I don’t believe in ghosts. I think it’s fair that I admit this before I tell you a couple ghost stories (and I added a third today). Someone suggested that I call them “unexplained phenomena” stories instead, but it doesn’t have the same ring. It’s not difficult to resist a story about unexplained phenomena but a ghost story? Now that’s hard to pass up especially as Halloween approaches.
Both these ghost stories take place in churches and the third, in a cemetery.
Listen to me read this post:
When I was teenager, another girl and I were the janitors at the United Church we attended in Fairview. It was always a little eerie working in that big empty building that smelled of wood and paper. It was easy to feel spooked and to feel watched.
Back in the day, the church was left unlocked. There is a small meeting room located behind the sanctuary. It used to be furnished with a couch, a couple of chairs, and a coffee table from the 1960s. On occasion, folks with nowhere else to go would sleep there. Sounds like a very good use of God’s house, don’t you think?
The front and both side doors were very creaky, and no matter where we were working in the church, we could hear those doors screech open and slam shut. I always listened for the sound of someone entering the church while I vacuumed and while I dusted.
One Saturday afternoon as I vacuumed the sanctuary carpet, my partner mopped the basement floor. Suddenly, above the whir of the vacuum cleaner, I heard loud footsteps stomping across the second-level floor above me. As I recall it, the steps were so pronounced that they shook the stained glass window panes. I hadn’t heard anyone enter the building. I shut off the vacuum and stood there frozen, listening to the racket above, heavy steps, back and forth, forth and back, making the floorboards and me tremble.
Finally, I broke out of my paralysis and into a run, leaving the vacuum behind in the wide aisle. I met my fellow janitor as she raced up the stairs from the basement. We didn’t speak. We just looked wide-eyed at each other for a moment. Then she dropped her bucket and mop, and out the side door we ran.
Before I moved out to this area of Alberta, I spent a couple summers working at Heritage Park, the historical village in Calgary. My duties there included covering staff breaks in the buildings throughout the park, so I had the opportunity to work all over. I liked this job a lot.
One morning I was covering a shift in St. Martin’s Anglican Church. In the closet just off the vestibule, I found a glass vase. I spotted a gardener employed by the park walking through the churchyard, and I darted outside to ask him if he’d cut a bouquet of flowers.
“No problem,” he answered and in no time, he was back with the vase full of water and flowers gathered from the nearby beds.
He took the bouquet to the front of the church. There was a low railing and a tiny gate that cordoned off the altar area at the front of the sanctuary. The obliging gardener asked, “Where should we put this?” The church stood on ground that is consecrated and is still used for Anglican services, and so I felt that we should be respectful.
When the gardener placed the vase full of flowers on the baptismal font, I said, “No, maybe not there. Let’s leave the bouquet on the floor in front of the altar where people can see it.” I backed up down the aisle and he positioned the vase.
“Here?” he asked.
“That’s perfect. They look good and everyone will be able to see them. Thanks for doing that!”
The gardener left me alone. It was a quiet, dreary day and my friend in the RCMP barracks across the dusty street stepped out onto the boardwalk and beckoned to me to come for a visit. Together we stood and chatted on the boards, watching our respective buildings. If visitors came, we wanted to greet them and show them around. On that cool spring day, no one dropped by either exhibit while the Mountie and I talked. When it started to lightly rain, we both headed back to our stations.
When I re-entered the gloomy church, all the moisture left my mouth and my heart started to pound. The vase of flowers was now up on the baptismal font.
Here’s a third ghost story and probably a good reason to completely change the title of this piece. And yet …
About 25 years ago, I drove out to the cemetery close to where I now live. I was in the area to visit my grandmother but wanted to see some of the old folks in their final resting place, too. I remember that it was a warm, summer day and it was bone dry in this parkland region of east-central Alberta.
I turned off the highway and onto the narrow gravelled lane that leads to the Lakeview Cemetery gate. There were no other vehicles there. I parked my car on the brown grass and walked between the concrete pillars that mark the graveyard’s entrance. The breeze was light and stirred that thick, dry air around a bit.
When I saw the two women dressed in long, black dresses, I was startled. Usually another car or truck outside the gate or in the lane way signals other visitors are in the countryside cemetery. One woman knelt and the other stood beside her with a hand resting on her companion’s shoulder; both of their heads were bowed, their eyes downcast. There was no grave marker where they were and no headstones close by.
The women looked up when I entered the gate, gravel and dry grass crunching beneath my shoes. I lifted my hand in greeting, feeling uncomfortable, as if I were interrupting a solemn occasion. I wished I’d waited longer to come to the graveyard that day. For a moment they stared at me with piercing eyes set into pale skin from under the dark scarves they wore. They seemed annoyed.
Then slowly, the one who’d be kneeling stood up, and together they walked toward the woods that overlook the alkaline body of water that was a recreational lake back in the day, full of fish and fun, Hughenden Lake. They paused at the barbed wire fence and helped each other through, one holding the wires apart while the other held her skirt out of the way and stooped through the spread wires.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t want to have an experience to convince me otherwise and so I was almost relieved to see these forms helping each other through a pasture fence. That, I thought, was a good sign that they were human — humans that headed into a thicket of scrub brush that covered a relatively steep hillside that ended where the salty lake water started.
After they’d gone through the fence and disappeared into the trees, I walked to where the women had been when I first spotted them. As I’d thought, there was no marker, no gravestone. Interestingly, a decade or so later, some metal crosses were erected right about where the two forms had shared a solemn moment that hot afternoon, crosses that indicated the location of unmarked graves.
If you have a story to tell or need one edited, get in touch and I can help. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time. ~ Lori
Soil testing in my garden accurately measured the level of my patience.
Listen to me read this post:
Dave tested his soil and found out that it was very low in phosphorous. He went to a seed plant, bought some, and added phosphorous to his garden. Now his potato plants are three feet tall.
“Do you want to borrow my kit?” he asked and so I did. I went out to the garden and dug down about four inches into what I considered to be the most depleted soil in the garden plot. I brought a trowel full of soil into the house to dry overnight.
The next morning and according to instructions, I mixed one part of the soil with five parts of water, swirled the mixture gently in a jar, and waited for the dirt and water to separate out a bit so that I could retrieve a small, fairly clear sample.
The instructions included with the kit said that this separation could take as little as half-an-hour (Perfect!) or as long twenty four hours. “Twenty four hours!” I cried out in disbelief and felt the impatience start to gnaw. The next morning the soil still hadn’t settled to the bottom of the jar and the water was murky as heck. Still, I took a sample using the eyedropper provided and filled the plastic tube to the fourth line with the muddy water.
I was testing for phosphorous first hoping this might get me three feet tall potato plants like Dave’s.
Carefully separate the two halves of one of the capsules. Pour the powder into the tube.
Step 2 of the phosphorous test sounded pretty easy. I retrieved a conveniently coloured-coded blue capsule, grabbed each end and gave it a gentle twist. This caused a bend in the plastic, but the capsule didn’t open. Next I tried to snap the capsule in half at the spot where the two halves had been originally joined. Again, the capsule bent but didn’t open.
Finally, I took out a cutting board, placed the mangled blue capsule on it, and started stabbing at it with the pointy end of a sharp kitchen knife. This made a hole large enough for me to expand the opening by twisting the knife blade farther into it. By now, the only thing about the misshapen capsule that resembled its former self was its colour.
I held the capsule over the tube which held the water sample, turned it over, and spilled most of the powder on the kitchen counter. I muttered a phrase of which my mother would not have approved and spooned as much of the powder as I could off the counter and, bit by bit, into the tube.
After placing the colour-coded cap on the tube, I gave it a gentle shake, and placed the tube in its holder. Almost immediately this experiment determined two things:
- Our garden soil contains almost no phosphorus.
- My husband is in charge of opening any remaining capsules needed for testing.
Following this single test, we went away for a week. I put the jar containing the dirt and water mixture in the fridge hoping that the soil would settle and the water would rise while we were gone. When we returned home I flung open the fridge door to see my jar of test water as muddy as before. Impatience visited again. “It’s been a week!”
Still, I thought I might as well use the sample to try another test. I filled one more tube with murky water and asked my husband kindly to open an appropriately colour-coded capsule.
Cap the tube and shake thoroughly.
I got a bit dizzy but the motion really relaxed my muscles. Then I realized that the instruction’s author was referring to the tube. Shake the tube thoroughly. After I regained my balance, I did.
Allow colour to develop for 10 minutes.
Ten minutes. That sounds about right. I set the timer on the stove and counted down. When the timer went off, the water had not changed colour.
“I bet the cold fridge killed whatever was supposed to show up in this test!” I proclaimed with no science to back my theory. Science doesn’t matter these days. No one with a different education knows more than me. What matters is what I believe in my gut and I believed that the soil sample was ruined. I’d have to gather a new sample and wait twenty four hours before doing anymore testing.
And so I tossed the soil and water mixture into the garden with disgust and rinsed out the jar. Then I saw that the liquid in the tube had turned green. Soil testing proved that our soil is full of alkali and I am full of, among other things, impatience.
Speaking of patience…
I received a note in my mailbox recently to inform me of an upcoming inconvenience. The brief notice closed with this:
Thank you for your patients!
Editors always notice things like this. Mostly I think it’s funny but I don’t laugh too long because it’s also humbling. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when writing and I plan to continue.
This topic reminds me of my second year of university during which I did not give a hoot about academics. Obviously. One morning, I wandered into my English class to see that the professor had scrawled across the whiteboard a very embarrassing phrase I’d misused in my most recent essay. Mercifully, she didn’t reveal the identity of the student who produced that phrase which, in turn, produced a lot of laughter.
Partly because of this experience, I laugh shortly and correct gently.
Thanks for reading. Take care and keep safe. ~ Lori
It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to visit Dave’s farm and to care for his horse, Peso, and his nameless cats. That changed today, and as I walked across the land and around the farmyard, I took some pictures because taking photos for me is less daunting than working on my novel.
I hope you enjoy my procrastination photos. Have a really nice weekend. ~ Lori
Lone Butte Cemetery, where the tall grass grows and the prairie wind blows. What a lovely place to explore!
On a recent trip to Calgary for a dental appointment – I know, “dental appointment” is the kind of hook that keeps the reader wanting more – we discovered Lone Butte Cemetery located on Secondary Highway 570 east of Dorothy, Alberta.
Here’s a map of the area that we drove through on our way. We came south down Highway 884 from Youngstown and Big Stone, and turned west onto Secondary Highway 570.
Listen to me read this post:
What I loved the most about this cemetery is that it appears to have been established on virgin prairie, unbroken land never gouged by a plow blade. Tall prairie grasses blow softly in the wind in this final resting place and meadowlarks sing that closing hymn. The graveyard feels exposed to the prairie elements but so were its silent residents when they lived in that open, lonesome land. Somehow that makes this cemetery feel appropriate. These folks worked with the land and now they’ve joined it, two old friends. Well, mostly friends except when the land was trying to kill them with drought and snowstorms, mercifully not at the same time.
In 1913 the Dorothy Improvement District No. 246 was created and in 1932, it was incorporated into the Municipal District of Lone Butte. The Lone Butte Cemetery serves this M.D. Lone Butte joined the Municipal District of Berry Creek in 1933 and, in 1936 the M.D. of Berry Creek became part of the Special Areas.
I found the Everybody Has to Be Somewhere blog while researching the Dorothy/Finnegan area and found that the author had posted some beautiful photos of Lone Butte Cemetery in what looks like early spring. Also as I snooped around the internet, I found a very nice history and photo blog of Finnegan that made me want to visit. Maybe I will someday and I’ll bring my camera.
This corner of Alberta is often overlooked because it is so sparsely populated, but it is full of history and of a peace that is difficult to come by these days.
This is a very touching, western-themed monument. Note the horseshoe-filled cross, the empty saddle, and the cat on the white cross. This one tells a story.
These three Clyne graves are tucked away from the wind and snow in a stand of Caragana bushes. When exploring Canadian the prairies you can always tell where a homestead once was by the continuing existence of Caragana and rhubarb!
Wildflowers bloomed among the native grasses during our late June visit. I had only my phone with me to photograph this place. It was a drive-by photo shooting.
“Waiting Patiently” Together forever, but not quite yet. It looks like they shared a full life and that he is fondly remembered.
This is the view looking south to the entrance of the graveyard between two clumps of Caraganas. See the survey stakes and the twine in the foreground?
This welcoming bench in memory of Edna Pugh is situated in the shade of the Caragana stand that also provides shade to the Clyne family.
Rarely have I seen grave sites so lovingly adorned. I really like these weathered crosses reminiscent of the cemeteries in old western movies.
I love history. If there’s a family history project that you’d like me to help you write, please get in touch. Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope you enjoyed the Lone Butte Cemetery tour! Take care and enjoy life. ~ Lori
I love visiting cemeteries, especially the older ones that tell their own stories of the people who came before and of their struggles and triumphs, their lives and their deaths. The other day we went to Big Knife Provincial Park in east-central Alberta, about an hour and a half’s drive from our village. On the way back we stopped at Merna United Church and cemetery in Flagstaff County, 27 kilometres east of Forestburg.
The little white church stands right where it was built in 1907. It was dedicated on Sunday, July 29th, 1908. In the half an hour or so that we wandered around the cemetery, I located the oldest grave as cited in the article from “Heritage Barns of Flagstaff.” According to the post’s author, this earliest marker belongs to Mary Winfred Stewart who was born in 1871 and died in 1905. The updated stone tells her story a bit differently:
When the Merna district school closed in 1969, its bell was removed and placed in the brand new bell tower of Merna United Church in 1970. I’m so glad that bell got to live on and serve its purpose elsewhere in the community. I didn’t spot the bell in the enclosed tower when I toured the church the other day, but I assume it’s still there waiting to ring.
If you enjoy exploring cemeteries or cemetery history or both, Remember Me As You Pass By is an excellent book full of mostly Alberta cemetery stories and history. Here is my review of it.
If you’re exploring the countryside this summer, drop by a cemetery or two. I’ll do the same. They’re peaceful and contemplative places where physical distancing is not an issue. Thanks for reading and take good care. ~ Lori
Listen to me read this post:
Today my uncle called me with a mystery.
Each morning, my uncle heads downstairs to make coffee for him and my auntie. Then he goes back upstairs while the coffee’s brewing and when the coffee’s ready he brings it back upstairs. My auntie and uncle enjoy their coffee in bed. This Tuesday morning, the routine was the same.
Except when he returned to fill the two coffee mugs, there was a live duck in the kitchen sink.
My uncle and aunt are both in their 80s. They live on a very well-tended acreage that has a large barn and a couple of gardens. They still live in the two-storey farmhouse that they restored more than forty years ago. They are kind and generous, and their place is peaceful.
My aunt always claimed (mostly jokingly) that there is a ghost in the house because sometimes a pot or a cookie sheet or a piece of cutlery will be out of its cupboard or drawer and placed on the table or counter in the kitchen when no one’s been home. This has happened a few times and it always makes for a fun story.
But a duck in the sink beats a pan on the table.
“I went back upstairs and we heard this sound downstairs, this rustling,” my uncle described it to me. “But I’d just been downstairs making coffee. I asked Jeannette, ‘Is Tim here already?’”
My uncle called to see if I could solve the mystery. Yeah, right. I can’t remember what I’m looking for in the fridge lots of times. How would I know how a large duck ended up in their kitchen sink at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning?
Anyway, it’s kind of fascinating and so I wanted to share the mystery with you, dear reader. Got a theory about how the duck got into the house and then into the kitchen sink? I love to hear it.
Take care and have a very happy day. ~ Lori
What I’m doing now:
I finished applying boiled linseed oil to the old fence as practice for treating the enclosed deck exterior with it. I really like how it made the wood planks look, deeper in tone. I don’t think the deck wood will become quite as dark because the wood on the deck is much newer than the fence boards. When the wood is older it seems to soak up more oil. We’ll see.
What I’m reading now:
I recently started reading Bertrand Russell’s Portraits from Memory and Other Essays. It’s the first time I’ve read him since university, and I barely read him then. I guess I thought I had better things to do. I was wrong.
Listen to me read this part about Bertrand Russell:
In university years ago I studied philosophy and I read the British philosopher, mathematician, serial husband, and campaigner for peace, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Not as thoroughly as I should have but enough to keep me interested all these years. That man accomplished more in a week than I’ll do in my whole lifetime!
Since we got our new computer, Pocket now pops up on my home screen and offers suggestions of articles I might like to read. Sure enough and big as day, there was a Bertrand Russell essay called “How to Grow Old” featured on the website brainpickings.org.
After reading this essay about how to age and die well (spoiler alert: the key is living well) I looked up Bertrand Russell to find out more about the man that nurtured these beautiful ideas and then grew them into words.
Young Bertrand Russell didn’t have it easy. Both of his parents, his sister, and his grandfather died by the time Bertrand was six years old. This misfortune left him and his brother Frank to be raised by their grandmother, apparently the last adult standing. Frank was sent to boarding school while Bertrand was educated at home. It was lonely, but he claims he didn’t mind the solitude, only the boring, repetitive meals in a household that could’ve afforded to feed a small village. Oh yes. Young Bertrand also loathed the strict routine including the hour-and-a-half piano practice each day. He admits his relief at leaving for Cambridge and discovering that there were others more like him out there in the world.
Despite early tragedy and a rigid upbringing, Bertrand Russell turned out all right. Over the course of his 97 years he published in excess of 70 books and approximately 2000 articles. In 1950 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Bertrand Russell had his ups and downs. For example his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, was a bit disappointed when he returned home from a bicycle ride during which he made a realization. According to Wikipedia, “Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was cycling, that he no longer loved her. She asked him if he loved her and he replied that he did not.”
During his life of activism and of expressing his views, many liked Bertrand Russell and many hated him. Either way, it’s this philosopher and Nobel laureate that I’m researching and writing about today. The same can’t be said of some guy way back when who intensely disliked Russell. I’m not familiar with that grouchy man or his body of work. but I might have met his great grandson.
Take care and be well. ~ Lori
Yesterday we sat outside the restaurant eating our hamburgers in the car. Through the windows I could see the tables and chairs stacked up, wide yellow tape surrounding them as if it were a crime scene. Some nights I dream of eating inside the A&W, and then I wake up and remember that things have changed.
As we ate we watched the large, white gulls hop around the parking lot. Two were fat and healthy. They squawked as they searched for French fries on the asphalt and occasionally sipped from the puddles there. One gull was different from the other two. She stood mostly still on one leg and when she walked, it was gingerly. Clearly, she had an injured foot. At one point she was perched on a curb, balancing on one leg and a strong gust of wind blew her right over. She rearranged her feathers and sat back down on the curb.
Listen to me read this post:
I felt profoundly sad and helpless watching the injured gull. Then I realized that for days now I’ve felt profoundly sad and helpless. The gull simply made me feel the emotional combo more deeply. Darn sad bird.
It’s been really hard to blog lately because everything I write about feels small in comparison with what’s going on in the world. I can’t write about my garden when people are dying from and frightened of COVID-19. I can’t tell about my mild discomforts when folks are out risking injury as they protest civil rights abuses and bravely demonstrate for much-needed change. I’m too safe and too comfortable to comment on either situation. I likely will never get sick from the coronavirus, not where I live, and I don’t think I have the courage to go stand up for civil rights only to be deterred by “less lethal means.” Yikes.
So I’m stuck in sadness and helplessness, unable to write and unable to say something useful. I’m mired in sadness because marginalized people feel threatened, are imprisoned, and die at a significantly greater rate than folks like me. I feel really sad when I see corporations take financial advantage of a bad situation to build their wealth while the food bank lines lengthen.
My heart aches when I hear people I care about focus on riots and looting. These happen, I know, and I don’t condone vandalism, theft, or violence. But I don’t let looting distract me from the issues of poverty and racism that run deep, so deep and for so long, through the world. And I don’t confuse riots with peaceful protest. The differences are pretty easy to spot if it suits you to see them.
For someone stuck for something to say, I guess I’ve found something to say after all. It’s just not the time to talk about my flowers or my travels or my beautiful life. No one needs to hear it so I’ll rearrange my feathers and sit here on the curb, waiting out the hard times and hoping for peace and for justice.
Thanks for reading and listening. I appreciate you. Take care. ~ Lori