Another story first published April 16, 1987 by one o’the nine tells of yet another haunting around the old home place where I grew up. No wonder I was so afraid of the dark. This sort of tale was passed around anytime the extended family gathered around Grandma’s supper table. In fact, my father and his brothers had a habit of trying to outdo each other in telling the scariest story.
When people had to work for a living, things were different than they are today. People were not educated and were sometimes superstitious, especially the black people that worked for my daddy. I used to hear them talk about ghosts and haints, and then at night I was afraid to go down the long hallway to the bedroom.
In the wintertime we used to sit in the living room at night around a big fire in the fireplace and shell peanuts to be used for seed. After we got electricity we listened to the radio and they had ghost stories on about squeaking doors, vampires and witches. After I had finished shelling peanuts I had to go on the back porch to wash my feet. (We only took a bath once each week, but washed our feet every night.) In the wintertime when I went on the back porch to wash my feet I was sure there were witches, vampires and ghosts everywhere, so needless to say my feet were barely wet, let alone washed, when I ran and jumped into bed.
My grandmother had a large, two story, ten room house about a quarter mile from us. It was surrounded by large pecan trees and a large live oak tree right in front by the road with lots of Spanish moss hanging almost to the ground. The black people who worked for us said the house was haunted and I believed them. When you walked under the old oak tree at night you could feel the warm, still air that was trapped by the hanging Spanish moss. The black people said it was ghosts under the tree that made it feel still and warm, and I believed them!
One night I had to walk under the old tree as I was coming home from work. My brother knew I was scared, so he hid behind some bushes and just as I got to him he jumped out screaming, and I believe I must have run ten minutes in the air before my feet hit the ground.
I believe the most interesting story about something like this was told to me by a friend of mine, an undertaker in a small town high in the mountains of North Carolina. He said there was an old man that lived high up on top of a mountain. He was known only as Pappy. One day poor old Pappy died and they came to my friend’s funeral home and asked him to handle the body and the funeral service.
Well, he said they went to the little cabin high atop the mountain and picked up the old man’s body. They embalmbed him and put a beautiful navy blue suit on him, placed him in the casket and carried him back to the little cabin in the mountains where his friends and relatives were waiting to sit up with him all night. My friend said that as he left the cabin walking through the room where the body was laid out in the coffin, all the family and friends were going around saying “my he sure do look good with that suit on!”
When my friend returned to pick him up to carry him to the graveyard, the old man’s clothes were all wrinkled and he was lying very crooked in the casket. So he asked those assembled what happened to Pappy, when yesterday he was lying straight in the casket and his clothes on straight.
“Well,” someone answered, “Mr. Undertaker, you see, we ain’t never seen Pappy with a suit on before and he look so good, so we took him out of his box and stood him in front of the fireplace and one of us stood on one side and another on the other side and held him up and had our pictures struck with him, and I guess we didn’t get him back in the box straight.”
Postscript: The ten room house above is the same house where I was born. I was keenlly aware of the ghostly reputation of the house. My great-grandmother had such a reputation for being a mean woman that it seemed only fitting she’d haunt it after her death (shortly before my birth) just for the hell of it, or maybe to get even with my grandfather for his infidelity. My older brothers (8 and 9 years older when as I born) took advantage and one lured me into a closet where the other hid, waiting to scare me as a “haint.” I was probably a grown woman before I got over it.
The brother referred to as “hiding in the moss” would have been my father. You see, my father married at age 17. After great-grandma’s death, our family moved from a falling down shack in the woods into her house by the highway. I was born soon after. My grandmother–who would only have been in her 30’s at the time–kept having children around the same times my mother did. Consequently, I’m only five or six years younger than my youngest uncle. At 27 or 28, my father still hadn’t grown up yet. I can quite imagine the fun he had staging that fright!