Ghost in the Flame - Part 2

The Previous Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here. In spring 1988, I connected with a spirit who was able to present me with verifiable information. As I track back through my personal history, looking for the thread of connected events and experiences that seem to belong to the story of my mediumship, this encounter stands out for the amount -- and the degree -- of detailed information that I was able to research and confirm.

Click here to read Part One of Ghost in the Flame.

My spring quarter, freshman year, during the time that the ghost Harris was communicating with me, I was taking a History class. Our final project and a third of our grade was dependent upon a genealogy paper. The assignment itself revolved around describing "why you are here, in this literal, physical place -- Athens, Georgia -- and time in the context of history." Something to that effect. The idea came down to genealogy.

Prior to the Internet, researching family history could be difficult or challenging for any number of reasons. For most of the freshmen at a public Georgia University, who they were and why they were where they were was a simple story of just how close their apples had fallen to their proverbial family trees: "My great-great-great-granddaddy started farming this land just outside [insert small town in Georgia]. My family's lived here for hundreds of years; my great-uncle was the mayor; we're still here… blah blah blah..."

I'm pretty sure this was the template for 95% of the papers. This was a general requirement course and I believe the professor intended to draw the students into a personal connection with history -- as something we are part of, here and now, as opposed to just some distant portraits of dead guys who'd won wars -- through a combination of creativity and historical lens.

As you can imagine, I loved a paper -- the larger the percentage of the grade, the better chance I had of controlling my performance. I must note a truth of any history, that the product is largely the result of the questions of the author. In terms of testing my knowledge, a paper is an opportunity to control the questions as well as the answers. Essay tests are great too -- you simply talk about what you know and pass on anything you don't know -- with the added benefit of relaxed grammar and style expectations. If you identify as a writer, then you know this amounts to Your Hot Air = Big Red A.

My friend Laura was taking this same course, same professor, but at an earlier hour; I only discovered this when I overheard her lamenting the project to her roommate that afternoon. Laura had a long, traceable family history in the Atlanta area; she was fortunate to belong also to a once wealthy family, whose business in banking had survived to the present day in a recognizable incarnation; her mother lived in the home built by her grand-father. I don't want to imply that the wealth of Laura's family was still literal and financial -- the wealth in the context of the History assignment was information -- there were portraits and heirlooms and genealogies and documents galore.

Laura's challenge was to execute the obvious information and go beyond the obvious format (ie, bore the professor with the same paper everyone else was writing).

My challenge with the assignment was the opposite -- ancestry on both sides of my family was predominantly Cherokee through World War I. We actually refer to the "White Side" of our family -- which was dirt poor North Carolinian/ Tennessean and illiterate. In other words, the education, the wealth, and the ethnicity on both sides of my family added up to virtually no documented information.

On top of this, it was a known curiosity that no one in my family lived in Georgia -- ever. North Carolina, to Tennessee, then up and down Florida -- but somehow we'd completely avoided stopping in Georgia. I was literally the only person on either side of my family to reside in Georgia -- my "reasons" for being there, in the context of history, was an anomaly.

I didn't think a paper about how I decided, only two months before school started, to ditch my original plan to go to Sewanee, after visiting a friend in Athens and feeling "called" to move there, would satisfy the assignment. "Dear Professor, I have absolutely no reason to be here; I have nary a branch of family tree here -- not even a twig -- and even if I did, nobody wrote a speck of it down. No, we have no family Bible -- my grandmothers and great-grandmothers were not Christianized; in spite of their spiritual traditions, they were considered heathen and atheist by the communities they grew up in."

Actually, since the paper was due, I did end up finding a way to spin the topic into an intelligent discourse about the bitter train wreck of European DNA that consumed aboriginal culture and nevertheless directly resulted in the entity called me… A Trail of Tears without the Paper Trail.

Incidentally, although the story never made it into a paper (until now) -- and although he was definitely not a spirit guide -- the ghost Harris did indeed guide me to an ancestor in Georgia I never knew I had, buried beside the great-uncle of my friend Laura.

Laura's family had actually lived in Athens until the late 1920's/early 1930's, and had moved en masse quite suddenly -- and mysteriously -- to Atlanta. "They were bankers, remember," Laura's mother told us, during a research dig through her attic "I've always heard about the stock market crash, and all that. They got screwed, moved, and just started over."

Harris had already been feeding me another story, which I broke down and shared with Laura in the car on the way back to Athens. I don't remember her judging me as I feared -- she engaged the possibility ... enthusiastically, as far as I can remember. I told her everything I had managed to pull out from my nightly conversations with this ghost:

  • Harris's first name started with an "E"
  • he committed suicide when he was twenty, somewhere around 1927 or 1928
  • no one talked about it
  • his family buried him, moved, and his suicide was actively suppressed

Harris's agenda was to be acknowledged and remembered for the truth of his tragedy. Even though this spirit was self-aware, he was classically earth-bound -- one sure way to tell the difference between a ghost and a spirit guide: it's not really about you; it's all about him. Earthbound spirits are essentially self-absorbed and self-obsessed, unable to disconnect from particular moments, places, or events from their lives.

I assumed his connection to me was determined by my friendship with Laura, combined with my… "ability" to hear him.

In the car on the way back to Athens from Atlanta -- like an episode of Scooby Doo meets Hardy Boys with a Nancy Drew cameo (or Ghost Whisperer, before its time) -- we plotted our trip to the cemetery as soon as we arrived back at Reed Hall. The only available parking for freshmen was a huge commuter lot miles away -- on foot, the cemetery was the most direct short-cut.

Again, note that I've changed the name Harris -- the surname was actually not nearly so common; we expected the tombstones to be easy to find. There were several graves close together around stones bearing Harris -- Laura recognized the names of her great-grandfather and great-grandmother, and near them, a "Beloved Son" -- Edward Harris - 1907 to 1928. His parents and siblings were not buried there; their graves were in Atlanta, and much more recent.

But then I discovered that his communication with me might also be about me, after all -- a few paces away was a marker bearing my mother's maiden name: Aldridge. A small family was interred there. I wrote down their names and dates, still thinking it was probably coincidence. I sent the information to my mother's oldest sister, who ended up throwing herself into a lengthy family history project.

It was three years later that she sent me a fat packet of her research for a Christmas present. On top of the Xeroxed photocopies was a personal note for me. "You aren't the only one of us in Georgia after all!" Lost to our family's oral history for at least fifty years was the story of five Aldridge brothers who had moved from North Carolina to Middle Tennessee in the 1870s -- all of them but one were already married, most of them had children. Together with their parents, the whole extended family had emigrated at the same time.

One brother, the youngest, not yet married, did not go to Tennessee -- he moved on his own to Athens, Georgia where he eventually started his own family, who all lived and died there. No one living in my family had ever heard of him. He was my great-grandfather's baby brother, Minas. Not only was he buried a few hundred yards away from where I slept for six months -- his grave was literally, physically beside the ancestor of my new best friend.

My aunt's letter ended with "How on earth did you find him?"

Conclusions(?)

  • Harris had stopped communicating with me weeks before we talked to Laura's mother or visited his grave. Sorry, there was no big scene at the grave site where I translated some tearful goodbye and he turned to cross into the Light. While he was still active, he did reveal to me some places in Athens that were significant to him. One was an apartment building where I found myself that summer -- I became friends with a couple who lived there, the girl was Wiccan, and so I told her all about Harris.
  • I never heard so much as a peep from my ancestors, discovered buried in that location (not directly, anyway).
  • At this time, my younger brother is the only living relative (I know of) that resides anywhere in the state of Georgia.
  • I continued to experience a special connection with the time period of the 1920s during the years that I lived in Athens.
  • Laura and I have remained in touch for 20 years. Did our ancestors know one another? Did the History class, combined with our meeting, and some other spiritual ties trigger this event?
  • I don't know if candle flames generally "work" in the way Harris claimed -- but I always think about the possibility that flames are like telescopes or binoculars... that I'm being watched. But I walk around every day of my life with that sense anyway, and I find it delicious and comforting, 99% of the time.
  • The recently dead rarely contact me -- I don't operate as this kind of a medium on cue or have any real control over it -- the circumstances are random and varied. I do often pick up the names of ancestors during Readings, with a few small relationship details, but unfortunately I can not offer that as a service with any confidence at this time.
  • I can identify residual hauntings, energy vortexes, hot spots in homes, etc -- I do have experience with house blessings and energy clearance, but given the conservative religious environment where I live (Chattanooga, Tennessee), I don't have much opportunity to employ those skills.
  • I would absolutely love the opportunity to act as part of a ghost-hunting team. So, Southeastern Paranormal Research Group, please by all means contact me!

Seek Wisdom -- Practice Love Slade's signature

The Next Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here.