I have a confession to make. A few weeks ago, I went to town to run some errands, one being a doctor appointment. I finished everything on my list with time to spare before appointment. Not a problem, just find a shady spot and read a book. But...I didn't have a book. I know, it's shameful! What kind of person doesn't have a book in her car or purse for just such emergencies? I was humiliated, but I did the only possible thing - I went to the library. I already had a half-dozen library books checked out, so I scanned the shelves for a quick read and found The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R. A. Dick. The cover was plain red - well worn, the title hand-written in marker over binding repair tape - but it tapped a vague memory of a tv show from my childhood, so I grabbed it up.
Mrs. Muir, a recent widow, purchases a sea-side home previously owned by a sea captain. The house is available for a ridiculously low price because it is said to be haunted. And, indeed it is, by the ghost of Captain Gregg, but desperate to escape her overbearing in-laws, Mrs. Muir befriends the sailor and she and her children move in. The captain becomes her protector and an unusual relationship - something akin to romance in a strange, metaphysical way - blossoms.
A quick Google revealed that the show starred Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare and ran from 1968 to 1970. The tv version updated the story from turn-of-the-century England to a modern American setting. There was also a 1947 movie, starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison and Natalie Wood as Mrs. Muir's daughter; as well as an hour-long radio play on the December 1, 1947 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Charles Boyer and Madeleine Carroll. It was also adapted for the August 16, 1951 episode of Screen Director's Playhouse with Charles Boyer and Jane Wyatt.
The library's edition was the original, published in 1945. Inside the front cover I found this interesting message that I had never seen before: This book has been designed in a Victory Format. Small type and margins produce fewer pages which permit a vital saving of paper and labor in the manufacture of a Wartime book.
Throughout the book, Mrs. Muir questions the Captain about the after-life he inhabits and why, if he is able to return at will, more people don't do the same. His answers are thought provoking:
Captain: Only the unhappy return to earth. The average after-lifer never wants to return.
Mrs. Muir: But isn't that very selfish? I mean when they see their relations and friends weeping their hearts out for one word of reassurance and comfort, don't you think they might come back just once to tell them all is well?
Captain: Why? When all that's wanting is their own faith? That beats me every time - all those psalm-singing hypocrites who spend half their lives in church, imploring God Almighty to give them wings like doves to fly to Paradise, and when their frinds get their wings, they smother themselves in black crape and refer to the departed as "poor" - there's no consistency in it and no sense!
When she asks for a description of heaven, he answers: I have no words to make you understand. It's all the beauty and serenity and nobility you have ever experienced on earth. It's all your grandest and most generous feelings, and the finest sunsets and greatest music - and then you're only on the fringe of understanding.
I enjoyed the story and comparing it to my memories of the tv show. If you ever find yourself in a reading emergency, run to the nearest library and look for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.