The Ghosts Next Door

The house next door is empty and for sale, but the ghost of my father will always live there. He owned the Colonial at 118 Peirce Street in the early seventies. I remember coming to stay with him one weekend. We shot baskets at Academy Field. On Sunday morning, he brought me back home to Providence.

When I moved my family into Rose Cottage at 112 Peirce Street, I looked at my father’s old house and saw what hadn’t changed: the giant elm out front, the stone wall out back, the granite step at the front door… My eyes hadn’t changed, either, but they saw the world in a different light. More than twenty years had passed. My father had died in 1993, shortly after my second son, Evan, was born.

Dick Parenteau owned the house now. He would become a great friend and neighbor. In some ways, Dick reminded me of my dad. He was divorced, lived alone, smoked cigarettes, had a great sense of humor, loved cars, and was a sports nut. Like my father, he elevated cursing to performance poetry. When Dick launched into a diatribe about overpaid pro athletes – “Can you believe these !@#$ing guys!” – I heard my father. Dick was a !@#$ing godsend.

As Evan grew up, he was filled with questions. One night before bed, he asked me if I missed my dad. I told him yes, but that I felt my father was alive every time I spoke about him. “Maybe that’s what heaven is,” I said. With a four-year-old’s wisdom, Evan said, “Heaven’s where you go in your head.”

One day, Dick knocked at our door. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet. “C’mon,” he said, “I have something to show you.” I followed him to his house, and we made our way down the entry hall, through the TV room, and into the bedroom, where he was stripping the wallpaper. Dick pointed at one of the newly revealed walls. On the horsehair plaster, I saw the familiar, soothing curves of my father’s handwriting. Decades ago, he had tagged the wall with his signature – Donald E. Walsh.

I told Evan it was a little piece of heaven, brought to me by an angel.

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