I didn’t know this until after the fact. But when I had moved home after college my grandfather’s ghost haunted my mom and my sister.
We were on different schedules, I was working late nights in a restaurant and was sleeping late. So we rarely had meals together and when I wasn’t working I was often out and about, at the library, hiking or off with friends.
My sister tells about being woken up and smelling my grandfather’s scent. Old guy swirled with old cigarette smoke. My mom confirms this.
They would both smell it in the middle of the night. My grandfather checking on them. Giving them a sign he was there with us, always.
I guess it beats silverware flying out of cabinets or bloody messages scrawled on mirrors. But in truth, I probably would’ve preferred those.
My grandfather was a notorious and prolific smoker. He would go outside every few hours, if it rained he was allowed to smoke at the edge of our garage with the door up. No one in our family smoked and it was not allowed in the house.
The most I ever saw my grandfather smoke was on a ride home from the airport. Our family was living in California and we had flown back to NJ for a few months to visit with grandparents for the summer. My mom and dad and brother and sister went with my other grandparents. But my grandfather and grandmother had divorced before I was born. He was there by himself and I didn’t want him driving alone. So I went with him.
He was always the cool and tough grandfather. He had tattoos up and down his forearms from the army. He would greet me with a karate chop. When someone said something he didn’t agree with, he would spin his forefinger and point it up into the air. I’m not sure what that means, but I never took it as a sign of friendly agreement.
But on this night I saw his tough demeanor fall away. On the way home from the airport, he took a wrong turn and we got stuck in traffic due to construction. We sat there, not moving as the hours ticked by. The airport was only 20 minutes from my grandparents house where we were staying and we all left at the same time.
So while we sat in traffic, my parents and grandparents were frantically driving up and down the route from the airport looking for signs of us, praying we weren’t off the side of the road in an accident. This was long before cell phones so we had no way of communicating to my parents what had happened or where we were.
After we hadn’t shown up in an hour they called the police department. They called hospitals. My grandfather was known for driving fast. He was always getting speeding tickets so that probably didn’t ease anyone’s nerves. There was no sign of us anywhere. We had vanished off the face of the earth for those few hours.
Meanwhile, back in the car I remember him smoking cigarette after cigarette, ashing them in the silver ashtray under the radio with the windows rolled down. And he kept saying over and over again, “Your grandmother is going to kill me. “ He was still very much afraid of my grandmother who he had divorced a decade ago.
Eventually we made it home. There were grateful hugs. And yes my grandmother did yell at him, there was no getting out of that. But it didn’t last long and everyone was just happy nothing terrible had happened to us.
Decades later, he roamed the hallways of our house late at night. I guess he finally felt we were safe and moved on because eventually my mom and sister stopped having the visits.
What my mom and sister didn’t know is that I would have a cigarette or two or three after work. That I was coming home in the middle of the night after my restaurant shift, probably smelling of smoke. That I was probably the ghost they were smelling. When we talked about it years later we all laughed. I was the ghost.
But maybe there is another possibility. Maybe he was there making sure I got home safely, like he had so many years ago. And maybe when I left my parent’s house he came with me to keep an eye on things.
So sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, and I hear creaking I know it’s my grandfather done doing his rounds for the night and heading to the garage to have a smoke.