Mr. Joe: Tales From A Haunted Life
Co-authored by siblings Joseph Barnett and Jane Congdon.
“An apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image. The soul of a dead person, a disembodied spirit imagined, usually as a vague, shadowy or evanescent form, as wandering among or haunting living persons.” What would happen if you saw one? What would happen if you were only twelve years old, your Grand pop passed away, you see him in his coffin and you know he’s gone but is he? What happens when you look in the mirror of your bathroom and you see another image along with your reflection and it’s not of anyone living? What does a 12-year-old boy do when his grandfather appears to be haunting him and he has no idea why? How do you react and what does he reveal about why he thinks this is happening? His grand pop was his best friend growing up and losing him at age twelve was really hard for Joe. As the author flashes forward to the present and his job as a night custodian in a school that has its own spirits and ghosts. Joe is one of the authors of this interesting book dealing with ghosts and spirits. As he relates from the beginning his grandfather is not the only ghost that has visited him and we are about to embark on unique journey that might frighten some and intrigue others. A school built near a graveyard. Working nights at this kindergarten school, the graveyard shift you might say, never thinking that this 85 year old building, near a cemetery would bring back memories from his childhood and stir up some new ones. Old buildings sometimes creak, have strange noises and walking the halls alone in a deserted building the echoes seem to resound, your footsteps seem louder and the night noises more pronounced. Even the sound of the wind can frighten someone or the normal sounds of the foundation of an old building settling. Or maybe a ghost coming to visit or haunt. Would you be afraid? How would you confront your fears? Would you stay?
Getting to know Joe is really quite compelling. Growing up with a mother who spent most of her day drinking, being verbally abusive and unfeeling was difficult for not only Joe but his sister Jane too. Living in a house where things could change at any moment was like having a time bomb with a delicate trigger that could explode at any minute. Added in his father did not represent what any child would really look up to even though Joe tried to win his affection he often failed. Playing outside, inventing games, trying to find a space to call his own and just feel a part of somewhere was what Joe struggled with as a young boy and even later on when working as custodian in the Kindergarten School. Throughout the book you hear his voice and you begin to realize that he needs to be accepted, appreciated and loved for who he is as a person. His work ethic is definitely more than commendable. Limiting his friendships to Dave who got him the job and befriending the Principal and one other shows he is cautious about forming any lasting relationships. But, things began to happen that caused him to doubt himself as his vacuum cleaner and sweeper both disappeared from where he left them. At times the vacuum would not go on or the outlets appeared to be defective. Thinking he might be forgetful or worse he created a journal of these oddities in order to keep track of the cleaner and the sweeper. But, when speaking to not only one of the teachers but the Principal what they revealed you just won’t believe.
“Ghosts are part of my story. I believe in them; I have no choice. After you’ve seen one ghost, you can go back and rationalize it. But after you’ve looked a couple in the eye like I have, you believe. Otherwise, you doubt yourself. I’ve done that, too—and wondered if I was losing my mind—but I know what I saw and heard.” Joe states.
Ghosts haunted Joe but also by the memories of his childhood, the fears he had being alone with his mother and the sadness living in a house where he often felt unloved. The only constants in his life were his sister Jane and his grandparents. Staying with them he learned more about what a real home should look like, his grandmother’s routine and spending time with his grandpop. Running away from home. Would that have solved his problem? Dealing with his mother head on would that have changed her? As we fast forward to the present and his concerns about his new job, his probationary period and the fact that the small children in the school seemed to shy away from him. Joe really faces many significant challenges besides dealing with the ghosts in this book. How far can you run before you find your own place in this world? He spent his teens running away and staying with friends as his mother’s behaviors proved more than embarrassing. A driving accident would change his relationship with a friend and his bout with puberty quite compelling.
Finally connecting with the students really made quite an impact on Joe and I love the idea of the mailboxes. Answering each letter sent to him made each child feel special and Joe a part of the family in this school. But, there is much more as we still have not met all of the ghostly figures that will appear and the other things in his life that still haunt him. Living in his sister’s shadow was difficult as she was older, had great grades but so did he. All too often teachers do compare brothers and sisters. My sister hated when anyone compared us and I did too. Each student is special and their talents unique and as an educator I would never compare one student with his/her sister or brother. This is one story that has so many important issues besides dealing with an alcoholic mother, a father who seemed aloof to the needs of his children and a man who changed careers late in life to find joy in being a custodian.
As the story continues and we learn more about Joe’s new jobs, the changes he makes in his life another voice comes through, that of his sister and co-author Jane. The years had drifted them apart and his reconnection with his mother quite compelling and revealing. A son that just wanted his mother’s love and a man who wanted acceptance and love. From the onset of the book we can hear and feel the frustrations that he encountered trying to find his own niche or place in this world and when becoming a father how hard he worked to make the world a better place for his two sons. Hearing about his social life, the changes he made to help others and then the reentering of the ghosts, the nightmares, dreams and spirits makes you wonder just what is real to him and what he hopes to make real. His jobs were paramount in his life and his two sons the most important. Learning to adjust to change, going to the races, at times drinking and smoking but then a harsh reality sets in and a physical problem would change it all.
Just how far will Mr. Joe go to finally find a place in this world, deal with the many ghosts that haunt him at work and learn that life takes you on many journeys and we have to learn to find the positive in each one? Nothing stays the same and things did find a way of turning around to a point as Joe shares a very powerful book with readers: Seat of My Soul which helped him to find understanding and meaning in many different areas of his life and life in general. When his mother began to have memory losses he and his sister moved her to a safer place. When things began to spiral downhill they found a place that understood. As he describes his mother’s progression with Alzheimer’s I could reflect and still do on my mom’s ten-year journey with this disease. Does he still see ghosts and how does he feel about life now? This is one story that will take you inside the life of a remarkable man who never realized that he gave so much to so many in his 64 years. To the children of the schools where he worked I can tell you were an inspiration. To your sons you made all the difference and still do in the world. To your sister you are her best friend and she is yours. Life has many more roads for you to take and definitely some great paths to follow. Never give up on yourself. There are many more SMILES TO COME. This is a must read for everyone. Ghosts and specters can haunt you when you least expect them to but there are many other ghosts in life that we need to do with too and Mr. Joe: You did. The two authors present a story that everyone should read.
Fran Lewis: reviewer : Author of ten titles, talk show host, member of Cambridge’s Who’s Who of America’s Teachers and Professionals, Member of Who’s Who Continental Professionals and Executives, Talk show host, reading and writing staff developer, educator and Five Star Indie Reviewer.