The longer it’s been since I actually lived in Hollister, the rarer the occasion arises that I think to share my favorite story about it. This story is not representative of my hometown in any way. I’ll say that again, since people often tend to think the opposite: This story is not representative of my hometown in any way.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I headed back home, worked at the newspaper, and watched the house while my parents were away on extended vacation. In all, not a bad way to spend three hot months. By virtue of having the place to myself, however, I had to shop for groceries on my own. I’d never felt more grown up. Sure, I had made grocery trips during the previous year, when I lived in the dorms, but shopping for food myself in my hometown at the store my mom shops at made me feel like an adult in ways that little from my first year of college did.
On one trip to the grocery store, I was standing in line and noticed two older women queued up behind me. I glanced back and saw that they were both around my grandmother’s age and could have very well been friends of my grandma’s, given how social circles work in Hollister. The two women were chatting back and forth with the usual call-and-response pairs that people so often exchange when they haven’t caught up in a while.
Then there was a lull.
Then this: “Did you hear about Pearl?”
(An admission: Though this story should be considered non-fiction, I can’t be sure that the woman being discussed was actually named Pearl. She could have just as easily been named Fern or Inez or Dotty or Mabel or Genuflessa or Eunice or anything else from the stable of names that women of this generation were saddled with. For the sake of telling this story, I’ll stick with Pearl.)
“No. What happened to Pearl?” the other one asked.
“She’s in the hospital. She’s been very sick!” the first woman responded.
“That’s awful! I hadn’t heard. What’s wrong?” said the second woman.
“Well, it started out with a clock she had bought at an antique store,” the first women began to explain. “And right after Pearl brought the clock into the house, she started getting sick. And they didn’t know what was wrong with her. They did tests and they gave her this and that and she didn’t get better. And so then it turned out that there was a ghost living in the clock that she had bought and the ghost was what was making Pearl sick.”
“You’re kidding!” replied the second woman, her voice indicating genuine astonishment — not at the fact that a ghost played a role in the story but that the root of the illness turned out to be a ghost. “So what did they do?”
The answer: “Oh, well, they got rid of the clock.”
I delight in the story for several reasons.
As far as I could tell at the time, no one else heard the story. I looked around to see if anyone’s face might contort in a way that indicated they too were trying to follow the story’s crazy logic, but I saw no such reactions.
I don’t know what kills me more: The first woman’s belief that (a) ghosts can make you sick at all, much less to the point that you would require hospitalization; (b) that ghosts haunt clocks; (c) that this whole mess could be solved by something as simple as throwing away the apparently cursed clock. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the second woman didn’t seem to question one bit of that logic and instead received the haunted clock story much as she would have a story about Pearl falling and breaking her hip.
It didn’t help at all that I’d just previously profiled this women as people who could potentially be my grandmother’s friends. I actually thought about bringing the matter up with my grandmother — “Grandma, do you by any chance have a friend named Pearl who recently spent time in the hospital?” — but I never did, mostly out of fear that investigation would only reveal that I was the only person in town who didn’t think that ghosts made you sick.
Finally, there’s the matter of who the story’s “they” was and how this distinguished group determined that the source of the disease was the clock. It could be that I’ve abridged this part in my mind or it could have been that the woman telling the story never mentioned it. It seems important enough to the chain of events, however, that either I should have remembered it or she should have spelled it out. I really hope the “they” she spoke of actually referred to two groups: the medically professionals at the hospital and some separate group of crazy people who think ghosts live in clocks.
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