I do believe in ghosts. Why shouldn’t I? A ghost, by definition, is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can appear to the living. Whether the appearance is a sound, like the creaking of my old house settling, reminding me of someone, now gone, treading on the old pine floors. A fleeting glimpse of some unknown something out of the corner of my eye, just beyond my periphery, triggering a long-forgotten memory. The way certain shadows fall in the moonlight or an old song that conjures up a ghost from the past. It’s a ghost even if their spirit resides only in my head.
My favorite quote about ghost was made by NCIS agent Mike Franks, a favorite reoccurring character on the long-running TV program NCIS. In a conversation with Gibbs about ghosts, Franks allows that ghost were “But the memories we make. We fill the spaces we live in with them. That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live, the longer I live there the spaces become filled with memories of naked women.” Well, there is only one memory in my living space of a naked woman and thankfully she is not a memory.
But there are other memories….
I arose early as is my infernal habit. Standing in the dark, also an infernal habit, I looked through the broad window beyond my kitchen sink gazing into the bright moonlight dappling the flat between my home and my stream. There was a huge full moon, rapidly setting just above the tall trees on the ridge above casting long shadows that danced in the open space below.
Just off to the side, away from the direction I was looking, I saw her in the mottled moonlight. I saw her white and black markings…as I often do. When I looked directly at her…she was gone. She has been gone now for thirteen years…roaming somewhere on the hillside above us. Ghostly in the way she continues to remind us of her, lost but not forgotten at all. A ghost never to fear, only to remember and smile.
Sassy Marie came to us, not us to her. She left the same way…on her terms. Everything about Sassy Marie was to be savored on her terms. If she wanted to be petted, she came to us. If we wanted to pet, she ran away, leery of what our motivation might be. If she wanted to come into the house, which was very rare until late in her life, she came in, with or without invitation. Sassy Marie invited herself through the back gate of our hearts and stayed for sixteen years…until she decided it was time for her to leave.
She was a black and white, border collie mix, a discarded puppy or a runaway. For several days she survived on the small lizards or road kill outside of our little piece of heaven. If I tried to make friends…she ran away, only to return later in the day. Linda Gail enticed her through the back gate with morsels of food and the then-unnamed Sassy Marie decided to stay. I probably should tell that story differently. Sassy Marie enticed Linda Gail to open the gate and give her food is a truer rendering of the story.
Sassy Marie was the most infuriating, contrary, disobliging, lovable, caring, wonderous paradox I have ever encountered…well…next to my bride. She had the uncanny ability, a type of sixth sense, to know when we were talking about giving her a bath. She would find a way to disappear into our small, fenced in yard until that bit of foolishness passed. Put a leash on her? Not on your life. She would look at us as if to say, “I was born to be free of the shackles of life…and no I ain’t wearin’ no collar.”
She realized how well she had it. No way she would ever walk out of an open gate, invited or not. Even when we had to tear down a part of the fence during renovations she still refused to set foot outside of her kingdom…until she did. Again, it was her idea…not ours.
We walked an old logging road and prowled over our kingdom. Every ravine, every stream that cut it was an adventure. After thirty plus years the adventures are still there. Sassy Marie would wait patiently for our return, laying at the back gate, next to the torn down sections. One day she decided to go with us…she decided and enticed Santana the stray, adopted cat to come with us too. It was an odd caravan. Santana yelling in cat, “Wait, wait on me,” until she got tired and laid down refusing to go one step further. Sassy Marie would lead…until she grew tired or aggravated. We would find ourselves alone and worry when there was no need. We would return and find her laying at the gate…with Santana close by.
Sassy Marie had grown weary by her sixteenth year…her sixteenth year with us. She was older, we just didn’t know how much older. We knew she was not long for our world and so did she. On the Christmas Day Linda Gail and I were to drive to visit family in Texas, she disappeared. We got a late start. We searched high and low, the ridges and the stream beds, as darkness and our feelings fell. We knew but we hoped and called our house sitters almost hourly. Sassy Marie had made her decision to leave us on her own terms…just as she joined us.
Flat rocks, cypress cedars, small clumps of daffodils and a birdhouse on a postmark resting places for our special, animal children. Lovely goats, a one-legged rooster, bunny rabbits, black cats and a slew of puppy dogs rest in special places…around our grounds and in our hearts.
There is no special memorial for Sassy Marie, except in our hearts…and the marbled shadows of the moonlight or the green shaded leaves moved by the wind. Her spirit moves along the ridges above our house, in the valleys along the stream beds and in the periphery of our vision and our hearts.
Ghost is a selection from Don Miller’s new release “Cornfields…in My Mind.” It may be downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CBSV237