by Jennifer Dyer
Grandmaw always said, “Tain’t no way, no how they’s such a thing as ghosts.” Maw says the same all the time.
But they don’t know what I seen last night.
In January, Uncle George brung us word from up the creek that Grandmaw had taken a powerful bad turn and weren’t none of them sure she would see next Sunday. We’d best make our way up there to say our last goodbyes.
Maw wept something awful as she packed the baby’s diapers and some warm blankets. For an eight-week-old he sure took up lots of space. All the while that baby cried—you’d think God tole babies, “Listen, when you’s born, your whole job is to cry all the time unless you’re pooping. Got it?”
Little Stan was powerful good at his job.
“Ellen Sue, you best get ready. We’ll leave in the morn,” Maw tole me.
But that night a wicked storm blew through the valley. Wind howled through the cracks around the windows. It sounded like a pack of hounds from you-know-where romped through our yard. We gathered in the front room, piling our blankets together to stay warm.
The snow kept a blowin the next day. I couldn’t see the barn, much less the road. The horses would be up to their chests in that stuff, and I can tell you even Poppy, our stoutest mare, weren’t gonna come out in that. Not even for a garden of carrots.
Maw cried, big rivers of tears runnin down her face, then she stared at nothing, just the wall by the stove. I hoped she didn’t stare too much cause then she’d see where cousin Johnny and I’d signed our names last summer when the stove weren’t working.
It took three days for that storm to quiet down. By the time Paw shoveled a fresh path to the barn, Uncle George show up, hat off, black band tied ‘round his arm. Grandmaw had passed the first night of the storm, all peaceful like. I buried my face in the couch pillow. That meant Grandmaw would never tweak my nose or wink at me again, would never make more of her molasses cookies.
Maw collapsed on the ground. Paw had to carry her to bed. From their room, I heard Maw crying, “She didn’t get to kiss the baby. She said there was nothing like kissing and blessing a baby, and she’ll never have the chance. I should have left right away.”
I didn’t hear what Paw said. The day was the longest ever. Neighbors came and went, all of them hearin of Grandmaw’s passin. In between visits, the only noise in the house was Stan’s bawlin and Maw’s sniffling. We had stale biscuits and salted pork for dinner and went to bed by the fire again since the cold still snuck its way all through the house.
Sometime after the moon rose high in the sky, Maw’s sniffling finally stopped. But Stan weren’t interested in sleeping. He fussed and kicked. Guess Maw and Paw were too tired to notice. In the moonlight, I watched Stan’s face screw up in that tight fist face that meant tornados were gonna blow right from his lungs.
I patted him. “Shh.” My ears might break if he did it one more time. He waved his arms around, as if working up his strength. I patted him so more and heard a creak in the kitchen. Both of us froze. “Just the wind?” I whispered. Another creak sounded, this time outside the door to the front room. Stan gazed at the door, all lit up by that bright moon. The door hinges groaned. The door pushed open, as if by the wind.
But it weren’t no wind. I tell no lie. Grandmaw walked right inside the room in her black dress and white apron, same as lots of other times I’d seen her. She walked over to Stan’s crib and held her hand out for him to grab her finger. That baby cooed and grabbed on.
I should warn him, but I weren’t afraid, not one bit. But part of me kept wondrin if I was dreamin because Grandmaw was dead.
But here she was, bending over Stan’s crib to kiss his head. He sighed and patted her face. I heard the little taps.
“But Grandmaw, you dead. How you here?”
She smiled at me and winked, tweaking my nose, same as usual. She pointed to the table aside the couch. There were a huge plate, piled high with molasses cookies. I grabbed one. They was still warm. After that dinner, my stomach growled, so I silenced it with a cookie. Okay, three cookies. Lots were still left.
I watched Grandmaw as I ate. She kissed the baby one last time and stroked the hair from my eyes. Then she walked to the hall and out the front door. I ran to the window, but soon as she got on the porch, she were gone.
Come morn, I told Maw and Paw bout what happened. They dint believe me, I could tell, but none could explain the molasses cookies. Maw even said they tasted just like Grandmaw’s.
Still, we didn’t speak of it no more. Not for years. But one day, four years later, we was looking through some old photos when Aunt Reba come round. Stan galloped by us, prentendin to be a horse. He stopped and glanced at the picture book. “There’s Grandmaw. I remember when she came by to kiss me on the head. But I was sure small.”
Aunt Reba just laughed and roughed his hair. “She sure loved all her grandchildren, even the ones she never met.”
I stared at the table where Grandmaw left that last plate of cookies. I caught Maw staring at the same place.
She still says there’s no such thing as ghosts, but she never sounds so sure anymore.
*Jenn’s note. My dad is a fantastic storyteller. Throughout my childhood, he enchanted us with tales of his youth and the mountains surrounding his family homestead. My imagination is filled with the adventures of my dad, his cousins, my grandfather and a host of people I’ll never met, but who have taught me so much about life, kindness, and humanity. In this story, I drew from what my dad told me about his grandmother’s death. In this fictitious account, my little girl spoke with some character, but I’ve never heard anyone else from “back home” speak in her voice. All the people I’ve met from my dad’s home speak with wonderful English. This is just the way the little girl sounded in my head. My dad and his cousins did, however, write their names behind the stove. The writing crime wasn’t discovered for 40 or so years when the stove needed more repairs.