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Dead People (Part One)

I hear dead people. I do.

Sometimes it’s surprising the lengths they go to to speak to me. Sometimes I have no idea what they’re trying to tell me.

There’s a woman I want to learn more about named Minnie Williams. She was the principal at Girls’ Central School here in Victoria a long time ago, before I was born, and yet she introduced herself to me at the Oak Bay Lodge, an assisted care residence. I met her through two women who were living there.

The first was Ruth Howell, a 100-year-old woman I was interviewing for a church project. Miss Williams had been her teacher at Girls’ Central and Mrs. Howell, a teacher herself, didn’t think much of her teaching methods. She would leave the students alone for long stretches of time while she did other things in the next room. When Mrs. Howell complained about other students who were misbehaving, she got in trouble for tattling.

The other woman was my aunt Ethel, who was also staying in Oak Bay Lodge. She couldn’t have been more different in personality from Mrs. Howell. Where Mrs. Howell was always cheerful and positive, my aunt was the opposite. In fact, my husband called her Aunt Eeyore. Towards the end of her life, my aunt was very anxious about her impending death, and so one day, to help cheer her, I asked her to think of a happy memory from her childhood. Then, to my surprise, she described in vivid detail, as if she were seeing it at that moment, Miss Williams walking down Joan Crescent in her middy blouse with her hair blowing in the wind. It was the same teacher that Mrs. Howell had remembered in such a negative way.

What struck me then, and strikes me now, is how she was still remembered so long after her death by two old women at the end of their lives. I need to find out what she was trying to tell me.

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