The two brothers, similar and dissimilar as any two brothers, hadn’t been in the same room spinning childhood stories for fifteen years. In some ways a decade and a half was a long time. But well into your sixties, it was but an eye-blink. They, and younger brother’s wife were enjoying themselves.
Pragmatic younger brother once called himself the ant in the fable, to his brother’s story-telling grasshopper. Now he said he remembered a different version of some of the tales. Relaxed in a warm room, inside from a cold drizzling Pacific Northwest evening, both recalled awful heat and and bitter cold of a Georgia childhood that didn’t last as long as the interval between their last time together and this one.
They agreed their grandmother was a great believer in ghosts. Older brother recited the formula for bringing them into visibility: In the Name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost (making the sign of the cross) what do you seek here?
The old words had strange power. Conversation paused after older brother finished his childhood tale of when their grandmother tried to call forth a ghost heard walking Christmas Eve at midday in the front hall. The ghost failed to heed her incantation.
At length, younger brother said, “I don’t remember it just that way. I remember about the front hall. But what I remember is something about a child laughing and giggling, the way we did when when we saw…” A family friend who died that year. Their grandmother started toward the front of the house, making the sign of the cross, and their mother tackled her.
“That child was you!” his wife told him, surprisingly.
He looked at her strangely. He didn’t know that. How could she?
“I don’t know this story,” older brother said.
The wife recalled sitting at the kitchen table with their mother, “her telling me this story. It was a man who always played peekaboo and made you laugh and giggle,” she told her husband. “Your grandmother heard you laughing and giggling. That’s when she started to make the sign of the cross, and your mother stopped her.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” her husband said.
“It wasn’t what happened that Christmas Eve either,” older brother said.
“I never said it was Christmas Eve,” younger brother said. “Do you remember the name of the man who died?”
“I don’t. But I bet I know who it was, he was always joking and clowning around. He drove the only Kaiser-Frazer in our neighborhood. You remember Kaiser-Frazers?”
“He asked me one time how did I feel. I said with my fingers. He thought that was hilarious. Every time we were on the front porch when he turned down Merry Street going home in that big old car, he’d yell ‘how do you feeeel?’ and wiggle his fingers out the window.”
“I don’t remember that. I don’t remember peekaboo or me giggling.” He looked at his wife. “You sure you’re remembering this right?”
“Oh, yeah. It was you. Laughing and giggling like when he played peekaboo with you. You were very young.”
“He’s been afraid of ghosts all his life,” older brother said. “He probably suppressed the memory.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” younger brother said firmly. “If anybody could come back, Frances (their mother) would have. And she didn’t. If she didn’t, nobody can.”
“I agree she would,” older brother said. “But maybe she didn’t tell you when she did come back. She knows how you get.”
“I do not believe in ghosts,” younger brother said, with more emphasis.
“They know you don’t. And they resent it. Think about that later tonight, when you go to bed.”
“Okay,” younger brother said. “Enough ghost stories!”