HALLOWEEN!

The Hell you say. What’s the big deal with Halloween? Halloween was a big deal to us kids when I was growing up. I mean, wow, an excuse to get candy from the neighbors and eat it until you threw up. Who could pass up on that? And back then you could eat the apples and oranges you got in your bag without examining them for needles and razors. And the dressing up was kinda neat. I loved trick or treating until I was about 12. After that, a Halloween dance at school was always nice. I liked school dances. I wasn’t afraid to get out on the floor and was considered a good partner by the girls. I always had dance partners. And sometimes we’d meet in the upper bleachers or behind the bleachers. But that’s a story for another day.

All the dorms and frats had big Halloween parties in college and that’s when I began seeing outlandish and frequently group costumes. It was off the hook crazy. And I loved it. I was less adventurous. Just give me a sheet and I could rig up a toga. Twine some ivy around my head and, hey, I’m an ancient Roman. Not to mention the toga parties. But again, a different issue for a different day.

            My parents never put up Halloween decorations. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody that did. I mean some people, like us, put a Jack o’Lantern on their front porch, but that was about it. This was the 1960s and 70s South. Everyone I knew was Baptist and they had decreed that Halloween was of the devil. Maybe they were right.

            What are we celebrating, anyway? All Hallows Eve. The night before All Hallows Day, the day all the saints are worshipped and any saint that doesn’t have a special day, well, this is for him or her. If it’s a Catholic thing, then Baptists are sure it’s a thing of the devil. In Mexico it is El Dia de le Morte, the Day of the Dead. It’s a particularly ghoulishly named celebration of our ancestors. While the whole shebang seems wrapped up in Christianity, somehow Halloween has taken on the trappings of the other side. Who wants to be an angel for Halloween when he can be a first class Satan?

            These days Halloween has morphed into a major holiday. Maybe Hallmark and Hersheys  are to blame. It seems nearly every house in my neighborhood has their trees, bushes and porches wrapped in orange lights. There are larger than life blow up black cats, headless horseman on his steed, with a pumpkin as his head, ghoulish demons or is it demonic ghouls. What is a ghoul, anyway? Ghastly and ghostly heads and streamers hanging from trees. And one house has about twenty skeletons trying to get in. Or are they trying to get out?

            Hope your neighborhood is properly decorated and hope you don’t get TPed. Remember doing that? Of course you do. Happy Halloween to all. This week my story is actually a memoir. It’s about a fun time I had on a Halloween about 46 years ago. Enjoy!

The Ghost of Halloween Past

The summer after I turned sixteen I was allowed to buy a car. We lived way out in the country so becoming self-mobile was an important step. The sudden freedom to come and go as you please was wonderful. No more asking Mom or Dad to take you “to town” to buy things. No more borrowing the family sedan for dates. It was just incredible.

            It turned out one of Mom’s friends at work had a son who was entering college and couldn’t carry his car so he wanted to sell. It was a metallic blue 1966 3-speed Mustang. Probably one of the sexiest cars ever. It’s now a classic. But back in 1973 it was just a seven-year old car. I got it for $500. I was soon recognizable far and wide by my “blue ‘stang”. And it didn’t hurt that girls didn’t mind being seen riding around in such a cool car. I can’t say that I was ever cool, but my cool factor sure moved up a few notches with that purchase.

            But this story isn’t about the car, only what the car made possible.

My friend and I were casting about for something to do on a Thursday night. It happened to be Halloween night. Two sixteen-year-olds and Halloween are usually a recipe for trouble but we were (fairly) good kids. I came up with an idea.

            First you have to understand the situation out in the country where I lived. Our community was about a dozen houses stretched along a couple miles of country road on both sides of a country church. Then there were the outliers farther out or on even further back roads. Our church boasted a constant population of about 100. The local kids wanted to be part of “trick or treat” (free candy, duh) but they had to get their parents to take them to nearby villages where they really didn’t know the people. Also, the people in our community were always disappointed that we couldn’t participate in giving out goodies because no one trick-or-treats in the country. Our church came up with a nice idea. All the members of our church who wanted to give out Halloween goodies would leave their porch lights on. All interested children would meet at the church at sundown. An elder with a pickup truck would pile the kids in the back and drive to all the church member houses so the kids could do their thing. And along the way, they would pick up information about other neighbors, not members of our church, who might also have some treats. Of course, that wouldn’t work in 2019 because it’s illegal for kids to ride in the back of a pickup, but this was a simpler time.

            So, about sundown I picked up my friend and had an old white bedspread. While the kids were inside the church for a required prayer and mini-sermon before the main event, he and I pulled up behind the church. I took the spread and went out into the graveyard beside the church. I crouched down behind a tombstone and waited.

            The kids all came filing out of the church in their various costumes. There were about ten of them ranging from about 4 or five up to about 12. They climbed in the back of the truck all excited. As the driver turned on the engine, I rose up from behind a tombstone with the bedspread over my head. I raised my arms and started loudly moaning. At the squeal from the first kid who spotted me, I began moving toward the truck. Soon all the kids were screaming in fear and glee at the Halloween ghost. The driver, seeing what was happening sped off and the chorus of squeals died into the distance.

            Totally pleased with myself, I got back in the car and drove about a half mile in the opposite direction the truck had gone and pulled off into a wooded road so my car was hidden. I stood beside the road in my white disguise. Soon I heard the roar of the old pickup coming my way. I raised my arms and waved them back and forth. The truck driver began blowing his horn to get the attention of the kids in the back. As they sped by me they were all shrieking once again in glee.

            After they had passed, I drove to an old farm house and parked behind the barn. I went out into the field beside the house and hid behind a bale of peanut vines. This was one of the last stops. As the last kid was climbing into the back of the truck, I stood up and began running toward the truck waving my arms and howling. The kids all began screaming, “Go! Go!” to the driver. He timed it and pulled away just as I was getting close. I ran after the truck a little ways still carrying on. The kids were loving it.

            That was it for the night. My friend had only gone along for the company. He stayed in the car and told me alternately I was “weird” or I was “crazy”. But he had a smile when he said it.

            On Sunday there was still a little chatter among the young kids about the ghost they saw Halloween night. My friend and I never told anyone. So, if you were a kid who saw a ghost while trick-or-treating on Halloween night in 1973 in eastern North Carolina, I’m the Ghost of Halloween Past.

Incident at Sweet Creek

This story is somewhat of a memoir. It happened when I was young. All the various parts of the story are absolutely true. I have chosen to write it as first person narrative, putting myself in Gary’s position. The characters other than Gary and Cindy are composites of people I have known. Gary and Cindy are very true. Gary is a friend and I dated Cindy a few times one summer.

Incident at Sweet Creek

1972

            The wind blew through my hair as I cruised through the countryside. My hair now covered the tips of my ears and tickled at the collar. At the end of the school year I was letting my “seminary cut” grow out. Getting shaggy for the summer.

            I turned my green ‘69 Impala off I-95 at one of the last exits before the Virginia state line. The exit said Milledgeville, 6 miles. Milledgeville is a failed town. The South is full of them. Two US highways meet there and once there were two thriving truckstops. However, the interstate bypassed it and the truckstops died. The once bustling garage/gas station at the intersection now stands vacant, the roof caving in. There is no business district of any sort. The closest thing is a strip mall of four office fronts which someone has been building slowly over the past decade. It is almost complete. The only other industries in town are a Seven Eleven, a Chicken Palace and Tina’s Hair.

            From Milledgeville it’s a fifteen-mile straight shot to Concord. There are no curves, just gentle rise and fall. Milledgeville is where the hilly Piedmont gives way to the Coastal Plain. Instead of the tobacco and pasturage so common in the Piedmont, the Coastal Plain has acres and acres of farmland: cotton, peanuts, soy beans, corn. In all directions, vast fields all the way to the tree line.

            Ten miles out of Milledgeville is Sweet Creek. The name comes from the nearby swamp. It is home to a stand of impressive old growth sweet gum trees. People originally called it Sweet Gum Tree Swamp. Somewhere along the way the Gum and Tree got lost and the Swamp turned into Creek. Sweet Creek is not so much a town as a “wide place in the road” as Daddy always called it. We have two streets crossing the state road running between Milledgeville and Concord. Main Street is only paved on the south side of the state road. Church Street is paved on both sides. We have a general store/gas station and a church. That’s it. There used to be a diner at the intersection of the state road and Main Street. The building is still there, but weeds and trees are growing inside it and the roof is mostly gone. Further down Main Street is the pile of rotted wood that used to be the train station. More than fifty years ago the train would stop here. But like I said, that was more than fifty years ago. Across the street from the old diner is the Penney house. It is a large rectangular house with little character except as a refugee from a Haunting of Hill House movie. The kids say it’s haunted, but it’s just an old vacant building. It used to be a boarding house dependent on the diner and train station. A few families live on the unpaved side of Main, near the Penney house.

            There are houses only on the west side of Church Street. There are two nice houses – a modern brick ranch and a turn of the century American foursquare house, then Moab Baptist Church and the parsonage. After that are two more turn of the century American foursquare style houses. One is Aunt Viola and Uncle Cleveland’s place, the second and last on the block is ours.

            I smiled as I drove the last miles to my old home. It was already the middle of June and the fields were thriving. The cotton was almost knee high and the peanuts were spreading nicely. In most places the corn was at least waist high. It has been a good summer for the farmers so far. As I neared Sweet Creek I passed the old Taylor place. It was a fine example of a Craftsman-style home off to the left with six large oak trees in the front yard. These trees arched over the road and their branches mingled with the sweet gum trees on the far side of the road where the swamp made its closest approach to the town. The effect was a shadowy tunnel at the edge of town. In my mind I called it the Time Tunnel, prompted by a television show a few years ago of that name. I felt that as I passed through the tunnel I was transported back in time and reverted to the boy I was when I left here nearly six years ago. It seems that nothing changes here. Everything is the same as it always was.

Once through the tunnel I turned left onto Church Street. There were all the houses on my left. On my right was the large horse pasture belonging to the Vassor family, local bigwigs. There haven’t been any horses in that pasture in my memory but it was still called the horse pasture.

            I pulled into the last driveway before the end of the street. The end was a T intersection with Old Church Street, a hard-packed dirt path farmers used to get to their fields. There was an old cemetery in a nearby stand of trees where the old-timers say the original Moab Church once stood.

            My family’s house still stood sturdy, white and foursquare, with its high front porch. There was a separate car shed behind the house and out buildings where Daddy kept his odds and ends. And his bottle of Jack Daniels that Mama pretended not to know about. Mama’s clothesline was strung between the sheds. Behind that was the chicken coop. Further still was Mama’s garden, the envy of all Sweet Creek. The woman could make anything grow.

            I pulled in behind Daddy’s Oldsmobile. I saw his rust bucket pick-up was in the car shed. I tooted the horn to let them know I was here, put the car in park and hopped out. I wasn’t halfway to the porch when Mama came bustling out the front door. Hair in a bun, she was dressed in a flower print dress I recognized that brought back a flood of memories. It was covered by an old apron and she was wiping her hands on a dish towel.

            “Oh, my Lordy, Gary. I haven’t seen you in ages. Come give your old mama a hug,” she called. She waited while I mounted the porch steps and wrapped her arms around me. I was a full head taller than her. I had been since high school.

            “Oh, my boy, my boy, you’re a sight for sore eyes,” she murmured into my shoulder. Then she put her hands on my upper arms and held me at arm’s length. She did this every time I came home and said the same thing.

            “Let me look at you. You’re so thin. I’ll bet you haven’t been eating right. Well, we’ll fix that right up.” Turning slightly she called out, “Maitland! Get out here and greet our son!”

            My old daddy shuffled out the door. “I’m coming, old woman. I just ain’t as spry as I used to be. Hello, son. Good to see you again.” Then Daddy hugged me, too. He was a little unusual for his generation. Most of the local men didn’t hug their sons, just shook hands. Daddy was a hugger, though. I liked that.

            In no time Mama had me in the kitchen with a glass of sweet tea and a large slice of fresh apple pie in front of me.

            Mama beamed at me. “Even though we hated that you had to come home late, we were so excited to hear you’re working with the Missions Board. I was the envy of all the old biddies at the Missionary Union meeting when I told them. I’m so proud of you.”

            Yes, seminary had ended its semester the last week of May, but I had to stick around for a couple more weeks for meetings with the Board. I had thought being a Missionary was my calling. That was before everything went to hell. I’ll have to break it to them gently. Hell, I haven’t even broken it to myself yet. Not fully. I just need to take it slowly. I’ll eventually work it all out. No need to give Mama ‘the vapors’ as she calls it when she feels faint.

            I heard the screen door slam and looked to see Daddy struggling with one of my big suitcases.

            “Daddy, I’ll get that. Don’t strain yourself.”

            “I ain’t so old I cain’t help my son move back in,” he complained.

            “You old fool. You’re gonna bust your hernia,” Mama fussed. Some things never change. It’s good to be back home.

***

            While I finished eating Mama filled me in on all the local gossip. She seemed to know everything and had no trouble telling it and retelling it.

            “And I told Brother Crowder you’d be pleased to help with Vacation Bible School,” Mama said. Yes, of course I’ll help. I just wish Mama would let me make the decision. She always jumps the gun, putting me on the spot.

            After Mama cleared the plates I moved all my belongings back to my old room. I planned to be here for a couple of months while I figure out what to do. I laid on the bed to rest after carrying everything upstairs. The room was the same it has been since high school. The desk with my boy’s versions of Tarzan, Huckleberry Finn, Jules Verne and a few science fiction books, the tiny trophy from when our debate team won the regional. My Southwest High School pennant was still on the wall. I looked up and noticed for the millionth time the cowboys on horseback riding around the glass cover of my ceiling light. That round up had been going on for at least fifteen years. I was struck by the thought that this was my last summer in this room. Now that I was finished, literally, with seminary it was time to move on. There was nothing for me here in Sweet Creek. Like nearly all the college graduates, I had to move to a city to find a job.

            I must have fallen asleep. It seemed like it had only been a moment when I heard Mama tapping lightly on my doorframe.

            “Honey, wash up. I got dinner on the table.”

***

            Once Mama washed all the dinner dishes she joined me and Daddy on the back porch. It was broad and screened with a southern view. Mama always said the cooling evening breezes came from the south. We could see Uncle Cleveland’s house next door and the church steeple beyond it. Someone had mowed a lawn and the sweet smell of cut grass hung heavy in the air. I sat with Mama on the glider and Daddy had his old rocker. We watched the lightning bugs flicker their yellow green lights across the yard, looking for love.

            “We’re having a welcome home dinner for you tomorrow after church. Just some relatives and the preacher’s family. You don’t mind, do you?” It wasn’t really a question. When Mama wanted to do something she was a force of nature. You just stand back and let it happen.

            “Of course, Mama. That’ll be fine.”

            “No need to make such a fuss, old woman. You’d think the prodigal son had returned,” Daddy groused.

            “He’s no prodigal, but my son has returned. And he knows Mama will always make a fuss over him,” she beamed at me and gently squeezed my cheek. Then Mama continued.

            “Margie’s coming down from Portsmouth tomorrow, too. She’s bringing Cindy. She’s staying a couple of weeks and attending Vacation Bible School. She’s the same age as Brother Crowder’s daughter so they ought to get along fine.” Margie is my oldest sister. Cindy would be about thirteen now. What in the world does Mama think she will do with a thirteen-year-old girl for two weeks in this backwoods place?  

***

I sat with Mama and Daddy at church on Sunday. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. Just checking to see if I had turned into a radical hippie now that I had gone to college. I listened attentively to Brother Crowder’s sermon. He came two years ago. Baptist ministers move around a lot. That’s one thing I was not looking forward to. I spent my entire life in the same little town. I like having roots. He was an anomaly for Sweet Creek. He had a college education as well as seminary training. He was probably the most educated man within twenty miles or more.

After all my classes on developing sermons, researching the Bible, apologetics and so forth it was hard not to be a little cynical in assessing the good brother’s sermon. All in all, I think he did a credible job. He’s definitely well spoken. I may need someone like him to keep me sane all summer. I did find a few faults with his message. I don’t think he used the best passages from the Bible to make his point and I don’t think he emphasized the right parts. His message was also a bit too esoteric for this crowd. I saw the eyes glaze over early on. He’ll be fine, though. Just as long as he makes sure to talk about all the bad things happening “out there” and all the decent people among us. Don’t rock the boat and get us all a pass to Heaven. That’s his job.

***

            Once all the hand shaking was done the three of us walked home. Mama immediately put on her “dinner clothes” as she called her wardrobe for cooking while guests were around. Aunt Viola showed up a few minutes later. After giving me a big hug she jumped in helping Mama.

            “You boys, relax,” Mama ordered. “Maitland, don’t take off your good shirt. And don’t go out to the barn. I know what you do out there. I won’t stand for none of that foolishness with the preacher in my house.” Daddy managed to look totally innocent of all charges.

            It wasn’t long before Margie and Fred drove up. Cindy got out and stood like a princess while her daddy pulled out a large suitcase. Mama went out to greet and kiss everybody and tell Fred where Cindy’s room would be. By that time Brother Crowder and his wife and daughter Renée had also arrived. Daddy did his part by introducing Brother Crowder to Margie, Fred and Cindy. The two girls eyed each other coolly. Renée was a little younger, but the girls were close enough in age that they probably had lots of things in common. The Vinsons showed up also, but Mama had to invite them since they live on the other side of the church. It would have been rude not to. Then I saw Nettie White drive up. Oh, Mama. Can’t you just let it go? Of course, Nettie had her daughter Alice with her. Alice had been a year behind me in school and had a crush on me through most of high school. She was a nice girl, but kind of bland. Not much personality. But Mama thought she was a great match for me. She never missed a chance to push Alice at me.

            “Oh Nettie. I’m so glad you could make it. And Alice, don’t you look lovely. Gary come see Alice,” Mama commanded. So I went to see Alice.

            “And, Nettie, I don’t think I told you but my Gary is going to be a foreign Missionary. The Missions Board has approved him and he’s going to go to China or Africa or some foreign country and bring the message of Our Lord to all the heathens. Isn’t that just wonderful?”

            “Mama. Don’t go on so.” Sometimes she made me so uncomfortable.

            “You’re my boy and I’ll brag all I want to. We mothers can do that, can’t we, Nettie? Now Gary, doesn’t Alice look lovely in that dress?”

            “Yes, Mama. Hey, Alice.”

            “Y’all go talk,” and Mama shoved me so I stumbled forward almost into Alice. We wandered away from the other adults.

            “Sorry, Gary. I didn’t want to come, but Mama said I had to.”

            “It’s alright. It’s nice to see you again.”

            “Yeah, you too. So you really gonna be a Missionary?”

            “Maybe. Maybe not. There’s a lot up in the air right now. What are you doing?”

            “Oh, I got a degree in business. Just an associate degree. From the community college. It got me a job at Weldon Savings and Loan, though. I’m a loan officer.”

            “Well, hello Officer Alice,” I smiled at her.

            “I moved out of the house, but Mama still drags me places trying to pawn me off on somebody. She’s mortified that I’m 23 and ‘still not married’, as if that’s the worst thing in the world. I guess she’s afraid I’m getting past my ‘use by’ date. It’s maddening.”

            “So still nobody special, then?” I liked Alice. I always hoped she’d find someone.

            “Wellll, somebody,” she blushed and looked down.

            “Come on,” I bumped her. “You can tell me.”

            She looked around. “You gotta swear not to tell a soul. I can’t believe I’m telling you but I’m dying to tell somebody. You’re probably the only one who’ll understand.”

            “Swear,” I said as I used to when we were kids.

            “You remember Phyllis Taylor? She was on the basketball team.”

            I had a vague recollection of a mannish looking girl, good athlete, always first string.

            “Well, she’s my roommate over at Brooks Manor Apartments. But she’s more than just my roommate.”

            “You mean she…. You’re… Oh my gosh, Alice. I’m so happy for you.” I hugged her.

            “Now you know why you can’t tell a soul. They’d crucify us. I figured since you’ve been off to college you’re more open-minded now.”

            I sidled up closer and said near her ear. “If you need cover, I’m here all summer.”

            “Thanks. I just might take you up on that. Get Mama out of my hair.”

***

            The rest of the day went fine. Mama was in her glory having all these people at her table, especially the preacher. It was late afternoon before the last guests left. I had hoped to get a chance to talk to Brother Crowder but he was always in demand. I did say I would see him tomorrow to help sort out the activity equipment for Bible School. We’ll have plenty of time, private time, to talk then.

***

            Monday, I walked over to the church mid-morning. Brother Crowder already had the shed open and was pulling out nets, balls, paddles and various athletic equipment.

            “Thanks for coming over. I really need the help,” he said. I immediately got beside him and helped him get it all out.

            “First I just need to inventory what we have. I can go buy more if we need it.” We worked for a few hours with little conversation. We didn’t really know each other well. I was already away at seminary when he came here. After a while his wife Patty came out.

            “You boys want to take a break? I got some sandwiches and tea.”

            “Good idea,” he said. We settled on his patio with the refreshments Patty had laid out. She went back inside.

            After we had been eating for a few minutes I broached my subject.

            “Brother Crowder,” I began. “You’re an educated man. I respect that. How has that affected your faith? After classes in apologetics, and exegesis and conflicting verses in the Bible and on and on it feels like it doesn’t hold water. It looks like on every front in science, religion is losing. And you’ve got those televangelists like Jim Bakker and such. They are bilking poor people for all their hard-earned money in the name of God. It’s just wrong. Sometimes at the end of the day I begin thinking all this is just a bit farfetched. Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe it’s all a mistake. I just get my head filled with doubt. Am I just wrong? Is that normal?”

            “Doubt is what makes our faith strong,” he said with a smile. “We all have moments of doubt. Even the savior did in the garden. God tests us before putting us on the road to what we will be. When you start sweating about your faith it means God is ready to tell you something important. You need to open up your heart and listen.”

            “I’ve had my heart open for years now. And all I’ve heard is a lot of nothing. God’s not talking to me. Maybe I’ve picked the wrong field. How can I convert others when I’m still trying to convince myself?”

            “Men who wrestle with doubt become some of God’s greatest champions. Look at Paul. He was actually persecuting Christians before God called him. And all the disciples were common men of no great faith. The probably only went to synagogue on high holy days. But once Jesus spoke with them, they knew the glory of God. God speaks to all of us, son. We just have to learn his language. Just give it time. Pray on it. Read your Bible. It will eventually come clear. Just like it’s coming clear to me that we are going to have to buy a new volleyball net.” He smiled and clapped me on the back. “Let’s get back to work.”

***

            I hadn’t had a chance yet to talk with Cindy since she had arrived. I found her Monday afternoon sitting in the TV room looking at a teen magazine.

            “How goes it?” I asked.

            “I’m stuck here in Hicksville for two whole weeks. This place is so lame. There’s nothing to do.”

            “Do you like Renée?”

            “She’s okay. She just doesn’t get how deadly dull it is here. It’s like she’s become one of the pod people. How do you manage it?”

            “I just smile and think about what I’ll do when I get back to civilization. You can think about all the things you do in Portsmouth. What do you do there?”

            “Well, right now my friends are down at the beach checking out the cute guys in their tight bathing trunks.”

            “I think I know why Margie sent you here.”

            “And there’s the foosball arcade where the cool guys hang out and smoke and the malls. There’s not even a mall around here. How do people live like this?”

            “Oh, come on, Cindy. It’s not that bad. Maybe if you play your cards right Granddad will let you milk the cow.”

            Cindy screamed and threw her magazine at me as I beat a hasty retreat.

***

            I followed Brother Crowder’s advice and prayed more and read my Bible. It did little to allay my doubts. What I couldn’t bring up with him was my anger at the hypocrisy of the Missions Board. I had recently run afoul of them. I had a big decision to make. I knew which way I was leaning, where my heart wanted to go, but it’s a life-changing decision. How do I know I’m making the right choice?

***     

            Brother Crowder asked me to teach a course for Bible School. I told him I was reluctant because I had my own work to do. I was supposed to present four guest sermons at local churches over the summer. I hadn’t even begun to make plans for where to do that.

            “Well, it’s a given that you’ll do one here at Moab. I can also speak for Bethel. We’ll have you there one Sunday. I’m sure Concord and Galatia would love to have you come speak. I’ll talk to them.”

            “You make it sound so easy. I guess it is easy if I have an insider like you to open the door for me. Thanks.”

            “That has nothing to do with it. You’re a home boy. Everybody is waiting to see what you’ll do with your gift. What God has laid on your heart. If you don’t ask them, they’ll be calling you by the end of the summer. And don’t worry about it. I’ll help you with the sermons if you want. I always seem to have a million ideas floating around in my head.”

            “Oh, thanks. Thanks a lot. I guess I can teach a course for you in Bible School then.”

***

Cindy somehow made it through the first week. The second would be easier because she would be busy with Vacation Bible School all week. She and Renée seem to have bonded. They were together every time I saw one of them. They even did a sleep over. I thought the giggling would go on all night.

            Early the second week the girls began pestering me about going to see a movie. It seems the new blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure was coming to the local theater this week. I checked the times in the paper and decided we could go on Thursday night. The girls were so excited, until Thursday afternoon when Renée broke out in hives and her temperature shot up.

            “I bet she got into some poison ivy. She’s so allergic to it,” Patty said. Although she felt bad for her friend, Cindy said she wanted to see the movie with me anyway. So we had an early dinner and set out for the seven o’clock show.

            I thought the movie was great and the special effects were outstanding. It all seemed so real. I said as much to Cindy on the way home. She agreed. She said she was a big fan of the movie. By this time we had just passed through Milledgeville on our way home.

            “Why’s it look so orange out here?” she asked suddenly. I realized that the area around the car seemed to be illuminated with orange light.

            “I don’t know.” I checked my rearview mirror to see if there was an emergency vehicle approaching. No. We were alone on the highway. “Do you see anything in the sky?” Cindy looked out her window up at the sky.

            “Wait a minute.” She leaned forward so she could look directly above us through the windshield. “There’s a big orange light directly over the car.”

            “What kind of light?”

            “I don’t know. Just a light. It’s so bright I can’t tell if it’s on a plane or something.”

            “A plane wouldn’t fly this low or be able to stay over the car. Maybe it’s a helicopter. But why would it be out here at night?” We fell silent. That was when I noticed that whatever the light was, it made no sound. I also noticed the constant night noise of crickets, cicadas and frogs had ceased. All I could hear was the hum of the tires on the pavement. I leaned forward but didn’t see anything. The orange glow was gone.

            “What happened?”
            “It suddenly just shot up in the air,” Cindy said. “Just straight up.”

            “Here it comes again,” Cindy said, alarm appearing in her voice. “It’s coming down so fast it’s going to hit us! Go faster! Get us out of here.” I sped up. I noticed the orange illumination was back.

            “It’s just following us. What does it want? This isn’t funny. Go faster!”

            “I don’t want to go any faster. There are deer out after dark. They get in the road sometimes. If we hit one it could kill us.”

            “I don’t care about the goddamn deer. Get us out of here!” She was seriously spooked. Tears were starting to stream down her face.

            “I see headlights coming. Maybe they see it, too.” I saw the orange glow disappear.

            “It shot up in the sky again,” Cindy said.

            The car approached and passed on by.

            “Here it comes again,” Cindy screamed. “What do they want with us?”

I was still trying to get a look at it. I held the car as steady as possible and leaned over the steering wheel. I could see part of an orange light. Cindy was right in that it was so bright I couldn’t tell if it was attached to a fuselage or just a free-floating orange ball.

            “I’m going to stop and get a better look,’’ I said.

            “NO!” Cindy screamed. “We can’t stop. They might get us. Go, go, go!”

            The light, whatever it was, bobbed up and down and few more times. I was driving as fast as I dared. I turned on Church Street on two wheels. The orange light disappeared. We roared into the drive and slammed on the brakes. Cindy was in hysterics by now. I ran around to her side of the car, looking up to see if we were followed. I got her door open but she would not be pulled out.

            “Cindy. Let go. We’re home. We have to get inside.” She just continued screaming. Daddy and Uncle Cleveland came out on the porch.

            “What in tarnation is going on out here?” Daddy demanded.

            “Help me with Cindy,” I called. Daddy came down. Uncle Cleveland went inside calling to Mama. Once we got Cindy out of the car she broke from us and dashed toward the house. Mama caught her on the porch and led her inside.

            Daddy looked at me and said, “I ask again. What in tarnation is going on?”

            I quickly related what we had seen.

            “If it was going up and down then it won’t nothing natural. Ball lightning and shooting stars don’t do that. It had to be manmade,” Daddy said, trying to come up with an explanation.

            “Let’s go out and see if it comes back,” Uncle Cleveland said. Cindy was in the next room but came running in.

            “No. Don’t go out. They’ll get you. Please don’t go.” She pleaded with us.

            “Who’s going to get us, honey?” Daddy asked.

            “I don’t know. Them.”

            Against her advice the three of us went back out anyway. At the end of Church Street we turned toward Concord since that was the last direction I was heading when I last saw the light. We drove half way to Concord but didn’t see a thing.

            When we got back Mama said she had Cindy in bed. She was calming down some.

            “Maitland. Maybe we ought to call the sheriff,” Mama said.

            “Woody? Shoot. He couldn’t find his ass with both hands tied behind him. He ain’t gonna do nothing. Nothing to be done. Whatever it was, is gone.”

            “But what was it?” Uncle Cleveland asked.

            “Damn if I know. You sure you kids didn’t just imagine it? Maybe you were still excited from the movie?”

            “The movie was about a giant wave, not some orange light that chased us home from Milledgeville,” I said testily.

            “Now, don’t get riled up. We’re just trying to figure this out.”

            “Well, whatever it was, we both saw it and it was enough to scare the daylights out of Cindy.”

            “Can’t nothing be done about it now. I’ll call Woody in the morning and ask if anybody else saw strange lights. He’s liable to think we been into the moonshine.”

            We agreed that we would not talk about it with anyone else. They’d just think we’re crazy. However, I knew Uncle Cleveland would tell Aunt Viola. That’s all it would take. She is physiologically incapable of keeping her mouth closed.

            Cindy refused to sleep alone that night so Mama slept in the bed with her. She refused to leave the house on Friday so she missed the Bible School graduation ceremony. I kept thinking about what we saw. I couldn’t come up with any explanation. I considered UFOs but I never believed in the flying saucer stories and I read in Time magazine that the Air Force’s Project Blue Book proved there was no such thing as flying saucers. Still, what we saw defied all logic. I prayed about it and waited for God to answer. Yeah, you know how that went.

            Friday night was hot and I left my windows and door open to hopefully get some air circulation. Just after I lay down a dark form appeared in my doorway. It dashed across the room and dove under my covers. Cindy rolled herself into a fetal ball and pressed herself against my chest. She was not yet ready to sleep alone.

            “Did you stop the car?” she asked softly.     

            “No, Cindy.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “I think so. Why.

            “Something touched me.”

            I stared at her, stunned.

            “What do you mean?”

            “I don’t know. But something touched me.”

            Had I stopped the car? I honestly couldn’t remember. I was so frantic I don’t remember much about it. The next day I asked Mama what time Cindy and I came in on Thursday night.

            “Let me think. McMillan and Wife was just going off, so it was probably about five till ten. I had just mentioned to your daddy that I was getting worried about you two.”

            The movie had let out at 9. We were in the car by 9:10 at the latest. It takes exactly 25 minutes to get from town to Sweet Creek. We should have been home by 9:35. How do I account for the extra 20 minutes? Did I stop the car? I don’t remember. I really don’t remember much of that drive. Cindy was frantic and begging me to hurry up. And screaming. I distinctly remember her screaming. But she wasn’t in the car. And now that I thought about it, I never remembered going through the ‘time tunnel’. I always notice that on the way home from town. The harder I thought the farther it got from me. Then something hit my mind so hard it knocked the breath out of me. I cannot figure out what it was, but I’m sure I was outside the car. What the hell happened?

***

            Cindy was still not prepared to leave the house on Sunday. However, she became frantic when she realized she would be alone while we were at church. In the end Mama said she would stay behind with Cindy. I offered to stay instead but Mama said I should go. Nettie White and Alice were supposed to be coming to church today and she had told Nettie that I would sit with Alice so she wouldn’t feel awkward. I just pressed my lips together. I’m twenty-four damn years old and my mama is telling me where to sit in church?

            As it turned out, Nettie and Alice didn’t show so I sat with Daddy. The sermon was about faith in things unseen. I could tell Brother Crowder was directing his words at me. In a way, I appreciated his efforts. But his message got me to thinking in other directions. What Cindy and I had seen, we believed in. We had the tangible proof of our eyes, but no one else had seen it and I felt a measure of disbelief from them. I had come to the conclusion that the only explanation was it was a UFO, something from another world. As Paul on the road to Damascus, I have seen the light. Yet the world seemed aligned against me. Flying saucers are a silly figment of my imagination and I shouldn’t believe in them. But I am encouraged, even expected, to believe in things I have not seen. That no one has seen. Walking on water, changing water to wine, bringing back the dead. Why am I to believe stories written down eighteen hundred years ago, and a hundred years after the fact yet not believe what I have seen with my own eyes? It’s about as reliable as the stories of Brer Rabbit I heard as a child. Sitting there, in that pew, I had an epiphany. Religion. It’s all a lie. Every bit of it. I hung my head to hide my tears. I could never build a life on a foundation of such lies.

            I wanted to leave the church as soon as the last hymn was sung but the crowd moved slowly. A friend of the family, Loreen, asked after my mama. She was concerned she might be sick. I explained that Cindy wasn’t feeling well and Mama had stayed with her.

            “Oh, yes. I heard about the light. I can imagine she is feeling poorly after such a fright.” Yep, it was already gossip. Loreen moved closer and said in a low voice, “Can I tell you a secret?” I lifted my eyebrows but nodded yes.

            “I saw it, too.” What? I’m sure my eyes flew open wide.

            “I was taking the boys back to their mama’s house on Thursday night.” She was referring to her grandsons. “It was late, already past their bedtimes. Billy was in front with me and said ‘Meemaw, what’s that light over there?’ I looked to where he was pointing and saw this orange light in the distance going up and down. We were riding by Hancock’s farm so there weren’t no trees in the way. We had a good view. It would go way up in the sky, then real quick go down like a falling star till it disappeared behind the treeline. It looked like it was only a few miles away. That would have been near Sweet Creek. I just wanted you to know. You ain’t crazy. Lessen me, Billy and Jay are, too.”

            She moved on to talk to other friends, but I was stunned. No matter what anyone said, this was proof that Cindy and I hadn’t hallucinated the whole thing. It really did happen.

***

            As soon as I got home I threw some clothes in my overnight bag. Down in the living room I told Mama that I had some business in Raleigh to attend to.

            “You going to see that woman?” she asked.

            “She’s got a name, Mama. You could give her the courtesy of using it.”

            “Don’t sass your mama, boy,” Daddy said.

            “Her name is Janey. Janey Grant. And yes, I will probably see her while I’m in Raleigh. What’s so wrong about that?”

            “I thought you were done with that,” Mama said. “I thought you were moving on. You know she’s no good for you. She can’t ever be the helpmeet you need. She won’t ever be an asset to you.”

            “You don’t even know her.”

            “I know about her. I know she’s no good Christian. She left her husband over in Concord. Just walked out on him. She’s a married woman. That’s adultery. You can’t be a Missionary and be an adulterer, too.”

            “Mama. Get your head out of the sand. This is 1972. People get divorced. At least in Janey’s case there were no children involved.”

            “Because she had an abortion! She’s damaged goods. You need to leave her be.”

            “That’s a lie! She lost her baby because that son of a bitch beat the crap out of her!” I was close to losing my temper.

            “I’m warning you, son. Don’t be using that kind of language to your mama. I ain’t too old to take you down a peg,” Daddy said in a voice that brooked no argument.

            “Mama, I have to follow my heart. My heart is with Janey.”

            “You’re just a baby. You don’t even know your heart yet.”

            “I’m 24. When you were my age you already had Margie and Vernie was on the way. Were you a baby then?”

            “Times were different. Let it go, son. This ain’t about your heart. Your soul is at stake. Reverend Stigmon over at Mount Carmel says the adulterers will burn in Hell with the fornicators and homosexuals.”

            “Yeah, he says a lot of things that aren’t true. The man is a lunatic.”

            “He’s a man of God!” Mama said indignantly.

            “Maybe your God, but not mine.” Without giving her a chance to say anything else, I quickly strode out the door and headed to Raleigh.

            I was well past Milledgeville before my heart rate settled down and I felt fully in control again. Mama and Daddy have never liked Janey. They believe every bad thing the gossips say about her. They ignore the fact that she ended up married to the meanest drunk in Concord. That she showed up at Reverend Stigmon’s house covered with bruises asking for help and advice. His advice was that her duty was to her husband. His help was to call Jimmy Grant to come get his wife. This precipitated the beating that caused the miscarriage. She was done with Grant. The divorce was final and she had a new life in Raleigh. A life that I wanted to be a part of.

            And that was the big stumbling block for the Missions Board. They told me I could not become a Missionary if I continued carrying on my adulterous affair. Jesus disapproved of divorce. That was good enough for the Southern Baptist Convention. Janey’s marriage vow was to keep herself faithful to her husband. If he strayed from the path of righteousness she should be an example to him. How could she help me as a Missionary to bring others to Christ if she couldn’t even bring her own husband, they asked? Their minds were closed on this. So be it.

            As the miles clicked past I felt a huge weight lifting off my shoulders. I had not even known it was there. An inner voice told me I was doing the right thing. I was following the path my heart was set on. It may not make everyone happy. It certainly wouldn’t make my family happy. But it was right to the only ones who mattered.

            So, I told the Missions Board to kiss my ass. Janey said “yes” and whether that night was adultery or just plain fornication doesn’t matter. It was the joining of two hearts seeking solace in each other. And it was perfect.

Sturm und Drang

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This quote from MacBeth is an apt opening for today’s offering. I can’t call it a story because it has no plot, just a slice of life. But not only full of fury, also full of venom and bitterness.

Facebook has become today’s version of Jerry Springer. People seem to have no qualms about saying or doing anything in public, as long as they feel they are getting attention. An innate need to matter, to be heard. But some of our thoughts don’t need to be heard. They should lie unspoken in the junkyard of our minds.

I have taken this little psychodrama directly from Facebook. I’ve made no changes except for names. Punctuation seems to be a fading convention, its lack sometimes making a thought difficult to follow or parse. I’ve added no help. The spelling was sometimes erratic, but I’ve made no changes to that either.

My only regret it that, alas, I am actually related to some of these people. But then, as I say every year at Thanksgiving, oh god, I hope I’m adopted.

Sturm und Drang

Characters:

            Bobby Branson – subject of much of the discussion

            Chrissie Carter Oaks – Bobby’s former fiancée

            Ethel Branson – Bobby’s mother

            Mary Lane – Chrissie’s best friend

            Randall Oaks – Chrissie’s husband

            Chad Branson – Bobby’s brother

            Sally Branson – Chad’s wife

            Ashley Branson – Bobby’s sister-in-law

            Johnny Branson – Bobby’s brother

            Jessie Branson – Bobby’s cousin

            Steph Branson – Bobby’s cousin

            Brandy Laws – Bobby’s cousin

            Katie Allen, Donna Walls, Josey Gardner, Mike Rawls – Bobby’s friends

Facebook

May 4

Ethel Branson:            To all my FB friends Ethel Branson and the late Milton Branson proudly announce the engagement of their son Robert Branson to Chrissie Carter. Please pray their marriage will be blessed by GOD.

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June1

Bobby Branson:          The weekend is here going to spend these two days off spending some much needed time with my soon to be wife Chrissie Carter. I love you baby from the moon and back counting the days down.

June 6

Bobby Branson:          What you find out in the end the love hurts the most. The wedding got called off I’m single again and this crap sucks. But I know I will always have my mama and my brothers to try and pick me up I love all of y’all.

June 6 and following

Chrissie Carter:          Take the pic off. It has my child in it.

Mary Lane:                 Ok retard. For 1 this is not ur child take it down 2 ur being a fucking child this is not ur kid so take it down im not playing ur nothing but a perv taking someone elses kids pic and putting on ur facebook really grow the fuck up she don’t want ur perv ass so leave her and her kid alone and take the pic down or ill make sure u regret it and im not one to play with so u better take it down right now u fucking perv.

Chrissie Carter:           Mary Lane get into this with us girl.

Mary Lane:                 Hes fucking stupid girl.

Randall Oaks:             You’ve got till Saturday to get the fuck picture off your Facebook page.

Katie Allen:                What the fuck are you gonna do?

Donna Walls:              Exactly.

Randall Oaks:             You fucking perv you will never have the chance to be with her she going to be my wife in a few weeks.

Chad Branson:            All I can say to this is good luck with that shit. She’s about the most useless thing called a female I have ever met and thank you for taking one for the team and getting her out of circulation. You’re alright in my book.

A few weeks pass

Chrissie Oaks:            Bobby take the pic off your page stop being a spiteful asshole. Take my daughters pic off your Facebook so I can move on with my life and be happy with my husband.

Chrissie Oaks:            This dude is sick in the head I think and has a thing for kids. I think that’s why he won’t take it down. what ya think Randall Oaks.

Katie Allen:                If you really think that, why on earth would you agree to marry him? Take family pictures? To make his mama happy? No, bitch. You did it just to fuck with good people because you are scum of the earth and ain’t got a lick of common sense.

Randall Oaks:             He’s a piece of shit.

Chrissie Oaks:            Oh I agree but think about it he won’t remove a pic with a child that is not his. It kinda screams that he has a thing for children. And woman that are way outta his field.

Mary Lane:                 Ya its gross damn thats y I called him a perv lol. Right u dont want him he needs to move on damn plain and simple.

Chrissie Oaks:            I think deep down he really is. He has no life and all he is doing is trying to fuck with my child.

Mary Lane:                 Ya i know its rediclious.

Chrissie Oaks:             It sure as hell is. I think this is what he does in his free time.

Randall Oaks:             You one thing you don’t do a fucking post pictures of my wife and child.

Brandy Laws:             When this fucking picture was taken your “wife” was with Bobby. Shes got shit to answer to. Faking a pregnancy and using this families good nature then saying this shit.

Sally Branson:            At least until the next sucker comes along. Then she’ll move on from you like she did Bobby.

Mary Lane:                 He just needs to remove the pic is all and this all will stop.

Donna Walls:              She sure as hell didnt mind when she was using his house as a resting place when she was out leaving hoeing around y’all all better back off.

Randall Oaks:             No bitch she was with me so you need to get the fuck out of it. My wife ain’t a hoe.

Sally Branson:            I beg to differ.

Donna Walls:              Wow he pulled ur wife from u? Some kinda scam y’all got goin.

Donna Walls:              Randall tell that to the guy she brought out here and was in camper for 3 hrs.

Ashley Branson:         She is a hoe. And nothing more. Bitch only knows how to hoe round and use people.

Mary Lane:                 Horing around really with no vehicle get a life.

Sally Branson:            She didn’t need a vehicle. I saw the men coming by to pick her up.

Randall Oaks:             Yep it was me and it’s not your business.

Mary Lane:                 Ya cause she choose to leave and thats her choice u cant make someone love someone they dont.

Mary Lane:                 And thats not men thats a big deff.

Sally Branson:            Then why does she keep coming back to his place. What about the “gay” best friend. What about the “brother”. And she slept with Bobby. All in the course of 2 months. Wow!!! My family, my business.

Mary Lane:                 K well i know nothing about them i only know about Randall and Bobby no one else and i talk to chrissie just about everyday.

Donna Walls:              None of y’all know what the hell is going on but the shit that flowing out her mouth which isnt nothing but fucking lies.

Chrissie Oaks:            All you fucking do is use Bobby for your personal shit and make him feel bad when he won’t kiss your ass over your child. The dude needs to take the pic of my child down before I have her father involved in it.

Katie Allen:                Oh so kinda like you did?

Donna Walls:              No the mf would come get her thats why she had everyone stay in the house. So y’all get a life. Grow up.

Chrissie Oaks:             All you do is stay fucking drunk so don’t tell us to grow up.

Donna Walls:              Wow u don’t know me I don’t drink. I believe u got drunk at my house.

Mary Lane:                 he needs to take this pic down its not his daughter and none of this would be going on right now get the big pic much.

Brandy Laws:             None of this would be happening right now if your so called friend wasn’t a con. All she did was use him and you’re here like a blind puppy.

Chrissie Oaks:             Mary Lane is one of my closest peoples and knows everything about me.

Sally Branson:            It’s funny how Chrissie injected herself into Bobby’s life & his family bent over backwards to try to help her out. They were rewarded with nothing but lies from her for their good deeds. She is a manipulator & a con artist & a compulsive liar. This is the behavior she shows after all she had done.

Chrissie Oaks:             Look here you crazy ass crack hoe bitch stay outta it.

Sally Branson:            I’m a crack hoe? That’s funny. You’re just a straight up con artist whore. I’ve seen you first hand bringing men in the camper, leaving the house for weeks with different men just to beg to come back. Faking pregnancy. Stealing jewelry. Should I keep going…

Chrissie Oaks:             At least I didn’t put drugs before my kids.

Sally Branson:            Funny I still have my kids. No you put everything before your kids or you would still have them.

Chad Branson:             Exactly.

Donna Walls:              Ashley Branson, Katie Allen look at this shyt.

Chrissie Oaks:             Donna Walls, get everyone in it why don’t you let’s have a big fuck fest

Donna Walls:              Heck u did.

Donna Walls:              All lies tell I’m pulling the truth.

Brandy Laws:             You fucking tagged your damn friend into this shit.

Donna Walls:              What about the pic u had Bobby pay for.

Chrissie Oaks:            Mom wanted that taken I didn’t want that fucking pic taken for shit. So therefore I made her happy.

Donna Walls:              More lies.

Randall Oaks:             Look at the picture he looking at the child inappropriately.

Chrissie Oaks:             omg it’s true.

Brandy Laws:             Doesn’t matter if its not his daughter he treated this crazy bitch and her daughter like they were damn on a pedestal. They were automatically added into the family and showed love and this woman was treated like family.

Randall Oaks:             Yep i was the men she left with and had a lot of fun with I’m the daddy of the baby’s and the one she’s married to hahaha.

Chrissie Oaks:            You don’t know a damn this all I want is my child’s pic removed off Facebook it’s not his kid he has no rights to her nor will he ever. So therefore it needs to come down and everyone needs to stay outta it.

Brandy Laws:             I know everything of whats going on and i know you’re a conniving bitch that only lies. Saying you’re pregnant and then faking a miscarriage saying you feel kicking and that its twins, then 3, then 4. You’re a dumb bitch that thought no one would be smart enough to see through your half assed lies.

Mary Lane:                 He just needs to take this pic down plain and simple that’s y i got involved its not his kid it shouldn’t be up on his facebook at all and i know how it feels when someone does this shit cause im going through the same shit so if he just takes it down it will all be done and over with on my end.

Sally Branson:            Maybe if she would just give the ring back it will all be done & over with.

Randall Oaks:             The ring is gone lol lol

Ashley Branson:         Warrant for her arrest cause it wasnt paid for. I have a good lawyer who will help you Bobby Branson.

Mary Lane:                 Ya and they had a plan to give it back and for the pic to be taken down and he refuses to do so and if i remember correctly he told her she could have the ring and that he didnt want it back so u dont know everything either. What men exactly huh? Were u there? Can u say what they were wearing or what they looked like? How tall? Cause if not then u dont really know then now do u?

Sally Branson:            I saw enough from my house.

Ashley Branson:         She a fuck whore and dont deserve a good man. Bitch need to give the ring back her lying cheating ass.

Randall Oaks:             She don’t have the ring it on the side of the road since it’s a fucking lie from his mommy that said it was a mommy’s day present.

Sally Branson:            More lies.

Chrissie Oaks:            What no one understands is the ring is lost I lost it last night and can’t find it at all it’s insured they will give another one it have a life time warranty.

Brandy Laws:             You mean you pawned it. Give the money that was spent on the damn thing back. All this could easily go to the law in 2 seconds. Y’all wanna threaten to press charges when there was nothing wrong done on Bobby’s part at all.

Mary Lane:                 Just have him take this pic down and im out thats all i want.

Randall Oaks:             I fucking trashed it since it was a lie about it being a present.

Ashley Branson:         It wasnt a present or gift. The bitch promised to marry him and due to her cheating and hoeing around. It is owed back to Bobby Branson cause she is a trashy slut.

Brandy Laws:             I think your bitch is lying to you hunny.

Ashley Branson:         Yeah whatever all lies just like everything you ever told him. Lies about being pregnant and everything. Lying ass bitch.

Randall Oaks:             She is pregnant I’ve got pictures of my baby’s.

Sally Branson:            I need to see that to believe it.

Ethel Branson:            If she is pregnant then post picture. When baby is born we will DEMAND a DNA test and if it is Bobby’s. We WILL see you in court.

Josey Gardner:            Take him to court anyway mom he said he trashed the ring that’s right there shows he destroyed someone else’s property she’s all up here saying she married someone else. She needs to give the ring or take her ass to court. Got proof up here screen shot it all.

Randall Oaks:             let’s go.

Sally Branson:            I wouldn’t try to act so cocky if I was you. Josey is right. The proof is all right here for everyone to read. I am ecstatic that you have taken her off of our hands. You two are perfect for each other. She looks like trailer trash & you look like a straight up drug addict. You two belong together. I hope you both get everything that you have coming to you.

Randall Oaks:             You don’t know me and so good luck trailer trash.

Sally Branson:            hahaha…Can’t you be any more original than to just repeat what I say? Oh hunny, you need to get a clue. This girl is using you just like she uses everyone else. You’re just too blind to see it. When she has used you up she’ll leave you just like everyone else. You think you are special? No. You’re just her next victim. But who knows? Maybe you’re just as sick in the head as she is. Maybe you are just as worthless as she is. All you two do is run your mouths & spread your lies. But don’t have the ass to back up what comes out of your mouths. You want to get up here & try to bully someone but can’t take it when the table is turned. He took the photo down. Now she needs to return the ring. She needs to suck it up & realize that her scam didn’t work this time. Bobby has all the proof he needs to take her to court. I’ve seen her records. I don’t think she wants another charge.

Ashley Branson:         You sure you the daddy?

Donna Walls:              it’s the one in the camper. Hell or one of the 3 guys.

Randall Oaks:             Hell yeah she been with me since she moved up there.

Sally Branson:            What about “Ricky”.

Mary Lane:                 This crazy r u sure ur the daddy really come on now lmfao right now.

Donna Walls:              U keep thinking that buddy.

Ashley Branson:         She is just a slut lying ass bitch. She dont know who the daddy is. She a slut.

Mary Lane:                 Now thats enough cause shes not and she can sit here and say the same shit about u all.

Donna Walls:              Doubt it. We all stay with our same man.

Brandy Laws:             Shit I dont go and find people online and lie to them just to have a place to live while i sleep with other people and get married to the other person knowing damn well that im gonna run off with the ring.

Mary Lane:                 Ya well i know what happened and they worked shit out thats how it rolls would us stay with someone u thought u loved but dont? She thought she loved him and she didnt and he said she can keep it so how is that running off with it?

Sally Branson:            Lies. More lies.

Mary Lane:                 Well i know what she told me so im just saying from what she told me and ive been down that road to thinking i loved someone but then really didnt so i broke it off but the only diff is he never bought me anything so.

Brandy Laws:             Would you go through marrying them and then the next day you’re apparently engaged to someone else? Then while you’re with this new person you’re asking for them back in the SAME DAY.

Mary Lane:                 Hell no i would not but i would try to be friends is what i would do cause thats who i am i have a big heart and care a lot and when i do sometimes i get screwed over and shit.

Chrissie Oaks:            I am a slut but honey you know that’s a lie. Hey look everyone get their panties outta a wad or dicks outta their asses.

Sally Branson:            Chrissie I do think that you brought all of this on yourself. Everyone is tired of being quiet while you take advantage.

Ashley Branson:         If she does have any babies they all gonna have different daddys cause she cant be faithful to one man. Lmao. YOU ARE JUST A HOE.

Chrissie Oaks:            I know who my baby daddy’s are bitch. So don’t even go there with my kids that’s crossing the line you stupid bitch.

Mary Lane:                 So damn true it is crossing the line.

Brandy Laws:             Plural, bitch? Lmao.

Sally Branson:            “daddy’s”… Exactly.

Katie Allen:                I’m dying with her multiple baby daddy’s!!

Randall Oaks:             I’m the daddy been in there every night since she moved up there when people sleep daddy plays.

Sally Branson:            You are only making her look worse. Keep talking.

Chrissie Oaks:             I like it when daddy plays it’s fun.

Sally Branson:            Wow… How weird is that.

Ashley Branson:         Exactly.

Bobby Branson:
(Screen shot)  

            Chrissie:         I don’t wanna take it off   (the engagement ring)

            Bobby:            Why not?

            Chrissie:         Because I still have hope of us.

Bobby:            I have hopes of us to but I won’t to hold on to it so I can get down on my knee again and place it on your finger.

            Chrissie:         Please just let me hold on to if for now.

            Bobby:            I won’t to hold on to it.

Mary Lane:                 Whats the date on this. Cause there isn’t any.

Bobby Branson:          Yesterday.

Donna Walls:              Yesterday.

Ashley Branson:         Exactly what I was thinking, she begging to keep the ring and keep the wedding date. But fucking every dick she crosses.

Donna Walls:              Oh its gets better she just messaged him and asked us to stop she will give ring back next Friday! Sooo who lies on this.

Ashley Branson:         She should have gave it back. She shouldn’t have even got it in the first place. How many dick already been in her before she moved there. Lol. Well its funny how she begging Bobby to still let her back just yesterday right. Bitch don’t know what she wants.

Donna Walls:             Damn how many daddys do u have.

Ashley Branson:         To many for her to keep up with obviously.

Chrissie Oaks:             Y’all can all go fuck yalls selfs my two kids are none of your business

Mary Lane:                 Damn right girl.

Katie Allen:                But its every other man out theres business right?

Ashley Branson:         Right. I bet father’s day is very busy for her. Must have to make appointments. Lmao.

Johnny Branson:         Enough is enough. She’s gone and its nobody’s business but theirs. The situation is bad enough without continuing to drag it out.

Donna Walls:              They shouldn’t have attacked him nor threatened him. We didn’t say anything until then. Sorry but we don’t stand back and let family get done like that.

Jessie Branson:           Johnny is right. Bobby just let her go, cuz. Let the ring go too.. if she can live with it then you can live without it. God has someone better for you I promise.. someone whos got her shit together.. this girls just looking to validate her fuckedupness. Idk her at all but watching ur posts is painful.. stop giving her all this power and give them all one of these (middle finger emoticon).

Chad Branson:             I agree with Johnny on this one. Glad the bitch is gone though.

Ashley Branson:         Good riddance. To unwanted bullshit.

Steph Branson:           Some people come into your life and teach you a LESSON. And I hope you learned from this one Bobby. Y’all need to block each other and move on! And stop giving your heart to shit women. Period.

Donna Walls:              Amen!

Randall Oaks:             Amen. She been with me from the day she moved up there. Sorry Bobby.

Steph Branson:           Randall Oaks you can move on too. Take her.

Ashley Branson:         Randall Oaks please keep her. Cause her ass ain’t wanted here. I mean how many other men has she promised to marry. Lmao.

Donna Walls:              Who ever they run scam on.

Randall Oaks:             I’ll be happy to so fuck off and end the childish name calling.

Brandy Laws:             Yall are perfect for each other. Both dumbasses. You’re just proving that she’s a slut.

Randall Oaks:             No she a good house wife so don’t you worry about that Plus she loves my house and land and animals I have she loves my tractor no Reasons to leave my farm.

Sally Branson:            Then why did you have her living in another man’s house.

Brandy Laws:             You just said she was sleeping with you while she was engaged/dating another man. Like I said BOTH DUMBASSES.

Randall Oaks:             No y’all are dumbass i was fucking her when she was living there then she find the love for me and moved to my house.

Brandy Laws:             Exactly you stupid adultering fuck. Jesus.

Ashley Branson:         Can’t fix stupid yall. Their comments show how ignorant they are. Perfect match for each other. I’m just glad she is out of Bobby’s life.

Katie Allen:                Randall Oaks. ARE YOU LITERALLY STUPID?! Omfg WHY WOULD YOU LET YOUR WIFE SLEEP AND GET ENGAGED TO ANOTHER MAN?!?! Like.. both yall stupid asf.

Donna Walls:              I was thinking the same thing but obviously they don’t understand intelligent things.

Mike Rawls:               Him and Bobby was hitting it. What does that.

Donna Walls:              Hoe.

Ashley Branson:         Nasty hoe. And he bragging about it. I just wish Bobby knew how trashy she was before all this.

Steph Branson:           Yalllll. Let it goooo.

Ashley Branson:         Im done. I have a graduation to take care of. Plus fun family trip tomorrow.

Chrissie Oaks:            Everyone just stop the shit. Johnny said leave it be so everyone keep my damn name outta your mouth.

Jenny Branson:           Just my opinion nobody would have had anybody’s name in there mouth if they would have just kept there legs closed but that’s my opinion can’t expect to go around and be a whore and continue to think everyone is peaches and cream love you Bobby keep your head up.

Jenny Branson:           But it’s not my business just stating facts.

Johnny Branson:         Why??? Just let it die down please!

The Session

No opening statements for this sad little piece. It speaks for itself.

The Session

“So, are you ready to tell me about it?”

Actually, I wasn’t. I would prefer to never talk about it. But it had come up in our sessions and I had told Nancy that I would talk about it.

“Uh, well, it’s about my Uncle Stan. He was coming to visit for a week. That was the summer I was eleven and a half. I say ‘half’ because it was summer and my birthday is in December. My cousin came to live with us when I was 12 and this was before then. Uncle Stan was Mom’s oldest brother and was probably about 40. He had lived most of his adulthood in Kentucky, rarely visiting home in North Carolina. I don’t remember him being a stranger so I must have met him during some earlier visit. He was very outgoing and energetic, always seeming to be the center of attention in any group.

“I don’t remember where he stayed for most of his visit. With various family members I guess, but the last night he was with us. Mom brought him over for dinner. It was just Mom, Dad, Uncle Stan and me. He was to spend the night with us. Mom was going in to work for half a day the next day. A cousin was coming over in the morning and we would entertain Uncle Stan until Mom came to take him to the bus station.

            “He amused us at the dinner table with jokes and stories. He included me in all the conversation, making me feel special, accepted by adults. I remember as the dishes were being cleared he asked if I had ever heard of the curse of the monkey’s paw. I guess everyone knows that story now, but I had never heard it. He told it with such intensity that I was on the edge of my seat. He even made me (and Mom) jump a few times. The man was a born storyteller. He had us all in thrall.

            “I heard Mom and Uncle Stan talking quietly over breakfast the next morning. I had slept in since it was summer. After Mom left the house was quiet and I dozed off. I woke about 9 and found Uncle Stan standing in the doorway to my bedroom. He said, ‘Wake up, sleepy head.’ I smiled and sat up in the bed. He stood there and asked me how I was doing in school, what I thought about several other things, again making me feel like an adult. As we talked he came in and sat on the end of the bed. I’m… I’m not sure if I can go on. It feels wrong to talk about it.”

“Take a minute. Calm yourself. Breathe deeply. In and out. You can do it,” Nancy said gently.

            “He asked me if I had a girlfriend. I was only eleven for God’s sake. I had just figured out that girls didn’t have cooties and smelled nice. This was the 60s. We were innocent longer back then. I told him no and he just smiled and said I would someday. He said it would be fun. He began talking about girls he had known in school. Some of what he said was becoming graphic. I distinctly remember him saying, ‘that old thing would get hard just looking at her.’ At this point I noticed I had uh… I had an erection. I had just started having those and was unsure what it was all about. I hadn’t even discovered masturbating yet. I kept the sheet bunched between my legs to hide it. He slipped closer and said something along the lines of I think you’re getting excited.” I closed my eyes. A tear slid hotly down my cheek.

            “You can go on,”Nancy encouraged.

“He put… no, I can’t. I don’t want to.” Another tear slipped out.

“You want to tell it, you need to tell it.”

“He put his hand, put it… put it in my fucking pajama pants, under my underwear.” My voice was becoming hoarse and breathless. “He, he took hold of me. I didn’t want him to. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. This wasn’t right.” I was speaking rapidly, nearly hyperventilating. “He said, ‘yeah, you’re going to give a girl a thrill with this one day’. I couldn’t say anything. I remember desperately wishing there would be a knock at the door as my cousin arrived so he would stop.” My face felt flushed and it was hard to breathe.

“He just sat there looking at me, holding onto my, my you know. I can never forget that moment, like it’s frozen in time. Then he squeezed it and let go and sat back. He said I was growing up. He got up to leave and said we should keep this guy talk between the two of us.”                       At this point I was truly hyperventilating.

“Take a moment and breathe,” Nancy said. “You’re safe now. That was an awful experience. I’m so sorry you had to go through something like that. Did you tell anyone?”

“No.”

“Why?”
“I don’t know. I was scared and ashamed. We did something bad. It was wrong. I had

done something wrong and was afraid I’d get in trouble. And suddenly I was scared of Uncle Stan. I wanted him to be back in Kentucky as soon as possible. I didn’t know what to do.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. He was a responsible adult and he betrayed your trust in him. Plain and simple.”

“I guess…” I let my words fade out.

“And stop that. There’s no guessing. Either you know and believe it or you don’t. Do you remember our discussion about the subconscious mind? You called it your ‘inner child’? I see him peeking around the corners of your eyes. I think he has something to say about this also. What does he say?”

            I didn’t filter or even think about what came out. I just let go. “IT WASN’T MY FAULT!” I wailed and broke into deep wrenching sobs. Nancy put a tissue in one of my hands and gently held the other. She softly said, “It’s okay. You’re safe here. Nothing bad can happen to you here. Let the emotions out. Take as long as you need.”

It took a few minutes to gather myself back together. Nancy continued holding my hand murmuring “it wasn’t your fault.”

“Wow,” I said. “I’ve never told anyone that before.”

“You needed to get that out. What you said is true, though. Nothing that happened that day was your fault. You were a child. A sexual predator ruthlessly abused your trust, stripping away your innocence.”

“But it only happened the once…”

“There you go minimizing again. You shouldn’t devalue yourself or what you feel. Your feelings are real and have value. We don’t use the word ‘victim’ because it speaks to weakness. We prefer ‘survivor’ as it speaks to your strength. And minimizing your own feelings and importance is a classic symptom we see in sexual assault survivors, a way of punishing yourself and denying that strength. He may not have left any physical marks on you but you have deep emotional scars that have not yet healed, even after twenty-five years. The fear you feel, the anxiety, the emotional pain is all very real and very valid. You feel what you feel and no one can gainsay that. You have worth and so do your feelings.

“We have talked about the minimizing. We also talked about your feelings of worthlessness, of being somehow less than or lacking, discomfort in social situations, difficulty in forming intimate relations, extreme reluctance to let anyone see you naked or even talk about body functions. Always trying to please others, never yourself. These are all symptoms of sexual assault survivors. You’re not worthless,‘damaged goods’ or less than. People like you. You even use that pain in your self-deprecating humor. You may be a bit overly modest but that’s okay. These are things we can work on.

“You’ve done some very hard work today so I’m not going to put you through any more. You’ve done well. I’m proud of you. We’ll stop here. But between now and next week I want you to think about forgiveness.”

            “Never! I hate him and will never forgive him. Not till the day I die. He’s been dead for five years now and I’m glad he’s dead. I’ve since found out he fondled one of my girl cousins and Mom said he was accused of molesting his step-son.”

            “Not forgiveness for him. You are allowed to hate him for as long as you want. I would say you have good reason. I want you to think about forgiving yourself. You’ve admitted today that it wasn’t your fault. Your inner child knows that. You need to stop punishing yourself. Now you and he need to forgive each other for the last twenty-five years of torturing yourself. You were scared. That’s okay. You didn’t tell anyone. That’s also okay. It may have been better if you had, but I cannot judge a frightened child. Something horrific happened to you and you survived. You and your inner child should celebrate that victory. I guess you could say you’re the last man standing.”

***

I left Nancy’s office. My head was still feeling thick from all the tears I had shed, but somehow I felt so much lighter. The sky seemed bluer, the air fresher and the world not such a bad place. Maybe I will get through this after all. I started my car and waited for the air conditioner to start cooling. So, Inner Child, I thought to myself. Want to celebrate? I sat and thought for a moment. Then I smiled and murmured, “OK, ice cream it is.”

Billy and the Bush Ax

Sorry, I missed posting last week. Life got in the way. Not much to say about this story except that it is true, bizarre as that may seem. It is one of the few stories from my time in college I can tell. Statute of limitations and all that. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Billy and the Bush Ax

(caution: contains underage drinking and partial nudity)

Back in the 1970s I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve heard people speak of their ‘misspent youth’. Mine was definitely not misspent. I had a helluva great time. I came out of my shell and became a hardcore party boy. I raised hell with the best of them and still managed to graduate with honors. You just have to pace yourself.

While at UNC I joined a fraternity. I didn’t come in thinking I would join one; I didn’t really know what they were about. It just kinda happened. Has to be one of my better decisions.

I lived in the fraternity house for 3 years. Now that gave me plenty of stories, most of which I can’t print. Most of the degenerates I hung out with are now pillars of their respective communities, which still boggles the mind.

My fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, was on a little side street in Chapel Hill. We had four fraternities and two sororities in our little two block area (plus a small daycare and a Lutheran Church. Go figure.)  Our house, a huge Victorian with a wrap porch was on a corner and faced onto a little street, which connected two of Chapel Hill’s main thoroughfares. To our right was the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. We called them the Lambchops; they were our buddies. Behind our house, facing on a main street were the Tau Epsilon Phi’s, the Teps. We did some service projects and street parties with them. Great guys. Across the street to our left was the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. The Thetas. They looked upon us with the sisterly affection and tolerance one has for a wayward little brother. Diagonally behind us, between the Lambchops and Teps was Kappa Delta sorority. KD. These were the hardcore 70s preppies. You know the kind. All about pink and green, sweaters around their shoulders, adda pearls and lavaliers and way too much makeup. They pretended that the Delts, Teps and Lambchops didn’t exist. The final fraternity in our little neighborhood, across the side street from the Lambchops were the Alpha Tau Omegas, also known as ‘the Enemy’. I’m not sure why the other 3 fraternities and Thetas disliked them so much. The KDs just hated everybody. It could have been because the ATOs were mostly lacrosse players or mostly from New Jersey. My guess is that is was because they were mostly arrogant pricks. But that’s just a guess. It was an established hatred when I came into the fraternity and who am I to buck fraternity traditions?

Directly across the street from us was a Lutheran church. All three years I lived there, I had a room with a window overlooking the church. When that bell started ringing at the crack of eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning, it could be sheer hell. I, like most of my compatriots, was usually a hungover mess on Sunday mornings. More than once I cursed that blasted bell. And if you stood in my window and looked closely, you could just see the red and green fletching of two of our darts sticking in the wooden statue of Mary on their second floor.

The Delts, Lambchops, Teps and Thetas got along fine. We did things like the aforementioned service projects and street parties together. The Thetas would call on the guys if something needed fixing or if a girl needed an escort after dark. Their pledges made us chocolate chip cookies, our pledges cleaned their house, we booby trapped their door with saran wrap or a pyramid of beer cans. That kind of thing. The KDs had their noses in the air and were above it all. The ATOs just grunted and scratched their genitals.

One of my favorite brothers was Billy. We roomed together my junior year. He was full of life and a boundless source of energy, fun and stupidity. If there was a bad decision to be made, he had probably already made it. Like the time he was at a local bar and, in his words, “this short dude on crutches was mouthing off at me.” He said, “I figured, you’re short and on crutches. You don’t need to be mouthing off at people. That’s probably why you’re on crutches.” So the guy keeps it up and Billy finally has enough and pops the guy in the jaw. It turned out the guy was on the UNC football team. The rest of the team was in the bar. The night did not end well for Billy. The other brothers and the townies joined in a general brawl. Some of the brothers managed to grab Billy and drag him out while the team was busy with the townies. Such a character, just fun to be with. But not at a bar with the football team.

Billy had a special hatred for the ATOs. It stemmed back to a time he got a black eye when hit in the face with a snowball thrown by an ATO. There was a rock in the center of the snowball. He was ready to brawl but we held him back. But the seed of enmity was sown.

I believe it was just before school started in 1977, maybe ’78. We had arrived early to work on the house. There were grouting guns and putty knives and other implements of mass construction laying about. We also had several large slabs of sheetrock propped up against the wall in the hallway to replace the wall in a bedroom. There were a couple of rocking chairs and a sofa on our porch. We liked to sit there on afternoons, drinking beer, rating the girls who walked by. Well, one morning we found that one of the rocking chairs was missing. Billy immediately said, “It was the ATOs. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Our president was more prudent. First he asked the Lambchops, Teps and Thetas if they had seen anything. No one had. He talked with the ATOs but they claimed to know nothing. Billy just ‘knew’ they were lying.

A day or so later we awoke to find our sofa missing from the porch. We were pissed, but Billy was livid. He said our honor was besmirched. Our president once again asked around with the same results. Billy wanted to force our way into the ATO house and search it. Our president counseled against starting a war. Billy could not be mollified. It was a matter of honor. He was a volcano ready to explode.

I’m not sure if it was the following night or later, but Billy and I sat up drinking, as we were wont to do. At some point, after many beers, he became convinced the ATOs were going to come that night and steal the remaining chair. I reminded him we had moved it indoors for safe keeping. Not good enough. He had a plan. He went downstairs and put the rocking chair back on the front porch as ‘bait’. He was going to wait and catch them in the act. He was kind of fuzzy on what was to happen then. He decided he needed a weapon to protect himself. He went looking through our garden tools. He came upon an old bush ax. If you are unfamiliar with the tool, it was a wooden handle about four feet long to which was attached a two foot single edge blade. Kind of like a machete on a stick. It is used mainly for clearing ditches of undergrowth. I should have been concerned that he had picked up such a deadly weapon, but I refer you back to the beers mentioned above. I went to bed. The rest I pieced together from various witnesses.

Billy came down to the living room near the front door to wait. He brought a sheet to wrap up in and he was wearing his usual sleeping attire – his tighty whities. However, these were no longer tighty, nor very whitey. I can attest that these had seen better days. But, he rolled up in the sheet on the sofa and laid in wait.

Meanwhile, another brother, Bubba, had scored a date with a Theta. He and the Theta  had come back from a club and Mick asked them up to his room to share a joint before Bubba walked her home. Now, Mick was a big guy, about six feet tall, three feet wide, mostly muscle and at this point, already three sheets to the wind. Bubba was talking about his summer job selling Bibles door to door. He was bragging about how he could go into poor areas and convince people who had virtually no money to shell out what they had for a Bible. The Theta exclaimed that it was despicable and how could he and that he was awful. That kind of thing. She stormed out, down a flight of stairs, clip, clip, clip, a 180, down the hall and out the front door. Bubba was hot on her heels, down a flight of stairs, clop, clop, clop, a 180, down the hall and out the front door, apologizing all the way. Mick, barely cognizant at this point, figures they’re all going somewhere. So he went down a flight of stairs, clump, clump, trip, tumble, tumble, crash into a pile at the foot of the stairs. The old adage that God looks after drunks proved true. Giggling, Mick sat up, and grabbed the sheetrock leaning against the wall to pull himself up. He overbalanced it and the slabs of sheetrock propped against the wall fell over. Luckily it missed Mick. But the crash was loud and shook the entire house.

This finally woke Billy who was lying in wait in the living room. He leaped to his feet shouting “ATOs!” He raced to the front door waving his bush ax in the air with his war cry. As he reached the front door, it opened and the Theta ran in to see what the noise was. She ran headlong into Billy, nearly naked in his not so tighty whities, murder in his eyes, waving a bush ax and whooping. She screamed, turn and ran from the house, knocking down Bubba in the process. Billy also screamed and ran the other way. He tripped on Mick who was lying on the floor giggling. He went airborne and did a belly flop beyond the pile of sheetrock. The bush ax flew from his hand, skidded along the floor and buried its point in the back door. Billy apparently decided the tile floor was comfortable because he just laid there, passed out.

A few moments later, Dan and Jeannie were coming back from a date. They tried to come in the back door but Dan had to push mightily to get it to open. Once inside, he found a bush ax stuck in the door. Looking up he saw Billy laid out on the floor, his underpants slipped down showing half his butt, a pile of fallen sheetrock, Mick laying on the floor giggling and Bubba standing at the front door, bent over laughing his ass off.

The next morning there were two very hungover brothers feeling a bit sheepish. The other rocking chair was gone. But the sofa was back. And the Theta was never seen at our house again.

Schizophrenogenic

Once again, this is mostly memoir. I’ve changed the names and rearranged a few things to protect the guilty. I realize upon re-reading it that I might come off as a person who dislikes women. Not at all. I really like women. It’s just that I’ve been burned a few times. Refer back to the Charlie Manson reference in Sharing Christmas.

In case you haven’t heard the term before, schizophrenogenic basically means ‘crazy making’. I think the title is apt for this memory.

Schizophrenogenic

            “If I live to be a thousand years old I’ll never understand women.” I heard my father say this time and again growing up. In my life I have found this to be so true. I know all the men are from Mars, women are from Venus crap, but we’re all the same species. We should be able to communicate. It’s like we speak the same language with different words. It would just be nice if I knew what the heck was going on in their heads.  

            A case in point – Miranda. Back when I was between wives I got a little lonely. My job consumed a large amount of my time and I wasn’t meeting women. I got depressed and looked at the Independent personals. It was a big thing at the time. After a few weeks I found one message that seemed relatively sane and it seemed we had some things in common. I left her a message and in short order she replied and we set up a date. On the day of the date she cancelled, complaining of a migraine. I have had migraines and understood. So, I figured she either was blowing me off or really sick. The fact that she offered to reschedule made me go with the latter. As the time for our rescheduled date approached she called and said she had found someone and couldn’t go out with me. Okay, I understand. But she said she had a friend who was looking and she had passed my number along to her. She hoped I didn’t mind. Actually, I did mind. I minded a whole lot. I wasn’t into being called up by some random woman. But since it was a done deal I just told her it was fine.  

            A day or so later the friend, Miranda, called. It seemed we had similar types of work; both in human services. We were both mid-thirties and single. Aside from also both being homo sapiens there didn’t seem to be many more commonalities. We decided to give it a try and made a date to see a movie. She recommended “The Piano”, a kind of artsy film. I’m not an artsy film kind of guy, but what the heck. Well, it was probably one of the worst films I have ever seen. I don’t mean “Plan 9 from Outer Space” or “Attack of the B Movie Bimbos” bad. Those movies are so bad, they’re good. This movie had good production values and decent acting. It was just an awful movie. Most of it was so dark you had trouble seeing what was going on. After the mean husband got killed everyone dressed in white and all the windows were open and you could actually see what was happening. Why not just hit me over the head with symbolism? We took a walk and talked about the movie. She wanted to see it as a deep artistic statement but eventually agreed that it was really a dreadful movie. Now we had something else in common.

            So, we continued seeing each other. I discovered that she liked dancing. Seeing as I’m an accomplished dancer, this was a real plus. We went to a number of dances. She was a fairly good swing dancer and could do some ballroom. That should have cinched it, but it didn’t. The whole thing was just missing that spark, that special chemistry when two compatible people find each other. I eventually invited her over to my apartment for dinner. I’m a good cook and she was impressed. She returned the favor and invited me over for dinner. As we ate she served wine. After the first glass she offered me more. I declined saying I had to drive. She countered that I could always stay the night. Whoa, whoa, whoa. When did we get here? Whether she was talking about hooking up or just sleeping on the sofa, I was in no way ready to be here. I gracefully declined by saying I didn’t usually drink more than one glass. It’s true. I’m a cheap drunk.

            During this time, I had been going to a local country western club and learning to two step. I was getting good at it and had developed a cadre of partners, or since it was a country-western club I guess that would be a posse. One Sunday night a new lady asked me to dance. This wasn’t exactly unusual. She said she had seen me tapping my foot in time to the music and took that as a good sign that I could dance. Or at least had rhythm. Her name was Lena and she did exceptionally well in the swing. We followed up with a two step. Also very good. I noted that I needed to remember to add her to my list of regular partners. As she was coming down the floor with another dancer I looked at her to be sure I memorized her face. As I was watching, her partner said something amusing. She smiled and her face just lit up. It nearly glowed like an old Renaissance painting. Very nice.

            Still unsure how to proceed with Miranda, I did what most men do. I procrastinated. I called her up one week and said I was going two stepping on Saturday night, did she want to go. I phrased it that way because that’s what I was planning to do, she could come or not. She replied that she didn’t care for country music. I just said that was unfortunate, maybe we could do something the next week. I would call her.

            Saturday night I was at the nightclub and found a number of my friends to dance with. Lena also showed up. She decided to sit at a table with me. We both danced with a variety of people, but danced together a number of times also. I found I truly enjoyed dancing with her.

            About an hour after I got there, in walked Miranda on the arm of John, a guy I kind of knew, peripherally. And she was all dolled up. Hmm, I thought. That’s interesting. She proceeded to ignore me for the next couple of hours. Okay, I can deal with that. Then they left. What was that all about, I wondered.

            The next day, around noon, I got a call from Miranda. She demanded to know who was “that woman” I was “all over” last night. Okay, first, I wasn’t all over her. Second, who was with whom? She redirected any mention of John back to me and why I danced with “that woman” all night. I saw this was going nowhere so decided it was time to pull the plug. I told her I was sorry she felt that way and that I hoped we could always be friends. That did not go over well. At all. But as I hung up I felt a bit relieved. Problem solved, bullet dodged. But speaking of schizophrenogenic, what the hell was that all about?

            As kind of an odd coda, John and I became closer friends. He later told me she had called him and asked him to take her to the club. He had no idea why. By the time we were friends, he was steadily dating Betty. One night John and Betty and Lena (who I was dating by this time) and I were sitting together at a dance. In walked Miranda, alone. She came over, sat down at our table and proceeded to stare at us. Discretion always being the better part of valor, I decided it was time for Lena and I to dance. As I hit the floor I noticed John and Betty right behind us. After a couple of dances we skulked back to our table. Miranda had moved on.

            Miranda finally found Phil and they became serious. I would see them at dances and finally decided that us avoiding each other was just ridiculous. So I asked her to dance. We made nice with each other. Once the tension was gone, we found we got along. I married Lena and last I heard Miranda had married Phil. I’m happy for them. She found a good man, and they dated long enough for him to know what he was getting into. But looking back at that time of my life I still have one question: what the heck was going on?

Do This One Thing

If anyone has ever sat on a front porch on a sultry summer evening listening to the crickets and bullfrogs, watching the lightning bugs and enjoying the feeling of being snug in your family, that is the feeling I am trying to capture in this story. It is a memoir as well as a tribute to my grandfather, a remarkable man. I am proud to have known him and to carry his name.
            He loved to talk and tell stories. He had a story for every occasion. Some he admitted were tall tales. But he always swore this one was true. Maybe it was.


Do This One Thing
A True Story?
I remember sitting on Granddaddy’s porch when I was a child listening to the adults talking. I remember in particular a Saturday evening in summer in the mid nineteen-sixties. Granddaddy’s house sat on the top of a low hill, the highest land in the area. From his front porch we could see the entire community for a half mile or more in every direction. It was twilight, what Grandma always called gloaming. The heat of the day had dissipated and we were outside to catch any cool breezes that might float by. The front lawn twinkled with constellations of lightning bugs providing us with our own private light show. It was a large lawn, stretching about a hundred yards down to the main highway. Granddaddy always called his lawn the avenue. His avenue was dotted with cedars, catalpas and large hardwoods we kids called “climbing trees” because they were great for climbing. Grandma hated us climbing in the trees and would yell, “Y’all come down out of that tree before you fall and break your neck!” We never fell. Well, my cousin Edith fell. And broke her arm. But no necks were ever broken.
            A couple of my cousins and I were on the steps that evening. Mom and Dad and my cousins’ parents had gone to the city to dinner and Grandma always watched us for them. So we sat on the porch, watching the sky turn purple, the insect light show, and just enjoying being a family. As sometimes happens in these types of gatherings the conversation turned to ghost stories.    
            Granddaddy said he remembered one from when he was a young man. Grandma said, “Good Lord, don’t tell that story again. You dreamed it.”
“Dang if I didn’t,” Granddaddy declared. “I know what I saw.”
“What?” we all wanted to know. He had us then. We were spellbound.
            “This happened when I was a young man. Mollie and I had just been married less than a year so it must have been 19 and 23. Remember, Sweetpea? We’d run off in January and got married. We were still honeymooning. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had Raleigh Bryant run me to Garysburg in his horsebuggy. I had my valise with my birth certificate and a change of clothes. I won’t but eighteen, didn’t know nothing. Excepting that I loved Mollie. It was cold as hell, but I was sweating bullets till your grandma showed up. Lord, you were a sight for sore eyes, Sweetpea. I loved you so much.”
“Still do,” Grandma smiled at him, patting his knee.
“We caught the train to Emporia and checked in an old hotel. I wanted to go ahead and check in as Mr. and Mrs. but your grandma was all prim and proper. A real lady. She insisted on her own room under MISS Mary Grizzard. Cost us a whole extra dollar. And a dollar was hard to come by in those days. We found the justice of the peace the next day and got hitched. Then we went back and used that hotel room.”
“Lloyd!” my Grandma exclaimed. We could see her blush, even in the dim light.
“Like I said, I won’t but 18 and Sweetpea was 19. When we got home, all hell broke loose. But we was married and nothing they could do about it.”
“But, Granddaddy. What about the ghost?” At that age I didn’t care about dumb lovey stuff.
            “I was getting there. Hold your horses. We were living in the old Mayle house, just a sharecropper’s cabin with 4 rooms, but it was all we needed. It was August, the hottest one I could remember. Me and Sam Massey and another man, I can’t recollect who, were working the field up by old Miz Garris’ place. Alice Garris, now she was a firecracker. She was supposed to have been a looker in her day. They say old man Garris tamed her, but he died before I can remember, so she lived in that big old house alone. She dressed and acted like she had money. Did you ever see that house? It’s gone now. I don’t even remember if it fell down or got burned. It was up, back of Sam Massey’s old house. That’s gone now, too.”
            “Yeah, Granddaddy, I remember Mr. Massey’s house but not any other one. They tore it down when I was real little, but I remember it. I remember Mr. Massey would always bring us a watermelon from his garden every summer,” I said.
            “Yes, Sam was something else. Most folks didn’t care too much for him ‘cause he was a picker. Always picking at people, trying to get a rise out of ‘em. I remember when your daddy was young, we were working in a field and Sam started picking at him. I let it go, figuring the boy needed to learn to take care of hisself. Purty soon, your dad up and whaled him on the side of the head with a beanpole. Sam jumped up looking like he was ready for a fight but I stepped in. I told Sam, ‘you got what was comin’ to you. Now get back to work’.
            “Now, where was I? Oh yeah, we were working the field side of Miz Garris’ house. One day as we got ready to take a break for lunch we were near her yard. We decided to go over and sit under a big tree by the house. Ol’ Betsy, the mule, won’t having no part of it. When we tried to pull her over to the shade, she just bellowed and dug in her heels. ‘Well, just stand there in the hot sun, you dang varmint,’ I said to her.
            “It didn’t take but a few minutes under the tree before we smelled it. If you ever smelled a dead body, you won’t never forget it. Sam and me and the other man all looked at each other. Lonnie Birdsong. That’s who it was. I just remembered. Me and Sam were working with your grandma’s uncle Lonnie.  
‘When’s the last time you saw Miz Garris?’ I asked them.
‘She won’t at church on Sunday,’ Sam said. ‘Somebody said she was feeling poorly.’ ‘Reckon we ought to go look,’ I said.
            “We went up on the back porch and knocked on the door. ‘Miz Garris. Can you hear me? You all right?’ After a few minutes with no answer I pushed the door open. There won’t no such thing as locked doors back then. We all trusted each other. Not like these days when you got people robbing banks and stealing and all. Don’t know what the world is coming to. Anyway, soon as I got the door open, I ran back into the yard and threw up. She was darn sure dead and after several days in August she was purty ripe.”
“Lloyd, must you tell it like that?” Grandma protested. “The young’uns will have nightmares.”
“I’m just telling what I saw, sweetheart. Ain’t nothing they don’t see on tv these days.
            “Anyway, ‘Dammit’, I thought. I’m sorry ol’ Miz Garris died but it was also going to make us lose a day of work. We needed to go fetch either the doc or Sheriff Stephenson. When I said this, Sam said, ‘Why break off work? Let’s finish the field and then go get the doc. The old lady ain’t going nowhere.’ ‘Naw, that ain’t right,’ I told him. That old lady deserved more respect than that. Plus I don’t think I could work knowing a dead body was just a few yards away. So Sam and the other man took ol’ Betsy back home and I headed off to Gumberry. It was only a mile or so through the woods and there was a telephone at the general store.
            “They had her funeral the very next day. The preacher told me she had been dead a number of days and was purty far gone. He didn’t know if they would ever get the smell out of the house. They even had the funeral out by the graveside instead of inside the church. Prim old lady that she was, I know she’d a been real embarrassed by all the mess.
            “That night was hotter than ever. Mollie and me didn’t have any covers on the bed and all the windows were open. We even had the front door propped open to catch any breeze it could. From where I was laying in bed I could look through the door and down the long lane to the main road. I could see low lying mist down by the end of the lane. It just drifted to and fro with whatever breeze caught it. After a bit it seemed the mist was drifting toward the house. As I watched it, it seemed to get thicker. Suddenly it took form and I could see it was a woman in a white dress standing outside the house. I was froze with fear. I saw her put her hand on the door jamb, lift her skirt and step into the house. I immediately saw it was old Miz Garris. Shit!”
            “Lloyd! Don’t say that in front of the children!” my grandmother chided him.
“Well, I was scared half to death, Mollie. She stood there looking at me a minute. Then she walked over to the bed and reached down and touched my hand. Her hand was so cold. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move or make no sound. She said ‘Lloyd, they didn’t find my will. It’s in the Bible in my study. You need to tell them. Do this and you won’t ever see me again. You don’t do it, I’ll be back. I’ll haint you.’ She disappeared suddenly and I was released and I set to squallin’.”
            “Like to have scared me out of ten years growth,” Grandma added. “He was yelling and wrenching around. Talking about ghosts. You just dreamed it, Lloyd. There ain’t no ghosts.”
“I know blame well what I saw, dammit. The next day I went to the general store and Doc Moore happened to be there. I told him a lie. I said Miz Garris told me before she died that her will was stuck in a Bible in her study. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I said her ghost told me. Turned out there was a second will in a Bible in her study. And like she said, I ain’t never seen her again. And I want to keep it that way.”
My cousins and I loved the story. We grinned and hugged ourselves in mock terror. It was full dark by this time. I don’t know if I really believed in ghosts back then, but Granddaddy’s house was big and dark and had lots of creaks and groans. I wasn’t about to walk back in that house alone until the adults went in.
My granddaddy loved to tell stories and knew many tall tales. But he always swore this one was true. As an adult I don’t believe in ghosts. They’re just tales we use to frighten the children. But poor old Miz Garris has been resting quietly for 96 years now. I agree with Granddaddy. I’d like to just keep it that way.