The Ghost of Mr. Able, Part 2

This is Part 2 of The Ghost of Mr. Able. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

A door leading from the office to the back yard stood ajar, a slight breeze blowing in, shifting the papers on the floor. Was that cigarette smoke I smelled? Then I imagined—or did I?—Mr. Able standing behind me.  A shiver ran down my spine as I nervously glanced over my shoulder and moved a step closer to MEH.
After that first day of exploring our old house, life got busy. The house was a mess, and we spent the majority of our time cleaning and repairing and (of course) visiting Home Depot. The life of the old house owner.

Mr. Able’s office was by far the easiest to clean: we collected and recycled the papers on the floor and threw away the parrot—but not before MEH (My Engineer Husband) made up an elaborate story about how it was a signal to German spies that Mr. Able was a sympathizer. As for the phone, we threw that away too because it never stopped ringing. We assumed it was Mr. Able’s international business colleagues who hadn’t yet heard the news. But it was still creepy.

And although I always got a distinctly uneasy feeling every time I went in there, and I always smelled the lingering cigarette smoke, I couldn’t just stop going in. It became a handy storage area for boxes that couldn’t be moved into rooms we were painting. We dubbed it the “Big Window Room” because, as you may have guessed, one of the walls had a big window. The Big Window Room, built by Mr. Able in the ‘70s looked and felt wrong with the character of the house—which was built in 1895.

The day after we threw away the phone, Mr. Able’s attorney called me, explaining he was closing the file on the house. He had been out of town at the time of the house sale, and the entire process was completed by mail through a title company. So we had never met him.

“Have you had any problems?” He asked me, more as a courtesy than anything.

I asked about the coal stove. Why was it gone? He apologized that it was missing, but he really had no idea why it was removed.

“Anything else?”

“The office, did Mr. Able ever mention anything strange about his office?”

“No, nothing strange. In fact, it was where he spent the most time, his sanctuary. No one was ever allowed inside, not even me. Why?”

“It’s just that….” I tried to explain, but the more I said, the stranger it sounded. Even to me. Finally, I gave up trying.

The attorney ended the call by telling me how he and Mr. Able had been friends for a very long time, since they were both young men.

“I mostly called to thank you. My friend was sick for a long time, and you were kind to him at a time when he really needed it. You baked those cookies, and it made a big impression on him. He wrote me a letter about it, and I think that’s why he gave you first shot at the house.”

The cookies? I was surprised they had made such a big impression on Mr. Able. The attorney and I said goodbye and parted company.

I thought maybe after the call things would get better. But they didn’t. Nothing ever felt right about the Big Window Room. Somehow, I always felt like I was trespassing. And the door would swing closed at the most unexpected times, usually when I was inside getting something out of a box, then it would lock shut behind me. It had a different key from the rest of the house, so it was exasperating to have to go out the back door and all the way around to the front of the house. I called a locksmith to change it, but he said the whole lockset would need to be replaced to match the other keys in the house. We decided not to do it. Eventually we just took off the doorknob.

I’d like to say that the strange sounds and goings on happened only in the Big Window Room, but that’s not exactly true. It’s an old house, and there are always sounds to hear: the floors creak, the plumbing clanks, drafts come in and give you goose bumps. When MEH and I were downstairs late at night or early in the morning, we heard footsteps coming down the stairs or doors closing upstairs. We always thought it was one of our kids waking up and coming down. But it wasn’t always.

We had bigger fish to fry: the entire house’s
electrical system needed to be upgraded
During those early days, when those things happened, we looked at each other and joked: “The ghost of Mr. Able.”

And, maybe it was coincidence but every time we put anything in the Big Window Room, something would go wrong: boxes got damp and mold grew on everything, the door to the outside blew open and leaves blew in, and the skylight leaked and water streaked down the walls. One day I went in and a family of chipmunks had taken up residency in a box of my grandmother’s old table linens. Another day, I went in only to find the floor covered with dead flies. And it was always me who found these things. And I always, always smelled the cigarette smoke. And here’s the thing: I was the only one who smelled it.

MEH, always the engineer, tried to explain: the skylight leaked so of course things got wet and moldy, only I smelled the smoke because I’d grown up with a smoking mother so I was very sensitive to it, the house was old so it creaked and the doors closed and got stuck or locked by themselves.

Anyway, we had bigger fish to fry: the entire house’s electrical system had to be upgraded, one of the chimneys had to be rebuilt because water was leaking in around the roof, the furnace had to be upgraded, and all the floors needed refinishing.

MEH’s idea was to knock down this
wall and integrate the Big Window
Room into the kitchen….I wasn’t
so sure…
And we hadn’t even started on the kitchen—which was old, dirty, separated from the rest of the house, and much too small. It was a source of constant frustration to me. So one day MEH told me he had a plan: there was a small laundry nook off the kitchen, and directly behind that nook, if you broke open the wall you’d be in the Big Window Room. MEH’s idea was to integrate the Big Window Room into the kitchen. Then we’d have room for our kids to hang out and watch TV in close proximity to the kitchen. Plus, with the light from the Big Window, the kitchen would be brighter. He convinced me this was a great idea. I wasn’t so sure. The Big Window Room? An integral part of my life?

But MEH? He was so sure. So we called a contractor, and he came to look at the old office and the garage.

He did not encourage us (in the least).

“Rotted sills. Can’t be done with the existing structure. You have to rebuild the sills so it makes more sense to just rip it down and start over. Even if you don’t expand the kitchen, that part of the house really needs to come down. It’s just not safe.”

To say we were taken aback would be an understatement. A small kitchen do-over was turning into a tens-of-thousands-of-dollars renovation. Not unheard of for old houses, but I kept thinking about that room, why that room? It wasn’t even that old. But the more I thought about it, the more it was what I wanted to do. I convinced MEH, it didn’t take much: rip it down. Start over. Get rid of every trace of Mr. Able and the tumbledown Big Window Room.

And that’s what we did. In the fall, the bulldozer came and removed Mr. Able’s office. Every last stick of it. It was all gone. In its place we built a new family room attached to the kitchen.

After that, of course, I never had to go back into the Big Window Room. I never smelled the cigarette smoke again. It wasn’t until after we tore down the room that MEH told me he suspected something was hidden in the room—something we never found, maybe something that someone was looking for. But not a ghost; instead, MEH thinks it was one of those “lazy foreigners” (as Mr. Able called them on our first visit, the ones he said he had to whip into shape) with an axe to grind with Mr. Able. (Thank goodness MEH told me this after the office was demolished! I don’t think I would’ve been able to sleep in the house if I’d thought someone was breaking in!)

The bulldozer came and removed Mr. Able’s office
I’m not so sure MEH is right, though. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do sometimes wonder why. Maybe Mr. Able didn’t want anyone in the office, just like the first time we were in the house. Maybe I’m more sensitive to these things than MEH is, maybe I spent more time in the room than anyone else so I noticed things, or maybe he just felt more comfortable with me because of the cookies, like his attorney said.

Whatever the reason for my own connection with Mr. Able, I’d like to say that when the Big Window Room was taken down, the other noises stopped too—but they didn’t. Late at night or early in the morning, we still hear someone coming down the creaking stairs, closing doors, and rattling the pipes.

And when that happens, we still always look at each other and say:

“The ghost of Mr. Able.”


Comments

  1. Cathy says:

    Wow, I was right there with you (in tangible human form that is!).

  2. Deborah says:

    Good storytelling!

  3. Cynthia Robertson says:

    Creepy good, Julia!

  4. You are such a gifted storyteller, Julia. I love this… I love that things are unanswered, that you STILL hear the footsteps, that you have a different opinion than MEH – this is what we call tension and drama. And it’s what I LOVE.

    For me: I like to believe that Mr. Abel IS still hanging out in his old digs. As awful of a first impression as he made, the fact that your cookies touched him so deeply showed that this man DID have a heart. Your words allowed me to sympathize with him…

    As far as the things you had to do to ‘whip’ your old house into shape… Oh me oh my! We had a ‘historic’ home in Phoenix (our old is your new… our home built in 1937) and I know the labor of love involved. But having to tear parts of the house down completely… Eeks! Know all about electrical rewriting. I would LOVE to see your home. It sounds so breathtaking, and I can totally see your draw to having an ‘old home.’ So many stories, so much history!

  5. Cathy, So glad you were with me — in tangible form not spirit (I have enough of those!!) 🙂

    Deborah, Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed!

    Cynthia, HUGE compliment, because I never think I’m very good at creepy! Glad you enjoyed it!

    Melissa, I appreciate your kind words very much! And, of course, much really is unanswered (wish I could’ve written about it all, but there was just too much to get in!). Mr. Able had his good and his bad, as we all do — but his bad was worse than I really presented in this blog, so although I know he loved the cookies, I also know the much darker side of him, too. Thank you again for your kinder than kind high compliments!

  6. That was awesome! Now you have to tell us….truth or fiction? You really have a gift for telling a story….

  7. Erika Marks says:

    Oh, Julia–what a serial! I was riveted! And coming from your neck of the woods (and raised in a 200+ year-old house) you captured perfectly those creepy sensations–but what a tale!

    Truly this is a brilliant piece of writing–a NYT Lives piece if ever I read one!

  8. cookinghealthy, Glad you enjoyed the story! As to whether it was truth or fiction….I would say creative nonfiction–the events truly happened

    Erika, So glad you enjoyed, could relate, and were riveted — what a compliment! As for NYT Lives, I can just hope…

  9. Chris Fries says:

    Hi Julia!

    Just read both parts — Wonderful writing! I was engrossed and captivated. Very smoothly told!

    Great story, too. When I was younger, I thought it would be fun to renovate an old house, but never did. After getting married, I and my wife built new in 2000. Now that I’m older, I realize just how much work is involved! No, thanks!!! I love the character that older houses have, but when you’re trying to deal with leaks, and no such thing as a square corner, and mold, and ancient wiring, and ancient plumbing, and rotten rafters, and, and, and… Yikes!

    Have you researched the ‘geneology’ of the house before Mr. Able? It’s entirely possible his ‘presence’ went away in the rubble of the big window room, but your other creaks and rumbles are from previous owners. Not that I believe in ghosts…

    At least, not much… ;^)

  10. Chris, So glad you enjoyed! (and I agree about old houses: NEVER AGAIN!) I actually have researched the history of this house, wrote a few other blog posts about it, and believe me there could be plenty of options for who is haunting this old house–if you believed in such things, not that I do, at least not much 🙂

  11. What a great story, Julia! Since being married, we’ve lived in two brand-new houses, and I’ve always lamented the lack of character and history. HOWEVER…as someone who has trouble sleeping because of any kind of noise in the night, I think the suggestion of a ghost (friendly or otherwise) would send me packing. Thanks for sharing your tale!

  12. Amanda, Thanks so much! You are so lucky to live in two brand new houses (we once lived in a brand new house…. heavenly, you know that all the dirt is your own!)…believe me, I’ve had a few sleepless nights over this old house — but most about how the heck we’ll pay to get it done! 🙂

  13. How creepy that all these crazy events – the chipmunks, the dead flies – happened in Mr. Able’s old office. Seems like you took it all pretty well though. Just curious, did you ever want to move when all this was happening?

    Thanks so much for sharing this story! Your cookies look amazing too. Now I’m craving a chocolate chip cookie.

  14. Jen, Believe me, creepy doesn’t cover it. Did I ever want to move? That’s an excellent question…. I have to admit that the day we bought the house (because we hadn’t seen it all), my husband said: “I don’t ever want to hear you say you’re sorry you bought the house.” It didn’t take long for me to say those words…
    As for the cookies, now you can see why Mr. Able left us the house! 🙂

  15. What a scary-good tale! (That’s about as ghosty as I want to get in my reading tastes.) Loved Part II as much as Part I.

    How ironic that a small neighborly act – that you probably saw as straightforward behavior – meant so much to a lonely old man. His crusty exterior was obviously hiding a need for some human care and attention. And your plate of cookies sure paid off. (Except for the times when you said to MEH you were sorry you ever bought the house ;~)

  16. Milli, Glad you enjoyed Part 2 as much as Part 1 — I know what you mean about the small cookie offering. It seemed like such a tiny thing to me! And yet he really appreciated it. (The part about MEH and saying he never wanted to hear me say I wish we hadn’t gotten it — definitely not fun 🙁

  17. CMSmith says:

    What good would an old house be without a ghost or two?

    My daughter rented a room in a haunted house in Harpers Ferry, WVa. She found out the house had been used as a morgue during the Civil War.

  18. Liz says:

    It sounds like Mr. Able left when his room did. What a great story! And thank you again for writing it!

  19. Christine, A Civil War morgue….creepy but also pretty cool…. as long as I don’t have to be there. Although, think of the BLOGS! 🙂

    Liz, Not sure if Mr. Able or some other thing still steps through our house from time to time…. lots of footsteps and clanks all the time… you are so welcome and glad you enjoyed it!

  20. SuziCate says:

    Love this story! I grew up in an old house of history and creaks, and my grandparents lived in one as well. I love old houses and their stories.

  21. Came here from your 7 links post. That is a wonderful story with a happy ending too. Love the bit about the cookies–you never know what will touch someone.

  22. SuziCate, How’d your comment sneak in w/out me seeing it? Must be the ghost of Mr. Able moving things around! 🙂 Thanks for your comment and your visit to my blog (and sorry for being so belated in responding!)

    Mother in Israel, So happy you enjoyed the story — yes it did/does have a happy ending (we’re still in the house… And yes, so true that you never know what will touch someone do you? Thanks so much for your visit to my blog and especially for taking the time to comment!

  23. JM Merchant says:

    Ah crap! Shouldn’t have read this so late at night…don’t dare leave my room now and I know I’m not going to sleep easy.

    Great post Julia, thoroughly spooked!
    X

  24. Hi Jo, Sorry to spook you (but glad it was a good read!!)… maybe it will make you feel better knowing that I’ve lived in the house for 12 years now… and nothing untoward has happened? You’re so sweet to let me know you liked it! 🙂