Photo/Courtesy Brown Family Collection
Haunted woods near Sammy Gibson’s junk yard.
How in the world did I let myself get into to this position again. I asked myself that question every time it happened and still here I was, yet again, walking through the woods alone after dark. This time it was after a long school play and Eugene and Johnny wanted to walk back home instead of riding in the car with my parents. See, the problem didn’t really rear it’s ugly head until I was the last one left out walking. We lived furthest out so it didn’t matter if there were 20 of us who started out, it was either me or Raymond or both of us together saying “see ya later” to the rest of the group, until finally we were left to finish the walk on our own. This night we had just started out and were walking up through Mr. Sammy’s junk yard. As we headed up the hill past all of the junked cars and on the path that led into the woods, it was inevitable that someone was going to mention the reported sighting of “The Ghost” that reportedly haunted that region. Annette Banks and several others claimed they had seen her coming down through the path, a lady, dressed all in white. When the pale lady got to within a few yards of them, she simply disappeared into thin air. We were passing by Sammy Gibson’s house and heading up the path when Eugene mentioned the ghost story, he said he was there at the time and told of how he saw the woman gliding toward them (a cold chill went up my spin, but I didn’t let on).
Hearing the story yet another time wasn’t so bad, we knew these woods were pitch black and eerie, but while we were all together, it was fun to chide each other about being too chicken to walk through the woods alone. But Eugene always topped off our hike at some point with the quote that he made no matter which path we were walking on, it only happened at night and he was one of the few people who seemed to ever experience the phenomenon… “I just stepped on my grave”. Oh no, we stopped, Eugene started turning around in a circle looking down on the ground then up into the sky as though he were looking at an invisible barrier of some type, “I just walked over my grave”. Now, if you’re not from the country, you probably have no idea what it means to walk over your grave, I’ll explain it later. What used to get me is that we’d be walking down a path that we walked every day of our lives and he never uttered one word about walking on his grave. Why then, did he feel that some day he would be buried in the middle of path that leads to school, and only after dark did he get this feeling. That’s what I couldn’t understand, how could we be just walking along and all of a sudden he felt, “Hey! this is where I’m going to be buried one day!” but that’s not what he meant, walking on your grave was just a ‘saying’, a figure of speech. Any time you were walking along at night, mostly this only occurred in cool weather, and you hit a wall of warm air – that was the indicator, that was the catalyst for thinking that you had just stepped on your grave, that warm rush of air in your face. Eugene would then call us all over to where he was standing and try to get us to feel the difference from one temperature zone to the other, “Step here, now step forward, did you feel it?” I never felt a thing, but I’d never seen a ghost either, well except for that time that I saw one in our upstairs hallway. I woke up in the middle of the night and there was this little man standing on the chair out side our bedroom door. That chair could be seen from both upstairs bedrooms, the boys room and the girls room. He was just standing there on the chair and then “POOF!” he was gone. The next morning at breakfast, I told everyone what I had seen the night before and my little sister Marcia piped in that she had seen the exact same thing from her room. Now Marcia was highly influential in those days, and not quite the scholar that she is today. Everywhere I went, she tagged along. I suppose she was as big a pain to me as I was to my older brother Raymond. But Marcia wouldn’t let me get out of her sight, looking back I wish I had cherished the fact that my little sister looked up to me, but back then I didn’t quite see having her always underfoot as a blessing. But for her to say that she had seen the exact same little man that I saw on the same night, was proof enough for me. That fact and “The Twilight Zone” kept me up nights for years to come.
That incident also reminds me of the time I was awakened early one morning to find my older brother and sister standing out in the hallway calling in to me, “Stanley! Stanley, looked! Look — UNDER —-YOUR —BED!” He spoke slowly and deliberately, while he and Barbara Jean pointed down under the bed, “There’s a monster under your bed!!!” Raymond had his hands cupped around his mouth and although panic shown clearly on both their faces, he was whispering, presumably so as not to alert the monster that they were on to him. “WHAT?!?” I jumped up out of my deep sleep and stood up on the bed, “There’s a monster under your bed!!!” They were frantic by now and so was I. I didn’t think twice about it, I sprang off the bed and with one huge leap landed in the hallway. I turned, looked back into the bedroom and under the bed, there was no monster there, Raymond and Bajean fell laughing on the floor and I jumped on top of him and started beating my big brother in the chest, which made him laugh that much harder. I could never beat him in a fight and what made matters worse is that he laughed every time I tried, but I kept pounding on him, didn’t matter, he kept laughing…
Eugene stopped short in his tracks and muttered, “I just walked over my grave”….
Walking through the woods at night made all those great horror movies come back and start playing tricks on your mind, and as soon as Eugene and Johnny waved goodbye and took the fork in the path that led to their house, my mind started going a mile a minute.. “The Day The Earth Stood Still” – was that a shooting star or a space ship I just saw over those trees. “The Tingler” really is inside everybody, is it getting ready to come out of me right now? Then I couldn’t get that stupid woman’s face out of my head, you know the one who couldn’t speak and the only way to kill the tingler was to scream? (Great movie). Where’s that owl at, where’s that Whipporwill at? Was that a Mountain Lion I just heard? Is that a person up ahead or a bush? Oh, it’s just a bush. All the way home was agony, it wasn’t until I got to the top of our dirt road that I could finally relax a little. Thankfully, Daddy had put a street light up at the house that lit up the whole place and I could see it from the top of the hill. All I had to do was make it down to the driveway without being attacked by something hiding in the woods…
There were paths every where in our little community. That’s the one thing I never understood about where we lived, there were paths every where, I mean everywhere. There were paths that just led to other paths, There was the path to go the long way around and then the shortcut path to the same place. And absolutely no one seemed to mind that there was at least one path going through the center of their front yard. We had a path cut from our front porch to the road, cut at a 45 degree angle as we exited our house, then there was a path from the side door to the shed, that then extended to the path that my cousin Tyrone had made all by himself that led to Aunt Beatrice’s house. I never used that path my entire life. There was the path from the back door to the outhouse. We had two paths going up to our grandparent’s house, one that went straight up the hill and the other that went past where the Confederate soldier was buried (sometimes they said it was an Indian, but mostly it was referred to as a soldiers grave) The indentation in the ground under that big oak tree was evidence enough for me that SOMETHING was buried there. From there, you could take the path straight down alongside the driveway going from grandma’s house (that’s the driveway in the photo that is used as a backdrop for this website), but there was also the path that went at an angle to the blacktop from grandma’s house. While I’m on a path going absolutely no where, why were there so many huge rocks on Mr. Bowen’s land? Had anyone else ever noticed that he had boulders on his property. We used to play ‘rock-walk’ on them, a game of follow-the-leader on those large rocks which made the game that much more difficult.Those boulders seemed out of place there, grandpa had rocks on his land too, but they weren’t that big. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill (sorry). There was the path to the school, the path from Mr. Penn’s field thru the woods to Mrs. Annabelle’s house, that’s where you would just be walking to get over to the Ridge and at any given time find Fernando tied and hanging from a tree. The older boys would just get bored and take him out to the woods and hang him by a rope or nail him to a tree, he seemed to get a kick out of it or at least didn’t mind.
Fernando Beasly got the short end of the stick growing up. He was always in trouble or under suspicion for one thing or another. I look back and wonder if he and his sister Carlita may have been of Hispanic descent, you don’t find very many American Blacks with names like Fernando and Carlita, but that would be generalizing. They had brown skin so as far as we were concerned they were black. Fernando was tough, anyone else would have been killed a dozen going through what went through growing up especially by that big rock I hit him in the head with. I threw it as hard as I could at the skunk we were chasing, but he just grabbed his head and continued trying to get that skunk out of the cobby hole. (That’s another story)
Before Eugene and Johnny moved into their house, the Joneses lived there. Whenever Mrs. Jones would make a batch of apple butter and biscuits, her son Nat would run down to the house and tell us, “Mama, just made some apple butter, you’d better come quick before Viola May and Mary Ann eat it all up”. Mary Ann could eat a whole foot-tub full of apple butter by herself, so we knew we had to get up there before it was gone. There’d be hot biscuits and a big tub of apple butter waiting for us when we got there. Mrs. Jones was a really good cook. I really did liked the Joneses, either one of them was at our house at all times or we were up at their house. They always treated us like we were family, except for that time when we were playing in their woods and they thought that Mr. Pinn’s horses were stampeding up the hill. I was walking behind everybody down through the woods when they thought they heard the sounds of hooves coming toward them and the whole bunch of them turned and started running back up the hill, I was smallest and couldn’t quite run fast enough. They knocked me down and trampled me as they tried to escape the wild horse on the loose. They left me lying in the path face down, while they were all standing safe and sound behind the white picket fence looking back at me, waiting to see if the horse would get me. As I regained consciousness(*), I looked up and saw them standing there with terror written all over their faces. I got to my feet and ran up the hill only to look back and see that there was nothing there. I was only five years old at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had foot prints on my back and leaves coming out of my ears. The horse didn’t stampede them, they stampeded me. Not long after that incident Mr. Jones found work in Washington, D.C. and the family pulled up stacks and moved to the city. We only saw some of them in ten to fifteen year spurts after that.
In a previous chapter I explained how it had become a ritual for those boys in the neighborhood to use our chimney to relieve themselves whenever they were at our house. After a time the grass stopped growing around the chimney, but even still, that group urinary tradition was an educational experience. I learned two things from it, 1), contrary to the Declaration of Independence, not all men were created equal and 2), that the way I looked down there was not natural to God’s intended purpose and in fact, He had instructed Abraham to make some adjustments to how he had originally created us. But little did I know how well the tradition of peeing at the chimney had sunk in on some of us. After serving four years in the Navy and being out on my own for some time, I went back home to visit my parents one day, but when I arrived, I found no one home. By this time dad had long since built indoor facilities. I had a key, but decided to just leave a note saying that I had been by, get back in my van and leave. But then I saw a Cadillac El Dorado slowly coming up the dirt road toward the house. It pulled into the driveway and out jumped Nat Jones, who I had not seen in almost twenty years.
I looked up and saw a Cadillac El Dorado pulling into the driveway..
He had brought a lady friend with him , she got out wearing a white sun dress and stood quietly by the car. He introduced her, we shook hands and he then quickly brushed past me, muttered something like unintelligible and headed straight for the chimney. He quickly upzipped his pants and stood there peeing up against the chimney just as if he’d done the same thing yesterday. That’s right, 40 year old Nat Jones drove all the way from Washington, D.C. it would seem, just to ‘go’ up against our chimney. He breathed a sigh of relief, leaned back and said with a slight grin on his face, “A-a-a-a-a-h-h-h, just like old times”. He adjusted his zipper, we went inside and sat down to talked. Now this is the part you really won’t believe and I really shouldn’t even include it in this story, but it’s the truth and I was so shocked by it, but you will see how it all ties in. Now, as soon as we went inside, we sat there talking for a moment and then he directed my attention to his “woman”. “Ain’t she pretty? Stand up ******* and turn around, ain’t she pretty?” I felt obliged to respond, “Yes, she’s real cute”. (Now remember this was way back in the 70’s) Out of nowhere he asks, “You wanna have sex with her?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “Whah?”, all the blood drained from my face and I could tell I was red as a person my complexion could get. I was in shock, but tried not to show it. “Go ahead, take her on out to the car. *******, go out to the car with Stanley”, he told her. She got up and started toward the kitchen, then I quickly spoke up “Naw, man, no thanks, (nervous laughter) I already got a girlfriend”. Then he said “Go on man, you don’t mind, do you *****?” She shook her head no, she really didn’t seem to care one way or the other. I was flush with fear and embarrassment, but at the same time started perspiring as chills ran through my body. I changed the subject and we went on talking about family and old times. After they left, I stood in the yard for a while trying to make sense out of what had happened. And then it all came back to me full circle, what I had just experienced here may have been exactly what Eugene Ballenger experienced many years ago back in old Sammy Gibson’s woods. Maybe, just maybe, there really was something to that “Woman in White” story, maybe, these hot flashes and cold chills I was feeling now meant that “I’d just walked over MY own grave”. It was definitely an eerie feeling and one that I didn’t want to feel again.