Sunday, October 31, 2010

She Was A Witch You Know

Not that anyone would have called my Great Grandmother a witch, they would have called her a fortuneteller or something like that. Dad's family called her a Ducamunger (If that's how it's spelled) which, I believe, is a word meaning fortuneteller. Needless to say, all of my knowledge of her comes from my Dad, Aunts and Uncles. She had gone to meet her reward long before I was born.

Most of you have probably put together the fact that today is Halloween and may have even guessed that I was likely to tell a ghost story or something like that. Well, this is something like that, but it's a bit different. These things didn't happen to someone, somewhere at sometime, they happened right in front of my Dad's family perhaps twenty years before I was born. You can look at them as lies if it makes you more comfortable, but you can't think of them as merely some old scary stories.

One of the first things that Dad ever told me about my Great Grandmother was that she made a living telling fortunes. She was good enough at it that people would come from as far as New York to the swamps of South Carolina to ask questions concerning future business deals and things of that nature. She had a little room off the side of her house where she did her work. It was dark, mysterious and filled with religious symbols like any good gypsy setup should be. (Yes, we are part gypsy. Part everything else really. We Ethridges see a pretty face and before you know it the next generation is part whatever.)

One day a man came in wanting to buy a totem. He wanted a charm to protect him from harm, as it were. Dad happened to be in the kitchen when my Grandmother and Great Grandmother started putting it together. It seems that the man had been seeing this other man's girlfriend or vice versa, either way he was expecting trouble and felt he needed protection. He was assured that for fifty dollars he would have a talisman that would protect him in the upcoming struggle.

Dad was standing right there when they started their work. They took a small silk bag and dumped some ashes in it. Then they took bits of this and that and threw them in along with it. The only bit Dad remembers with perfect clarity is that Grandma took a chicken bone and broke it almost in half with a certain twist and held it up for inspection. “How's that?” she asked and my Great Grandmother looked it over for a moment and replied “That should do.” The bone was then thrown into the bag which was quickly sown shut and given to the customer for fifty dollars. (Keep in mind this was in the fifties. I have no idea how much that would be today, but you can figure a lot.)

Later that week Dad was sitting on the front porch of Great Grandma's house when he saw that same man coming up the road with a bandage wrapped around his throat. He looked as if he had been hurt pretty bad. Great Grandma told Dad to go inside and she headed for her little room and awaited the former customer. As it turned out he had been hurt very badly. However, as he said himself “If it hadn't been for your totem that man would've cut my head clean off!” He was very satisfied and had come back to give her an extra ten dollars.

Did the totem save his life? I doubt it, but who am I to say. It might very well depend on how you look at it. What my Great Grandmother gave that man was confidence. It was confidence in the form of a talisman. Did that confidence save his life? Could be. So was it the totem, the confidence or coincidence? I am certain that most of you feel it couldn't have been that bit of ash and old chicken bone, but I'm not so sure. There were strange things that happened around that little old lady in the swamp.

Many years later my Great Grandmother lay in the hospital dying. A few members of the family were there with her while others were at her house packing up what was going to need to be moved after she died. It wasn't a case of if she was going to die, only of how many hours before she did. A few of the family were sitting in the waiting room talking when an old man in pajamas came in and sat down. After a few minutes they asked him if he needed anything and he said he didn't and that he was waiting for Great Grandma. They told him she was dying and that he might not be able to see her, but he said that it was alright and he would wait.

A little later they went in to see her and told her about the little old man. She told them that it was alright, that it was just Great Grandaddy who had come to wait for her. He had died years ago and so everyone figured she was a little delirious all things considered. Someone stepped out to invite the old man in, but he was gone. Now it could be that he was just some old man that happened to be in the hospital and knew my Great Grandmother who finally got tired of waiting and went back to his room. However, by the time they got back in the room to tell Great Grandma that the old man was gone she was dead. It's hard to be sure that he wasn't waiting on her and when she left this world so did he.

Shortly after Great Grandma had passed away the family members at the hospital called the family members at her house to notify them that she had died. No one at the house was surprised. This was for two simple reasons. First, she was very sick and they were expecting her to go any moment. Second, of course, was the scream that had echoed through part of the house.

There were a few things about that scream that made everyone think it might have been caused by Great Grandmother dying. It was a wild banshee like scream that made your blood run cold. None of the family would have been screaming like that at a moment like that, it might have been humorous enough at certain times, but this wasn't one of those times. The strangest thing was that everyone standing in the kitchen heard it. In fact it was so loud that it hurt their ears. However, all the family standing in the living room, which was right beside the kitchen didn't hear anything at all.

The combination of these two things made for a rather uncommon departure out of this world. The old man can be explained away by chance and the scream could have been lied about. However, the old man's timing was remarkable and a handful of the family uniting to lie about something like that scream is rather hard to believe. I guess you have to decide which thing is the hardest to believe and then believe the other.

There was another strange event that took place in that house years after Great Grandmother had died. My Dad was staying with my Great Aunt Sadie in Great Grandmother's old house. In the bedroom he was staying in there was a closet that was boarded up. It's odd to find a closet that has been sealed on the inside of the room by having three boards nailed across it. Dad thinks the boards had been put up because some of the closets in that house were connected and you could pass from one room to another by going through the closet. Uncle Tecky had his room on the other side of the room Dad was staying in. So it made a certain sense to board up the closet so that no one staying in that spare room could go through into uncle Tecky's room. I would have just asked people not to go through, but that's me. Whatever the real reason the closet was boarded up.

By this time Dad was eighteen or nineteen years old and his fears of monsters under the bed had long ago been put to rest. His first night in that room he climbed into bed and quickly fell asleep. He was awakened a little later by the sound of scratching. It sounded like something was pulling clawed hands across the inside of that closet door. Needless to say this bothered Dad enough to get up and take a look around. He turned the lights on and the sound stopped. A close inspection of the door revealed nothing, so Dad went back to sleep.

There were too many things that it could have been for Dad to be too worried about it. It might have been an animal outside scratching around that just sounded as if it were in the closet. A squirrel or some other small animal might have had a nest in the roof over the closet. It could even have been that he had dreamed it. All things considered he decided it was best to just crawl back in bed go to sleep.

However, the next night he was awakened again by the same scratching sound. As he laid there the sound got louder and louder. Finally he looked at the door. In the dim light he could see it bowing out towards him. The door creaked as it flexed and bent. It began to look as if it were made of plastic rather than wood. It bowed to the extent that it should have broken, but it didn't. Then Dad saw the impression of a clawed hand pushing out of the center of the door. Here Dad did what most of use would have done. He screamed his head off.

My Great Aunt came rushing into the room and turned on the lights. Just like in every other ghost story in the world, when the lights were on nothing was there to be seen. My Uncle and Great Aunt figured Dad had just been dreaming and had woken himself up when he screamed. I myself have yelled in a dream and woke myself up because I was actually yelling, so I know that it's possible. However, Dad wasn't convinced. He felt certain that something wasn't right about that closet and, grown man or not, he was going to take something in the room to protect himself, just in case.

The next day he got a short piece of two by four and put it in his room. He figured it was better than nothing and even if he started swinging a board around in the dark he wouldn't kill anybody accidentally. (You can't start shooting a pistol all over the place in the dark, somebody will often get hurt.) He laid down to go to sleep on the third night with his weapon close at hand. Once again he went to sleep and once again he was awakened by the scratching.

Again, the door looked like it was made of melting plastic. It bent and bowed and flexed in unnatural ways. Once more Dad saw the hand pushing out of center of the door. As he lay there watching he grabbed his board. He wasn't sure what was going to happen. He couldn't even be sure that he wasn't just having a nightmare. The clawed hand pushed out on the door and moved from place to place as if looking for a weak spot. Dad watched on in silence waiting to see what was going to happen. The sound of the creaking wood got louder and louder as the hand pushed further and further out of the door. Finally the door gave way in an explosion of wood. Whatever it was had burst into the room.

Dad was out of bed swinging his two by four in the flash. He didn't bother to yell, no one could have gotten there in time to help him. He swung wildly all around him. He hadn't seen the thing, but he had seen the door explode, it had to be in the room. Finally he hit something solid. It was a lamp. He busted it to pieces with the force of his blow. For a a few more seconds he stood there swinging away and then the lights flicked on.

There was my Great Aunt standing silently looking at him. There he was in a fairly trashed room, standing by a broken lamp with a bit of two by four in his hands. There was the closet door as solid and as boarded up as ever. Again, she tried to convince him that he had been asleep. This didn't hold much water with him. Someone might yell in their sleep, but get up and start swinging a board around, that was too much to believe. She assured him that there was nothing in that room that could hurt him, but he wanted a different room. My Aunt wouldn't hear of it and made him go back to bed. That was the end of it. Dad stayed there for a while, but the closet never gave him anymore trouble.

Many of you will laugh and believe that Dad was just dreaming. Me, I'm not so sure. That house had seen some strange things and my Great Grandmother was not an ordinary woman. There are those who believe that nothing super natural ever happens, but most of us know better. There's an instinct inside that says “Not everything that is can be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands.” There are a lot of things in this world that we don't understand. I sit here wondering just how much my Great Grandmother did understand. Still, for myself, I prefer to leave the unseen world unseen. The Lord has, in his great wisdom, hidden some things from his children. I think it's best not to go looking for them, even if my Great Grandmother would disagree.

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