Witness: Fred Zdanowicz
Location: Shelby Twp., Michigan
Date of Encounter: 1963
I tell my friends that I was named after a ghost, but it wasn't really a ghost but an apparition of sorts my mother saw in our house on Bellamine Street, in Shelby Twp., Michigan.
My name is Fred, the same as my mom's Uncle Fred who lived in Ontario. He was my mother's mother's brother, and the two of them came from a big farming family of seven other children from somewhere in northern Ontario. I wish I had asked my mother the name of the town before she died in 2000.
When my mother was young, she would accompany her mother to a farm in this northern town in Ontario to see her brothers and sisters. While visiting, it was her Uncle Fred who always gave her the most attention compared to her other Canadian aunts and uncles.
Her Uncle Fred would take her on tractor rides and play hide and seek with her around the barnyard and surrounding woods. Every year she would visit this farm and he was always there smiling and so giving to her as a child. All she can remember is that he made a living as a barber and playing the violin. That, and he never married.
Inevitably and naturally, my mother and her Uncle Fred forged a strong bond between them. My mother described it as a "soul mate" relationship that continued for years, well into her early 30s. They would write, talk on the phone, and in general keep in touch whenever there were years that she and her mother couldn't make the annual summer trip to the farm to see him and the rest of my grandmother's immediate family.
In 1963, my mother married my father and they moved into a brand new built house in Shelby Twp., Michigan. One day while he was at work, my mother was downstairs doing laundry and, as she had told me a number of times through the years, she said…
"…I heard a bump, like a table was bumped and moved down at the other end of the basement. I was scared because I knew I was alone in the house and thought that maybe someone had snuck in down the stairs without me seeing them. I slowly walked away from the washing machine and dryer and looked down the length of the basement to see my Uncle Fred. I was relieved to see it was him and not a stranger, but at the same time I was puzzled and couldn't believe he was there. I remember he had a content smile on his face and that his hands were flat out in front of him.
After five seconds or so of staring at him, I finally said, 'Uncle, Fred–' and he was gone. Just disappeared. What I meant to say was, 'Uncle, Fred, what are you doing here?' But I never got the whole sentence out. I walked down to the end of the basement and turned on lights but there wasn't any sign of him.
I immediately called my mother to tell her what I had just seen. When she answered the phone, she told me that she was just about to call me to tell me that my Uncle Fred had just died at the farmhouse in northern Ontario. I couldn't believe it. I told her that I had just seen him no more than a few minutes ago down in the basement. And then together we both began to cry: her for her lost brother, me for my uncle and soul mate."
I had my mother tell me that story often throughout my life so I wouldn't forget it.
One night in March, 1996, when I was living in Rochester, Michigan, I called my dad to check in on how my mother was doing. She had had the flu and was laid up in bed for at least four days. This was not like my mother to be off her feet for this long and I was worried. I knew that she was going to see the doctor that day for this nasty flu she couldn't shake and I wanted to find out what the doctor said. When I called over to my parents' house, my dad told me that she was in St. Joseph's hospital in Warren, and I immediately had a bad, sinking feeling that something bad was about to happen to her. It was gripping, and I couldn't explain why it was so strong. I started getting upset and told my dad that this wasn't an ordinary flu, that something bad was going to happen to her and he told me everything was all right and they were only taking tests for a minor heart palpitation the doctor had found that day.
I knew it as soon as he told me something was going to happen to my mother that night. And at 10:00 I jumped into my car and raced over to see her at St. Joseph's Hospital.
When I got there, I found it was well passed visiting hours. But I learned of her room number and blew passed the Nurses station anyway. I had to see my mother. The nurse yelled to me but I disregarded her and made my way down the hallway. She said that she was calling security and I said go right ahead. I figured I would have a few minutes with my mom before being escorted out. Some kind of absolute truth was ringing inside of me that told me I knew I had to see her because something bad was about to happen to her and it might be the last time I see her.
When I found her, she was laying in bed in a room by herself, reading a magazine and watching Jay Leno. I ran to her and broke down in tears telling her about what I knew. But I didn't know how to tell her how I knew it. It was a pure gut instinct that caused me to cry and fear the worse. I couldn't believe how much this feeling made me feel weak, vulnerable, and unable to stop whatever was going to happen from happening.
When the nurse came with a Security Guard, my mom told them that it was okay, that she needed to see me as much as I needed to see her, and that she insisted that I stay. The Security Guard saw the condition I was in and said it was okay with him as long as it was okay with the nurse. The nurse subsided and said okay but only for a little while.
I talked with my mother and she held me for a few hours (as I write this I can't help but brush away a tear. I remember that night so vividly). She told me about her childhood, her grandfather who came over from Germany and lived with her but didn't speak too much English. And I had her tell me the story of my Uncle Fred and how she saw him that day down in the basement one more time. And she did, just as she had so many times before, and just as I have shared it with you on this Web site.
She told me to go home because I had to work the next day. I was tired and emotionally strung out, and eventually I did leave. She assured me that the doctors were only going to do a few tests and then she would be home the next day. She assured me everything was going to be okay.
The next morning, a little before 7:00, my sister, Celia, our family matriarch, called me at my apartment in Rochester and told me that our mother had just suffered a major stroke. I was numb. I had no tears to cry. I just told her that I knew something like that was going to happen, I just didn't know how I knew.
When I was born on January 13, 1969, I was the second twin born. The first boy my dad wanted to name after his father, Frank. He left the naming of the second boy up to my mother. And she told my dad that she wanted to name me after her Uncle Fred, a simple barber and violin player who worked on a farm in northern Ontario.