Too many times I’ve noticed how my life coincides with the historical and ghostly fiction I immerse myself with. I write about and remember the wonderful fragrance of old forgotten gardens and once beautiful abandoned homes from my past. A past that was hidden away in my innermost thoughts, but is now being unveiled one novel at a time.
Reliving the past:
I’m sure I walked the Depression era southern neighborhoods and quiet country lanes of the early 1900s. I know the sound of a Ford Model T motor as it rattles past. I remember the scratchy wool feeling of the old plaid lap robe that covered us in the winter when we rode in the front seat of our own rattletrap. I can see the fleet of old trucks from Brilliant Coal Company lining up with their engines running waiting to deliver coal to heat homes, schools, and businesses. When I hear the sound of a distant train whistle, the vivid memory of my soldier and saying goodbye fogs the reoccurring sight of a black locomotive barely visible amid the steam from other engines and the nearby factories. The family doctor’s office was in a large Victorian home with the doctor’s sign attached to the old picket fence and was easily accessible by the streetcar or on foot.
Sunday was a day to call on our chosen friends or family members. They always opened the door while being bombarded with an unannounced visit and we were graciously welcomed. The old home we frequently visited was elegant and dark. The lighting was minimal and the gas smell from the lamps contributed to a sickening odor that wafted throughout the house. My sister and I would find a way to retreat to the back yard garden where scarlett red Seven Sisters roses lined the fence and we took turns on a garden swing which hung from an ancient oak tree. Exploring the outside of the old house and making our way to the front, we took in the fragrance of honeysuckle and privet. Then we’d see the “SICKNESS” sign nailed on a tree for the passersby. Birds were singing but nearby voices were lowered to whispers. I wondered why. Was it because of frail old Aunt “what’s her name” lying on a bed in the front parlor? Was that why my grandmother always stayed in the room five minutes then wanted to leave?
Back to the present:
That old house still stands and is a pivotal piece of Alabama history. A former Confederate soldier, secessionist, and distinguished judge lived there and old Aunt “what’s her name” was his daughter. Ghostly movement and presence were felt when I visited the house again last year. The same old faded Victorian wallpaper hung on the fourteen foot walls in the parlor, but this time it was tattered, torn, and long strips had become unglued. The original furniture including the “sick bed” remained. Aunt “what’s her name” kept samples of her Auburn curls snipped 125 years before in her dresser drawer along with numerous mementos and faded photographs. Even though I wasn’t alone in the house, I could feel myself being watched by the ones that darkened these doors more than a century before. There was no breeze, but the large chandelier swung from side to side. We are’t sure, but I think the old judge and his daughter were welcoming me back into the house and confirming my past memories and experiences. I draw from the experiences I know so well and remember each day.
Similar experiences abound from a cousin of mine…
“…as my daughter and a friend explored some woods close to our house, they came to a clearing. They saw a few men at the edge of the clearing cleaning their rifles. They must be hunters, they thought, but then noticed the grey Confederate uniforms and caps. Understandably, they turned and ran home.” DD, 1985