Banta, California (5760 Grant Line Rd., just outside Tracy, CA)

(Tracy, CA)

My family lived in Banta when I was a kid, at 5760 Grantline Road (back then, "Grant Line" was one word, at least on some stretches of the road).

The house had been moved to its current location by Bill Pollard, the "watermelon king," who lived just two doors down in the house from which he also ran his trucking company (widely known for transporting large amounts of watermelons while in season). Bill was a very well respected man who would give me and my family slightly bruised watermelons, and I'm told he even rubbed elbows with the likes of Governor Richard Nixon.

The property was originally wide enough for three houses, and Bill eventually split it up into three sections. The westernmost parcel came to contain Bill's little house, which was surrounded by all of his trucks, trailers and equipment. In the middle parcel stands a house that formerly stood on 11th Street in downtown Tracy. It had been moved from its original location to make room for the construction of what is currently Pete's Liquors. In the easternmost parcel stands a house that Bill had moved from someplace outside of Tracy. That home was cut into pieces, floated down the San Joaquin River, trucked in to Banta and then finally reassembled in its new location.

That easternmost house and the middle house, though occupying separate addresses, were somewhat connected in that the middle property had the septic tank for both houses and the other property had the well. I believe Bill Pollard had lived in the middle house for a time prior to building his newer, smaller house next door, and he eventually sold the two older houses. Because they were connected by their plumbing, they were always sold together, with both houses often being rented out by a slumlord. My family lived in the westernmost house, the one with the well that was floated down the river.

I was four years old when my family moved in to that that house in Banta, and for as long as I lived there, I knew it was haunted. I knew of only one ghost, and he never did anything negative to me or my family. While other family members would at times mention strange feelings or even the occasional object or door moving, I was the only one to see the ghost. When asked what he looked like, I honestly described him as looking a lot like the Gorton's fisherman from the old fish sticks television commercials. He wore a short, graying beard
and a yellow rain coat. He always looked very much alive and not unfriendly.

As a child, I shared the largest of the three bedrooms with my three brothers on two sets of bunk beds. I slept on the top bunk of the bed that faced the door looking out into the hallway, just across from the bathroom. Many times I would be looking in the direction of the door with my head on my pillow and I'd spot the familiar yellow rain coat shuffling past my doorway down the hall. It most often moved from the direction of my sister's bedroom at the end of the hall toward the living room area. How far he got, I will never know. I got out of bed to slowly follow him down the hall only a few times, but only after he had departed the doorway area and only when my parents were awake and watching television in the living room. Each of those times my parents would insist they saw nothing and they'd send me back to bed as if I was just looking for an excuse to stay up and watch the television with them.

A few times, the "fisherman" would actually stop in the doorway of my room, turn and look in. He'd look directly into my eyes without any display of emotion whatsoever. He never smiled, frowned, winked or otherwise even acknowledged me, but still he stared me directly in the eyes. He didn't look angry or sad or anything else that you might expect a ghost to appear after seeing so many in the movies. If anything - and this is a stretch - he may possibly have appeared to be somewhat curious, as if he was just in the house looking around, maybe not expecting anybody to actually see him. Either way, he did appear to me to be quite content.

I always vowed that the next time I saw the ghost, I'd jump up out of my bed and run over to greet him, maybe even try to touch him, or at the very least follow him quickly down the hall to wherever he was going. Each time I saw him, however, I would freeze with childish fear, seeing someone who was both an uninvited stranger in my family's home and a familiar ghostly visitor.

Decades after moving out of that little tan house in Banta, I can still vividly recall the "fisherman," his calm face and those eyes that stared directly into mine several times throughout my childhood.

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