The Photo Album
by Deborah Benson.
“But Da, please let me come with ya. I’m the same age as our Georgie when he went t’ sea.”
“Son you're me young ‘un, I be seeing better things fer ya. You is clever with yer drawin’. Those ships you draws down at the waterside is perfect in every detail.”
“ I want to draw at sea Da! I knows I’m not a sailor in the makin’ not like you and Georgie but I reckons I could do some good pictures of the work you do on the riggin' and the decks. Please Da? I won’t be in the way, I’ll just find a corner where I can sit wi’ me pencils and draw.”
“Aye tis a short trip this ‘un” He turns to his wife.” What do ya think Ma? You’re awfully quiet.”
“I don’t like the idea, truly I don’t. Yet I looks at ‘is face and can see ‘is keenness.”
Looking at her son, she continues. “Our Will, ya Da’s right, ya not made fer the sea. Ya not even a good rower; ya cause more damage to the boat. There I’ve said me bit, I’ll leave it to ya Da to decide.”
With a loving face, his eyes fix on his son. “Agin’ me better judgment I’ll take ya lad but ya better find y’self a place where you’re out o' the way. A ship ‘as to run like clockwork, ya knows that lad.”
To his father’s embarrassment his son flings his arms around him. “Thanks Da! You’ll hardly know I’m there. I’ll go and tell our Georgie!”
It is so easy not to believe in ghosts. Life is simple, uncomplicated and free of conflict of ephemeral or supernatural beings. Life after death? There is nothing to consider, no purpose in trying. The idea of spirits hanging around to cause mischief or harm is a story line for fantasy buffs, fantasy beyond the reasonable.
But what do you do when something inexplicable happens? When you have experienced firsthand a spooky ghostly connection which is incomprehensible?
You panic and review the situation. Relive it in your head, question your sanity, maybe it was a dream? Or an impression left by the last image from a television screen. Ahhh! But this does not satisfy your knowledge of the experience. There is no reasonable explanation. I am of sound mind and body. Maybe considered a little over the top inspired by a quirky imagination but I know if I was to create a ghost it would take a fuzzy, blurry form appearing in a hallway, complete with a ball and chain around it’s ankle. With a worn hardened face and dirty tattered clothing. No doubt a convict from the past waiting to reconcile some previous injustice via me. I like the idea of being useful and assisting a ghost to move on towards the light, there is something romantic and self satisfying about this scenario.
The truth is, my spooky experience occurred over a few days and terrified me! The creative manifestations this spirit took in order to communicate convinced me of the validity of the experience.
If it had been a visual apparition it would not have been pleasant. The anger I felt from my unwelcome visitor was certainly enough to prompt me into action. I didn’t need to see it; it made its antagonised, disturbed presence felt.
Maybe I had better start at the beginning of my spooky but true ordeal. I enjoyed having dinner parties with themes. The idea being that laughter and challenges bring my dinner guests closer together. Costumes can provide personas, ensuring conversations and acceptance. Having guests who were unfamiliar with each other was a must. How could a character develop with conversations about daughters and sons netball competitions or progress in school? My guests usually numbered seven with an invited partner for myself.
The time setting I had chosen was pre second world war, ‘pre’ meaning early 1939. No dinner party was complete without authenticity. Part of the fun and challenge was in scouring the opportunity shops for appropriate memorabilia in order to recreate the period. Music of the time I researched and enjoyed the crooning nature of the tunes even though the sounds reverberated as if sung into old tin can. A portrait was required as the dinner was set in an old mansion. What a wonderful challenge to create my own ancestor. Cardboard battle artefacts’ were fixed onto the wall blending perfectly with a coat of arms.
A photograph was needed to make the ‘mansion’ homely and personal. I had the perfect frame a friend had given me for a birthday. If it had not been a gift from a treasured friend I would have discarded the frame years ago. I was not inclined to use it due to the macabre nature of the design. The antique yellow frame had two urns engraved on either side convincing the observer that the photo enclosed would be of a deceased person well loved of the family.
I looked through my old photo albums associated with my ship memorabilia days. An album of a handsome young seaman caught my attention. I felt intrigued by his character the first time I had quietly turned the pages. I had felt a little perverse enjoying the voyeuristic scanning of a slice of his life. The small black and white images revealed a man who enjoyed a social life of pretty women and solid continuing male friendships. He had taken care in placing these small squares with the triangle corners and neatly naming each of his acquaintances. I appreciated his time and effort even though he had no idea I would be the person lifting the delicate protection paper in order to view his life at sea and his warm connections on land. I could believe he dedicated himself on his long journeys to regularly updating this album keeping a log of not only the social occasions but the ships that he photographed on a regular basis.
The ships in the photographs were small and looked the same to an untrained eye. He would have snapped them passing by, probably left rocking in their wake. He had recorded the names in fine print and a sense of pride emerged as the grey pages were folded one over the other. Images he could file away, accumulating as many ships as possible on his long voyages. I imagined his treasured camera would never be far away from his side and his spools of film taken ashore when convenient for fast processing.
The photo for the frame was staring at me. A close up of a young handsome face. Was it the owner of the album? I was never quite sure. He had a beautiful smile and a cheeky look on his angled features. He wore a beret and a military uniform. Portrayed in photos either side of this, he was seen wearing a kilt, as were a few of his comrades. There were strikingly dressed women with coiffured hair sparkling with glistening adornments of necklaces and earrings Their beautiful faces caught in the act of laughing, smoking or grouping close together to be immortalised in black and white at the peak of their youth.The event was a ball or celebration of some importance by the look of the regalia and splendour of table settings.
I removed the initial photo and inserted it into the ‘death’ frame. I felt it was probably appropriate as this kind faced gentleman would be deceased by now, why else would I be the owner of this treasured photo album? I placed the photo frame on top of the upright Blackwood piano from the 1930’s, which incidentally had a story of its own. The piano had been transported by steamship travelling the long journey from a coal mining town in England to Australia. The piano tuner, an aspiring closet forensic scientist, could conclude this by the stained felts and discoloured wooden frame inside. The room was perfect and ready for the table to be laid and the guests to arrive. A sense of satisfaction came over me, another job well done.
In hindsight I had noticed a change in the room. It was a large dining room and one I had to walk through to get to my bedroom. I recollect sensing a chill in the air as I passed through but chose to ignore the sign. The next day was the Host a Murder dinner party and my attention was focused on the preparing and cooking of the distinctive 1939 menu of Hors d’Oeuvres, Shrimp Cocktail, Ragout of Lamb followed by a Peach Melba. I played Flanagan and Allen, George Formby and by singing along to ‘You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby’ and ‘Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye’ I could feel the ambience and connection with this lavish, yet unsettled, time.
The dinner was a great success and as expected went into the early hours of the morning as the guests rekindled an interest in each other beyond the role playing. This was not a concern. I knew I would wake to a large collection of crusted dishes and stale wine glasses but would have a free day to tackle the task.
The immediate cleaning took most of the next day. The room character remained the same with the candelabra decorating the centre of the table, the fake portrait opposite the coat of arms and the photo still smiling at me from the frame on the piano. I glanced twice at the photo, compelled to do so. That night as I went to bed I again noticed the handsome young features smiling at me. As if talking to a friend I said with a grin, “I will definitely put you back in the album tomorrow.”
I hesitated and questioned why I had needed to make an explanation to a photograph. Of course it was nothing; I just wanted to share a moment with a friendly face. And I felt his presence had played an integral part to the success of the dinner.
I had a dream or more like a night mare. I was in the long dining room lying on the soft carpet looking up at the pictures on the wall admiring my handiwork. It all seemed peaceful yet I felt disturbed and noticed out of the corner of my eye a picture slowly rotate. And the one above the fireplace began to spin clockwise. The lights moved like Jack Hammers and flickered. The top row of my precious Wedgewood dinner set sailed down towards the floor. I wanted the chaos to stop. The dresser gracefully toppled and was headed straight for me. I awoke in a hot sweat to the sound of my racing heart pumping rapidly, preparing for the flight from fear. I calmed myself down with the crystal-clear realisation that I had been dreaming. Yet, for some unknown reason my first thought was to return the handsome face to its rightful place in the album.
An easy, effortless task, so why didn’t I do it? I had convinced myself I had experienced a bad dream and of course I lived with the surety there was no such thing as ghosts. I didn’t need paranoia and to punish myself for the neglect of a simple task. Again, as another night fell I walked past the frame to go to my bed. I paused, uttered my apologies and reiterated the promise of the night before.
With a peaceful mind I went to sleep. A stream of blustery energy transferred me into consciousness as it swept over my face and buffeted around my room at a great rate. My eyes were following this tempestuous energy from the top of the curtains on one side down over my bed then up to the other side of the wall, zigzagging haphazardly in a frenzied state. I had never experienced anything like it. Awake? I was definitely awake. Sleep a welcome salvation. I was frighteningly awake and extremely disturbed by what was happening. The covers held with clenched fists under my nose as I lay helpless and vulnerable to the display of anger moving erratically, scaring me as was intended How could I deal with this strong determined mini tornado bouncing off my walls and swooping so dangerously low?
In a lucid moment I realised I had to take action and not be at the mercy of this attack.
With courage I spoke, “Go away, I’m not scared of you.” My voice echoed loneliness and desperation in that chaotic disorder. Disappointed with the seeming lack of acknowledgement of my feeble words, I tried again. In my hazy state I considered I had an understanding of what this was all about and what was expected of me. With an edge of compassion and less demand I heard myself say.”I will put the photo back tomorrow and I am sorry that I haven’t already done so.”
Terrified, I waited for a response. If I read this incorrectly then I had no idea of my next move. My heightened senses detected a standoff, a significant change in the room. My body relaxed as the energy eased. With less intensity, the presence moved uncertainly as if considering the proposal. Finally it dissipated and I felt alone: thankfully! I remained fixed with the covers up to my chin. I clung to the peace in the room inhaling the stillness. My eyes scanned for indications of a return and were the portholes of my alertness.
I lay in limbo gradually relaxing into normal breathing and awareness. I recognised I had been a witness to the wrath of a spirit there was no other explanation. An uncomfortable acceptance replaced absolute denial. This was a truth I needed to witness. I had confidently laughed at my mum with her stories of ghosts during the war, yet now lay exhausted and humbled open to a new understanding of life, death and after life.
The following morning I made amends and returned the photo to the album, covering the blank original coloured grey space, making the album complete.
Life is different now I know there are spirits or ghosts. My philosophy of life changed that night and do you know something? It is not that scary realising that I coexist with spirits.
The story behind the spirit became evident many years later. I was packing to move and once again the album was in my hands. The question arose, what to do with the photo album? If I threw it out would the spirit perpetually harass me? If I gave it to an op shop could this antagonise the spirit again? Was I stuck with the album for the rest of my life in fear of upsetting this fiery energy? There is a happy outcome to this spooky but true story and I did indeed rescue a trapped spirit.
I sought out the assistance of a ‘ghost buster’.
I related the events of those few days and the ordeal I had witnessed. She unfolded a fascinating tale. In a past life, in the 18oos I had been a young boy about eleven years of age who drowned at sea. The fraught spirit being the boy’s father. He had never forgiven himself for the ‘young un’s death’ as she translated and had always been around me endeavouring to make amends in whatever way he could. Knowing I loved ships he had made sure this photo album would reach me through a bundle of ship memorabilia I purchased.
’He thought you’d like it, did ya like it?” she asked as he related like dictation.
“Yes, I did.” I answered, feeling awkward speaking to another being I could not see. She continued, “It was a gift from him.” She described this old seaman as having a fiery temperament and could see how he defaulted to anger when the photo had been removed out of his precious album and not returned. Her smile led me to question her. “He agrees and says, ’Aye! I was upset when she took the picture out, it felt like she did na’ care.”
She sat with her eyes closed nodding and listening to this spirit relate his tale. Occasionally she shared with me the gist of the one sided communication.
“He apologises for scaring you, he knew ‘he should na’ he was angry." she repeated. She concluded by telling me he is a very tired spirit and desperate to be released from his suffering. Apparently only I could be his benefactor. She gave me instructions to follow in order to release this forsaken soul. When a time offered itself I prepared what I needed and called on the Archangel Raphael, the Archangel of Healing, to release this spirit to another place where he could rest. The whole process moved me and with a tear in my eye I said my quiet farewell.
I eventually did part with the photo album; it is now being cared for along with many of my other ship treasures in the Oberon Society Museum for warships and passenger ships. It can be seen on display, sharing the handsome young man’s love of ships with his detailed entries. But only I know the true story of the album and keep the idea of this beautiful gift with me always.