Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By: Steven D. Lefler © 2001
Online: January, 2001
When I was a kid I worked for Old Lady Crockett for 20 cents per hour. Not because that was the going rate, (it was more like 50 or 75 cents an hour at the time), but because the old woman still lived in the past, and, because she gave us reduced rent on the old farm house that we rented from her.
So, I pulled weeds, hoed her garden, helped her hired hand with doctoring the sheep, mowed her grass and completed many other chores around her ancient plantation home. For well over ten years Mrs. Crockett had been claiming to be in her eighties. I don't think she knew her real age but one thing was for certain, she was old.
Mrs. Crockett was quite proud of her massive home for it had been quite a showplace in its day. Known as "Bachelor's Retreat" it was one of the very first homes built on the wild frontier of Southwest Virginia and had been a well known stopover for travelers on the Wilderness Road. It boasted a hand-carved fireplace, massive oak doors, ten-foot ceilings, a detached kitchen, and slave quarters just off the yard.
Even the windows were antiques. The glass surfaces were uneven and the panes extremely thin and brittle. Every spring it was my job to wash all the outside glass. Mrs. Crockett always stood on the inside watching me work and chastised in a cracked voice, "You be careful with that glass, Steven. Don't press too hard, its old and fra-gile. "She placed extra emphasis on the "gile" part of the word "fragile". She followed me from window to window and doled out the exact same scolding at each one.
The slave quarters, just outside the white board fence, had been constructed of crude logs. Logs that had been left over from clearing the land for crops and cattle. The chinking had long ago turned brittle and fallen away. A roof had been built between two cabins creating a covered carriage house, an antique carport of sorts.
While working in the hot sun I wiled away the long hours by day-dreaming of a time when the old plantation was buzzing with activity. As I pushed the mower past the three-room cookhouse (used for storage since the Civil War) I imagined the aromas that must have sprang to life from the immense wood stoves. Cherry pies made from cherries picked off the tree just up the holler. Thick chunks of ham with beans simmered all day in a heavy pot.
At times I could almost see, (and smell), the legendary herd of shorthorn cattle that had made the Crocketts famous in the previous century. It was easy for a boy to imagine several children herding a flock of turkeys across the creek ."Y'all watch out for that big ole snapper turtle!" A grizzled old man would call, from the shade of a lofty oak, where he would be mending harness. "He'll drag them there chicks inta the water fo' you know it!"
Other children would be splashing in the water behind the dam on a day as hot as this. The dam broke many years ago and now the water just trickles through the crack...as snakes sun themselves on the wall.
While chopping weeds from around the Bell Peppers, one day, I was overcome with the feeling I was being watched. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Although the day was hot and steamy, a cool breeze from nowhere, wafted past, sending a shiver down my back. I experienced the cool damp sensation one feels in a dank springhouse. Wiping the sweat from my eyebrows with my forearm I glanced toward the old mansion. The face of a bearded, white-haired old man was staring at me from one of the upstairs bedrooms, a frozen look of amusement in his eyes!
I stared at the man for several seconds, then feeling self-conscious, I looked away. After moving over to a tomato row I sneaked a sideways glance at the window and the face was gone!
For the rest of the day I kept a nervous eye out for the face in the window. I knew Mrs. Crockett had lived alone, since her husband died many years earlier, so I wondered who the "face" belonged to. I finally concluded, I had seen a ghost.
Many years passed before I read somewhere a description of antique glass panes and how crudely they were constructed in the 1700s and how fragile they truly are, (please put extra emphasis on the "gile" part of the word "fragile").It was not an uncommon occurrence for a image to become imprinted on the glass whenever a strong lightning flash occurred. If someone happened to be looking out the window when the lightning flashed, the impression would remain in the impurities in the glass, much like a photographic plate. Later, if you looked at that pane of glass with the proper angle and light, the image of the face would appear.
Draper Valley Golf Course now covers the farm and only the main house remains. The kitchen, the slave quarters, the dam, even the trees are gone.
One day, a golfer will be lining up a putt at the thirteenth hole. He'll make a couple of practice swings then step up to the ball. He will have a feeling that he is being watched. The hair on the back of his neck will stand on end. Although the day will be hot and steamy, a cool breeze from nowhere, will waft past, sending a shiver down his back. He will experience the cool damp sensation one feels in a dank springhouse. Wiping the sweat from his eyebrows with his forearm he'll glance toward the old mansion.
The face of a bearded, white-haired old man will be staring at him from one of the upstairs bedrooms, a frozen look of bewilderment in his eyes!
The golfer will stare at the man for several seconds, then feeling self conscious, he will look away. After missing the putt he will sneak a sideways glance at the window and the face will be gone! Forever.