me right to sleep. But old STUFF? Stuff you can hold in your hands, or at least see in the context of the time in which it was created / used? That’s always been my jam. I wanted to be a paleontologist, then an archaeologist, for most of my childhood. Eventually I figured out that both professions a) spend a lot of time doing very physical work in some pretty inhospitable places (or worse, are in academia), and b) are not known for making big bucks. Or any bucks, really. Being physically uncomfortable and being poor have both always been pretty high on my Do Not Want list, so I eventually moved on to other dreams (none of which I have actually achieved either, but at least I learned to be more realistic? That’s a useful skill, surely). My love of old stuff and old stories never really went away, though. Eventually I started channeling it into genealogy. This was especially satisfying to me because it combined my love of old stuff with my ridiculously strong life-long urge to know other people’s business.
For a long time my genealogy fixes came from my Nana. She had lots of old pictures, lists of names and birth dates, and she knew where most of the bodies were buried. Literally. Her husband, my Bampa, was long gone at that point – he died when I was 11 – but she had stayed in close touch with that side of the family and had a lot of knowledge of their ancestry as well. My mom has always been interested in family history too, and with the advent of sites like Ancestry, being able to build an actual family tree and show her all kinds of cool stuff like census records and draft cards got her sort of sucked into my project as well. We ended up going to a family reunion together a few summers ago – NOT something that either of us would normally volunteer for, as we’re both card-carrying introverts – but several very elderly family members were going to be there and we were interested in seeing if they could confirm some details of some people for us. At the reunion my mom’s aunt Jan (my grandfather’s youngest sister) mentioned that she had some books I might be interested in, and that she’d get them to me eventually.
The following summer, Jan showed up one day with a smallish clear plastic tote bag – the kind that gift sets of shampoo and body wash come in. Rather than bottles, it was filled with small books.
“Here’s something to get you started. I want these back eventually, so please be careful with them,” she said, handing them over. I pulled out the first little book, smaller than most peoples’ cell phones today, and flipped open the cover.
‘Diary of Harlan F. Godfrey, 1910’
I went home that afternoon and lost at least three hours reading. The entries are all entirely utilitarian. Harlan was a subsistence farmer in turn-of-the-century Vermont. He used his diaries to keep track of weather, which heifers were bred and which ones were sold, when he bought feed and supplies and how much he paid for them, etc. Not exactly riveting reading for most people, but for whatever reason, I was hooked. I read through all the diaries over the space of a few days, then proceeded to bend the ear of every family member who showed even the remotest inkling of interest about them.
Jan’s words kept bouncing around in my head – “I want these back eventually”. But…but what if I some day had a burning need to know how much Harlan had paid for a hogshead of cracked corn at Chase’s store in Bradford in September of 1910? She wanted the books back, but I couldn’t handle the idea of losing that resource. I needed to preserve my hoard of the most banal treasure imaginable. So I decided to do the only reasonable thing, given the situation:
I decided to transcribe it. All six books worth.
It should be noted that, like with most plans I come up with, I decided I was going to do it and then immediately started four other things, which lead to three further projects, which in turn brought on an avalanche of roughly 17.6 million additional tasks. Before I knew it, a year had gone by. And then another one. That is 100% how I’ve made to to age 39, by the way. I swear the last time I looked, I was 27. This whole ‘time compressing as you age’ thing is pretty fucked, especially if your brain was pre-wired to have no real concept of time passing like mine is.
Anyway. Jan still hadn’t asked for the books back a couple weeks ago when the second anniversary of me having them whizzed past, but I know Jan and she is as dragon-esque with her hoard of precious old things as I am, so I know she won’t forget and I won’t be able to put her off for long once she decides she wants the books back.
So, last Friday when I had something else I really needed to be doing and thus was fair gagging for a procrastinatory escape hatch, I pulled up a Google doc, cracked open the first diary, and started transcribing. It’s going faster than I originally figured it would – it takes me about 30 minutes to get through a month of entries, provided I don’t run into any super scrawly bits that I have to try to decipher. Harlan’s penmanship was pretty decent but he wrote with a pencil, the point of which wears down periodically, making things harder and harder to read…to the point where I’ll find myself muttering ‘sharpen your god damned pencil, Gramps’ like he could somehow hear me from 110 years in the past. His grammar is also pretty suspect, which can be kind of amusing at times. He wrote very much how he would have spoken (must be genetic?), so there are entries like “Done choars this F”, meaning he did the chores this forenoon, and “drawed wood all day”, meaning not that he’s drawing pictures of wood but that he’s dragging it out of the forest with his horses. My favorite is that, almost every Sunday, his entry is “here to home”. Sometimes it’s accompanied by notes of people having visited that day, but mostly it’s just that one simple statement that sounds so…content. Like he’s taking a well-earned day off after a week of hard work. I mean, for all I know he spent his Sundays beating his kids and kicking the chickens…but I’d find it quite surprising if that were the case.
What used to be Harlan’s farm, and then his son Floyd (my great-grandfather)’s farm, is about a ten minute ride from where I live. It’s a spot I have been inexplicably drawn to for many years – since way before I knew which property my ancestors had owned, since before I stopped to look at the gravestones in the little cemetery tucked up on the side hill and noticed many names I recognized from my family tree. All that energy, all that love of place that three or four generations of my ancestors worked into the side of that hill… it’s like someone strikes a kind of cosmic tuning fork and the bits of those people that live on in my blood start singing that haunting note and I have to go back to harmonize for a little while.
I started this blog three years ago today.
It doesn’t feel like that big of a deal to me because I’ve actually had a blog of some sort for close to fourteen years now. My original blog, which technically still exists but is pretty hard to find unless you know what you’re looking for, was started on 1/13/2004. I finally gave up posting there in 2009, then started my half-assed cooking blog in 2010. The half-assed cooking blog also still exists but I haven’t posted on it since July 2015. It was starting to feel like a chore, and it was also making me feel really inadequate in a lot of ways. Like, food blogs are all about good photography, and I had neither the time or the inclination to teach myself how to be a food stylist. I’m also really not good at measuring when I’m cooking, and I don’t always think in a linear fashion, so recipes are pretty hard for me to write…and that’s pretty much what people read food blogs for. There are only so many times someone is going to want to read about how good my meatloaf is before they’re like “OK, prove it. Either feed me meatloaf, give me your recipe so I can try it, or STFU”. In the end, I opted for S’ing the F.U.
I started How Bad Can It Go because a friend drew some casual similarities between my then Facebook-based rants about being a little touched in the head and the way Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) wrote about her own experiences with mental illness. The comparison was wildly flattering. I immediately started envisioning how I’d blog hilariously (but also earnestly) about my struggles with anxiety, depression, and ADHD for maybe a year or so, then be ‘discovered’ by some publisher. I’d be given a book deal and afforded the opportunity to tell my day job they could shove off.
Let’s just say the offers haven’t exactly been pouring in. Or trickling, even. Nary a drip. Not even the merest hint of moisture in the air. Dry as a 5,000 year old Egyptian’s desiccated, mummified femur buried under 47 feet of sand, in fact.
But that’s OK. I’ll keep on keepin’ on, because hey, how bad can it go?
Over the weekend we had a Level Four Steve Event and it was spectacular. I was standing there at the kitchen sink watching two Steves root around for snacks under the bird feeder when there was a rustle off to the left and a third Steve descended the trunk of the big maple tree and started his own snuffle quest. As I announced to the household that we were in the midst of a Level Three Event, also known as a Triple Blessing, a fourth Steve poked its precious snoot out from the underbrush on the extreme right perimeter of the bird feeder area. It proceeded with caution up the pole to the bird feeder and began stuffing its pouches.
For context, it’s worth pointing out that Level Two Events, also known as Double Stevenings, are pretty common at our place. Triple Blessings are more rare but they do happen with some regularity. Level Four Events happen maybe twice or three times a summer, tops. We’ve had one Level Five Event in the three summers we’ve lived at this place and I nearly passed out from excitement at the time. Mark still doesn’t entirely believe that it actually happened but I saw it with my own eyes and no one can take that away from me.
The Level Four Event on Sunday was actually the second one we’ve seen this summer. The first one was a few weeks ago, just before what we’re sadly calling The Culling. Our next door neighbors have three cats, you see – two giant ginger tanks and a little smoke-grey ghost. The grey cat is an actual hunter – I’ve seen it launch out of the bushes to pluck song birds out of air in mid-flight. It also regularly catches field mice, voles, and even the occasional mole. The ginger cats are far less industrious but, perhaps out of some small inkling of shame about becoming the sedentary gits that they are, they will sometimes attempt to “hunt”. Since they’re lazy and don’t want to go very far, “hunting” means parking their fluffy arses in the middle of my lilies or daffodils and half napping while they wait for a Steve to pop up from a burrow and scurry past them. I kid you not, I have watched one of the ginger cats doze off while humped up next to a Steve-hole, “hunting”. And eight times out of ten, even when they’re wide awake, they miss the Steves. A couple weeks ago someone had a hot streak though, because we found two Steve corpses over the span of about seven days. Since all Steves look pretty much the same (it has taken me three years to be able to differentiate the adults from the juveniles, and I’m not even super sure that I’m right about that – it’s just that some of them are bigger and have more grey on their hind ends and so I assume those are adults. Being an adult certainly makes my hind end feel grey, anyway), and since we had only seen four Steves prior to The Culling, we were certain that the population had been halved. To suddenly see four all at once again was pretty fantastic.
Keppo just wants to be held.
Sometimes he tries to eat his feet:
Sometimes he likes to perch up high and creep on the neighbors:
Sometimes he likes a good belly rub:
But mostly, he just wants to be held:
The thing about Keppo is, if he wants to be held and for whatever reason you CAN’T hold him right that second (like, say, if you’re trying to work on the laptop, or you’re eating a sandwich), he doesn’t give a fuck. Your needs are irrelevant to Keppo. If he can’t force you to hold him, he will proceed to find a way to wedge himself up against your body, likely in the most awkward and uncomfortable way, and will have himself the nap he was planning to have before you tried to ruin it by doing human stuff.
Keppo’s name comes from a character in Legend of the Five Rings, a card game my husband and a lot of our friends play. In the game, Keppo was a resourceful little goblin who liked to steal things. He had a hoard of treasures in a cave, and always seemed to have a special something hidden away that could save his ass when he was in a jam. The Keppo character became a mascot for our playgroup – we’ve even had art pieces commissioned for T-shirts that include the goblin Keppo’s likeness. When Mark and I were trying to come up with names for the puppy, we wanted something suitably nerdy, but also something easy. The shelter had named him Cupid because he was surrendered on Valentine’s Day. The name Keppo had the distinct advantage of sounding kind of like the name the shelter had been using for the pup for the last six weeks. Plus, most puppies are at least a little bit thieving goblin, aren’t they? So far, our Keppo mostly just likes to steal personal space.
It’s been a month and a day since we lost Junior.
This morning on the way out the door to head to work, I almost turned to Mark and asked him to check if Junie’s water dish was full. The dish hasn’t been in its spot for a month and a day.
I don’t hear him anymore, at least. For the first few days, I’d swear I could hear him snuffling in the living room or at the foot of the bed at night. I think my brain just automatically knew what sounds he’d be making when, and was filling them in of its own accord. My brain only wants to be helpful with remembering things when it comes to me being haunted, I guess. Go figure.
We still have all of his stuff. His bowls got washed and tucked away in the cupboard almost as soon as we got home. His harness and leash are still on the back seat of the car, which seems perfectly fitting as going for rides was just about his favorite activity. Most of his toys are still piled up in the same place we always returned them to on the rare occasion we bothered to tidy them. A few of his special toys got put aside in other places – his little stuffed bantha sits atop the carved wooden box his ashes are in on the table-cum-altar in the living room. LeRoy, the wee squeaky giraffe whose squeaker gave out but who Junie still often picked up and tried to make squeak, now resides on the bookshelf with some other mementos. L’Alligator the stuffed alligator whose head I once had to surgically reattach due to Junie’s frequent, enthusiastic attentions, sits on the desk upstairs in our bedroom. He’s a far quieter night sentry than Junior ever was, but we do feel like he’s getting the job done OK so far.
His beds are still there, all four of them (one for each bedroom and two in the living room), though Mark moved the one from the foot of our bed into the spare bedroom, and I tucked the favorite living room bed under the other, deeply hated living room bed (he took after me and had a complicated relationship with beds), so that we wouldn’t have to see them empty. We really should get rid of at least two of the beds. One belonged to our old dog Buttons and predated Junior by several years. The faux sheepskin atop the other one bears the scars of much scuffing, as Maltese tend to like to scratch up their bedding into a suitable nest before settling down to nap. We should go through the dozens of toys and donate some of them to the local shelter as well…but we’re not there yet.
It’s only been a month and a day, after all.
The other morning I was washing some pots before breakfast. A tiny soap bubble landed on the leaf of one of my African violets and didn’t instantly pop.
I’ve always loved soap bubbles. If my mom ever wanted to get me out of her hair for an extended period of time, all she had to do was hand me a bottle of bubble fluid and point me outside. HOURS of entertainment. The shine of them, the flow of liquid rainbows over their surfaces, the idea that a whole other world could be contained inside those ephemeral little spheres of soap film – they’re magic.
The little soap bubble on the leaf made me smile. I admired it a few times while continuing my chore, knowing that one of the times I glanced up at it again, it would be gone. I finished one pot, I finished another, and the bubble remained, cushioned on the soft hairs of the violet’s leaf. At that point maybe five minutes had passed and I was pretty impressed with the bubble’s tenacity so I grabbed my phone and took some pictures to remember it by.
By that time breakfast was ready, and after that I had to take Mark to work. On returning to the kitchen for a second cup of tea after I’d run Mark to work and walked the dog, I happened to look over…and see the bubble still there! It had been well over an hour at that point since the bubble landed on the leaf. But there it still was, its surface swirling madly with tiny iridescent storm clouds. Amazed, I very carefully picked the violet up off the windowsill to get a closer look. The bubble quivered with the movement but didn’t break. I admired it for a bit longer, then had to bid it goodbye because it was time to get ready for work.
That bubble clearly gave ZERO fucks about my measly human existence and flimsy preconceived notions of How Things Should Work though, because I shit you not, it was STILL THERE when I came back into the kitchen on my way out to work. It had made leaf-fall at approximately 6:15am and I took this video (linked – sorry, WordPress won’t let me upload it without paying them more money and I love you guys but god damn), just before I left the house at 9:15am. THREE HOURS that little bubble sat there, that I know of. It wasn’t there when I got home from work around 4:45, but who knows how long it actually lasted after I left. For all I know, it might have popped five seconds before I walked back in the door.
Now, listen: I don’t care what you want to tell me about humidity and surface tension and dust and whatever other cockamamie logical frigging math-doing mumbo jumbo (it’s always math’s fault. ALWAYS). This was straight up MAGIC. That was a MAGIC bubble with OTHERWORLDLY properties that landed on my MYSTICAL African violet in my SUPERNATURAL GOD DAMNED KITCHEN, and you will never convince me otherwise.
The world is a dumpster fire right now – it might continue to burn for the next twenty years for all we know – but as long as we can still find a little magic now and then, things aren’t completely lost.
Magic, motherfuckers. Hang on to it when you find it.