In Part 1 of my story (which appeared last month), I explained how I had felt that my deceased Grandfather
often “appeared” to me when I needed guidance. I would frequently see either a real or a symbolic owl
that would lead me to feeling content anytime that my life was overwhelming.

About 5 years ago, my Grandmother passed away. Grandma lived on her own in a second-story apartment
until the age of 98 and probably could have lived another decade in good health, but I honestly think she
was just DONE. Her mind was sharper than anyone I knew. Her physical abilities would have been rivaled
by the average 50-year-old. Her friends had all passed, and her neighborhood no longer had the familiar
places that she once knew. Family near and far were distracted by their daily lives and she was often alone
and unable to walk around her neighborhood as she used to. Physically she could. Mentally she could not.
Everything was unfamiliar. Transplants from N.Y.C. who could no longer tolerate the inflated prices of city-dwelling had infiltrated her Brooklyn neighborhood and the entire landscape had changed. When you looked out of her little apartment, three-story buildings that used to house three families with one family per level, had been gutted, renovated, and turned into sleek and modern single-family homes. Directly behind her kitchen window was a newly remodeled home with the back façade made entirely of glass. She had once said “I don’t get it…..Why all glass? I can see EVERYTHING! Are they THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE
WHO LIKE YOU TO WATCH?” WOW. Simmer down now Grandma.

A few years before my Grandma passed away, we had moved into a new house in Connecticut. We visited her on the day that we first viewed the house and had told her all about it. The house just had “a feeling” and we knew it was the one. The night we moved in, I went into labor with my third child and despite my having never felt comfortable in new settings, I felt calm. I was at home. The entire time that I lived there, I always felt that someone was definitely “with me” and guiding us. I never could put any sense to it, but I felt a calming presence around this home. My Grandmother had never made it to this new house, although she had always wanted to. Despite doing well physically and mentally, the distance of the unpredictable drive between N.Y. to C.T. just would have been too long and uncomfortable for her. Anyone who has ever had to drive through New York knows that there is no way to know how long it might take. It could be a 45-minute drive….. or a three-hour drive. It could take one hour…….or it could
take 6 hours.

My absolute favorite part of our new home was a giant, weeping willow tree that I could view from every window at the rear of my house. This tree had to be at least 100 years old. My willow tree stood at the edge of our property, spreading out its massive branches to envelop every corner in the back section of the yard. Beyond the tree was a marshy area filled with trees that were diminutive in comparison but when combined, the wall of foliage created was stunning. The marsh eventually filtered out into the Long Island Sound, which I always felt was an apropos comfort to have some small connection to my life growing up on Long Island.

One night about 18 months after my son was born, I felt like someone had pushed me awake from a sound sleep and I immediately ended up running into my son’s room (not even knowing why) to find the blanket wrapped around his neck. He loved his blankie and had managed to love it so much that he had created a hole in it; a hole large enough to fit his head into. Similar situations would occur frequently, where I was alerted to dangerous situations around my home with a sudden overwhelming instinct whose source I could never identify. Mother’s intuition? Possibly. It always felt…… just…. “different.”

My youngest daughter would eventually “see” this presence repeatedly. She saw “a man and a boy,” and would often point them out to me and even wave to say “Hi.” What was always interesting to me was that my daughter didn’t really speak much until she was between the ages of 3 to 4. For the record, I believe that my daughter didn’t speak much as a toddler because she was silently observing all of her minions to gain information for her eventual world domination. She is truly a force to be reckoned with. My little redhead didn’t speak much….EXCEPT for when she would comment on these presences. I saw nothing. Oddly though, I also felt no need to worry. I always felt something. I felt like we were being protected. When my son became older, he would also eventually play with “the boy,” on a few occasions. He would point… seemingly nothing ……. say ”boy” and then run towards where he had pointed, while holding out his toys. He would then continue to appear as if he was actually playing with someone;
laughing and playing in a reciprocal fashion. I never quite was able to figure out who “the boy” was, but I always thought that “the man” was my Grandfather watching over us. Maybe I am crazy. (Wait. If you know me….don’t answer that.)

The night in January when my Grandmother passed away, the wind was fierce, and it sounded like a freight train was barreling through my yard. My oldest daughter was at basketball practice and a friend was bringing her home for me. My younger daughter was sitting at the computer playing games because I am a terrible Mother who allows mindless activities while I attempt to make a meal. I was standing at my sink when there was a loud rattling at the windows. Instinctively, I knew that it was the wind, but my
imagination somehow conjured an image of a large winged, bird of prey flapping its wings at the window. Yeah, yeah…..I have always had an overactive imagination. Nonetheless, the sound was just unusual. I looked at the clock and noticed it was 5:52. Quietly my overactive brain thought WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? My daughter answered my unasked question by saying “Mommy, I heard her too.” I blurted out “WHO did you hear? Cameron shouldn’t be back from practice yet and why would she come to the back door?” Eerie peals of laughter followed by a comment of “Silly Mommy. Not HER.” Small reminder… this little girl really didn’t speak much. I went to my back door and opened it, peering onto the deck towards the corner windows where I had heard the rattling sound. The wind was whipping all around me and I struggled to open the door. It had to be the wind; the sound was just the wind. Off in the direction of my willow tree, I heard an owl calling out. I decided it was time for a glass of wine. Probably not the greatest idea if your imagination is playing tricks on you, but I like living on the edge.

It was 6:30 when my phone rang, and my Father would tell me “Jenn……Grandma passed away. Quietly on her couch, while watching mass….just like she said she always wanted to. They pronounced her deceased at 5:52.” My daughter was now done with her computer games and onto the ipad in the next room because we have already established that I am a horrible Mom who allows technology as an occasional babysitter. From the next room, Caitlin’s voice melodically calls out “I toooold you I heard HER”.
(Insert eerie peals of laughter – think Carol Anne in “Poltergeist’”……”They’re heeeerrre,” or the twins from “The Shining”…..”Come and play with us.”) Yup. My kid.

The next day was oddly warm for January, so we pulled out of the driveway with our windows wide open and the music BLASTING. I had planted a small weeping cherry in my front yard when we moved in because it holds a special meaning to me. The tree stood at ….maybe 5 feet tall. Small. Simple. Beautiful. Sitting atop my tree, completely mindless of the annoying humans and blaring sounds of Rage Against the Machine, was an owl. My older daughter looked at me and said, “It’s Grandma Rose saying Goodbye.” We sat there staring at this owl and it stared right back at us for a few minutes before taking flight into my yard to perch farther away in my willow tree.

After the night of my Grandmother’s passing, I never again felt that inexplicable “presence” in my home. My children never again mentioned “the man and the boy.”

Two years later we moved. The move was rough for me in so many ways because I left a town, home, and neighbors that I had loved. I went from a bustling neighborhood with tons of social interaction to…….NOTHING. Nothing but quiet. I knew no one. I went outside and there was no one. Crickets. ACTUAL crickets. Maybe a bobcat or a bear. OTHERWISE……..NOTHING. I also felt like I was living in a house that belonged to someone else; like someone would show up at any time and tell me to “GET OUT!”

Two years have passed since our move. Within the last year, I have suddenly acquired the friendship of numerous neighbors who all grew up in my hometown on Long Island, or surrounding towns. We all have so much in common and have become a solid support system for one another. During the current pandemic, this type of support network has been certainly invaluable, and we have frequently kept each other “going” through group messaging and socially distant driveway meet-ups. I am also lucky to have
a healthy family and additional connections both old and new; all invaluable beyond belief. Recently, I was responding to one of the spirited text exchanges between my fellow neighborhood Mommas group and I opened my window for some fresh air. It was nighttime and where I currently live it is PITCH BLACK at night ….and WAY TOO QUIET. Off in the distance, I could hear an owl calling out from somewhere within the darkness of my yard. Yes, I thought…..I am ABSOLUTELY happy here.

It had been two years since my last owl sighting. Two years since any “otherworldly” type signs. I had missed my willow tree. I had missed my owl sightings. Maybe I had turned myself off to being receptive to any “signs.” I recently visited my old home. My willow tree had been cut down. This April we planted a new willow tree in our yard. The new tree is puny and almost laughable in comparison, but it is symbolic in a way and hopefully, it will always keep growing stronger and spreading out its branches wider. We are currently without power due to the effects of Hurricane Isaias and our area has many downed trees. Our tiny willow
tree was slightly bent and battered, but it survived the storm.

Jenn Miele Leslie lives in Woodbridge, CT with her husband, three kids ages 7, 9, and 14 and a stubborn but cuddly bulldog who likes to fart and snore. Originally from Long Island, N.Y. (yes, that IS how you say it – if you’re from there you just understand) she misses being able to find a decent bagel or breakfast sandwich. Once an Art Therapist specializing in working with adults with various developmental disabilities, Jenn now spends her time shuttling her minions to: school; playdates; dance classes and competitions; occupational therapy; coding classes; and what feels like a million additional places, on a daily basis. In her occasional downtime, Jenn enjoys photography, painting, and an iTunes playlist that boasts way too many 90’s alternative songs.

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