Apparently there’s not just a ghost in the basement. There seems to be more than one. “It’s like a room full of noisy children down there!” My friend Joellyn, a psychic, gave us the macabre news shortly after the cafe opened when she was coming by to purchase meats. “They’re harmless,” she assured me as she climbed back up the stairs to the cafe.
But as soon as she left, the lights went out in the kitchen. And the record of her sale disappeared from the computer.
I sighed. Ghosts are pretty standard with most of the properties in West Fulton. My friends and neighbors tell me stories of unexplained clomping up and down their staircases at night, footsteps across wooden floors, voices in the hallways, conversations heard in the kitchen when no one’s around.
Cornelia tells me she just tells hers to pipe down when they’re keeping her awake. Other people break out the sage.
“But you don’t just go doing that whenever you feel like it,” Aunt Kimmie warns me. “You sage a place, you make a ghost homeless. You banish them. It’s not necessarily ….nice.”
Well, then. No sage, I guess. I’d hate to leave an already restless soul unanchored. At a loss, I let the girls bring down a cup of coffee and a pastry now and then, an offering of sorts. Ula drew up a copy of the menu with check boxes for them to place their orders. No response.
“My daughter saw something down there,” Larry, my contractor, told me when I asked him to come in and fix the lights. They went out again after he left.
And then we just kind of settled in for the season. We named the ghosts “The Moeckels,” after the family who built the place that ran the PO and operated the lunch counter. The lights stopped going out, the computer worked fine, the business was a happy place. The ghosts and us seemed to get along just fine.
And then the end of the season came. I will admit that I welcomed it. After all the years of saving our pennies, we were finally leaving for the dream vacation to celebrate my fortieth birthday before I turn 43. The cafe was closing for the season, and it was my last weekend running it. I looked forward to the rest. I looked forward to a solid week of prayer, meditation and communion in the desert. A solid week of reconnecting with my soul.
“Good morning, Moeckels!” I sang out as I skipped down to the basement on my last working Saturday at dawn. Nothing could kill my great mood. Or so I thought.
An hour later, while the quiches and pie were in the brand new oven, the thermostat lost control. It went from 300 degrees to 900 degrees in a matter of minutes. The oven thermometer blew out. The cafe filled with smoke. My quiches and pie were instantly blackened. The fire alarm went off and wouldn’t stop. Customers came in and I tried to entice them to take advantage of our patio seating. In the pouring rain. No bites. They sipped their coffees with their heads hanging out a window.
And then the ice machine started leaking. And the espresso machine jammed. And then the water in the sink mysteriously started flooding the kitchen floor.
By Saturday afternoon, my hair was standing on end, the sweat poured down my face, and my body slumped against the front counter.
“You know, you shouldn’t be afraid to sage,” Bethany tossed her mane of black curls over her shoulder and calmly sipped her cappuccino at the counter as she offered counsel. “It will just purify the air. Bring in good energy. There’s no harm in that. But you probably need to talk to my Native American friends. You might need to prepare a special meal to honor them as ancestors.”
Chris, who grew up in the hamlet and comes back to visit his parents on weekends, puts down his cortado. “My mother says Mrs. Moeckel was a gossip.”
“So you’re saying I need to let the ghosts hear more scuttlebutt?” I ask. He shrugs. “It’s just information. Do what you want with it.”
“I think you woke them up too early this morning,” Saoirse pulls a fresh shot as she admonishes me. “You shouldn’t have gone down there making so much noise.”
“They’re mad.” Quiet John, whose been working on his cabin all summer and comes in for his meals while he doesn’t have a kitchen, puts down his decaf latte and pushes his pie temporarily to the side as he leans across the counter. “They know you’re leaving for the season, and they. don’t. like. it.”
By Sunday everything is quiet again. A week later, Bob, Saoirse, Ula and I board the train and head for canyon country. I look forward to the peace…To the chance to hear my own thoughts as I crawl over stones and through canyons…To just sit quietly, gaze at the sunlight and the stars, and pray.
Our rental house has a kitchen, comfortable beds, and a giant window looking out at canyons, spires and rock formations. There is no radio. No stereo. No TV. No internet. No phone. We have a week where the only sounds in our lives are the canyon wrens, the occasional braying of a mule from the ranch next door, and our family chatter.
But I don’t pray. At least, not in the meditative state that has become familiar to me. I cannot close my eyes. It is too beautiful. I can’t even sleep through the night. I am up and outside, under the stars. I am beside the window, gazing at the moonlight on the canyon walls. During the days we hike for hours on end, scrambling over rocks, scuttling along ridges, testing our strength, balance and stamina over slickrock, through canyons, across ridges, up trails.
I cannot pray, because it feels as though all around me is some kind of massive, glorious demonstration of all that is divine. My prayers feel like an interruption. This is mother nature’s art gallery. And repeatedly, the beauty simply brings me to tears of gratitude. Here, I am nothing. I am not my parent’s child. I am not a farmer. I am not a writer. I am not a homeschooling parent. I don’t have a blog. I don’t do bookkeeping. I don’t sell sausage and steaks. I am not the lady next door, I am not the cafe owner. I am not clever, I am not stupid. I am not good, I am not bad. I am nothing but a speck of dust in the passage of time, privileged to pass these few hours in eternal beauty.
My plan was to tire of it, to be ready to return home happily on our final day. But as we sit out on the rocks to watch our last sunset illuminate the sandstone buttes, mesas and towers surrounding us, I don’t bubble about my book project. Or emails. Or about returning to the farm. I don’t chatter about the cafe.
I am profoundly confused. Tears pour down my cheeks. I have a life back east rich in all things that I love, made real by all the relationships with friends, family, neighbors and customers that populate it. And in this week, I was separate from all those things, in a bubble with my husband and children, but mostly in my own quiet reverie. And I wonder, who is this person I am just now seeing? This one who is so separate from all that defines her? Who is nothing more than a bit of dust on the crust of a magnificent earth? And why, suddenly, am I so interested in her? Why do I mourn the idea that I could leave her behind by returning to a rich and lovely life?
And I can’t help but wonder, for that moment, if I may have confronted the fine line between a free soul and a ghost. Is there a little part in all of us that is separate from all that we choose to define ourselves?…Separate from family, separate from our businesses, separate from our communities? A part that does not have to be anchored to the dramas, thrills and achievements of life? I wonder if this part’s final destiny is a matter of choice: We can bind it to this place as a ghost through our attachments, through sheer egotistical ferocity, through fear of release. Or we can set it free by living passionately, but with a degree of detachment that reminds us we are but a speck in the universe. I don’t think this means abandoning the meat and potatoes of a tasty life. I don’t think it means walking away from family and friends. But somewhere inside ourselves, I think we are freer than we know. If we choose to be.
And now I’m home. And the light on the hillsides stripped of their leaves is glorious. The sunrises through late autumn clouds make my heart sing, as does the sound of my mother’s laughter, the spark in my father’s eyes, the joy in Kate’s voice, the smell of the dogs’ fur. And the ghosts? They’re still in the basement. They’ve got some choices to make. They are free to take as much time as they need to make them. I’ll bring them a little gift for All Souls today. Maybe they’ll appreciate the offering, maybe they won’t. But my steps will be light and merry as I go down the stairs to bring them their gifts. It’s all just an adventure… Another experience to be marveled at as I walk this planet. And I hope, someday, when my time comes, I will be free enough so that I won’t have to haunt my basement.