This story is by Sarah Meredith and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked my mother as she handed me the key.
“I’m sure. Are you sure you don’t want to come along?” I responded.
“Positive,” she said. “I want to remember it the way it was. Last I heard, it looked like an old, rundown, haunted house. No thanks. You’re on your own.”
We sat across from one another at her kitchen table where all family discussions of any consequence took place. The house in question was her childhood home. It had been sitting empty since the recent passing of my grandfather‘s second wife who had occupied the house for many years following his death. It was about to go on the market. I had a little time on my hands and wanted to have one last look at the once lovely home of my beloved grandparents, the home that at one time had been my favorite place on the planet.
I dropped the key in my pocket and stood to leave. “OK,” I said and made my way to the back door. “I’ll return with a full report,” I called over my shoulder as I turned the handle.
“No need,” she responded. “Just return the key.”
I now sat parked in front of the house, and it did indeed have a strikingly dilapidated appearance. No question, it was in a serious state of disrepair. I hadn’t seen it for a very long time, and it was a shock, a genuinely painful sight, so much so that I began to wonder if maybe Mom was right. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe, but it was a little late for second guessing. I had come this far, so I got out of the car and slowly crossed the front lawn.
It was a windy, overcast fall day, and dead leaves swirled around my ankles as I walked across the yard. Then just before I reached the front steps, I paused and decided to take a walk around the house and have a look at the backyard. As I rounded the side of the house, the backyard came into view, and I stopped to take it in. It was, as I had suspected, an overgrown mess. A dense carpet of leaves and yard debris had replaced the grass. The arched trellis was thoroughly rusted and barely visible beneath a thick tangle of vines. The stone bench in the corner was covered in moss, and there was almost no trace of my grandmother’s beautiful gardens. A deep sense of sadness enveloped me as I turned and headed back to the front of the house. I braced myself for the worst as I placed the key in the lock and opened the front door.
It had all begun almost seven decades earlier when my mother, barely a year old at the time, and my grandparents first moved into their new home. It had been built by my great-grandfather according to my grandmother’s specifications. My grandmother, known as “Granny” to her grandchildren, quickly settled in and turned that house into the home that became the site of so many of my most wonderful childhood memories. She was an amazingly talented woman who lived in an age when there were few opportunities for women, but I have always felt that in another day and time, she could’ve done just about anything.
By the time I knew Granny, her grandchildren had become the center of her world. I can’t remember her ever saying no to any of my requests to come and visit, even if it meant staying for the entire weekend. She always had time for me, and she made those visits fun from start to finish. I would’ve gladly moved in and stayed forever if my parents had let me. I adored her. In my eyes she could do no wrong.
Her life was not without hardship, but it was for the most part a good one. Then, as she approached the age of 70, she began to behave in ways that were for her out of character. She was irritable and out of sorts much of the time, and her balance seemed off. After a battery of tests and multiple doctor visits, the diagnosis came. She had a racing brain tumor. It was a blow to all of us. She required immediate surgery.
The operation was a huge risk, but there was no other option. She would die without it, so the delicate procedure was performed while her loved ones waited nervously, uncertain as to the outcome. Although it initially appeared that she was making a good recovery, she soon took a turn for the worse, and her condition began to deteriorate. She lingered for another few months, but with each visit it became increasingly clear to me that she was slipping away. There was nothing any of us could do but stand by helplessly until the day came when she finally drew her last breath. My wonderful, much-loved grandmother was gone.
Things were never the same for my grandfather after that. He never really got over it. He did remarry about a year later, but died very shortly afterwards. His will stipulated that his second wife, Florence, could live in the house until her passing, at which time the house would then revert back to my mother. Florence had surprised everyone by living another 30 years, which is why none of us had seen the house in ages. With Florence gone and the house now in Mom’s hands, it was time to sell.
I stepped through the front door and stood uneasily in the foyer of the eerily quiet home that once overflowed with activity. I glanced around for the nearest light switch. I flipped it on, but nothing happened. The power was off. It was late afternoon by then, and the house was quickly growing dark. My increasing level of discomfort was becoming more and more apparent as I walked down the dimly lit hallway, my footsteps echoing loudly on the bare hardwood floors.
My heart sank as I looked around. If the outside of the house was in dire need of repairs, the inside was worse. I entered the kitchen first where a broken drawer hung halfway out, and the formica countertops were stained and chipped at the edges. I stepped into the dining room and immediately noticed a makeshift carpet repair and a cracked window pane. I then moved to the living room. Bits of crumbling ceiling plaster littered the floor, and the paint on the baseboards was cracked and peeling. The blinds in the adjoining den that had been my mother’s playroom were broken and hanging at awkward angles. There was no end to it. It was just one problem after another in every direction.
Despite my reluctance to continue, I decided to check the upper floor, and I climbed the stairs with a heavy heart knowing full well what I would see. I wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t any better than the downstairs. I braced myself and began moving from one room to the next until I arrived at the room where Granny had lain when her big, loving heart beat for the last time.
And that’s when it happened. A strange feeling came over me. Everything shifted. It was suddenly as though Granny had never left. As I walked back through the house I could feel her presence everywhere. I could feel her as I stood in the bedroom where she read me bedtime stories. I could feel her as I passed through the living room she so lavishly decorated for the holidays. I could feel her in the dining room where I watched her cut dress patterns on the table, and in the kitchen that always smelled of baked goods. It was all so clear. That cheerful disposition and ever-present smile were as much a part of this home as they had ever been. She hadn’t left us after all.
As I turned to leave, I realized the feeling of sadness and loss had lifted, replaced by a sense of peace and optimism. A new family would soon occupy this house. They would make repairs and almost certainly update the kitchen, the bathrooms, and who knows what else. Changes would come, but I had no doubt that it would be a happy home forever haunted by a benevolent spirit who filled it with joy. Her’s was a light that could not be extinguished. As long as that house stood, she would be there.