By Lucille Philpott © 1986
Issue: August, 1986
She was the proverbial bane of their existence. Stubborn and prone to kicking, her brown eyes often held a sneaking look that meant she was contemplating her next escape. With long scrawny legs and one horn that pointed north and one south, the old cow was the embodiment of all that was contrary to the two little girls and she was their responsibility.
It was during the summer of 1908, while their brothers were busy helping tend the tobacco, that Ollie and Elvie Wilson spent much of their time pushing, prodding, dodging and retrieving Old Moll. This day was no different except that the cow had chosen to start late in the afternoon up the path that led to the flats above the small mountain farm.
Their mother, standing in the kitchen door, yelled for them to hurry as they started up the narrow mountain path. The foliage was lush and green and it was already starting to get dark under the thick canopy of trees.
Both girls were barefoot and each carried a tobacco stick. Eight year old Elvie, small for her age, had to run sometimes to keep up with nine year old Ollie. Trotting along in their identical print dresses and with the same white hair, they could have been twins except for their difference in height.
They had traveled upwards about 500 yards when they came to a clearing where the "weaning house" was located. Customarily used as the first home for newly married members of the Wilson family, the small two room cabin looked dark and deserted today. Sylvania, their oldest sister, and her new husband Levi Simmons had moved to their own house down by the Redbird River about three weeks before. The cool dirt felt good to their feet as they slowed their pace and peered into the single front window.
"Looks kinda spooky, don't it?" Elvie whispered. "Did you know ghosts move in when folks move out?"
"Oh hush up!" ordered Ollie. "You've been listening to Matt again with his stories of 'haints' and such. He thinks just 'cause we're girls we don't know no better." The ten year old Wilson boy often took delight in telling tales to scare the younger children and more than once the practice had gotten him into trouble.
"Oh, Matt don't scare me none," Elvie snorted, but she spun around and quickened her steps as her sister started up the path again.
They climbed steadily for about 10 minutes. Then, just over a little rise, the path stopped and the sky opened up to the lush green pastures which were constantly on Old Moll's mind. And there she was, munching away happily over by the old family graveyard with its plain head rocks all facing east.
Out in the open it wasn't dark so Elvie and Ollie commenced one of their favorite games. First, they walked over to the small identical head rocks that marked the graves of their twin brothers, stillborn two years before.
"James and Paul are in heaven," Ollie said seriously and Elvie nodded. They then proceeded to touch each head rock, state the name of the deceased and their final destiny. According to the girls, the Wilsons had fared pretty well. Their game finally brought them to the last rock on the very edge of the graveyard. Crumbling and set somewhat aside from the rest, the occupant had long ago lost any true identity. A beautiful lady who died from a broken heart was a popular theory with the girls; but their father said he thought it was an old Indian that their great-grandfather had found dead in the woods. Today, Elvie had some new light to shed on the subject.
"Matt says that this grave belongs to a man who was an Indian killer. He killed every one he could find with a special Indian Killin' hatchet," she paused to make sure Ollie was listening and then continued. "When he died, he had been so mean that even the Devil wouldn't take him. So, he became a ghost and walks around here at night still looking for Indians to do in."
Ollie had been staring at her sister. "I'm going to tell Mam that Matt's been trying to scare you again. She'll fix his little red wagon!" Although she had spoken boldly, Ollie had felt a chill that made the hairs on her arms stand up. "Let's go. It's getting darker and Mam's holding supper."
They finally managed to get the old cow turned around. Staying out of kicking and tail flapping distance they poked her with their tobacco sticks until she started down the quickening darkness of the path.
The whippoorwills had started their nightly accompaniment of the tree frogs as Old Moll plodded along. The girls wanted to run home, but the cow would not be hurried and stopped every few yards unless they kept after her with their sticks. Finally, on the edge of the clearing, the dim outline of the "weaning house" could be seen. Ollie and Elvie breathed a sigh of relief for they would soon be home. Just then Elvie let out with a half-strangled squeal and clamped down on Ollie's hand. Ollie glanced over to see that Elvie's eyes were as big as saucers and her mouth was hanging open. She was staring past Ollie at the little cabin. Ollie slowly shifted her gaze and then she saw it - a luminous white figure as tall as a man was standing by the porch.
"Oh Lord, Ollie - it's him!" cried Elvie and she promptly shut her eyes.
Ollie's mouth became suddenly dry and she could hear her heart beating wildly in her ears. She wanted to run and scream, but her bare feet were rooted to the spot. Only Old Moll, who had stopped again, stood between them and the pale apparition. Moments passed and when the figure in the distance had not moved or made any sounds Ollie decided they should try to make a run for it. She started to move, but Elvie had dug her heels into the ground and would have sat down if Ollie hadn't had such a hold on her.
"Come on Elvie," ordered Ollie, trying to sound brave. "We've got to get home and besides we're not Indians." Not real Indians anyway, she thought to herself; however, in the back of her mind she remembered the oft told story of a Cherokee distant relative. She then said the only thing she could think of to get her sister to move. "Listen Elvie, if you say the Lord's Prayer over and over out loud, Matt says it keeps ghosts away, so come on."
Summoning up every drop of courage in her young body, Ollie started off dragging Elvie with one hand and poking Old Moll with the other.
"Our Father who art in heaven...", Ollie croaked, "hallowed be thy name."
Elvie was past praying out loud and as they inched along Ollie discovered that she couldn't remember the rest of the prayer, so she started over.
"Our Father..." just then Old Moll decided to stop again. Ollie stopped, too, and Elvie who had been being dragged along with her eyes shut plowed into Ollie. They were stopped dead still just a few feet from the figure.
"Oh Lord, Ollie," cried Elvie again, finding her voice. The two girls turned and grabbed each other and waited for the ghost to do them in for the one drop of Indian blood that flowed through their veins.
They stood clutching each other with their eyes squeezed shut for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, when no hatchet fell, Ollie gingerly opened the eye closest to the figure and peered around the cow. Then she opened the other eye and quickly began prying loose from Elvie's grasp. "Open your eyes, Elvie," cried Ollie, "Old Moll's eating the ghost!"
Elvie opened her eyes just in time to see the cow take a big mouthful of the thick white blossoms that were climbing to the top of the trellis beside the porch.
"Moonflowers!" they cried in unison. Sylvania must have planted the night bloomers after the roses froze out the previous winter. In the dim light and at a distance, they appeared only as a veil of white.
The girls had never felt such a fondness for the old cow. As soon as they got the strength back in their legs they poked her, gently this time, and started back down the path towards home.
It wasn't long before they met their father coming up the path. "Where you girls been?" he asked, his voice gruff with concern. "Your Mam's worried sick."
That night as they ate their supper of cold fried apples and cornbread, they told their mother that Old Moll had just been stubborn and slow. They didn't mention the "ghost;" not yet anyway, for they had decided to take brother Matt for a little walk tomorrow along about sunset.