Every year, around Thanksgiving, my mom updates me on her antique clock.
If I make it home for Thanksgiving, she asks me daily, sometimes twice a day, “Has the clock chimed for you? You have to tell me, because I have to write it down.”
If I’m not at home she calls me to either tell me, “The clock is quiet this year. But no news is good news, huh?” or “Ai-yah, you know I was in the kitchen feeding the cats when you know what? I heard it! Are you OK? Is everything OK there? I wonder why the clock is ‘talking’?” She’d chuckle. “It’s probably asking, ‘Hey! Where’s Louise?’”
I suppose every parent has a passive-aggressive way of asking, “Why don’t you come home more often?”
My mom’s clock is an over-150-year-old marble antique that sits above the fireplace. It belonged to my great-grandfather’s family, and it has no business making any noise whatsoever.
Brought out of storage decades ago, it was more of an ornament for the mantle, something unique and special from a bygone era. The guts of the clock are either broken or missing, and even the chime mechanism is in shambles. Yet the clock chimes – it has been crying out “I’m still here!” for close to 30 years.
My mom now keeps a little notebook that records the date, real time, and number of chimes whenever the clock strikes. According to her the chimes coincide with family events (births, deaths, paroles, daughters infrequently returning home, etc.). A couple times, mom says it portended the death of her pets.
“The clock chimed, then Sammy died. Look – I wrote it down.”
I have no idea what’s going on with my mom’s clock, but I’m rather fond of it. I like a spooky piece of history gazing at us from the mantle. Plus I enjoy the mystery. Why solve it to death if we are all so tickled by the “What if?”
And skeptic or not, you’d be surprised how high you jump when the clock suddenly sounds its (shockingly loud) tinny chimes in the middle of the night while you’re up late going through old, faded photos of long-dead relatives. (I’ve been slowly collecting and scanning my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ photos over the years…does the clock approve?)
But this time of year feels all about the “What if?” to me.
I don’t know if it’s all the emphasis on family or nostalgia – your own or the iconic holidays of greeting cards and Norman Rockwell – but it seems like people are more open to the unlikely or even unexplainable right around now.
While there’s a tradition of telling ghost stories around Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving is no stranger to the spooky tale centered around family, hearth, and home.
So I offer you this tale told to me by a family friend well acquainted with our clock and my affinity for things that go bump in the night, or in this case, the day.
This feels like a “Good Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story” to me. But then again, my family has a haunted, psychic clock.
Every other year for Thanksgiving, Terri and her family would go back to her dad’s childhood home in rural Kanas. She did this until she graduated from college and work got in the way.
“The farm house where my dad grew up is the perfect setting for a ghost story,” Terri says. “It’s old – I think over 200 years old – creaky, dusty, with rooms that haven’t been used in years. As a kid, it was a wonderland.”
One Thanksgiving when Terri was about seven, only her family and her aunt’s family – one of her father’s sisters – made it to the Kansas house. With a lack of playmates her age, Terri set to entertaining herself in the big old house.
In the late afternoon the grownups convened in the kitchen and living room, the older kids went outside, and Terri found herself in the front parlor sitting in front of a tall, slim antique mirror playing with her hair; playing make-believe.
“The parlor really only had an old lounging sofa, a brick-a-brack shelf, and that floor length mirror; but I felt like such a adult in there. [The entryway] had curly wooden moulding too. It was so elegant compared to my family’s boring ‘70s duplex. So I entertained myself.”
Terri was giving herself updos and braids while chatting with her own reflection, when she glanced something in the mirror just over her shoulder.
Maybe a bird flew past the window behind her? Maybe one of the older kids was messing with her? It had disappeared, so Terri went back to playing.
A minute or so later, something else caught Terri’s eye in the mirror. “It was like someone had just peeked around the entryway. Then ducked back around.” Then it was gone.
Turning around to look directly at the arched entry that opened to the front hall and was directly across from what was once a study, Terri didn’t feel like she was alone.
“I really thought one of my dumb cousins was screwing with me.”
But nobody appeared. She could hear the TV from the living room in the back as well as her parents and relatives chatting; no footsteps came or went from the front of the house. Terri turned back to the mirror, and that’s when she saw her.
Reflected in the mirror, Terri’s Aunt Maria* walked from the study into the front hallway. Casually dressed in pants and a blouse, her long dark hair down, there was nothing out of the ordinary about her. Aunt Maria briefly caught Terri’s eye in the mirror, raised her eyebrows as if to say “What’s up?”, then climbed the stairs out of view.
“This confused me. I thought it was just my family and my other aunt’s family. When did Maria get here?”
Terri got up from her spot on in front of the mirror and headed up the stairs to look for her aunt. Searching through the four bedrooms on the second floor, Maria was nowhere to be found. Puzzled, Terri started to head back downstairs when she ran into her other aunt, Sarah.
As Sarah went to her room to grab a sweatshirt, she asked Terri what she was doing lurking around upstairs alone. When Terri told her she was looking for Aunt Maria, Sarah stopped and gave Terri a hard look.
“Why are you asking about your Aunt Maria?” Sarah asked.
“I just saw her come up here. Where is she?” Terri asked.
Her aunt’s brow furrowed, and she froze for a long time, just looking at Terri. “That creeped me out more than the stuff I was seeing.”
Finally, Sarah spoke and asked Terri to go downstairs with her, saying it was almost dinner anyway. Terri complied, wondering if Maria would be downstairs getting ready to eat with everyone else.
Once downstairs with the rest of the family, Sarah brought Terri over to her mom and said to her, “Terri saw Maria walk up the stairs.”
“And they just looked at each other, then they looked at me,” Terri said. “I think I asked, ‘Is she here?’ Then my Aunt Sarah looked like she might cry, and my mom brought me into he kitchen.”
It’s there that Terri’s mom explained to her that Aunt Maria had died a couple months ago. She’d been sick for a long time and had not wanted any of the kids to see her. This was the family’s first holiday season without Maria, and nobody had been sure how to tell Terri.
Terri didn’t really believe her mom. “I mean, I’d just seen Maria! She hadn’t been transparent or anything like that, she looked exactly like the last time I saw her.”
But as the Thanksgiving weekend went on, it became evident that Maria was gone. Amidst the thanksgiving cheer, the family mourned and remembered Maria.
I asked Terri if she was scared at all staying in the house, but she said no. “I think I scared my family more than I was actually scared,” she laughed. “I felt kind of lucky to see her. I think I got to say goodbye.”
Did she ever question what she saw?
“No, I mean, I wasn’t out looking for ghosts. I was minding my own business, playing my game, and then there was my aunt. It was so normal.”
Nobody ever saw Maria again. Terri’s grandparents talked of footsteps (sometimes on the stairs) where there should be none, but nothing else. Whatever Terri saw, it was a one-time thing.
“As an adult now, I really cherish that memory,” says Terri. “My grandparents, my family had to be hurting – and then this kid comes into the room and says, ‘I saw your dead daughter, I saw your dead sister.’ What must they have thought? But she looked so average, so at ease, there was no pain at all in her image. Maybe that helped my family? To know that Maria was not in pain.
She was just…dropping by for Thanksgiving.”
*Names changed to protect the identity of the family.
Featured image by Lacrimosa via Flickr/Creative Commons