The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The House We Couldn't Talk About

By Frances T. Craig © 1986

Issue: July, 1986

My father entered the kitchen with the newest copy of "The Dixie Miller" in his hand. He was visibly excited, and his Irish blue eyes were bluer than ever.

"I'm going to take a little trip and see about this ad," he said.

"Oh Lord!" wailed Mother, "not another of your wild goose chases! You want to move every year. I'm not going to leave here. You make a good living, the children love it, and we are not going to give up this place!" I had never heard her protest any of his moves before.

"It will give us plenty to talk about," he smiled.

We were never permitted to mention those few months in the house to anyone. In all his tales that father loved to tell, that was one ghostly experience he never mentioned.

He returned after two days absence.

"It's the chance of a lifetime," he exulted. "The harvest season is over here, and unless I get some orders for homemade furniture, I won't be busy. Mr. Holland, who owns the mill, will give me more money to grind his corn for three months than I can make in a year here."

"Why?" asked mother. "There has to be something crooked about it. Why would grinding corn in one place pay so much more in one than in another?"

"A bootlegger!" mother exclaimed angrily.

We were all excited about it except mother.

"Frankie, you and Charles can watch trains go by all day. You can stand on the front porch and look right down on them!"

We jump up and down. "When will we go?"

"Right away," he answered." The house is completely furnished so we can just take all our clothes, lock up this house, take a little trip and be back home and rich before you know it!"

"I'm gonna take my books and I can't sleep in no old bed but mine," I protested.

"Me either," said Charles.

"We want to take the organ," my sister Carrie put in.

"I'm going to take my paints and easel or else I stay here alone," threatened Alice.

"Well if everybody else is going to take something, I'll just add my sewing machine," Anne said.

Mother looked at father and smiled.

"That leaves my feather bed that I have to have, my quilting frames and your banjo, guitar, fiddle and books.

Father laughed. "All right, we'll ship them on ahead. They will be there by the time our train gets there, for we will have to change trains in Danville."

"Are we going to ride a train," I screamed.

"Yes, indeed, a long way."

"What about all our kittens and the dog?" We can't leave them here, I protested.

"I've arranged for the Richardsons' to take care of the chickens, hogs, and the cow until we return."

We were all totally exhausted when our train finally stopped at the little village. Mr. Holland, a well dressed, good looking man was there to meet us.

"You have quite a family, here," he remarked.

I had three sisters, Carrie, Anne, and Alice exactly two years apart, a gap of seven years and then Charles and me, only twenty months apart. Carrie was a quiet, gifted musician who stayed close to mother. Anne and Alice were two fun loving tomboys who sometimes allowed us to play with them, and others teased us cruelly.

We all looked around. The huge blue mountains towered over us, and people stared curiously at us as Mr. Holland led us to a surrey. We called it a two seated buggy.

"I expected you to have a car," my mother remarked. We all could tell by the tone of her voice that she was in one of her "no nonsense moods."

"I have but the mountain is so steep, we always use the surrey."

We started climbing up and up a narrow winding road. Charles and I clutched the side of the buggy and I cried. I was so afraid we would tumble down the hills.

The lonely looking white mansion was located in a grove of huge oak trees. Old shrubbery was all around.

"It's real pretty in spring and summer," the good looking driver drawled.

"I think it's pretty now," I exclaimed.

The sun was going down behind the mountains and the last of the beautiful red leaves were drifting down.

Charles and I leaped from the buggy and began to explore. We found long wooden troughs that brought the water from a huge spring, half way down the hill was the mill but there was no water wheel or pond.

I began to cry, for it was like removing my trundle bed (in which I had always slept) not to be able to watch the huge wheel turn.

"It is run by an engine," my father explained.

"I don't like it, I want to go home!"

"Now, now little girl, don't you uns cry. I'll find you some pretty places to play in tomorrow," the driver of the buggy consoled me.

He went out to the buggy and returned with a huge basket filled with a baked ham, cheese, peanut butter, which we seldom saw, bread, and cookies.

"Mr. Holland said to give you uns this stuff," he explained.

We entered the large house. A log fire was burning brightly in a fire place so big that I could have stood up in it.

"Put my trundle bed close to your bed so I can reach your hand," I told father.

"I don't like this funny old place," Charles announced.

"Mother we will freeze to death in that room you said was ours," my sisters were complaining. Move our bed in here with you all."

Mother examined the rooms, I felt strange. I caught father's hand and shivered.

"Nonsense," my mother said. "The fire place looks big enough to me."

"Ma'am, I think you ought a let me move the bed in here," the driver suggested. "There's shore plenty of room."

"It isn't healthy for too many people to sleep in one room, even if it's built like an auditorium," Mother tartly said.

"It ain't healthy to be scared to death either," he said with a cold stare at my mother.

"What do you mean, son?" father asked?

"This here place is hanted, with an honest to God hant!"

"What's a hant?," I asked.

"It's a person who won't stay dead, and comes back to hant you. Mr. Holland oughta told you uns...."

We were all staring in shock at him.

"Tell us about it," father suggested.

"A lady lived here long time ago. She got sick in her head and then kilt her little bitty baby and then kilt herself. She comes down them steps over there in that room, goes to the fireplace and throws the little baby in and goes back up those steps. You can hear her moaning and sometimes music plays. That's why nobody ever stays here..."

We were stunned.

Father said, "Oh, stuff and nonsense   I thought you all had better sense than to be frightened about silly things like that."

Mother only said, "move that bed in here. I'll fix some coffee and we will snack on Mr. Holland's food."

Alice and Anne helped the man, whose name was Kermit, move their bed. Carrie helped mother in the kitchen. We all ate and went to bed. Mother warmed an old blanket to wrap around our feet and we snuggled down.

Suddenly, the wind gave a loud moaning sound, a door banged and plain as day we heard footsteps on the stairs, a clatter at the fireplace and a moan in the room across the hall.

Charles and I scrambled hastily into mother and father's bed crying, and my three sisters raced across the room and jumped into my trundle bed.

"Oh, my God!" breathed my mother hoarsely, "What have you gotten us into now?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake," father impatiently exclaimed, it's only the wind rushing around this big old place. If that fool boy hadn't told you that silly tale, you wouldn't have noticed. Go to sleep now!"

A train whistle awoke Charles and me. We were in the giant room. We began to yell and Anne and Alice came in to help us dress.

"Come on in the kitchen and eat. Papa's gone to work and Carrie is helping clean up the kitchen."

"I think we ate it all," Anne teased. Charles kicked her and we went across the big scary hall to the kitchen.

Mother placed two plates of pancakes with butter and our favorite maple syrup before us. There was even coffee with milk and sugar.

"It ain't Christmas or nobody's birthday, why are we getting coffee?" Charles asked suspiciously.

"Is it because the hant scared us?" I asked.

"Eat and go out and watch the trains," my mother answered. Don't go out of the gate," she cautioned.

"We are going to gather those pecans so we will watch them," Alice promised.

A big yellow cat rubbed against my legs and I picked her up and cradled her. I felt lonely, for all our pets we had left behind. We ran to the gate and watched a long train winding around the curves below us. Charles waved and the engineer blew the whistle at us. I held my cat and the engineer blew me a kiss.

That was one place we never got tired of, the large yard was filled with chipmunks and birds that we had never seen before. The weather was wonderful and we ran and played until we were too exhausted to listen for strange sounds.

Kermit was an excellent musician and came almost every night with his accordion to play music with father. We all loved to sing and dance. The girls teased each other about the good looking boy, and made fun of the way he talked. Father liked him and remarked, "That good looking devil can play anything."

One night they were playing "Green Mountain Polka" and Charles and I were dancing. We suddenly began to sing the lyrics which he had taught us.

"I stuck my finger in a duck's eye ball, God almighty how that duck did squall."

Mother stopped the music and as Kermit said, "Purely blessed him out."

Mr. Holland dropped in occasionally always bringing gifts of delicious mountain apples and pears, candy for Charles and me and new magazines for the family.

I followed him out one day and as he patted my head and started to leave, I suddenly asked accusingly, "Why didn't you tell us about the hant?"

He smiled and said, "Well I see Kermit has told you his favorite tale."

"Is it true?" Charles asked.

Mr. Holland looked thoughtfully across the dark, blue mountains and remarked, "If you mean did a great tragedy occur here long ago, yes. However, Kermit loves to entertain people with ghost stories. It's part of his mountain heritage."

The days sped swiftly by. The sun began to go down early. Father told mother one night I've almost finished here. We'll be home for Christmas."

"I'm counting the days," she answered. I want you to give the girls something extra nice. They have been so good about living here like hermits."

"Oh, I will," he promised, "I'll have plenty of money."

The weather turned bitterly cold and a dreary rain set in. One day when Mother and the girls were busy in the kitchen, Charles and I stole up the long winding staircase. I had the big yellow cat clutched in my arms. When Charles slowly opened the door to the room, her fur rose, she howled and leaped down.

"Let's go," whispered Charles.

"Naw, I want to look in that chest," I protested.

"It feels funny in here," he said.

I lifted the lid of the chest, It was filled with lacey baby clothes and a gold locket lay on top. I picked it up   Charles smoothed the baby clothes. Our hands turned to ice, as something jerked them from our hands. The floor trembled. We heard a moan and suddenly we heard soft, sad, music.

We fled downstairs screaming. Mother and the girls turned white as we tried to explain.

"Bundle them up good and take them for a walk," my mother said.

The wonderful sight of a deer and her baby helped erase it from our minds.

A few nights later Kermit came to play and say good bye.

"Father, play some waltzes and let Kermit see how good Frankie and Charles can dance that way," mother suggested.

We proudly danced to "Beautiful Ohio" and "Tales From The Vienna Woods."

Father said, "I always like that Civil War Song, "Lorena." Kermit turned white as a sheet. Charles and I prepared to start dancing when Father started playing and singing, "The years flow swiftly by Lorena."

We burst out crying and yelled "It's the song we heard in that bad room!"

"What on earth?" asked father.

Suddenly the door jerked open, the lamps went out and a white shape floated once around the room, plainly visible in the firelight. Kermit yelled, "Hell Fire," and ran out.

We sat up all night and left early the next morning. A long train ride and our first over night stay in a Danville hotel helped us over the worst. We never discussed the incident with anyone.

Memories don't go away. I never look at scary TV, read science fiction and I don't like Halloween. Many times my husband has had to awaken me from screaming nightmares and hold my icy hands. He understands. He was born and raised in the Blue Ridge.

Just a few months ago my son and I were looking at books in a flea market.

"Here's a whole batch of Frank Slaughter novels," he remarked.

"I've read that," I answered as he handed me "The Road To Bithyania." He handed me "Lorena." My hands turned cold, I shivered as I heard all around me, "The Years Flow Swiftly By Lorena."