I grew up in a place and time when we didn't have IPods, TV or computers, so most of my life I found entertainment through my grandpa, whom I called "Pops" and other old-timers passing along their favorite tales. My grandpa or Pops was a special person in my life, I loved him and so enjoyed the time spent sitting at his knees, listening to him spin his yarns; it seemed he had a story for every occasion. HIs stories would carry me away on the wings of some giant colorful talking bird as we toured the world from the heavens, or have my skin crawling from another episode of mutant spiders invading the earth, starting from a corner in my bedroom.
I was particularly captivated by one story he told about an amazing ghost reunion. Pops introduced this ghastly story to me one Halloween afternoon when I was about six years old. Through the tone of his voice, expressions on his face, the people and ghosts he described, it seemed so real. I swear, I was looking for ghosts everywhere and must admit, had some difficulty sleeping for a while.
Yep, the ghost reunion story had to be my favorite of all the stories Pops told.
In this incredible story, Pops explained how every year around Halloween, the ghosts would come out in the cemeteries and celebrate in what he referred to as 'Ghost reunions'. It was kind of like our family reunions, where everyone gets together, reminiscing and, well just having a good ole time. Pops made sure to include the cemetery just down the road where many of our relatives were buried.
In his calculating way, he paid close attention to expressions on my face as well as my engagement observed through my body language. When he knew he had me frightened real good, then the teasing would follow when he would say something like, "Why don't we pack a picnic basket, go down this Halloween night and camp out there, maybe we will see some real ghosts?"
I recall shivering and replying, "No way, Pops, I'm not going down there at night!" I still can see him laughing as he gave me a big hug and sent me outside to play with one final "Boo!"
Yes sir, Pops was quite the storyteller, and I was just a feeble-minded little kid drawn in, hook, line and sinker, hanging on to his every word. Even though I had suspicions he had simply made these stories up, I could never be completely sure what was true and what wasn't. He had such a way of weaving just the right amount of the believable with the unbelievable, so it always kept me wondering, even as I grew older.
It's been many years now and a lot of Halloweens since Pops has passed on; his body was laid to rest in that little family cemetery. Still today, every Halloween, no matter where I happen to be, whenever I drive by a cemetery, my mind carries me back to Pops and the ghost reunion.
If I might say, that story had cast its spell on me, haunting me for years. I had often thought of how it originated and with whom. I guess you could say I was somewhat obsessed.
Then the day finally came, when I had enough, I was determined to get to the bottom of this ghost business; I just had to plan carefully and strategically. I settled on one particular Halloween as my target date and our little family cemetery as ground zero. It was settled; I would finally put my mind at rest.
Years ago, when Pops was alive, one had to depend a lot on eye witnesses to verify some unusual occurrence. Today, thankfully, we have video recorders, photo technology which is very highly advanced. I had purchased an expensive, top of the line camera, complete with some pretty fancy software. It allowed me to take all sorts of fantastic shots in almost any condition, place or time. Included, was a unique feature which allowed me to take night photos. It also had an automatic timer which gave me the ability to set it to a certain time to take photos automatically. I purposfully selected this camera prior to my target date and had taken a few lessons on how to use it. I might only get one shot, so I didn't want to miss it.
Halloween finally came, it was time now to put all my training and camera to work; I was ready to pursue my goal of capturing a shot of Pop's ghost reunion. I expect I was feeling a little like Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn that Halloween morning as I began to prepare for my own great adventure.
By the way, I didn't tell a soul, I felt if anyone knew they would just think I had lost my marbles.
Just like a boy scout I grabbed my backpack and a flashlight; packed myself some coffee, a sandwich, and a few snacks, then headed for the cemetery. Finding a suitable place just outside the stone wall, I proceeded to 'set up shop' on the wall. It was a perfect spot where I could see, but not be seen. I opened my chair, sat down, poured a cup of coffee and began my vigil. It was about 8:30PM.
Sitting there, my mind would wander occasionally back to Pops, then some leaves rustling or whispering of the wind would jar be back to my mission. I looked at my watch continuously, the minutes dragged by like a rock star being forced to an opera. It seemed like forever as the time seemed to crawl. To make matters worse, I had just worked six days straight on twelve-hour shifts, so I was worn out and extremely tired. It was difficult staying awake.
I could hear an old owl screeching in a giant oak tree as if he were purposfully trying to scare me. Occasionally I would get a look at his form, his eyes looked like two coals of fire, blinking in the darkness. Every once in a while, he would swoosh around from limb to limb, his wings making an eerie sound as the chills crawled up my back like a zillion tiny spiders.
There was a beautiful full moon, a few clouds casting shadows over his face. I had to admit, the cemetery was in perfect form for some good shots. The trees and headstones cast some ghastly shadows around the walls, while the wind gently moved a tree limb across the cemetery gate, making a scratching sound, adding to the spooky atmosphere.
My chair was rather comfortable and I began to relax more and more.
After a couple of hours, I became very sleepy, wishing I had toothpicks to hold my eye lids open. Fearful I would doze off and miss something, I set my camera to shoot automatically about every three minutes. I slowly began to close my eyes; periodically, I would open one eye or the other. Then I would catch myself dozing off and snap quickly awake to glance around the cemetery.
A few times, I thought I saw a form or something move but when I opened my eyes fully, I realized it was nothing but my imagination. Not only did I feel a little foolish, but I was terribly sleepy.
Finally, I was fully engaged in deep sleep. The next thing I knew, I awakened from the sound of the cemeteries caretaker, who was busy cleaning up in and around the graves, blowing leaves into huge piles. I rubbed my eyes, looked around, and realized I had slept the night away. Oh, well, I thought as I packed my equipment and headed home. I didn't think I would see anything anyway, besides I should have most everything in my camera."
Once home, I plugged the camera into my desktop, looked up over my desk to my grandpa's photograph, taken a few years before his death. I smiled and mumbled slightly under my breath, "Well Pops, you are quite the story teller! Thanks to you, I have wasted an entire night."
In a couple of minutes, my computer signaled that the photos had finished transferring; I put the program in slide-presentation mode and started scanning the more than two-hundred photos. I figured I must have dozed off at around 10:30 or so. I checked the time on the shot where I had switched to automatic-- "yep, 10:30." From then on, every three minutes, I viewed one still photo after another of nothing but a quiet, old cemetery.
I mused to myself on how silly I could have been and felt glad I had not told anyone of my adventure.
I stood up to head to the kitchen for another cup of coffee, when my eyes fell on an amazing scene displayed on my computer screen. I could hardly believe my eyes! It was shot around 1AM. I stopped the slideshow, opened up the photo to a full screen and there it was.
I was shocked!
I flipped ahead several shots and out of two hundred and thirty-five photos, there was only the one. But one was enough. When they said that one picture is worth a thousand words, they were so right. The shot was exactly as Pops had told about in his story. It was what really appeared to be a ghost reunion. There were ghosts popping out all over that cemetery. One image was of a man dressed in a civil war uniform; one was of a lady in a long gown, with a small umbrella. Then, there were two small children holding hands--they probably died at the same time and had been buried together, side by side. The photo revealed both old and young ghosts, male and female ghosts. There was even a young lady ghost with a little ghost dog in her arms.
"Now, Gramps, that's not true! You made that up," my grandson said in taunting disbelief.
"Oh really; would you like to see the photo?" I asked my grandson sitting beside me on the couch.
"Come on, you don't have a picture; you're just trying to scare me because you know its Halloween and I'm dressed like a ghost."
"OK. I can see you are just like I was: an unbeliever."
I turned to my end-table and took out an old yellowed folder from the drawer, thumbed through some ancient looking photographs, making sure he could see everything I was doing. Then I pulled my prized photo from the stack. Handing it to him tenderly I said, "Now, son, be careful with that; as you can see, it's very old."
He took it ever so gently in his tiny hands. His face took on an astonished look, and both eyes bugged out when he saw those ghosts. He just held it, brought it up close to his eyes, and turned it over to look at the back. He was totally speechless for several seconds.
"Wow! That's awesome, Gramps. Look at those ghosts!"
I drew near him and pointed to one male figure in the shot and said, "Look closely at this old man."
He welded his eyes to it.
Then I said, "Now, do you see the man's picture hanging up there on my wall." I pointed to my grandpa's picture hanging above my desk, then continued, "That's your great, great grandpa."
"Wow! That's awesome!"
Before he could finish his statement, his dad entered the doorway to my office.
"Let's go; give your grandpa a hug."
"Can't we stay a little longer?" my grandson whined. "Gramps was telling me a story."
"Well, if we don't get moving we might miss out on the trick-or-treating. It's a scary-looking night out there and we don't want to be out too late. The gremlins might get us. By the way, on the way home we will be driving past the old cemetery where great-great Granddad is buried; maybe we might even see a real ghost!"
My son looked at me, winked and grinned.
My grandson jumped up in his ghost outfit and shouted, "Awesome!"
He came over and gave me a big hug, and said "I love you, Gramps, you're the greatest! That was an awesome story!" Then, they were off trick-or-treating into the night.
I placed my treasured photo back safely in its place, and thought, One day, I'll give it to my grandson, so he can keep the story of the Ghost Reunion alive.
Once again smiling up contentedly at grandpa's picture, I closed my drawer and shut down my computer. I needed to get my candy dish out and prepare for the little witches, ghosts and other creatures that would show up at my door any minute.
I smiled, chuckled to myself, and thought how much enjoyment I had received from my camera and the software... especially the program that allows you to place ghost-like figures into photos, giving them an old, authentic look!