Monday, October 28, 2013


Civil War ghosts

Every year in October, I return to New Iberia, Louisiana after spending the Spring and Summer months on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. We always seem to arrive in time to stand on my front porch and get bitten by giant Louisiana swamp mosquitoes while handing out candy for the "trick or treaters" celebrating Halloween.  
When I was a child living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we celebrated Halloween in a different way from young people today — we either played tricks on the neighbors (e.g., kicking over piles of leaves already raked that hadn't been burned or hiding the covers to garbage cans) or telling ghost stories on my front porch. My father always carved out a gruesome mouth on a pumpkin, and we placed a candle inside so that we had the proper macabre atmosphere for the porch tales, but to tell the truth, I never liked this holiday. I was sensitive to "scare stories" and with good reason. One summer, I had seen what I perceived to be a ghost in my grandparents' attic in Franklinton, Louisiana. In later years, my older brother corroborated this story because he had seen the ghost of my grandfather step out of a mantel clock in my grandparents' bedroom of the same Victorian-style home.
A few years ago, I published a novel entitled Redeemed by Blood that features the appearance of a ghost throughout the book. It is the fictionalized ghost of my great-grandfather and is based on the apparition I thought I glimpsed when I made this foray into my grandmother's attic against her wishes. For Halloween observers who enjoy a ghostly celebration, I'm including the prologue to Redeemed:
"I felt the same icy apprehension that I imagined the small child experienced as she tiptoed up the old pinewood stairs, the staircase rasping in protest at each step she took. I crouched in the cubbyhole of the uncompleted kitchen, a cluttered space adjacent to the landing, fenced off by a folding guard used to prevent children from tumbling down. I had been reading a narrative written by my wife in her inscrutable handwriting, a sketchy account of my entire life reduced to a nine-page booklet, hole-punched and bound with red string. The gray construction paper cover bore the numerals 1733-1916, an insipid title that could have contained the history of anyone, anything. However, it chronicled the Green family history from the time they arrived in Rappahannock River country in Virginia on the ship Macbeth until the year my wife Sarah died. I had told the history of 200 hundred years, which Sarah, the poet and journalist, condensed into an ephemeral tract and hid in the attic of a Victorian mansion in Louisiana belonging to my son Ellis Paul. The book lay on Sarah's secretary alongside my saber, the frayed gray uniform I wore at Shiloh, and a Ku Klux Klan hood, symbol of my awful shame.
"The girl who approached my attic prison appeared to be about nine years old, and her lank hair needed curling. She wore a white pinafore with a lamb embroidered on the bodice and scruffy brown shoes her mother or grandmother should have replaced before the soles came off. The child had a sweet face — a high forehead, creased in a frown, and a sharp nose lifted in pride like her Scots ancestors. I perceived intelligence in her dark eyes, and as she reached the landing, I decided to appear to her. After all, she was Dana, my great-granddaughter who had come into the world the night Sarah died.
"I moved swiftly, knocking the saber that lay on the mahogany secretary to the floor. The child glanced my way, cupped her hands over her dark eyes, and stood immobile on the landing for a moment. I felt the incandescent warmth of my body enveloping her small body for that brief instant. When I released her, she fled down the stairs, silently, rather than screaming out to her Grandmother Nell, who waited at the bottom of the stairs, that she had seen the ghost of her Great-Grandfather Dade Green.
"I sensed that the child feared punishment from her grandmother for exploring forbidden territory more than she feared me. I comforted myself with the thought that the hug I had given her had left an imprint. Perhaps I'd become the cynosure of her life, and she'd be the one who released me from my ghostly state and the memories of indiscretions I had committed during my life on earth. I resumed by task of deciphering my wife's spidery handwriting and the story about my boyhood in Virginia."

A transforming event releases this ghost from his bondage, and perhaps the story doesn't qualify for a real Halloween spin, but you can decide for yourself by ordering a copy of Redeemed by Blood! Order online from or from Border Press, PO Box 3124, Sewanee TN 37375.
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