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)