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Encountering some ghosts from the past
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"It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in ‘em," said Captain Jim. "When I ponder on them seeds I don't find it nowise hard to believe that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds. You couldn't hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn't seen the miracle, could you?"
- L.M. Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams


Life is strange, if you think about it.

There's a constant stream of people who come into our lives and sometimes without warning they exit our lives. Unbeknownst to us, we never see them again.

We truly never know the last time we will see anybody.

I suppose I fool myself that life is this guaranteed long experience with constants, that all people will experience gray hair and rocking chairs, that grandparents and people in your childhood will be with you to the end, that your Bible study will consist of the same people from start to finish.

It doesn't necessarily work that way.

I suppose we find comfort in constants. I know I do. We like knowing the sun will come up the next day. We feel safe when things don't change much, when people keep living.

This thought occurred to me last week as two men, who were each a part of my life many decades ago, both died within a week of each other. It had been many years since I saw either man. They were both named Ron.

The first Ron was married to my great aunt. When Alice died 10 years ago, the connection to Ron abruptly ended. I bumped into him only twice in the past decade. I was surprised to see him - looking considerably frail and carting around an oxygen tank - at a Ceres Relay for Life event on the Ceres High field about six years ago. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. Our exchange was brief. We didn't have much to talk about and I had to get to the business of covering the event.

That was the last time I would ever see Ron Johnson.

Sadness struck when I learned from his brother in Ceres that Hospice was called in as Ron was dying in Modesto from failing organs, notably his lungs which endured decades of smoking. He took his final breath at noon on Oct. 7.

Exactly one week later, another Ron from my past died. He was my stepfather in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Ron was the first man my mother married after she and my dad split up in 1977. I was 16. The marriage didn't survive. Ron was 12 years younger than my mom (only nine years older than me) and had some immaturity about him. He resembled Paul McCartney but couldn't sing one note in tune. I remember how we had to break it to him that he wasn't good enough to sing "If" popularized by Bread at his cousin's wedding.

I eventually left home in 1980 and got on with my life and somewhere their marriage crumbled. Ron was out of my life. I can't remember the last time I saw him. There was no parting handshake.

A flood of memories of Ron came to me upon hearing - through Facebook contact - that he, too, was gone. He was just 63. I dug out some old faded Kodak prints of Ron that were buried in my photo collection and posted them to Facebook.

Still kind of stunned, later that day I was at Target in Riverbank searching the aisles for hair gel. An older man with eyeglasses was reaching around me and as his face came into my peripheral view, I did a double-take. An awkward moment occurred as I studied his face before making sure that it was Mike Rego.

I had lots of encounters with Mike Rego through the Ceres Courier decades ago. He was politically active in Ceres politics and ran for council.

Our minds have this way of remembering people as the way they looked when we last saw them. But Mike, like most people, has changed over the decades. Having put on more weight, his hair graying and face with age spots, he looked more like he could be Mike Rego's dad.
"Mike Rego?"

"Bezzenger? I thought I recognized you."

He still isn't getting my name right. Benziger was always ‘Bezzenger' in his mind.

We exchanged chit-chat about the current going-ons in Ceres, before continuing our shopping.

Later I had to go through my files to recall when Rego ran for council. Try 22 years ago.

Mike rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, most notably Ed Persike (whom Rego called Ed Per-psycho). Ed was supportive of the utility tax user and Rego was not. Mike became a City Council candidate in 1993, which, of course, was over a generation ago. I doubt if many remember him. Mike failed miserably in that election, losing to Stan Risen's 1,972 votes and Leo Havener's 1,414. Rego polled just 495 votes in that crowded race, which also included Cliff Elms, Jerry Sheffield, Mike Soffa, Troy Jones, Greg Adams, Frank Martin, Emery Neves and Richard Felix.

He later disappeared from Ceres after moving to Modesto from his Sanko Avenue home.

Within minutes of the Rego encounter I bumped into a couple who used to be a part of my church life about the same time ago. The Monizes changed addresses and churches. I noticed the changes time brought to their faces, wondering where had time gone.

The passage of time is evident elsewhere.

My mother couldn't walk around on our recent San Francisco without clutching onto my hand.

At 96, my grandmother, bless her soul, is having difficulty seeing and hearing.

Our life also consists of entertainment people who come and go.

Mr. Rogers' sweater is waiting in vain for him to pluck off the hanger.

There are no more Robin Williams movies being filmed.

Alzheimer's has stolen Glen Campbell's ability to remember lines to "Wichita Lineman" and I understand he is in a care facility.

Gordon Lightfoot grimaces to hit notes in "Sundown" with a voice destroyed by smoking and age.

Jimmie "J.J." Walker is not that lanky kid who used to tell TV mom Ester Rolle "Dyno-mite!"

Mary Tyler Moore, the tabloids keep telling us, is on her death bed, along with Doris Day and you name it.

Kirk Douglas looks like a Botox caricature of himself.

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, John Wayne and other boyhood legends are all gone.

Then last week I learned about Sharon Casey of Ceres. Her story is in this edition. She claims she was treated to a view of Heaven years ago and is releasing a book about it.

I'm not so quick to dismiss her story. I do believe in Heaven as I know what the Bible says about it. I've spoken to others who have had life -after-death experiences and I'm aware there is a battery of so-called professionals who debunk visions of Heaven as hallucinations. I can't say Sharon had a real deal encounter with Jesus Christ. But I take on faith the notion that there is a Heaven, which also means I must also believe in Hell. If Sharon Casey was given a glimpse of heaven, who am I to say she wasn't? I do happen to believe her assertion that all of us are spiritual beings and that we are all closer to that godly realm than we realize.

Dismiss it all as hogwash, but Casey presents a message of hope and of love. And if you ask me, in a world of tragedy and atrophy, of bloodshed and aging, spoilage and destruction, pain and hunger, wanton death and wars, why would anyone refuse to believe there is another dimension where none of that exists?

We all have had people in our lives who are now gone and out of sight. But what if we thought of anyone dead - whether it be George Washington, Marilyn Monroe or your dear departed loved one, all lived on spiritually?

What if all of those ghosts from your past will be a part of your future - the future beyond this life? How would that change your view of life here? Or moreover, how would that change your attitude towards your fellow man? Toward God?

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at