Thursday, May 28, 2009

another cup of Joe

On May 17, I introduced you to my local “ghost writer”, Joe Kilian.

Joe is back again for another guest spot. The difference this time is that he is writing about a ghost that he knew personally – his father-in-law Jack:


Locked out

There wasn’t a new driver in the family who didn’t get Jack’s “roll down the window a crack” speech when they got their shiny new Illinois driver’s license. He cautioned everyone, and (ironically) died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a one car accident. His front window was down a “crack”, but the carbon monoxide entered through a hole in the trunk’s floor that was the result of his rocking his Ford Galaxie back and forth on some loose stones during a 100 year rain storm. That Ford had almost a full tank of gas when I moved it to Bartel’s gas station the day after the funeral. I remember selling it to the first guy that I saw in Villa Park at another station on St. Charles Road. I couldn’t get anyone at Bartel’s to buy it – even for 50 bucks and a clean title.

They knew that a man had died in it.

The other son-in-law wouldn’t drive Jack’s car to the second gas station, where with a signature on the title and a handshake, I had disposed of that Ford. That’s one old car in our family that no one has missed or talked about since.

Fifteen years had passed since Jack died, and I had raised my family in the house that he and his brothers built on Charlotte Street. The house was a Cape Cod design, with character.

The basement seeped, the wiring gave me some surprises, and it had the smallest kitchen every built.

We found a newer house to call home, which would allow us to separate the children by remodeling the basement with a bedroom, and keeping the girls with a room of their own upstairs. The plan was to sell 353 N. Charlotte, and move into 413 West Road the same week. The closing on one would occur hours after the close on the other. Keys would be exchanged after the walk through and final inspection. All was right with the world.

We had made several upgrades to the house while we lived on Charlotte Street: we removed a window from the back porch, the room addition where most of the living took place on Charlotte Street. It is where the kitchen table and the old Hotpoint stood, watching all the activities of at least two generations. I was so proud when the Hotpoint was removed and replaced with the Kenmore. Those old refrigerators weighed a ton, and I have never seen a bigger man than the one that Sears used to deliver the new Kenmore.

He took the old Hotpoint through the garage while three helpers watched. Each stair bowed under his feet, and I was astonished at the groans that those wooden stairs made under him.

When he brought the Kenmore in, it never seemed to belong in that room

There was a space heater on the east wall of that room addition. It had a pilot light which went out ritually because the door to the outside world frequently brought in a wind that blew it out. One of the family members would note the smell of gas. Someone would have to light the pilot. Jack had reminded us on occasion that carbon monoxide didn’t have an odor like the natural gas that we smelled when that pilot blew out. He knew how to be careful about car fumes: “roll the window down a crack”

On moving day from 353 to 413, I met the new owner. I had met him once before when he was buying the house. He seemed to be a regular guy – he worked for the parts department of a local car dealer. I worked for a car dealer at the time, and we exchanged banter about business, and the ins and outs of the auto industry.

He told me that he had plans for the house, mainly in the area of the garage and the basement. Leaving the peg board up in the basement made him happy because it would be a good storage area for his tools. He intended to do some remodeling himself, and let me know that he considered himself to be very handy.

We seldom locked 353 N. Charlotte. The house was in a very low crime area, and it was the least expensive looking house for several blocks in any direction. When my wife and I first married, the whole family came to Jacksonville, North Carolina from Lombard, Illinois, and spent a week with us. When they returned home, they realized that they had never locked the house up. They didn’t even know if the locks ever worked. When my wife and I moved into Charlotte Street, we installed locks because the neighborhood had seen some crime, and locking up at night became a ritual when we raised our family there.

I handed the keys to the new owner at the closing, and wished him well. He knew that we were moving to the other side of town, and we told him that he could call us if he had any questions about his new house.

He took my phone number, and I figured the next time that I would hear from him was when another 100 year rain flooded the basement. Maybe I’d meet him at the Lilac parade, or some other world happenstance that would bring strangers together, and have them looking at each other saying, “I know that guy from somewhere – oh yeah, he bought the house on Charlotte Street”.

Moving days are always so stressful.

The timing was crucial - the truck rental, the family of helpers, and the traditional Barone’s Pizza (sausage and cheese, of course), with a beer to finish a perfect day.

Our first phone call at the new house surprised us, and we wondered who would have the distinction of being the first to call the new house.

It was the owner of Jack’s old house:

“How do I unlock the house?” he asked. His voice was suspicious and very sober. “I’ve tried all the keys – even the garage door won’t open

I put down my half eaten pizza slice and headed out the door. It occurred to me that the garage door lock never worked. The interior door to the attached garage was a locking door, and I seldom kept anything of value in the garage. A modern car wouldn’t fit in that garage on a bet. My wife’s younger bother DID attempt to widen the opening once by driving his sister’s new orange Beetle through the garage door, and if it weren’t for the Hotpoint being so big, there may have been more damage to the house than the garage door and some beaver board insulation.

I met the new owner in the driveway of the old house. It was about 10:00 at night, and the neighborhood always looked like a post care to me. The Pleasant Lane grammar school lights always gave the street an orange glow on a dark night. It seemed to be an unusually dark night, and as I shook his hand, he gave me the key to the front door.

I inserted the key, and the lock opened effortlessly. He looked at me with amazement, and said, “how’d you do that?”. I looked at him and said, “it works fine”.

We proceeded to the back door, and the same result occurred: no effort – insert key - turn – and it opened. I even opened the garage door without the use of a key. I looked at my new admirer, who was sure that I had used some trick to open the doors, and simply said, “now, you try again before I leave”.

I handed him the key, and said under my breath: “it’s OK, Jack, it’s his house now”. The new owner entered his new home with Jack’s approval.

Jack like me enough to let me marry his oldest daughter and live in the house that he built for about six years without any manifestation. I suppose that I should confess that I welcomed him to come with me to the new house in order to watch the family that he made possible grow. The new house has fancy locks and electric garage door openers. When we sell this one, I’ll make sure that I invite Jack to the new house before I turn over the keys to the new owners.

I’m not going through this again.

Remember, Jack always said, “roll the window down a crack”..

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