Old Ghosts Calling to Me 

I have a “thing” for old structures; old farmhouses, slab-sided barns or an aging general mercantile.  I grew up in and around them…like ghosts, they are only memories.  It is not the architecture they represent, but the history that speaks to me.  Old ghosts calling my name.

Decaying, hand-hewn structures…I just wonder about the hands that constructed them.  I feel the same way about fields of rusting cars covered in kudzu or the tools that once maintained them I find in antique shops or “high dollar” junkyards.  It’s about who drove the car, who repaired it…it’s about the history…about the ghosts.

Image result for dorothea lange country store.  Who colorized the picture

I first saw this photograph while researching lesson plans on the depression.  The black and white Dorothea Lange photograph whispered softly to me for some reason.  It was titled, “Country store on a dirt road. Sunday afternoon. July 1939. Gordonton, North Carolina.”

The structure spoke to me, but the ghosts were quiet.  My eyes were drawn to the old metal signs advertising different brands of cigarettes, Coca-Cola, the “Sweet Scotch Snuff.”  I listened to the Texaco gas and kerosene pumps, rough cut and unfinished lumber, a long porch gallery supported by stacked stones.  Cedar trees stripped of limbs used as porch columns and roof rafters that aren’t quite plumb.  I “heard” it, rather than “heard” them.

What I “heard” changed when I discovered the colorized version by Jordan J. Lloyd.  It drew my attention to the men and their ghosts spoke to me.  It became about the people instead of the structure.

Related image

The picture is described as “A lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road.”  Five black men relaxing on a “workless” Sunday with the brother of the white owner leaning in the doorway.  Smiles to go around as stories were told…embellished for listening enjoyment I’m quite sure.  The ghosts spoke but I am hard of hearing and I don’t really know their voices.  But I can research and create.

The colors are vivid…as vivid as khaki and denim can be.  Overalls over a white shirt, rolled up shirt sleeves and pant’s legs.  Dusty, beat up shoes and brogans.  Sweat stained fedoras and baseball caps pushed back on heads.  A “dope” drained to the last drop and the aroma of fine Virginia tobacco wafting in the breeze, “mildness with no unpleasant aftertaste.”

July 1939 in the South…in North Carolina…in the cotton belt.  The depression had been ongoing for ten years and would continue until the soaring production of World War Two finally buried it.  Farmers had been steamrolled by the depression as early as 1920 while boll weevils ate their fill and cotton prices dropping as low as five cents a pound….  Ever pick cotton?  I have.  A pound of cotton is a lot of picking for a nickel and boll weevils wiped out as much as eighty percent of cotton crops during the Twenties.

The depression was particularly hard on people of color in the South.  Many, only sixty or seventy years removed from slavery, found themselves forced into a type of pseudo-slavery, sharecropping and tenant farming…except many poor whites found themselves paddling in the same boat.  The difference? Post-slavery Jim Crow segregation.  As bad as things are, at least you “ain’t colored.” Separate and “unequal.”

Except maybe on “A lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road.”  I smile.  I see four men of color reacting to something said by the fifth man on the left while the white man is slow to get the point or at least react.  A slow smile coming to his face.  Men gathering to shoot the bull on their day of rest.  The simple enjoyment of not having to be someplace…not having to work your fingers to the bone for someone else’s profit.

Image result for dorothea lange country store.  Who colorized the picture

The old store on a dusty, country road still exists.  The road is now paved and the store is no longer open which for me seems a shame.  Boarded up and abandoned, I wonder if the ghosts still gather on the porch, talking of days past and the hard times they endured.  Seeing it closed I am sad for them…and for me.

The first photo is by Dorothea Lang.

The colorized photo is by Jordan J. Lloyd

The last photo was made by Wayne Jacobs.

For more musings go to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Haunted Houses

 

“It was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years.”  -Nora Roberts, “Key of Knowledge”

An old farmhouse sitting on top of a hill.  Tall hemlock and walnut trees surround it.  The original front porch shone with a silvery gray color in the moonlight…from the silver paint applied by a wandering group of shysters who convinced the previous owners to let them paint the roof.  The silver paint had washed off by the first winter rain, staining the original lapboard that clad the old farmhouse.  The shysters were long gone.  Moss covered chimneys in disrepair rose above the rust-stained, metal shingles.  If you need a site for a horror film, I have one for you.

This was the house we purchased thirty-one years ago…a house we fell in love with as soon as we saw it.  A house we renovated and brought into the twenty-first century.  I wish we had left it the way it was when we first saw it but sometimes my memories are softer than the here and now.

Spirits reside here.  Renovations have not chased them away.

Mike Franks, a character from the television program NCIS made the follow observation, “With the memories we make. We fill the spaces we live in with them. That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live, the longer I live there, the spaces become filled with memories of naked women.”

I always laugh when I hear him say that.  I think too, our spaces become haunted not only with the memories of naked people but any person who has been lost…people we don’t even know…people who lived their lives and died within these walls.

Four families have contributed memories I believe haunt this old farmhouse.  Except for a period in the Fifties, it has been occupied continuously since 1892…a lot of spirits I would guess.

Despite our renovations, this old farmhouse still creaks and moans.  If the wind is just right and the TV is low, late at night you can hear the spirits…whispers in the dark, a light footfall, a woman’s giggle…or maybe just a scurrying mouse or a puppy moving in her sleep at the foot of the bed.  I choose the former.

Sometimes when I’m reading, as the witching hour approaches, I catch movement just outside the periphery of my vision…beyond the light cast by my reading lamp.  A shadow that doesn’t quite belong, a flash of light despite the darkness that surrounds me.  I don’t fear them, I welcome them.

We’ve spent thirty Halloweens inside of these walls…we’ve never had a trick or treater.  No little ghouls or goblins.  The house looks haunted in the darkness of night with little light filtering through the hemlocks.  It is their loss.  A not so wicked witch lives here.

I’m comfortable with my spirits.  The spirits residing here…and the ones I brought with me from a time gone by, from places that no longer exist anywhere other than my mind.  No vampires or werewolves, just spirits that lovingly caress a cheek or place a steadying hand lightly upon my shoulder.  Comfortable and loving spirits from a time long past who visit me every day, not just Halloween.

For more of Don Miller’s ramblings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from https://www.narcity.com/ca/on/ottawa/things-to-do-in-ott/a-giant-mansion-in-ottawa-is-being-transformed-into-a-creepy-haunted-house-this-october

Ghosts

I do believe in ghosts.  Why shouldn’t I?  My home and the surrounding land is full of them.

A ghost, by definition, is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can appear to the living.  Whether the appearance is a sound, like the creaking of my old house settling or a critter treading on the old pine floors. A fleeting glimpse of some unknown something out of the corner of my eye, just beyond my periphery, triggering a long-forgotten memory.  The way certain shadows fall in the moonlight or an old song that conjures up a ghost from the past.  It’s a ghost even if their spirit resides only in my head.

My favorite quote about ghost was made by NCIS agent Mike Franks, a favorite reoccurring character on the long-running TV program NCIS.  In a conversation with Gibbs about ghosts, Franks allows that ghosts were “But the memories we make. We fill the spaces we live in with them. That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live, the longer I live there the spaces become filled with memories of naked women.”  Well, there is only one memory in my living space of a naked woman and thankfully she is not a memory.

But there are other memories….

I arose early as is my infernal habit.  Standing in the dark, also an infernal habit, I looked through the broad window beyond my kitchen sink gazing into the bright moonlight dappling the flat between my home and my stream.  There was a huge full moon, rapidly setting just above the tall trees on the ridge above casting long shadows that danced in the open space below.

Just off to the side, away from the direction I was looking, I saw her in the mottled moonlight.  I saw her white and black markings…as I often do.  When I looked directly at her…she was gone.  She has been gone now for thirteen years…roaming somewhere on the hillside above us.  Ghostly in the way she continues to remind us of her, lost but not forgotten at all.  A ghost never to fear, only to remember and smile.

Sassy Marie came to us, not us to her.  She left the same way…on her terms.  Everything about Sassy Marie was to be savored on her terms.  If she wanted to be petted, she came to us.  If we wanted to pet, she ran away, leery of what our motivation might be.  If she wanted to come into the house, which was very rare until late in her life, she came in, with or without invitation.  Sassy Marie invited herself through the back gate of our hearts and stayed for sixteen years…until she decided it was time for her to leave.

She was a black and white, border collie mix, a discarded puppy or a runaway.  For several days she survived on the small lizards or road kill outside of our little piece of heaven.  If I tried to make friends…she ran away, only to return later in the day.  Linda Gail enticed her through the back gate with morsels of food and the then-unnamed Sassy Marie decided to stay.  I probably should tell that story differently.  Sassy Marie enticed Linda Gail to open the gate and give her food is a truer rendering of the story.

Sassy Marie was the most infuriating, a contrary, disobliging, lovable, caring, wonderous paradox I have ever encountered…well…next to my bride.  She had the uncanny ability, a type of sixth sense, to know when we were talking about giving her a bath.  She would find a way to disappear into our small, fenced in backyard until that bit of foolishness passed.  Put a leash on her?  Not on your life.  She would look at us as if to say, “I was born to be free of the shackles of life…and no I ain’t wearin’ no collar.”

She realized how well she had it.  No way she would ever walk out of an open gate, invited or not.  Even when we had to tear down a part of the fence during renovations she still refused to set foot outside of her kingdom…until she did.  Again, it was her idea…not ours.

We walked an old logging road and prowled over our kingdom.  Every ravine, every stream that cut it was an adventure.  After thirty plus years the adventures are still there.  Sassy Marie would wait patiently for our return, laying at the back gate, next to the torn down sections.  One day she decided to go with us…she decided and enticed Santana the stray, adopted cat to come with us too.  It was an odd caravan.  Santana yelling in cat, “Wait, wait on me,” until she got tired and laid down refusing to go one step further.  Sassy Marie would lead…until she grew tired or aggravated.  We would find ourselves alone and worry when there was no need.  We would return and find her laying at the gate…with Santana close by.

Sassy Marie had grown weary by her sixteenth year…her sixteenth year with us.  She was older, we just didn’t know how much older.  We knew she was not long for our world and so did she.  On the Christmas Day Linda Gail and I were to drive to visit family in Texas, she disappeared.  We got a late start.  We searched high and low, the ridges and the stream beds, as darkness and our feelings fell.  We knew but we hoped and called our house sitters almost hourly.  Sassy Marie had made her decision to leave us on her own terms…just as she joined us.

Flat rocks, cypress cedars, small clumps of daffodils and a birdhouse on a post mark resting places for our special, animal children.  Lovely goats, a one-legged rooster, bunny rabbits, black cats and a slew of puppy dogs rest in special places…around our grounds and in our hearts.

There is no special memorial for Sassy Marie, except in our hearts…and the marbled shadows of the moonlight or the green shaded leaves moved by the wind.  Her spirit moves along the ridges above our house, in the valleys along the stream beds and in the periphery of our vision and our hearts.

Ghost is a selection from Don Miller’s new release “Cornfields…in My Mind.”  It may be downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CBSV237