I don’t get down to see my dad and step-mom as often as I’d like to. They live over 90 miles away and well, life gets busy, and the days become weeks, and the week’s months. The last time I’d visited them was in the summer, and since I didn’t see them for the holidays, I knew I needed to make a special effort to spend some time with them soon. After all, Daddy’s in his 80’s and Fran in her seventies, and neither of them are getting any younger.
Feeling guilty, I decided to call and set up a visit. The phone rang only two times before the receiver picked up, and I heard Fran’s weary voice on the other end.
“Hi Fran, its Alicia.” Noting how tired she sounded I asked, “How are you doing?”
Realizing the voice on the other end was me, Fran perked up ever so slightly, “Lisa? I’ve been wanting to talk to you!” (My family calls me, “Lisa”, even though my name is “Alicia”. It’s a long story).
“Is everything okay, Fran?” I asked, worriedly.
“Yes, everything’s fine. I just have something I want to tell you. Are you planning on coming down sometime soon?”
Sighing inwardly with relief, but still feeling a bit guilty, I answered, “Yes. As a matter of fact, both Jordon and I happen to have this Friday off, and we wanted to know if you two would like some company?” (Jordan, my roommate, absolutely loves my dad and step-mom, and jumps at any opportunity to spend time with them).
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll have to check our calendar.”
I could hear the mock-shuffling sound of paper in Fran’s background as she continued, “You know, we’re such busy people …. Of course you can come down!” she exclaimed as we both laughed.
“Awesome! We should be there around 10:30 AM.”, I said, and then added with emphasis, “Don’t plan anything for lunch. I’m going to take you and Daddy out.”
Fran is a wonderful cook, and passing up one of her meals was the last thing I wanted to do. However, she sounded so tired. I couldn’t even think of letting her go to so much trouble for Jordan and me.
Trying to steer the conversation back to what she mentioned at the beginning of my call, I asked, “What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”
Without hesitation Fran countered, “Oh, no. It can wait. I’ll tell you when you get here.”
I knew I shouldn’t press it any further. Once Fran has made her mind up about something, getting her to change it is like trying to take a toy away from a Pit Bull, nearly impossible. With that we finished up our conversation, and I hung up the phone, even more curious about Fran’s “secret”.
Friday couldn’t come quick enough as my imagination went into overdrive. Even though Fran assured me “everything’s fine”, I still worried something was going on with Daddy, or perhaps my stepsister Jean was having migraine headaches again.
When Jordan and I finally arrived at Daddy’s house the air was thick with anticipation as we all converged on the living room to get caught up. We all took to our normal spots: Jordan and I plopped down on the love-seat, and Daddy sat to our right on the couch. Fran took up residence in her rocking chair directly in front of the three of us. She adjusted the neck-rest pillow that hung over the top of the chair, trying to relieve the almost constant pain left over from car accident years ago. We then spent the next few minutes talking about Momma, my job, Jean and her kids, the weather, and so on.
Leaning forward, Fran interrupted the flow of the conversation with, “I don’t mean to change the subject, but I just can’t wait any longer. I have to tell you what happened to me a couple of weeks ago.”
Nodding, I looked over at Daddy to see if I could tell whether he knew anything about Fran’s secret. He looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I have no idea what this is about.” Turning back to Fran, I waited for her to continue.
Leaning back in her chair, Fran sighed and said, “I haven’t been able to talk with Jean about this, because she gets nervous when the subject is brought up. And well, I knew you’d understand, as I can talk to you about anything.” Pausing for a moment, Fran added, “I want to get your opinion about something that happened to me, but before I go into that I have to tell you about Jean’s dog, Suzy.”
After explaining how Jean found the dog through a local rescue organization, Fran went into detail about the day the dog was delivered to Jean’s house.
“I was sitting on the steps of the front porch, and the car door opened, and this great big ball of fur jumped out, and ran right up to me, and licked me on the face.” Fran chuckled at the memory, “I think Jean was hoping the dog would come up to her, and when it didn’t… ”
Leaning in towards Jordan and me, she added in a conspiratorial tone, “Between you and me, I think Jean was jealous that the dog took to me, instead of her.” Pausing for a moment, Fran gathered her thoughts before continuing with her story.
“Suzy was the sweetest, gentlest dog I’ve ever seen, and yet she was so big! She was a Golden Retriever mix, and at first Jean and her husband were worried she was too big to be around the children. Yet they soon discovered that she didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She’d let the girls tug on her fur, pull on her ears, do anything to her and she’d just lay there, patiently accepting whatever they would do to her.” A shadow passed over Fran’s face, and her voice grew somber. “I really loved that dog.”
“What happened to her, Fran?” I asked. I vaguely remembered her mentioning Suzy a long time ago, but wasn’t familiar with what became of the dog.
Fran looked up at me and Jordan, and offered, “She just disappeared one day up in Lake Tahoe.”
Jean and her husband, a wealthy contractor, own a second home up in the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. I’ve only been there once.
About 12 years ago, a friend of mine and I wanted to do a little gambling at the casinos, but didn’t have enough money to rent a room, too. So Jean and her husband were gracious enough to let us use the house on one of their “off” weekends. I remember that it was a beautiful two story home with two complete living spaces, and a large Jacuzzi tub on the deck outside the first floor living room.
Oh, the memories of that place. I’ve never been back as I couldn’t bring myself to ask Jean if I could stay there again. I was too humiliated. You see, I didn’t know that the door to the outside deck and Jacuzzi locks on its own. At least, I didn’t know until it was too late, and my friend and I were standing outside in the freezing cold, in our bathing suits, in the dead of winter. We would have frozen to death if my friend didn’t have the presence of mind to jimmy her way in through a window. At the end of our stay, I placed all my remaining cash in an envelope on the kitchen table, with a note apologizing for the damage we’d done to the window’s screen.
“Jean wanted to take Suzy with her on her trips to the house,” continued Fran, snapping me out of my bad memory. “But since it didn’t have a fence around the property, she worried that Suzy would get out. So Jean hired a contractor to install a fence around the backyard area.
“However, unbeknownst to her, the contractor cut corners by failing to make the fence follow the rolling undulations in the yard. Even though the fence looked nice, it was completely ineffective in keeping Suzy in. She simply crawled under a space in the fence, and ran off into the forest.”
Poor Jean stayed up at the house for two weeks, driving up and down the roads, searching in vain for a dog that was most likely killed by wild coyotes.
“What a terribly sad story”, lamented Jordan. “She never found Suzy?”
Shaking her head, Fran said, “It’s like the poor thing fell off the face of the earth. And it really shook up the whole family, especially the youngest, Anna.” After pausing for a moment, she then shifted the direction of the story, “Okay. Now on to what happened to me.”
Looking at each of us, she added, “About two weeks ago I was awoken out of a deep sleep to the sound of a dog barking in this house.”
With a puzzled look, I questioned, “In this house? But you haven’t had a dog for over a year, not since Jackie died (Jackie was my dad’s Jack Russell Terrier). Are you sure it was in the house, and not outside?”
Nodding her head emphatically ‘yes’, Fran continued, “It was definitely coming from within the house, and it was very loud. It was so loud and clear that I sat up in bed wondering, ‘what in the world?’ And that was when I saw her. In our bedroom doorway was that crazy dog!”
“What dog? Jackie or Suzy?” I asked.
“Suzy.” Explained Fran. “I knew it was her, because it had that goofy, floppy ear of hers. And she was just standing there, looking right at me, panting away, wagging her tail. I was so shocked that I didn’t see who was next to Suzy until it was almost too late. When I did look up I saw a woman turning to leave, and instantly recognized her as Virginia.” Tears welled up in Fran’s eyes at the memory of her beloved older sister.
Fran had two sisters: Donna, and Virginia. In many ways the siblings were a lot like the Andrew Sisters, in that all three had beautiful singing voices. Unlike the Andrew Sisters, however, only one of them pursued a singing career. Virginia, or Aunt Ginny as we called her, became a gospel singer (to fulfill a promise she made to her father), and went on to become a regular at The Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Up until just a few years ago, you could still see a poster hanging in the lobby of Virginia Hanson singing with the famous Rockets dancing behind her.
Looking over at Jordan, Fran said, “I’ve never told you about Virginia, have I? Hold on a second while I get something.” With that Fran left the living room, and moments later returned with an enlarged publicity photo of Aunt Ginny. It was a beautiful, black and white, head and shoulder shot with Aunt Ginny looking off to the side, wrapped in a fur stole.
As we all took in the photo I was reminded of the time Aunt Ginny came to California for a visit. I wasn’t feeling well, and was lying on the couch watching television. Hoping to get my mind off my illness, Aunt Ginny came into the living room, sat down next to me, and placing my head in her lap, began to sing to me. The melodic sound of her voice filled the entire house, and I soon drifted off to sleep, gently wrapped in her voice’s loving embrace.
“Are you sure it was Virginia?” asked Jordan.
“Yes, I’m certain it was her, even though it’s been nearly 20 years since she died from breast cancer.”
In a soft voice, almost a whisper, Fran asked Jordan and I, “What do you think? Do you think I’m crazy?”
We both shook our heads ‘No’, and I assured her saying “No, Fran, you’re definitely not crazy. In fact, you’re pretty lucky. It’s very rare for people who aren’t psychic to see a full-body apparition, especially more than one at a time. I’ve been doing paranormal research for quite a while, and I have yet to see an apparition.”
Jordan added, “It may be that Virginia knows that you’ve been worried about what happened to Suzy, and this is perhaps her way in letting you know that Suzy is okay, and she’s taking care of her.”
Fran leaned back in her rocker, and took advantage of its soothing motion for a few moments, taking in what we’d just said.
Jordan, Daddy and I sat back in our seats, too, and the room grew quiet as we contemplated the beauty of it all.
A couple of months later, I had major surgery, and my sister Janice flew in from Colorado to help take care of me. Since she planned on staying for a couple of weeks, she took some time to go down to see Daddy and Fran. During her visit she slept in the living room in Fran’s rocker. (Janice suffers from terrible lower back pain, and is unable find a comfortable position while lying down. After many sleepless nights, she finally gave up and took to sleeping in her lazy boy recliner instead. So naturally, the best place for her to sleep at Daddy’s was in Fran’s rocker).
The first night at Daddy’s, Janice awoke with a start to the feeling of being watched.
Looking up, she peered through the semi-darkness towards the entryway. Aided by the moon-light streaming through the slats of the window blinds, Janice could see the silhouette of a woman standing in the juncture between the entryway, and the hallway that leads to the back bedrooms.
Thinking it was Fran, Janice called out her name, but the woman didn’t respond. Moments passed, and the woman just stood there, smiling, saying nothing.
“That’s not Fran,” thought Janice to herself. Even though the woman was tall like Fran, her hair was longer, and even in the dim light Janice could tell that it was brown, not graying like Fran’s. Feeling uneasy, Janice spoke out loud to the figure, “Now you’re scaring me.” Within the blink of an eye the figure disappeared.
The next morning Janice asked Fran if she had gotten up in the middle of the night to check on her. (Janice had a touch of the flu, and wasn’t feeling well). Even though Fran was concerned about her, she insisted that she “didn’t get up as far as I know.” After discussing it further, they both decided that Janice must have seen Aunt Ginny, too.
It is now nearly a year since Janice saw the figure in Daddy’s hallway, and about even longer since Fran saw Suzy and Aunt Ginny in her bedroom doorway. We’re still not certain why they’ve been appearing to our family. Perhaps it was, as Jordan suggested, Aunt Ginny’s way of letting Fran, and our family know that she and Suzy are okay, and taking care of one another.
I can’t help chuckling to myself, though, as I remember what Fran said about Jean being jealous over the way Suzy took to her when they first met. Perhaps Suzy did prefer Fran over Jean after all, and that’s why she appeared to Fran instead of Jean. I guess we won’t know for sure until we see them again on the other side.