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Giving up The Ghost

Shortly after New Year's Day, Isabel came to the realization that old Inns and houses are not the only habitats for ghosts; many of us personally harbor 'ghosts' in our hearts. Isabel's apparent New Year's epiphany arose, in part, from an intense conversation that I witnessed between Isabel and her friend, Sister Mary Katherine, during Mary Katherine's recent stay at the Inn. Isabel had been having a bad day and was lamenting the fact that every time she turned around, she "still expected to see Ray standing there." Mary Katherine's words to Isabel were simple;" when our loved ones move on, we who remain behind are given two choices: one, dwell in the comforting twilight of fond memories; or, two, move on into the defining light of the present and to new and different experiences. You do have those choices, Isabel."

Speaking as an older dog, I personally enjoy basking in the memories, but then again, I'm not Isabel.

Last year, after Isabel disposed of Ray's beloved Chevy pickup truck, I heard her tell Louella Hess that she felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. This year Isabel was ready to eliminate what might possibly be the last spectre from years gone by, Ray's private office.

Even though we pass by it several times every day, the locked door of Ray's old office on the second floor still embodies the final frontier of Isabel's tangible memories of Ray's presence at the Inn. Nobody at Faded Glory had given much thought to Ray's office until last Monday when Isabel asked our cleaning ladies, Pauline Patrick, and her friend, Rita Gonzalez, to open up and clean out Ray's private retreat on Tuesday (the following day). The office has remained locked and undisturbed since Ray's death, but the Inn has become so busy lately that even Isabel had come to the conclusion that the space is now needed for the storage of linens, disposable paper goods, and cleaning supplies.

When Ray was alive, he took great pride in his role as a hunter. He didn't boast about his exploits or attempt to regale us with details of his hunting adventures, but he was, nevertheless, truly a threat to the slowest and the most feeble of God's woodland creatures. Since Ray was by nature a cautious, gentle, and caring man, he would never go into the record books as a prolific and highly skilled hunter with an innate 'killer instinct.' Having hunted many times with Ray, I would wager that he many times aimed to miss, or possibly had bad eyesight.

Isabel would frequently quip that the forest was surely a safer place when Ray emerged, unloaded his gun, got in his pickup truck, and drove home. I think she was referring to the safety of other hunters and not the innocent animals that managed to survive out there. Ray rarely considered these comments funny, but because he was a good natured man, he always seemed to take them in stride.

During my ten years with Ray, I was, of course, a willing participant in all of his bird hunting exploits. Ray was actively hunting ducks and geese; and, because I am genetically a Labrador retriever, I was the lucky dog who got to "bring back the bounty." My happiest days with Ray were spent hunting birds.

Throughout his life, Ray shared his love of hunting with his particular fondness for the art of taxidermy. No, Ray didn't learn the skill, but his good friend, Ned Nolan who lived in Blue Ridge, fancied himself to be an excellent taxidermist. That assumption, among many of us, is still up for conjecture. Frankly, taxidermy has always given me the creeps, and whenever I look at a stuffed animal, I always feel like it is staring directly back at me. Eye contact with dead animals? No way, Jose!

Before Ray's interests narrowed to bird hunting, he had 'done in' a couple of handsome white tailed bucks, a raccoon or two, a fox, a beaver, and an ailing bobcat. Somewhere in his travels, he had even managed to purchase a huge, mounted caribou head with a sixty inch antler rack. Even though the caribou is not native to the State of Georgia, Ray's caribou mount always took center stage in his collection of wild animal mounts.

On Tuesday morning, Pauline and Rita arrived early, readied their cleaning equipment and moved it to a spot in the hallway just outside of the door to Ray's office. Isabel and I stood and watched quietly when the door was opened, and I was amazed at the lack of dust and cobwebs. It is a large room located in the rear portion of the second floor with two heavily curtained windows and solid walnut floors still gleaming under a thin layer of dust. When I saw his accumulated collection of trophy mounts, it was like a visit to the Museum of 'Unnatural History.' Adjacent to the windows stood Ray's massive Joe Namath La-Z-Boy recliner. and a reading lamp, which, due to their immense size, were banished from the downstairs sitting room to his office four years ago. Ray's huge oak rolltop desk and matching swivel chair also posed a daunting task, but Isabel decided to'leave it be' and work around it. "What am I ever going to do with all this stuff?" Isabel asked, not really expecting an answer.

Although they looked lifelike and viable in the half-light of Ray's curtained office, later, when scrutinized in the light of day, Ray's animal mounts were a rather motley collection at best. The raccoon, preserved in the act of eating a box turtle, looked rather sleepy and underwhelmed; and the bobcat looked like he had died a natural death due to some horrible disease coupled with a case of the mange. The rest of Ray's eclectic collection of forest critters, frankly, looked . . . surprised.

Later that day, Isabel tried unsuccessfully to get Ned Nolan to reclaim Ray's mounts free of charge, but Ned has since moved on to running a tanning salon and carving animal figures with a chainsaw. He showed no interest in the collection whatsoever.

Finally, that Wednesday, Micah contacted his friend, Matthew Tipton (a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service), and Matthew agreed to use some of them (minus the bobcat) in an exhibit being assembled for one of the new U.S. Forest Service Offices being planned in nearby Union County.

Isabel was able to sell Ray's modest collection of guns for almost $3,000. I was pleased when she decided not to sell Ray's favorite Remington "over and under" shotgun, but decided instead to hang it above the downstairs fireplace. But most of all, we were all most relieved to see Ray's collection of mounted animals leave the premises in the U.S.Forest Service van.

Ray's former office has several new sets of shelving and is now a viable storage area, Isabel is struggling with one less ghost, and relics from a bygone era can now be viewed daily by tourists visiting Union County's U.S. Forest Service Center. Truly a win, win, win situation for all.

As for me? All I have left are memories . . . and, of course, my friend Isabel.

© 2010-2011 David Johnson, All Rights Reserved