Those of us who saw the film, The Sixth Sense, in a movie theater will most certainly recall the moment that everyone seated gasped in unison. The little boy, Cole (played by a very young Haley Joel Osment), utters a terrifying whisper to child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis with hair):
“I see dead people.”
So the thing is, while others were choking on popcorn and grabbing their chests in horror, I stifled a yawn. A little boy seeing dead people seemed to be a fairly evolved version of my own connection with those who no longer walk among us, and the only thing I felt was, perhaps, a tinge of jealousy.
Lest you think that I’m losing (or have already lost) my mind, it is imperative that you understand that I do NOT see dead people nor do I TALK to dead people. How arrogant do you think I am?
Nevertheless, dead people talk to me. Not aloud, mind you, but rather via splendid recollections of times that were memorable and generally joyous. I feel their thoughts, accept frequent kudos for jobs well done, and listen to sage advice gleaned from lives well lived and reflected upon from a vantage point that I can only – at present – imagine.
That is why I cannot throw away letters. Perhaps there is something about my Jewish DNA that reveres the written word with such intensity that I’ve been known to grow dewy-eyed at the mere glimpse of someone’s discarded shopping list in the bottom of my cart. I cannot help thinking, “Is the woman who wrote this list making a welcome home party for her son who must be in the army?” “Did she buy the brisket, because it is her husband’s favorite dish, and she has serious things to discuss with him?” “Why is he purchasing skim milk? Did his doctor tell him to watch the cholesterol?”
I recently “heard” my father chortle when he saw me organizing a stack of decades-old correspondence and tying them up in a heavy-duty trash bag for storage in the patio shed. Never mind that Daddy passed away in October 2003. Clear as day I heard him ask through the laughter, “Remember when I moved you back to New York after your sophomore year in college?”
Without Daddy’s gentle prodding I may not have recalled what was then, for me, a mortifying but ultimately funny experience. It seems that because all of our student-abodes were infested with creepy-crawly things, it was suggested that I pack all of my clothing in heavy duty garbage bags, so that the Boston cockroaches would not breed back in my parent’s pristine Long Island colonial. Seventy-two hours was the recommended waiting period between closing the bags and opening them up again.
A very much alive Daddy methodically loaded the U-Haul while my sister and I ran up and down the four flights of the shabby Beacon Hill brownstone. We wanted to do this move within one day, and there was little chit chat. It was early afternoon when we piled into the sedan and exited the city via the Charles River Highway.
Arriving home quite late, we left the car and attached trailer in the circular driveway, everyone falling exhausted into bed. And although all of my worldly possessions would be unavailable to me for the next three days (fumigation!), I located an old pair of jeans and Grateful Dead t-shirt that belonged to my younger brother.
The truck was due back at the depot, so the next morning I arose early in order to toss the black plastic bags along one wall of the two-car garage. Swinging open the hinged metal doors, I almost passed out from the putrid stench that hit me in the face. Nostrils stinging, I fought the urge to vomit.
Apparently, all my father had seen outside of the building were the black trash bags that he innocently assumed contained clothing. Who could blame him for not discriminating and tossing in four additional bags of community garbage that had been sitting within a few feet of the van? The entire truckload had baked along the highway the day before and in the morning summer heat in order to stink up the entire beach front neighborhood in a manner that is nearly unimaginable.
For years we ribbed Daddy about this and would often point out bags of waiting rubbish for him to rescue.
Thirty five years have passed since the U-Haul incident, but it remains vividly available, nested between other allusions to incidents past. The collection inside the waterproof garbage bag contains precious writing from people who have made the greatest impact on my life. The representative forms differ: fading faxes, old greeting cards, funny notes scribbled on the backs of paper menus. So many of them are from my father who, thankfully, found that new-fangled e-mail craze cumbersome. His notes, in particular, are rife with irreplaceable observations, anecdotes, admonitions, and endless expressions of love and admiration for the woman I had become.
I dream that my children, too, will inherit the gift of “hearing” dead people. No joke: I sincerely believe that the spirit, love, and humor of those who remain closest do not require that they “be here” in physical form. Whenever I set a beautiful table, I hear Aunt Matty admire my style and wonder aloud just how I can manage so many guests! Morey stands behind my shoulder as I write each and every article, commenting on style and encouraging me to improve my craft. My father’s message rarely changes: The children should help around the house more, start saving and be a credit to the Jewish people.
This bag has traveled with me across state lines and, in recent decades, across several continents. It unfailingly serves as a major reminder of the project that I’ve vowed to complete in time for my children and grandchildren to enjoy. Because, even though my perception of time is distorted, I plan to copy over each and every page in that bag, resulting in a mega document designed to be fun, heartrending, illustrative, and rife with poignant glimpses into the hearts and spirits of special men and women whom I will forever hold dear.