I Learned a Lesson

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I will never again leave a  letter lying around  in which  I have  spoken ill of  the  dead.

my father, Fred B. Wells, died  on April 10, 1972, at St. Joseph’s  Hospital in Hillsboro,  Wisconsin. He  had  been a  brakeman on  the Chicago & Northwestern Railway for  forty years.

The next year I traveled to England Wales, and Scotland, returning to my home in Janesville,  Wisconsin.  He had been a brakeman  on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway for  forty years.

The next year I traveled to England, Wales, and Scotland, returning to my home in Janesville, Wisconsin,  On September 30, I started a letter to Dad’s  cousin Lois Jewell who lived in Anaheim, California, to tell  her about my trip.

“There is such a chauvinistic  attitude  among the  men  over there,” I wrote. “The deodorant ads are slanted for  women only,  and only the women have to pay to use public restrooms. ” And,”  I added ,” I can  sure see why Dad was such a stubborn Englishman. He came by it naturally, just like the men in that country now.”

I found myself growing sleepy about midnight, so I left the letter,  unfinished, on my desk and went to bed, I hadn’t  been asleep long when I was awakened by the sound of my  father’s  footsteps in the hall- not the slow, shuffling,  arthritic footsteps of his last few years but the quick, impatient sounds he had  made as  a young man, I turned on the  bedside lamp and  frantically  shook my husband, Bill.

“Did you hear that? Someone is in the house.’ I couldn’t  bring myself  to tell  him I recognized the footsteps. But they had ceased abruptly  when the light went on.

“You must have  been dreaming,” Bill said. “Turn off the  light and go  back to sleep.”

I did- but again  the footsteps started. I thought I would  faint with far as I snapped on the light.  Bill had  heard the  sounds and now he got up. Grabbing a baseball bat from  the hall closet he searched carefully through the whole house. He found nothing.

I was afraid to turn off the light.”It’s Dad,” I told Bill.” I know it is . I recognize the way he used to walk.  A burglar wouldn’t  walk that fast. He’d walk more stealthily.”

“Nonsense,” Bill retorted. “Your father is dead- and there are no such things as ghosts.”

I lay  for at least an hour with the  light on,  my heart  thumping, Things stayed quiet, so I finally turned off the  light.  Immediately the footsteps sounded- this time right alongside the bed.

When another sinister sound began I flipped on the light. Horrified,  I watched  the dresser scarf  on the  bedside table  flapping up and down on both sides, like a  bird about to take wing! Almost hysterical now,   I poked  Bill and  pointed  to the flapping cloth. Seeing  this,  he  did not  protest when I left the light on for the rest of the  night.

At daybreak I finished the letter and sealed it into an  envelope.  The presence never visited us before  the night I wrote  the letter,  and has not  returned since. In my own mind  I know Dad was disturbed by my comments about him.

He was a good and loving father who never laid a hand on me,  but he could be stern with anyone  who talked  about loved ones in a demeaning fashion. He  had let me know  I had said the wrong thing about  him in  my letter.  His ghostly visit taught me never to speak- or write-ill of the dead.

Eleanor Richardson

Janesville,  Wisconsin

January 1983


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