By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist
The rural Wrinkled People, after years of toil, spent lengthening autumn nights around fireplaces full of coal and wood (wood catches fire quicker, coal burns longer). They dwelt among untrodden ways.
Sometimes the house was cold, the fire always warm, so families huddled. Songs were sung, a chord or two might be played, and stories were told. Such stories.
Some were light and airy. Some were funny. Some weren’t. Some had to do with ghoulies and ghosties and longlegged beasties and things that go bump in the night,
Most believed in ghosts wholly and Holy, or, in the vernacular, Haints. Which I took be a combination of a Haunt and an Ain’t (S/he ain’t really there.)
Some stories of this variety were told with whimsey, but some as a dread warning, so to speak. Many of these had to do with cemeteries. You didn’t want to get caught dead near one, never at night.
And, for whatever reason, most of the venerable didn’t call it a cemetery. It was a graveyard (a bone orchard). So, down the years, a healthy fear of graveyards was instilled in most Southerners of the rural stripe. Some graveyards, like any potentially dangerous thing, were worse than others.
One, in particular, was Old Pisgah, situated a little ways between the small northwest Alabama towns of Townley and Carbon Hill (towns the Interstate missed and now dwindle). This bone orchard sits alone, maybe 10 miles from the nearest homeplace.
Old Pisgah was sort of abandoned years even before the time of my telling. I couldn’t say why, but a New Pisgah exists not so far away. So I don’t know what happened.
But Pisgah (the word, Mr. Webster assures me means “a distant sight.” Apropos, eh.) – Pisgah was special. All graveyards are haunted, but Old Pisgah had a reputation. Older than I know of in my telling, Pisgah holds nearly 400 tombstones.
It was believed those under the stones sleep lightly, restlessly, if at all.
Old Pisgah sits, forlorn and brooding, on and among shallow hills with dark forests. Some say it is angry for being abandoned so that sleepers cannot sleep. There are those who say there is no sound more eerie than a lonely wind soughing through the hills, making the trees rustle and creak and moan. Some say the trees moan and creak and rustle all the time, even when there is no wind. They say Old Pisgah breathes.
I’ve been told that songbirds are rarely heard around it, especially at night, but there are blackbirds, buzzards and crows. I’ve been there. I’m from around there. And maybe that isn’t true, what they say. But listen, wherever there’s a maybe not, there is always a maybe.
So, off the beaten path, where there is no police jurisdiction nor prying eyes, at night comes the fearless and the doubters, there comes the curious and the adventurous. After all, all know the place is haunted. Sometimes games are played.
During my time, Baby Boomer time, one friend of mine sort of strode above the rest. I’ll call him D.T. He was talented, handsome, strong of jaw and cleft of chin. He perhaps had the quickest wit of any human I’ve known. And D.T. loved mischief. Not the harmful kind to hurt people. Merely a game here or a game there. And some were deep.
Old Pisgah was sort of made for folks like D.T.
And so it was, on a day like today, when the autumnal equinox is waiting patiently to perform its cosmic magic, that someone at D.T.’s high school suggested that maybe Old Pisgah, a 20-minute drive, might be a likely location for the guys to gather on a Friday night after the school game, after dates, to drink a little brew and tell lies. The someone might’ve been D.T.
The guys were of course familiar with Old Pisgah and jumped at the idea. It was not just a good place to park and get out and dare the tombstones, it was a grand place to take a date and tell shivery stories, thereby assuring a closeness, eh.
D.T. knew every creak and crevice within the farflung boundaries of Old Pisgah (I told you it was a big graveyard) and every winding road and walkway through it.
So it came to pass that every Friday evening, eight maybe ten cars would navigate the sandy, unpaved road up into the heart of the graveyard and park in one of the wide places beneath the tallest hill. Occupants would sit on their cars and smoke and drink and laugh, but nonetheless kept a wary eye looking back over their collective shoulders. Old Pisgah was haunted, you know.
D.T., that quick brain, meant to prove it. Because he had two things other than brains and looks and talent. D.T. had a plan, and the very first cassette tape deck of anyone in the school.
I told you he was smart.
(Next week: D.T. at the Graveyard).
(Next week: D.T. at the Graveyard).
Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at www.ALDailyNews.com.