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My Family’s Ghostly Encounters by C. E. Chaffin


I grew up the small city of Ashland, on a farm in what was called the hill country. About a mile from our home lived the Higgins family. It was a large family, with five children, and the mother, Lottie, was slowly going insane. Herman, Lottie’s husband, worked long hours on the farm in order to provide for his family, especially since Lottie was unable to work. During the cold winters, the Higginses heated their home with an old-fashioned fireplace that had an open grate. Lottie habitually sat in a rocking chair and stared into the flames for hours. One day, when her smaller children were playing near her, Lottie suddenly stood up, went to the

fire, and squatted down. She picked up a handful of hot coals and sat back down and began playing with them as if they were children’s toys. The children screamed for their father, who was working in the backyard. He ran in to check on the commotion and was horrified to see his wife sitting in her chair, her long skirts smoldering, playing He ran in to check on the commotion and was horrified to see his wife sitting in her chair, her long skirts smoldering, playing Grandmother, not quite grasping the oddity of the woman being out on a hill- top with the temperature near freezing and wearing a wispy gown, said, “We’d better give her a ride home before she freezes.” As they drew abreast of Lottie, she turned and stared into the car. Everyone gasped, and the sisters screamed, because they seemed to be able to see right through her. My grandfather, now in a panic, double-clutched the car, floorboarded it, and amid flying gravel and dirt, flew toward home. He left the family there while he drove around the hill to the Higginses and knocked on the door. Herman opened it up and stepped out onto the porch. When Grandfather explained that they had seen Lottie up on top of the hill, Herman sadly shook his head and said, “It couldn’t have been my wife. She died just this after- noon.” He stared at Granddad and smiled a little. “I reckon she wanted to see the home place one more time.” The Moonshiner’s Tree During the Depression years, people living in rural Kentucky experienced hard times. With very little money and few if any jobs to be found, some men turned to producing bootleg whiskey and moon- shine. One of the bootleggers was a local man named Dillard Fain. He was said to be a good man who loved his family and would do whatever it took to provide for them, which why he made hootch. A revenue agent, new to the area and seeking to make a name for himself, decided to target all the hill country bootleggers. One of his main interests was Dil- lard Fain. But Dillard was trying to go straight. He found a job at a local lumber- yard and announced that he had quit making the moonshine. Of course, the “revenooer” didn’t care. He and his partner set a trap for Dillard and caught him as he was hunting rabbits with a shotgun on a place called Hall’s Ridge, a mile or so from my grandfather’s farm. Dillard tried to explain to the revenue agent that he was out of the bootleg business and had an honest job. The agent didn’t believe him and attempted to throw Dillard into the back of his car for the trip to jail. Dillard chose to run. He turned and sprinted for the woods, but the agents drew their pistols and fired. Dillard, hit hard, dying, fell against an old oak tree that grew on top of the ridge. As the revenue agents knelt over Dil- lard’s body, he looked up at them and, with his last breath, said, “I’m an innocent man and this old tree is my witness.” The next spring, my grandfather passed by the oak tree on a hunt for squir- rels. Pausing to reflect on the spot of blood, he noticed that the bark around a large knot on the old oak had begun to change. Just above the spot where Dillard had died, an image seemed to be slowly forming on the knot of the tree. Granddad went home immediately and brought his son, Clyde, who would become my father in a few years, to see the tree. As they stood looking at the spot, Granddad asked, “What’s that look like to you, son?” My dad gasped, “Why, that looks like the face of Dillard Fain.” It didn’t take long for the story to circulate. The old oak was viewed by many who lived in the area. Everyone agreed that the knot on the tree resembled a human face, and some said they could recognize Dillard’s likeness. Soon, the area was known to be haunted. But many didn’t like the idea of a haunted tree. Several men came together and cut it down for firewood. But by that time the revenue agent who had killed Dillard Fain had lost his life in a shootout during a moonshine raid and his partner had resigned from the force. The Old Rocking Chair Gertrude Hiles was nearing her hundredth birthday. She lived with her daughter and husband just across the way from our farm. Everyone in the hill country knew Gertrude and thought of her as a woman who didn’t hesitate to come to the assistance of any of her neighbors who had fallen on hard times. She had helped care for the sick, assisted the local mid- wife, brought food to those who were short of money, and tended her rose gar- den. But inevitably, age caught up with Gertrude, and arthritis and other ailments began to limit her movements. Soon, Gertrude’s advanced age limited her to sitting in a favorite rocking chair near the front window so that she might watch the countryside. Friends would visit often, bringing her gifts and food, and to wish her well. When she finally became so frail that her daughter had to help her, she bemoaned the fact that she could no longer sit in her rocker by the window. But, every now and again Gertrude’s daughter and her husband would carry her frail form and place her gently in her chair. They would cover her with a blanket and hold her hand, and she would look at them and say, “My time’s a-comin’. And I’ll sure miss this ole rockin’ chair.” Gertrude’s daughter was not overly surprised when she returned to her mother later to find the old lady sitting quietly with a tiny smile on her face. Gertrude Hiles had crossed over. The funeral was well attended, with mourners and friends and neighbors coming from all over the area to pay their last respects to a lady they loved. Gertrude’s daughter couldn’t bear to get rid of the old chair. So they left it in its place by the window where she could see it and remember her mother. Two weeks passed, and things in the home returned to normal. Then, one warm afternoon, Gertrude’s daughter was working in the old rose garden and happened to look through the living room window. She could just make out the old rocking chair, with no one sitting in it, gently rocking back and forth, back and forth. In the months ahead, all the neighbors came to see the old chair, rocking by itself, with no breezes to blow it or anything else they could find that wold cause it to move by itself. Everyone lovingly accepted that Gertrude Hiles had found a way to continue to enjoy her fa- vorite chair. The Bully of the Bridge When my father was a young man in his 20s, he had to contend with one of the meanest men in that corner of Kentucky. The man was Harley Smith, a moonshiner of the worst sort. There was a wide creek a mile from our farm and the only way to get to the other side was to walk across a narrow swinging bridge that spanned the water. Harley Smith liked to sit cross-legged in the middle of that bridge, drink his moon- shine, and chase anybody away who tried to cross over the creek. One day, Harley became so drunk that he fell from the bridge and landed on a big rock that jutted out of the water. The fall fractured Harley’s skull and he died on the spot. His funeral was sparsely attended. My dad owned a big German shepherd dog, Jock, who loved him dearly. Jock had bonded with no other person, and whenever Dad went to visit the neighbors or maybe to the store, Jock was right be- side him. One day D ad decided to cross the old swinging bridge and visit a fam- ily who lived on the other side. He and Jock stepped up onto the swinging bridge, but Jock suddenly growled, began bark- ing fiercely, and turned crosswise on the bridge, blocking my dad from going on. Then the bridge began to buck and twist, even though the sun was out, and there was no wind or rain. In my dad’s mind, there could only be one thing that would cause the bridge to buck and sway like that. Dad yelled out, “Harley Smith, if your ghost is on this bridge, get away and go on to where you’re supposed to be.” Suddenly, the bridge stopped its movement. Everything became quiet. Even Jock quieted down. After a few moments the dog continued on across the bridge, followed by my dad. A few weeks later, my grandfather was riding his mule to the creek for a drink of water. It was dusk and they had just finished a hard day plowing fields for plant- ing corn. The evening was peaceful, the mule plodded along with my granddad dozing on its back. Suddenly, the mule shied, and Granddad woke up. There was the sound of footsteps running alongside the mule, but grandfather saw no one there. Suddenly, a heavy weight landed behind my granddad on the back of the animal. And he mule began to run, flat out, with Grandfather flailing about with his hands and arms, yelling over his shoulders, see- ing nothing, yet something seemed to be hanging onto that mule behind him. They reached the creek and the mule didn’t hesitate, leaping into the water and swimming wildly toward the opposite bank. By now my grandfather was thoroughly soaked, scared half out of his wits, and screaming for help. But then the weight seemed to leave the mule and everything calmed down. The mule got to the other side of the creek and climbed onto the dry bank and stopped, breathing hard. Granddad slid off the animal and leaned against his side, waiting for his wildly beating heart to slow down. From a spot a few feet away from the man and the mule there was the sound of ghostly chuckling. There was a single guf- faw. Then there was silence. The incident was never repeated again. From that day on, my granddad told people that Harley Smith managed to pull off one more scare before he left this earthly plane. Interestingly, by the next spring, in the cemetery where Harley Smith was buried, his white marble grave marker, less than a year old, had turned coal black. ω

FATE / NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2010


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