We all have fond memories of visiting our grandparents. We cherish those memories; especially if our loved ones have passed away.
I remember going to my granny's every Sunday. She lived in a small log cabin set off the ground on cinder blocks, with a big front porch filled with rocking chairs.
My mother had nine living siblings and they all came to grannies on Sunday, along with their families.
Each family brought a dish of some kind that more than fed the hungry masses and as night fell the adults would sit out on the porch and tell stories. All of us kids settled on the steps to listen to them.
The men would tell about their time in Europe during World War II, and all the close calls they survived. How the sounds and sights of that war still affected them almost every day.
My dad talked about one day when a summer storm was coming and without warning a loud clamp of thunder rang out and he instinctively dove to the floor, covering his head and taking cover as if it were an incoming round from enemy fire.
They spoke low because the sound traveled at night; and I remember how I would drift off to sleep listening to the low pitched tone of their voices. It seemed comforting; and with the crickets chirping from beyond the porch it was like a lullaby in my ears.
Sometimes my aunts and uncles would tell tales of their youth; how hard life was; and how my grandfather had to hunt in deer, rabbit, squirrels and any other game in order to feed his large family. He trapped and sold pelts for extra money; rising before daylight and getting home after dark.
Many of the houses they lived in were old and dilapidated; and some of them had cracks so big in the wood framing that in the winter they had to stuff them with burlap bags to keep the cold wind out.
The family moved often because my grandfather would hire himself out to farmers around the county every year; many times offering his children to work in the cotton fields too. He was paid a minimal wage; but he also got free vegetables, if they had gardens, after the cotton was picked.
It made going to school on a regular basis very difficult for my aunts and uncles. They would miss so many days of school that they would be held back to repeat the class again the following year.
For that reason, most of them never got further in school than fifth grade. Several never learned to read and write at all. My mother was lucky enough to be next to last child born and she was able to get to ninth grade before she dropped out and got married at sixteen to my dad.
They all managed somehow to grow up and be moderately successful in their jobs. I think that was because they were all hard working men and women. They learned hard ships at an early age, so it was nothing new to them to struggle for what they had as adults.
My mother told me that she got teased a lot in school because she wore dresses made of cotton sacks instead of store-bought clothes like most of the city girls wore.
Listening to them tell about what their lives were like when they were my age, made me appreciate what my parents did to make sure I had a better life than they did. I suppose we were poor too by most standards; but I never knew it if we were.
One night at granny's stands out in my mind; I suppose because it scared me to tears.
Somehow the conversation went to strange things that had happened in their lives and my granny told a story that made me afraid of the dark for ages. I won't tell it in her southern drawl and slang; even though it would probably serve her story better. The reader is free to imagine her southern tone.
She said one of the houses they lived in was down by a river; far back in the woods. The nearest neighbor was more than a mile away.
"One night we were sitting out on the porch to cool off before going to bed. It was a hot summer night and everything was quiet, except for the sound of the river flowing over the rocks.
Then, all of a sudden we heard something back in the woods make a horrible sound. It was like nothing we'd ever heard before. I'd heard bob-cats late at night, but this was different than that.
Ralph Henry jumped up to grab his shot gun from the house; while I peered out towards the woods from the porch. Before he came back with his gun, I heard what sounded like movement from the trees just beyond the house.
Then, I saw it; just as Ralph Henry came back out on the porch with his shot gun.
It walked out from behind a big sycamore tree and stood a few yards in the front of the house! If Ralph Henry was still living; he'd tell you that what we saw wasn't an animal; or nothing else we'd ever seen before either."
By this time I was already spooked and sitting in my father's lap for protection. I must have been about six or seven years old at the time.
Granny went on with her story about the strange creature she and grandpa saw that night.
"It stood nearly six foot tall and the top half of it looked like a man; except it had horns like a Ram; and the lower half of it was covered in fur and his feet were hoofed!"
Granny stood there silent for a minute; as if she was frightened all over again from the telling of what she had seen. Then, one of my uncles asked what had happened next.
"Well, Ralph Henry raised his shot gun to shoot it; but he hadn't loaded it before coming outside. He had to put the shells in; and in the time it took him to load; that thing took off back into the woods."
"Ralph Henry wanted to go after it; but I told him that thing, whatever it was; should be left alone. I knew if he shot it; bad things would happen. I don't how I knew that; I just did."
Granny said they moved from there not long after that, and they never saw it again. I was glad when Dad suggested it was time to go home; as it was getting pretty late and he had to work the next morning.
By the following week end, I had recovered from Granny's story of the half man- half beast she had seen. But this night the conversation would return once again to strange occurrences that had taken place around the area where granny lived.
My Uncle Grady talked about "The Lost City" and how everyone in the small community had disappeared overnight. It too was located near the river.
"Pots were left cooking on the woodstoves; clothes left hanging on the clotheslines; tables set for supper with food left untouched on the plates. No one knows what happened to almost a hundred people that lived there. They just vanished; never seen or heard from again. Some say they left in such a hurry because something awful came into the village and scared them away. Others say something took them ; something not human. No possessions were taken; money and other valuables left right there."
It is a true story. I went to Lost City once, after I was grown. All that is left there now is the foundations of the buildings that stood there. It's a documented case and the story is found in books about strange sites in Moore County.
My Uncle's story hadn't scared me as much as the one Granny told, but I remember thinking I wish the grown-up would tell stories about their childhood instead of stories about scary things.
There were many more nights on Granny' porch throughout my early childhood. The stories told were sometimes funny and sometimes scary; but always interesting.
Back then, superstition ran strong in the older people that lived in that area and the tales told were based on those beliefs; in omens and spirits foretelling some event or death to come. They are what make up the southern folk lore that is a part of my heritage of storytelling.
It is from that early on experience of listening to them being told; that made me want to be a storyteller myself one day. Though I prefer to tell stories that teach, or uplift a failing spirit; perhaps even make someone laugh; or travel to unknown places.
But the other stories are within me to tell as well. Tales that make a shudder run down your spine; or leave you wondering and scratching your heads. You never know what lurks in the mind of a writer once the keyboard is in front of them!