9. Ghost Stories

Neither my wife nor I place much stock in the supernatural. Me, I prefer to believe in things I can see and experience firsthand.

I know people who are convinced that they have encountered ghosts. Most of these people are reasonable and ordinary, going about their everyday lives as best they can. Some of them are even in our families.

My wife’s great-grandmother “Nila” lost her husband to gunfire when she was still a young woman. She was left with six children to raise alone and poor; Nila’s well-to-do family had cut her off for marrying beneath her station. This was in the early 20th Century in a hamlet at the foot of a mountain in a Central American country.

The one comfort Nila had was the assurance that her husband had not forgotten his family. According to Nila, the ghost of her husband visited their small shack frequently the first few years after his murder. Nila claimed that she could see a light move from one sleeping child to another, as if checking to see that each was all right.

When my wife and her sister were small, their parents left them for some months in the girls’ paternal grandparents’ house in that same country. Years earlier, their grandmother had tended to her brother, who was very ill, in a front bedroom of the house. He died there, and it was said that his ghost haunted that part of the house.

My wife’s sister swears that on more than one occasion she heard a noise coming from the front bedroom. This was followed by shuffling, as if from slippers, down the hall, past the girls’ bedroom and stopping at the entrance to a bathroom at the end of the hall. My wife never heard any such sounds. She attributes her sister’s embrace of the supernatural to watching too many Universal horror movies on the television when they lived in New York.

Or maybe it was simply a little girl missing her mother and father and not understanding why she could not be with them.

I used to love hearing the stories told by those who had lived in the 1930s and 1940s. Those were rough years for Italy politically, economically, and even socially.

One such story was about a Nazi sympathizer who enjoyed lording it over others in the small village where my father grew up. The sympathizer was a minor local official appointed by the Fascist party. The way he acted, according to the old-timers, you’d think he was a son of Il Duce himself.

This sympathizer would show up at the farms to make sure that sacks of the best vegetables, fruits, and grains were earmarked for Nazi soldiers. This was during the German occupation of Italy. If any farmer was caught hiding food – even to feed his family – it meant being shot on the spot. Another feather in the sympathizer’s cap was if he got wind of anti-Nazi sentiment; he would gleefully report it, and nothing could save whomever he named.

Needless to say, all this created a climate of fear, apprehension, secrecy, and resentment.

One evening just before the Americans made their way up from Calabria, a band of anti-Fascist partisans cornered the sympathizer and shot him dead. No tears for that low-life.

Flash forward a dozen years: my father and mother are walking home after spending the day selling produce at an open-air market. The moon hid behind a thick bank of clouds, and even in the 1950s, there still were no street lights. My dad walked a little ahead of my mother, and they both were laden with large, empty baskets.

As they approached the street where the sympathizer had been killed, my father heard a low growl.

“Stay close,” he said to my mother, for some reason in a near-whisper.

Another growl, this time closer. My father’s skin started to tingle; he had to summon all his strength to move forward and not freeze on the spot.

“I said stay close,” he said. My mother seemed not to hear him. Then, something large and long brushed past my father’s leg. When my mother finally caught up with my dad, he was panting, with his eyes wide open and sweat on his brow.

Years passed before my mother finally persuaded my dad to tell my sisters and me what had happened that night. At the end of his story, my mother mentioned that other people had experienced something similar at that same place. The locals believed that the spirit of the executed sympathizer was trapped there.

As far as I know, that was my father’s sole encounter with the supernatural. He wasn’t even particularly superstitious. I’ve often wondered why it happened. I have not come up with an answer.

However, not long after his encounter, my father spent a year confined to bed because of a back injury. With him unable to work the farm and we children too young to help, we had a tough time of it. For my dad, this meant double the agony: the unrelenting physical pain and the shame of failing to provide for his family. Sometimes he cried out loud that it would be better to die than to go on suffering; I like to think he didn’t really mean it.

The spirit of the Nazi sympathizer finally stopped bothering the living some 25 years after the ambush. In my area of Italy it is believed that a ghost haunts only for as many years as he might have yet lived but for his sudden death.

Nice to know that even dwellers of the supernatural world have to abide by rules.

Shadows – Montmorency Falls, Québec, Canada
courtesy of “Anton”

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