Friday, October 27, 2006

In which a couple of ladies sunbathe in their unmentionables

It being Spooky Season and all, I have been thinking a lot lately about something Laurie said in a recent blog post. It wasn't the point of the post, so I've lost it, but basically what she said was that a cardinal sign of being southern is that you live in a house that is haunted, or are related to someone who does, or know somebody who did.

And I got to thinking, in my Yankee way, that I know lots of haunted house stories and almost none of them are about southern people. So, with a respectful nod to Faulkner and O'Connor, I'll tell y'all my ghost stories and we can decide together. Does this mean I'm actually southern? Do Yankee ghosts count?

See, when I was growing up in the woods of northern Michigan, a "Yankee" was someone who lived out east. New England, specifically. To the southerner, Yankees are anyone not from the South (including, say, California, but never including Texas). Yankees are most especially from the states that fought (and won) the Civil War. A Yankee is someone who comes to visit, and a damn Yankee is someone who stays. Just so y'all know.

So I have never actually thought of myself as a Yankee, or thought any terrible thoughts about Southerners, and I find the story about the Kentucky granny holed up at home during WWII who shot and killed some Germans who escaped a detention camp and then cried - she shot them because she "thought they were Yankees" - terribly funny in a horrible-of-me kind of way.

Anyway. My paternal grandfather was born in 1883. (Yes, grandfather.) He was born so long ago that in all of the pictures I have of him with my father he is already getting on in years. Around 1951 or so, he passed away. (He was nearly 70.) Because of some other family issues Dad went to live with his sister Carol and her husband Roy.

Aunt Carol and Uncle Roy have a lot of stories best described as "colorful," like about the two ladies who lived in their street who sunned themselves outside in their regulation Sears & Roebuck undergarments, or the family who was remodeling their house so they put a washtub out on the porch and had their boys bathe out there for several weeks. (They were not young boys.) They lived in a twisty-turny kind of house with a steep staircase and two doors to the outside along the side of their house - one from the kitchen, and one from the living room. Nobody ever used the living room door except at Christmas, when Santa entered and exited from it. But if ever there was a house that looked haunted (at least to a 9-year-old me) that was it.

Aunt Carol and Uncle Roy had a ghost named Ethel who used to smoke in their house after they were asleep. They could smell it. Aunt Carol would smell cigarettes, wake up and yell "go back to BED, Ethel!" and it would stop. True story.

And one time when Dad was living with them at a pretty young age, he woke up one morning to put coal on the fire downstairs, wondered why he was naked and found his underwear in the coal bin. (True story.)

My maternal grandfather, the one married to my Norwegian grandmother, had A Penchant for all things UFO. He believed in the Holy Trinity of Bigfoot, Area 51, and The Loch Ness Monster. He had stacks of those old newsprint-paranoia magazines from the 70s, things that would make the National Enquirer blush. He believed in every theory of conspiracy, alien life and government craziness ever invented. Aliens shot John Kennedy. Etc. He believed that every year, the exact same frost pattern showed up on the upstairs hallway window. He had pictures.

And of course, here in Tennessee we have the Bell Witch, and this haunted house in Murfreesboro that is guilty of the single greatest publicity stunt in the history of the world, or telling the truth.

But y'all, I am warning you, people here are a special brand of crazy (or "particular") that defies explanation once you travel more than three hundred miles north. We once had a Metro councilman who wanted to use city funds to build a UFO landing strip. We have a candidate for the Senate who is nominally a Democrat and comes from a family so corrupt they ought to be called a syndicate; his father has gotten away with so much over the years he must be actually covered in oil and scales to get away with it all. And yet, he's a serious contender for the Senate! Because y'all, people don't care if you come from corrupt, dirty and crazy in the South. Oh, and this is the home of the Yellow-Dog Democrat, people who would vote for a yellow dog before they would vote Republican. I really do know a lady whose father once told her he'd have made sure she was never born if he known she'd grow up to vote Republican.

So, not many of us need Halloween costumes, because we are all manner of eccentric and weird and getting away with stuff anyway and I'm not sure it matters what area of the country you're from, because every town has its own little pocket of weird and crazy stuff.

I do love a good ghost story.


Blogger lorinda said...

Reminds me of that Cowboy Junkies' song "This Street, That Man, This Life"

9:25 AM  
Blogger KnitTech said...

Never grew up with ghost stories, but there was "Bob Tree". A bald American Indian who had an Abraham Lincoln beard. He used to have six fingers, but he couldn't find gloves to fit him. So one finger froze off. (I guess no one loved him enough to knit him a pair.)

1:37 PM  
Blogger gray la gran said...

i love stories. true of false, i just love them. and i believe the teller believes ...
my grandmother has a ton of stories. she won't tell them when her daughter (my mother) is around, because mom laughs. i lean forward and absorb. i want to remember these stories. they're full of gypsies, curses, sightings, saints and jesus.
crazy or not, i hope to be as colorful in my golden years :)

6:51 PM  
Blogger Bev said...

gray is right, the children want to forget what the grandchildren want to remember......

my family is nominally southern too...and yes, there are lots of ghost mom has a couple of real good ones that I need to get her to write down

maybe its the southern in me that makes me just not all that impressed with Halloween....we live it every day!

2:07 PM  

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