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Ghosts and ‘haints’

Growing up, we had a love/hate relationship with telling scary stories. My sister Linda was the best at coming up with tales that could make us shake to the core. Linda, convinced that I was a vampire because of two birth marks on her neck, even drew a line down the middle of our bed sheets and slept with pillows between us so I wouldn’t bite her in the night.

Once, while Linda and I were walking to Granny’s house late at night, we got scared of a coming storm. All of a sudden, a huge bolt of lightning and immediate thunder crashed down near us, close enough to blind us momentarily.

Shortly after, a car passed by. Linda told me, “Did you notice that the car didn’t even slow down? They couldn’t see us! That means we were struck by that lightning and we’re really dead!” For the next 15 minutes, she convinced me, and even herself, that we were merely ghosts now and no one would ever see us again.

We talked of how we wished we could tell our mom we loved her one more time. We contemplated what the life of a ghost would hold for us and if would we be cursed to walk the potholed filled roads of Aaron’s Creek for eternity. We were in tears, grieving our short-lived lives and tormented by the dark unknown ahead of us.

When we turned the bend and saw the light from Granny’s house, we weren’t comforted as we usually would be. Instead, we spoke of how hard it would be to see Granny there waiting for us without being able to tell her of our demise. When we walked up to her door, we were thrilled to find that she could really see us! Still convinced we were ghosts, we told her of our terrible death and that we were so sorry we couldn’t be with her anymore. Granny laughed and laughed. Grandpa, a very thin, sickly man who almost never talked and NEVER laughed, said, ‘So you afeard of haints, are ye?’ He too enjoyed our overactive imaginations.

On the hill behind Granny’s house, deep in the woods was an abandoned cemetery. Before every Decoration Day, we kids would clean the broken tree limbs and leaves off the graves in preparation for Mr. Bowman’s annual trek up the hill to visit his dearly departed.
Until he died, even at a very old age and being so feeble, Mom made us climb the hill with him. Mr. Bowman never missed a year to visit the cemetery. We told ourselves as long as we honored Mr. Bowman and his wish to see his long-passed family, the ghosts of the cemetery would never haunt us. Then the year came that Mr. Bowman joined his family, never to climb the hill again.

Linda once again conjured up ways to scare us. She convinced us that we could no longer be protected from the hauntings of the abandoned cemetery. Our brother Garry took to wearing his shirts inside out and backwards. When Mom tried to correct him, he said, “This way, if the ghosts chase me, they will think I’m running the opposite way!” Mom let him wear his shirts how he wanted after that.

What is it about humans that often we tease with the prospect of endangerment, then run to the shelter of safety at the last moment? We ride the riskiest daredevil rides at Kings Island and go through terrifying haunted houses. Afterwards, we share our stories of fright and pat ourselves on the back for surviving the perils in our way. Though we don’t really like danger, we enjoy the adrenalin rush of fear. In fact, I’ve heard it said that to really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we’re in a safe environment.

As an adult, I honestly have no desire to create a scary experience and avoid it at all costs.

But, as a child, there was something special about walking through these adventures with the people I loved most. The combination of standing together through the scary moments brought a strange sense of comfort. I guess that child’s play is a lot like life in the adult world.

We need our ‘village’ of people to strengthen and comfort us as we face life’s trials.


Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.