My father was a story teller. He grew up in a time that just about the only entertainment was story telling. So good story tellers were in high demand.
When dad spoke of his growing up days in the 1920’s and 30’s it sounded to me like he lived centuries ago. Much like my stories must sound to my children and grandchildren when I talk of party line telephones; listening to the radio at night; 45 records and black and white televisions with ten inch screens. When dad was a child they didn’t have indoor plumbing, electricity, (no electric lights or machinery) central heat or cars. In his early childhood they didn’t even have roads. He told of quarrying limestone on their farm, hauling it to the proposed road site and watching as the county came by with a rock crusher and there was their first road. The roads weren’t paved for several more decades. His mother cooked huge meals on a wood burning stove. He often woke up on cold winter mornings to find that a sheet of ice had formed on his wash basin. They farmed with mules pulling their equipment instead of tractors. They didn’t listen to the radio because they had no electricity to power one. It sounded like another century to me.
With little else for entertainment, storytelling was a well-practiced art in rural Kentucky. Robertson County was and is a very hilly part of the state. Farming was difficult with little tillable land. Most of it was in the bottoms. So the county was sparsely populated. It was not unusual to know everyone in the county. This was especially true for my father’s family because my grandfather McConnell was the County High Sherriff. So my father hung out with story tellers of all ages and thus perfected the art. When my father told a story you could see they people he was talking about; hear the surrounding sounds; smell the scents in the air; hear the accents of those speaking. In my mind’s eye I can still “see” the stories dad told.
He loved to tell of, as a boy of about 13, going with his girlfriend and a couple of other couples to visit Mide (Like wide with an m.) Fogg. (You just gotta love that name.) Mide was an old “widder” lady who lived back in a hollow in a tiny log cabin. When the kids came on a Sunday evening to visit, Mide dressed up in her good black dress and pulled out her best pipe for smoking. Her eyes were a bright sparkly blue that stood out in her thin wrinkled face. She was thin on the verge of being scrawny and had not a tooth in her head. She had a high, almost squeaky voice and, of course, gummed her words.
The young people would arrive in the very late afternoon. On this particular occasion it was late fall – around Halloween. There was wood smoke in the air and rustling leaves underfoot. The couples gathered on Mide’s porch to share the local news and gossip for a while. As darkness closed in someone would always ask her to tell a true ghost story. Ghost stories abounded in the hills of Kentucky and Mide claimed to have witnessed several of them. She would lean back in her creaky old rocking chair; take a deep drag off her pipe and as a faraway look settled into her eyes she would begin.
“As was the custom in those days, when a farmer had a big job to do that required more help than the family could supply, neighbors gathered for a work day. The task of the day was to clear a field of trees and prepare it for cultivation. The women had gathered in the house to prepare a huge dinner for the many hands gathered. The children were in the side yard play games and the men were down the hill clearing the land. It was almost dinner time (The noon meal.) when one of the men appeared at the kitchen door and looked in the screen. One of the ladies noticed him and called to his wife that Clarence was at the door. When she went to the door he looked a little strange to her. He just stood there and looked at her, then waved goodbye and walked away. She thought that was a little odd, but then, Clarence was a little odd. She thought little more about it as went back to patting out the biscuits she was famous for in Robertson County. Within a minute a ruckus arose down the hill and several men sprinted to the house. They brought the news that the tree Clarence had been cutting down had fallen on him and killed him. A strange silence fell over the women in that kitchen. It seemed obvious to his wife and to all to whom she told her story that Clarence had stopped by on his way out of this life to say goodbye.”
That may have not been exactly the way Mide told it, but that was pretty close. She told that story and several others. She claimed they were all “true”, first person ghost stories. She had those youngsters on the edges of their seats and managed to scare the waddin’ out of them. And then she sent the kids home.
It was fall so the sun set earlier each evening and nighttime was amazingly dark back in those unlit Kentucky hollows. Nobody in those hills had even heard of a flashlight. The trails in those pitch black nights were difficult to see and basically impossible to follow after dark unless one had his way home memorized. Dad said he wished he hadn’t brought a date that he felt obligated to walk home. Without her in tow, he would have taken the most direct route and run all the way home.
Happy Halloween. May God gift you with a Mide Fogg to enrich your life and scare the bejesus out of you.
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @bill45053.