It's Halloween Season. Pumpkins, scarecrows, and witches decorate front yards, kids look forward to dressing as their favorite characters as they run door to door Trick-or-Treating, and mischievous friends enjoy pulling pranks on each other. Plus, there is never a shortage of scary ghost stories. During this time of year, I remember my own ghost story that happened many years ago. Some ghost stories are fictional, but the one I am sharing is true. Honestly. It really happened. No kidding.........
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Many years ago, when our son was a toddler, Tom, my husband, and I bought an old house just off Wisconsin Avenue in DC. A few days after we moved in, our new next door neighbor welcomed us by saying, “I guess you know there is a ghost in your house.”
No. I’m pretty certain I would have remembered the real estate agent mentioning we were buying a haunted house.
That was the beginning of a two year odyssey of bizarre, unexplained occurrences. During the first week living in our new home, I awoke to the sound of hammering in the basement. The next morning I asked my husband if he had heard anything unusual during the night.
“Wind.” He said.
That was to become his standard answer for anything he couldn’t explain. Like the time our huge asparagus fern started vibrating as if someone was shaking it.
One morning, Peyton, our two-year-old son asked, “Mommy, who is that man on the sofa?” Our dog looked up at the sofa and wagged his tail as if he were greeting a friend. I waved my arms wildly around the couch searching, at the very least, for a cold spot. There was no aberration, banshee, spook, disembodied entity or unearthly luminescence.
During the following two years, we noticed things disappearing for a few days, then suddenly reappearing. Kitchen cabinets opened and closed on their own, toys moved by themselves, and I often heard my front door unlock, open, close and lock. During the night, radio stations were mysteriously reprogrammed, and furniture rearranged. Our friends didn’t believe we were sharing our home with a deceased housemate, even though they begged us to share the most recent spooky and unnatural events.
Ebenezer Scrooge had the Ghost of Jacob Marley, Topper had George and Marian, Mrs. Murr had Captain Gregg, and I had Mr. Patrillo.
We learned that Mr. Patrillo, the previous owner, was a carpenter and handyman. He was accidentally killed in the basement when a nail gun malfunctioned. According to parapsychology experts, people who die tragically and suddenly don’t always realize they are dead, and are reluctant to leave familiar surroundings.
I have to say that Mr. Patrillo wasn’t an unpleasant ghost. He apparently took great pride in his home and continued to work on projects during the night. Tom would mention a window or door that was sticking or a creaking floor board, and by morning, those things would be inexplicably repaired.
Although nobody was propelled across the floor by an unseen force or got slimed, two years of living in a haunted house was enough. Mr. Patrillo had to go.
Step one: “Who you gonna call?” An exterminator didn’t seem appropriate. Since we were dealing with the spirit world, I needed someone with connections. I called the minister at my church and explained that I had a ghost in my house and asked if he had any suggestions on how to get rid of it. After a dead silence (sorry about that) he said he would get back to me.
When I realized the good reverend wasn’t going to return my call, I remembered that Methodists don’t believe in ghosts. What I needed was an exorcist.
I called the neighborhood Catholic Church and asked to speak to a priest. I was transferred to Father Morel. I said I wasn’t Catholic, but I really didn’t know who else to call. I expected him to laugh at me when I explained the reason for my dilemma and asked if he could help. He somberly replied, “I’ve heard this before” then said, “Father O’Reilly can be there around noon to bless your house.”
At 12:15, I heard someone knock on my door. The doorbell was disconnected because Mr. Patrillo liked ringing it late at night ~ that’s in addition to honking our car horn.
Father O’Reilly asked the name of the deceased and said he would sprinkle Holy Water and say a prayer in the rooms where we felt his presence.
“Will we need a second application?” I asked, “Or will one do?” I don’t think he heard me because he didn’t answer.
The elderly priest draped a stole around his shoulders then reached into his pocket for a container that looked like a small Tupperware vial. I have attended many Tupperware parties but I couldn’t recall a single one where the hostess held up a small bottle and said, “This cheery little container is perfect for holding Holy Water during those dreary exorcisms."
The priest walked around the first floor sprinkling Holy Water. “Well, that’s it.” He said.
“Could I ask you to bless my basement? That’s where Mr. Patrillo died.”
After blessing the basement, he climbed the stairs, nearly out of breath, and headed to the front door.
“What about upstairs?” I asked.
“Faith and Begorrah” he mumbled.
I followed the old priest upstairs where he blessed the bedrooms.
As he turned to leave, he saw it.
I looked at him pleadingly.
Horror was in his eyes. I knew what he was thinking. He looked at me as if to say, ‘please don’t ask.’ It was a stalemate. One of us would have to speak first. I held out the longest.
“The attic?” he asked.
I sighed and looked at him apologetically. “Father O’Reilly, I would be very grateful if you would bless the attic.”
He looked up at the steep, narrow steps. Then at me. He looked up at the steps again counting them with his eyes. Then he removed the cap from the Tupperware bottle and sprinkled the first few steps. Leaning toward me and with a twinkle in his green eyes, said with a wink, “Prayers have a tendency to rise.”
I had several questions, like is there a charge for this service and if so, how much? Do I pay him or will I be billed? Is there a guarantee if it doesn’t work? A service contract?
As he started to leave I said, “Father O’Reilly, may I pay you for your time?”
He declined payment.
“At least let me make a donation to your church.” I insisted.
He slid my check into his pocket and thanked me.
I don’t know what happened to Mr. Patrillo after that. I do know that we were finally able to sleep through the night, lights stopped turning on and off, objects no longer moved by themselves or disappeared, and we weren't quite as popular at dinner parties.
I can’t honestly say I missed our ghost, although I didn't like paying carpenters to repair things Mr. Patrillo did for free.
Was calling a priest to exorcise our wandering spirit the right thing to do? Yes, I think so. Perhaps Mr. Patrillo was confused and couldn’t understand why strangers were living in his house. Maybe he was trying to get our attention because he desperately wanted to leave but didn’t know how.
Looking back on those years long ago, I feel as if I helped a friend leave a place where he longer belonged and embark on a beautiful celestial journey.
Goodbye, Mr. Patrillo. And Thanks.