The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Old Ghost Week

By Ernest F. Reynolds © 1990

Issue: September, 1990

Ghosts are like Spanish Moss; they dangle from the oddest places. On Widemouth Creek in Mercer County's tenderloin section of West Virginia, a transplanted family from Clark's Summit in old Pulaski County's iron range brought their ghosts along. They were first-generation freeholders. Their kin, largely of freeloaders and deadbeats arrived afoot, aboard open side-sleeping cars, and in overloaded Model T's. They were like Spanish Moss, clinging, especially to the dining table. Those guys had tentacles with claws; they clung on like horseflies. They were progenitors of the gi'me society - reliefers cum laude. They were brave fearless folk, afraid of only one thing: Work. Ghosts they created on the spot.

Lucybell Thorn was the daughter of Loraine Thorn of Giles County. Her brother Samuel Bernard Thorn, was three years younger than Granny, but there the gap broadened.

Sam never grew up; he clung to childish pranks - scaring folks - into his eighties. When he came to visit it was usually after he had frightened someone into a thrombosis, or was laying low from some farmer whose children Sam had scared out of a year's growth. Sam permitted no decent funerals; he started tales of the walking dead before the corpse cooled. His pet recreation was a séance or a wake. His strategy was that of terrorism rather than sorrow. At sound effect, he was a genius. He'd wind wire around a cat's tail - stopping circulation' the distressed cat would harp for hours until heroic old Rough Rider Sam would free tabby from her misery.

To keep well cemented family ties, Sam arrived before the new family could locate their flatware. He apparently hadn't had a full meal since his discharge form the Rough Riders. Whittling a gambrel stick, he sat at fireside, cogitating his next ghoulish production.

The weather was worsening; every now and again the chimney would work in reverse, backing smoke into the room. Sleet made eerie sounds on the shutters; the tin roof acted as a giant resonator. The air was stifling. Dogs and cats were under a truce until the storm abated. Granny Lucybell ruled supreme, rocking in her Sycamore rocker that old Gus Green had fashioned while awaiting the hangman's noose for garroting his wife Biddy with a yaller shoulder cord off of his banjo.

It was rumored that Gus Green loved Biddy, but in a snit, he over exorcised his priority and loosened the makeshift garrote-string after Biddy gave up the ghost. Odd as it may seem, legend was: Gus's ghost wandered about Biddy's grave with his head rolling loosely about - probably due to a snapped neck when old Gus "stretched hemp."

"I would bet a purty that old Gus Green's ghost is traipsing the sod tonight," Sam said as he chuckled at his own wisdom. "I wouldn't want to meet him on a night like this. He all'ys looked like death warmed over." He gazed furtively, to see if Granny was taking the bait.

Granny came out of her rocker like Outlaw from the rodeo chute. "It's a fact you don't want to meet Gus. You never paid back that toadskin he loant you to buy a pint the night that wife of hisen was a-layin a corpse."

"That pint was not my responsibility; it was Gus'es treat, the wake was at his house. Gus didn't scare me none when he was alive and I'll not shy now that his head ain't plum stationary on his shoulders."

"Whyn't yez go look if he's outen his grave, and pay him that dollar?" Granny asked.

Sam mulled it about in his skull. "That toadskin would go up in flames where old Gus habernates. Iffen yee air so dead set on repaying that lousy dollar, whyn't you take hit up there to 'im? He's sure to be hankering to cozy up to Biddy in a storm like this."

So saying, he abstracted a lonely toadskin from his poke and laid it on the mantel. "Iffen you sees him", he chuckled, "bring back a receipt."

Granny grabbed a huge cowhide coat from the rack, stuffed the one dollar bill down her boozam and tucked her feet - shoes and all - into Sam's mudgaiters. The worse Memaw pled for her to stay, the more Sam egged Granny on.

"How will I know you went" It would be jest like you to hide out in the back-house and keep my toadskin," Sam said as he tried to hedge his lossage.

Granny grabbed the gambrel-stick, saying, "I'll stick this in the hump of his grave. You can get it back when it comes daylight." She left like a robber ahead of the hue and cry; the door banged shut, and the lamp blew out from a heavy blast of sleet.

Memaw rolled a fuzzee from Montgomery Ward's lingerie section, thrust it between the slits in the grate, and relit the lamp wick. She kept one eye on the clock. It usually took about half an hour to go and come from the cemetery. When the coocoo chirped ten times, Memaw grabbed her pull-over and said, "Sam, get your slicker and let's hunt for Granny, she may have fell down and busted her pelvis joint or sumptin. Hit's colder'n a Eskimo's pants seat above the artical circle. A biddy would freeze harder'n a bell clapper if they got down in this icer."

Uncle Samuel almost reneged, but eyeballing that shiny .41 dunger that Memaw stuck down in her apron bib, he made all preparation for getting under way, albeit it a slow and clumsy effort.

With the last two adults gone, the four young chaps dressed for the storm and followed. They raced across the neighbor's porches screaming, "Granny is lost and Memaw and Uncle Sammy are out in the storm a-trying to find 'er." Several, with split pine torches and dogs joined the hunt.

Memaw and Sam halted at the drawbars. There was much movement at graveside; Uncle Sam was about to skeedaddle. Memaw latched on to his right ear, handed him a smoking lantern, and pulled the double-barreled .41 [rim fire] and made a dash for the grave.

Memaw and Granny put on an awful huggin' and kissin' match, but every time they quit and started home, Granny would faint again and fall back between Biddy and Gus's grave. Memaw wrenched the gambrel stick loose and whacked Sammy across his humped back until he purt near lost his chewing cud of terbacky.

Granny had driven the gambrel-stick down through her cowskin coat tail and staked herself to old Gus Green's grave. Next day, Granny designed and sewed the first mini skirt and claw-hammer cowhide coat on the Blue Ridge. Sam left before breakfast, saying, "I wanta get somers or utter where dead bodies is not buried but is cremated."