I saw a ghost today.

I was in line at Costco to buy my ritual Polish dog when I saw my father standing three places in front of me. My father has been dead for more than a decade.

I knew it was him instantly: the big belly hanging over his belt, the tangled mop of hair, the shuffling feet. He was wearing one of his solid blue dress shirts (tucked sloppily, as usual), dark blue trousers, and a pair of worn dress shoes. He looked the same, he moved the same, he even smiled the same.

For a few moments, I literally stopped breathing. I watched Dad move forward in line. He scratched his nose like always, itching it; I expected him to take out a hanky and blow. When he reached the front of the line, he smiled at the worker and made some inaudible joke. The worker laughed. Always the clown.

And then it occurred to me: this was not a ghost of my father, but a ghost of my uncle Norman. His voice was quiet, his manner shy. Still shocking, but less so than it might have been.

I could breathe again.

My father (Steve), my grandfather (Noah), and my uncle (Norman) in 1983.

It has been ten years since my father died, and about fifteen since my uncle Norman passed away. In that time, I have never seen a single person that reminded me of either of them. It’s easy to pick out strangers who remind me of friends or, especially, of acquaintances, but I never encounter strangers who remind me of family members. This is probably because I know family members so much better: it’s easy to spot little differences that reveal a stranger’s dissimilarity. This man, this ghost, did not possess dissimilarities. Everything about him indicated that he was a family member, some lost cousin or uncle.

I watched the ghost shuffle across to the soda fountain, then to the condiment dispensers. I watched him carry his food to a back table. “It’s your turn,” the lady behind me said, shattering my reverie. I’d forgotten all about my ritual Polish dog.

On the drive home, Robert Greenberg expounded upon Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, one of Dad’s favorite compositions. Again I sunk into a nostalgic reverie, remembering him, remembering the things he did, remembering Thanksgivings of long ago.

(From the archives: another remembrance of my father on Independence Day)

4 Replies to “Ghost of Thanksgiving Past”

  1. Lisa says:

    Weren’t you tempted to talk to the ghost? Not to be woo-woo about it or anything, but more to dispel the feeling that you really were seeing your father or uncle. Granted, a stranger may be surprised when you say that he reminds you of your dead uncle, but if someone said it to me (not the uncle part, of course), I’d be touched.

    Then again, why spoil a perfectly good haunted feeling?

  2. Lisa says:

    I like that picture, BTW. It’s charming.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Hey, great picture! Brought plenty of nostalgic feelings for me too! Hope you’re having a great Thanksgiving.

  4. jenefer says:

    You should have gone and talked to the man. Maybe he is a relative, just not one that you know, or was lost. I know that sounds funny, but when Bob and I were traveling once from SoCal to Montana, we stopped to see friends in the Bay Area for the night. They had just moved from SoCal and knew no one but at work. We went to their work Xmas party with them for “just a few minutes so they could put in an appearance.” After just a few minutes Bob went up to a woman at the party and asked her name. She was a little put off, but finally gave him her name. It was his cousin who he had not seen for atleast 15 years when they were pre-junior high age in South Dakota. We had no idea she had moved to California. It really is a small world.

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