Archive for July, 2008

The light

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2008 by wally426

30-07-2008  Brooklyn, NY

 

As most of you know, I come from a long line of Williams. Since my great-grandfather, William Christian, there has been a William in every generation. If one day I’m blessed with a son, I can only hope that my wife will be generous enough to carry on the tradition to the fifth generation. My grandfather, William Woodrow, had three grandchildren, but only knew one of them before passing on. During the seven plus years before his death, we were lucky enough to form an inseparable bond. I couldn’t say the word ‘Grandpa’ when I was young, so in my haste to identify with him he became ‘Boopa’. The name stuck. I would often spend weekends with Nana (my grandmother) and Boopa at their house in Huntington exploring the wilds of Long Island and forming precious memories with them.

Four things about Boopa always stuck with me in the years after his passing:

We always watched Fraggle Rock together, it was by far our favorite show. Even when I wasn’t there, Nana would tell me stories about catching Boopa watching episodes even when I wasn’t visiting;

The man loved Raisinets more than anything;

He always tried to teach me how to play the piano. I vividly remember his lanky German fingers dwarfing mine as his fingernails tapped the keys;

The clearest memory I have of him was perhaps the simplest. As I played in the backyard, Boopa would watch me from his bedroom window with his flip sunglasses up, a hand above his brow to block out the sun. Whenever I looked up, he give a big wave of the hand to let me know he was watching. Boopa ended up succumbing to lung cancer while looking out of that same window, just eight days after his 70th birthday, on August 20, 1988.

This past Sunday, I had an interesting conversation with Jess, my stepmother. She informed me that the tenant living in my grandparents’ house, Mary Allison, had some interesting experiences occur during her six-month stay there. Mary Allison mentioned to Jess that she lived at the house with her two children (a son, Billy, and her daughter) and boyfriend, but apparently they weren’t the only ones living there. There was a man who had showed only glimpses of himself at night when Mary Allison woke up. He would either be in a corner or walking out of the bedroom to the hallway before quickly disappearing.  She had been sleeping with the lights on since this started happening in April. A week ago, Billy was watching TV in the den when he saw the man, clear as day, walk down the stairs and disappear through a wall. Ten seconds later, the man came back, looked at him, and continued back up the stairs. Needless to say the situation had them unnerved, so they called my stepmother to attempt to figure out why this might be happening. She informed Mary Allison that Boopa had died in the house and that whatever they had been experiencing might be connected to that event almost two decades ago.

The conversation more than piqued my interest, and I became very curious about what this woman had to say. I made a date to stop by the house the following night. The visit wasn’t as awkward as I’d expected, in fact it was just the opposite. Mary Allison greeted me like a long lost relative, as if she’d known me for years. The house hadn’t changed much since my father and I gutted it last winter either, so it still felt like the familiar and comforting place I’d remembered it to be. We made small talk and polite introductions, with conversations ranging from family history to political ideology, then gradually delved into the reason why I came to the house. I threw a package of old pictures in front of her and Billy, asking if the man looked familiar. While Billy didn’t react to the pictures of Boopa later in life, his eyes widened when he saw those of him as a younger man in his 40’s (when he first moved into the house). He was sure that this was the man on the staircase. The affirmed look in Billy’s eyes sent chills down my spine. We proceeded to walk through the house as Mary Allison told me stories about seeing this young version of Boopa throughout the house. “He walked out of here”; “He was in this corner”, “This light dropped from the Attic”… Then she got to the picture that kept falling off the wall. It was a triptych of Chinese characters in a rectangular frame that was now propped sadly against the wall. I could see that there were numerous holes in the plaster from her futile attempts to keep it firmly in place. No matter how hard she’d secured the picture, it would be on the floor the following morning. Strangely enough, It had been hanging where my grandparents always kept a similarly shaped triptych of their three children.

Could this be though? Could my grandfather possibly still be in the house? As much as I would have liked to believe the situation, my mind still held some doubt at that point. After making more small talk, Mary Allison suggested we move the conversation into the backyard. I willingly obliged. We kept talking as the night wore on, drinking wine and taking in the overwhelming scent of Nana’s coveted rhododendron trees. Billy sat quietly listening, eagerly asking a question every so often. He was a smart kid, normal by all means. Why would he make up stories about seeing a ghost walking through the house? He had nothing to gain from telling lies. As I was wondering, Mary Allison stopped mid-sentence and gasped. She had seen the man in the bedroom window. In that brief glimpse, he seemed to be looking down into the courtyard, his hand covering his eyebrow to shield a glaring light. I said practically nothing and tried to switch the topic. A few minutes later, she saw the apparition again, this time she said he gave a big wave of his hand before vanishing. As those words escaped her mouth, a wave of tingling electricity shot through my spine and into my head. My vision temporarily went white. The hairs on my head and neck stood up straight. There’s no possible way she could have known about a symbol that was held between only my grandfather and me. It was clear that Boopa was letting this woman know he was watching me at that moment. “You know that feeling of chills we get sometimes?”, Mary Allison said. “That’s how they let you know they’re with you…”. Overcome with emotion, I left shortly afterwards. The doubts that I had previously vanished like that fleeting glimpse of my grandfather in the bedroom window. Before leaving, I walked into the garage below the bedroom and spoke out loud to him for the first time in almost twenty years, certain that he could hear my words.

According to clairvoyants and mediums, after we die we are supposed to go into a light which serves as a portal to the “other side”. Even those who have contact with spirits don’t know what this other side is, all they know is that some spirits have the ability to come back to this world to guide, look over, or gain settlement with the living. They surmise that once the spirit is free, it can have contact with spirits on the other side that have also left the living world. Sometimes people will let go when they understand that they will eventually keep company with those they thought they had lost forever. When Squatty was in the last throes of his life, he told his sister, Margie, “I’m going to be with momma now…” and hung up the phone. It was the last thing she heard from his mouth. After last night, I really believe in it and for the first time, I can say that I’m not the least bit scared to go when my number is up. It’s as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders after this incredible experience.

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Schermerhorn Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized on July 24, 2008 by wally426

16-07-2008   Brooklyn, NY

The Brooklyn transit museum was always my favorite place to visit when I was a kid. While most favored the children’s museum on Eastern Parkway and the Museum of Natural History on the upper west, this dusty enclave was always best at spinning the imiaginitive cogs of my brain. The museum is situated in an abandoned subway station on Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn (or DoBro, as the horrendous real estate agents have labeled it). While the initial museum is somewhat boring, filled with cheesy dioramas and flat displays, the platform of the station houses actual old trains used throughout the MTA’s history. Instead of old bones and freeze-dried animals you couldn’t touch, the inner guts of the old cars could be explored and romped in all day. In grade school, we were allowed to leave the school grounds for an hour to eat lunch. Once a week, I would head down into the museum to eat lunch in the old cars, imagining what they were like as they crept through the tunnels.

A few weeks back, an opportunity to ride one of these old trains came up. My brother Phil and I picked up tickets to ride a vintage R-9 train (built in 1931) from midtown Manhattan to Coney Island. As we waited on the platform, we noticed a slew of MTA nerds donning striped railroad hats and overalls. Not a big deal, aside from the fact that some looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks. After waiting on the sweltering platform for awhile, the train slowly rumbled into the station. The most striking feature was the riveted side panels that covered the outside, this thing really looked like a mean green tank! Inside the incandescent bulbs flickered, showing vintage ads through the blades of its whirring fans. If it weren’t for the masses of sweaty subway nerds with their fogged glasses, one could envision a commute to work seventy years ago. The straw hats, the grey pinstripe suits, the neatly folded newspapers crinkling as they turned the pages. The smell was also different from the usual putrid subway odors of urine, spilt coffee, and stale beer. It was a subtle mix of damp wood, dusty wicker, and slowly rusting metal. The great hissing metal beast slowly grinded its way along the tracks at first, but really picked up the pace between stations. The most entertaining thing was watching the reactions of people waiting on the platforms. Most looked as if they had seen a strange animal, curiously looking into the windows from a distance, hesitant to approach the old green train. Maybe some even remembered looking at a CC (a defunct line not in service since the 1980’s) train pulling into stations in years past. After we pulled into our final stop at Surf Avenue in Coney Island, it was fascinating to see that most passengers were in their 40’s and younger. The ‘Nostalgia train trip’, as it was called by the MTA, was not only fit for those who remember the eloquence of these cars when they were once in use, but for those who longed for a taste of New York as it was during a radically different time. A time when television and the internet didn’t keep people indoors, when block parties were a summer staple and fire hydrants benignly soaked the streets, when stickballs flew over sewers, handballs popped in the summer heat and Red Barber’s voice lingered like a lost soul through the alleyways.