As I was growing up, my sister, and two cousins spent many, many wonderful summers at my Grandma Ev and Grandpa Ed's house on Owl Lake in Wisconsin. Our summers were filled with days in the lake; swimming, fishing, and boating. We took long "tick-filled" walks around the area; when we were little, Grandma would be the caboose of our walking train, and as we got older we would terrorize the older community in the area by blasting our radio with AC/DC, Cinderella and Guns and Roses.
At the lake, Owl Lake, we played highly advanced, well-plotted, and intensely realistic make-believe Charlie's Angels. I was Kris, Jess (sister) was Sabrina, Jen (cousin) was Kelly, and Kris (cousin) was Julie. Grandma Ev played Charlie or Bossly, as needed. The "interesting" neighbors to Grandma and Grandpa's house were the unfortunate villains who never stood a chance against our whit.
We girls would sleep on the floor in our "at the lake" sleeping bags. Grandma would read to us from Grandma's Attic Stories books, (you can order the books on-line, the author is Arleta Richardson.) There was something about sleeping at Owl Lake that was like "double-sleep." You may have only slept for 6 hours, but it felt like 12. I could definitely use a good sleep-over at Owl Lake now!
Grandma had owls all over the house. Owl pot holders, owl figurines, owl pictures, and owl magnets. There was a sign at the beginning of the driveway that read "Ulrich's Owl Roost." The woods surrounding the house were alive with the creatures you don't get to see in the suburbs. Not only could we hear the owls and the loons all through the night, but we'd often discover that a bear had wrestled through the "garbage" up by the garage which was set to be burned, or we'd see the skunks running around the neighbor's porch steps. The loons, Louie and Louella, were tame and would swim right up next to us when we were floating calmly on our rafts. The fish were trained to recognize that we would feed them! The minute we stepped on the dock you could see the fish rippling along the top of the water just waiting for us to throw in the leftover cinnamon toast from breakfast.
As we grew older, got jobs, got driver's licenses, the length of our stays at the lake became shorter; but the joy and peace that came from being at the lake never passed. Owl Lake. It was truly a magical place where dreams were born. We endured tornadoes there, we remained un-harmed when some locals went on a rampage and drove drunk through our backwoods area and vandalized many of the mailboxes and garages along the road. Jeff proposed to me there. I asked Jesus to be my Savior there.
Grandma Ev was a very special part of my life and I even named my very special daughter after her. They were connected from the beginning...both having glaucoma, even! I recalled putting ointment in Grandma Ev's eyes after she had an eye surgery and stayed with us when I was younger. I felt well trained to do the same for Evie when she'd have her eye surgeries!
Grandpa had died in 1986, when I was still in elementary school. I don't remember very much about Grandpa, I was only 10 when he died, but I remember enough that I can still hear his voice and what it would sound like when he'd play solitaire and listen to the Twins games on the radio. Grandma died several springs ago now. It was the spring AFTER she died that I experienced my "visit."
It was dusk and there was still a chill in the air, but I wanted to get out and dig the dead leaves out of my flower beds around the house. I was out there for an hour and had been smelling cigar smoke everywhere I went. It was so strong that I could feel it burning my nostrils. I thought maybe the neighbors were smoking outside, but the smell was all around the outside of the house. I just couldn't escape it.
The next morning I was making my commute into Madison for work. I drove in at the wee-small hours of the morning, usually leaving the house at 6 AM in order to get to the office to open the doors at 6:30. I was disgruntled to find that, as I drove through the country roads, I was STILL smelling cigar smoke! What on earth? Had it seeped through our garage walls and into my car???
My mind then started pondering over what day of the week it was, and how my day would be laid out. I realized that it was Wednesday, so I would get to watch Ghosthunters! Yes! As I thought this, I began to consider the ways that Ghosthunters say the "spirit world" can communicate with us. One of the ways is through smell. Hmmm...but at that time, I thought, the only "spirit" that would communicate with me was Grandma Ev, so why would I smell cigar smoke?
Just then, I was rounding a bend in the road, and there was a still-leave-less tree reaching up toward the sky in front of me. The morning sky, just lighting now with the break of dawn was peaking through the skinny fingers of the trees branches. I noticed the form immediately and it made my heart skip a beat and I caught my breath with a surge of shock or fear. There, perched confidently on the branch nearest the road was a large shadow of an owl. It was unmistakable; the pointed ears, the rounded body, the realization that "this is not something you see every day."
My mind started spinning. Did that mean it was Grandma? It still didn't make sense.
Now most people would not consider calling their mom at 6:15 in the morning, but I did. I knew my mom would be up. I called her and said, "I'm going to ask you something, and after you answer, I'll tell you why I asked."
"When Grandpa Ed was alive, and he smoked, what did he smoke; were they cigars or cigarettes?" (I had heard about Grandpa having smoked most of his life, but by the time I was born he no longer smoked because he had enough health issues that the doctors told him he had to quit or he would die.)
"They were those little brown cigarettes called cigarillos."
"Did they smell like cigarettes or like cigars," I asked with anticipation.
"They smelled like cigars." Mom replied.
"Ok..." I proceeded to tell her what happened. She was just as astounded by the occurrence as I was.
I called my dad that evening on my way home from work. Grandpa Ed was his dad, after all, so I knew he'd like the story. I didn't even tell him where I was going with it...I just said, "I have a story to tell you." Dad listened, as he was so good at doing. I told him about the cigar-smoke smell outside the house, then about how I was driving to work smelling it, and then I got to the part where I saw the owl.
"Grandpa," dad said in a tear-filled whisper.
"Do you think, Dad?"
"Yep...that was Grandpa. He must have been up in Heaven and when Grandma got there she said, 'come on, let's go see the kids.'"
Now, from what I read in the Bible, I don't know that the spirits ever really come back to earth. I don't know that they can "visit" the way we might like to think they do. But I do know that God communicates directly with us. It might be a verse that pops into our head, it might be the unmistakable feeling of someone touching us when no one is physically there, or it might be a person helping us at just the right time when we needed it. I think God wanted me to know that I was not alone on those lonely, dark car rides into work. I think God wanted me to know that I was loved by many, even by those who I may not have known as long as others.
I also think that there's a reason this topic came to mind today, as I sit at my mom's house typing on the computer in the office that was my dad's office before he went home to heaven. Thanks for the story idea, Dad. Tell Grandma Ev and Grandpa Ed and Grandpa Turk merry Christmas from all of us. Love you...