Xander, our rooster, was crowing when I let Meander, our dog, out at 4:45am this morning. I lay down on the coach to wait for Meander’s return from her pre-dawn jaunt, and I thought of the women who had walked these same boards before me. Of Effie Tucker, the white woman who lived her entire life in this home – born here, died here, I expect. I imagined her – a gray coif of permed hair. Sweet but strong. Our neighbors knew her, received her lessons. I probably would have really liked her, at least from afar.
But it is not her I feel with me in this place, not Effie’s tingle I feel in the space beside my tonsils. Not the woman whose skirts I feel move the air at the tip of my nose. No, this woman is older, deeper here somehow. On the couch last night, I knew she was walking, purposeful, solid, silent through the door by my head, to light Mr. Yowell’s fire. The same time – 4:45 am – but I expect she knew it as only waking time, she and the rooster roused by their internal clocks and the first hint of dawn.
When I run a mop over these floors, these 210 year old boards, the mop head comes up only gray, a tiny slight of our own dust skimmed up. It’s amazing to me, really, with all our animals and the in and out, but I can only imagine that it is 210 years of clean that just repels the dirt now, sending it out.
Or maybe someone is still here, cleaning. I hope so, and I hope not. I want to know her, to talk with her as she sits with a cup of tea and I sweep the kitchen floor, to hear her talk of her days, to watch her strength hold her up in the midst of the what must have seemed like endlessness.
But I hope not, too – Dear God, don’t let it be – because if a haunting means that someone has not been able to move on, if it is about someone stuck, I pray for her release from now – as I dream I would have then – because who wants to be trapped as both as a ghost and a slave?
If, though, haunting is a way of leaving your mark, a way of showing how very deep your presence lives in a space, of the way your breath and being shaped the nature of a landscape, then, I hope this woman haunts me every day. So I never forget . . . and so that she can watch me remember from her favorite chair wherever she may be.
I hope she glances down on her way to something she loves – that she travels all over as her whim takes her – and sees that I know her, feel her here, always in the smooth clean boards beneath my feet.
Have you ever been somewhere where you felt the people who had been in that space before you? Where were you and what was that experience like?