Have you ever seen a ghost? I have. I’ve never forgotten how the hair stood up on the back of my neck or the sound of shattered glass as my sweet tea hit the floor. I can conjure up the tin taste in my mouth as it went dry as dust. I can recall it all with a clarity we hold for things that excite or upset us.
We lived in an old farm house when Kade and Kendall were little. Bill worked for a dairy farmer in Pendleton and part of his pay was a house to live in. There were two houses on that part of the farm, both had wood siding that was kept pristine with generous coats of white paint. A U-shaped drive connected the two homes, the milk barn resting at the bottom of the U, holding the three structures together. We lived in the home to the east of the barn, the oldest home on the property. It was the original farm home for the Smith Family. The house was deep but not very wide.There was a porch that ran the length of the front of the house, also made of wood planks we had painted sea blue. I read somewhere that if you painted the ceiling or floor of your porch blue spirits wouldn’t cross it, thinking it was water. That tickled me, so a blue porch floor is what I had. Bill hung a white swing from the porch rafters for me. Mrs Smith had seen me sitting on an old lawn chair that my grandparents had given me, swaying and bouncing Kade while Kendall played in the yard. She thought I needed a swing. She was right. She dug around in one of the barns on the farm and found an elderly swing that was sturdy and treasured. We spent quite a bit of time on that blue porch that summer.
The house itself was huge. Large rooms with high ceilings. The front two rooms, living and dining, had tall windows lining the front and outer walls. We were poor back then and I didn’t have the money to buy curtains for all of those windows. At first, it drove me crazy to have all those windows and nothing to cover them. I hadn’t lived there very long when I decided I really liked it. I’ve kept that particular characteristic, I still like naked windows. I kept them clean with vinegar and newspaper, I spent a lot of time watching the world from those windows. The walls in all the rooms were real wood paneling, stained and knotted. I hated those walls. Only the light from the windows saved me from the dim feelings the walls projected. The kitchen was at the back of the house. It was a wide, airy room, the only room in the house without the dark walls. I loved being in there. There were double windows over the sink and I could look out over the back yard. Mother had gotten Kendall a swing set and a sandbox, he could play out there and I could keep an eye on him. That child never wanted to be indoors. Someone lovingly designed this kitchen for a large, busy family. The cabinets in my kitchen were perfect. They were spacious and there were a LOT of them! To the left and right of the sink hung a row of cabinets that stretched from the counter to the ceiling. Bottom cabinets, a broom closet, a pantry and a lazy Susan rounded out the storage. Mother and I painted the kitchen yellow and the cabinets white. It looked like sunshine in there. A row of fat, squat windows hung above the kitchen table, allowing me to look out over the barnyard. I was busy that spring and summer, canning and freezing. We had planted a garden and it was producing faster than I knew what to do with it. I was in a frenzy of weeding, picking, digging and pulling. Luckily, I had a place for all the vegetables I canned, lined up like soldiers in my tall cabinets.
The bedrooms and bathroom were along the east side of the house. The front bedroom was ours, being the larger of the two. We had a Jack and Jill bathroom and the boys shared the other, smaller room. Although Kendall was six, Kade was a baby and having our rooms connected by the little bath was very handy. The bedrooms were the farthest rooms from the milk barn, but you could still hear the cows and the machinery twice a day during milking time. Bill had to do the first milking at three o.clock in the morning. I set an alarm and shook him awake each day. He would plod through the house, getting dressed and sipping the hot coffee I always had ready for him, neither of us very awake and both barely speaking. The barn was only a few hundred feet from our back door, I would stand and watch him disappear into the brick structure each morning as he started his day. My day started then too. I would begin making biscuits and frying sausage patties while having my own cup of coffee as I sat at my table and watched the morning news on a small, red television that sat on the kitchen counter. Bill would be back around seven for breakfast and by then, I would have Kendall up and ready for school and Kade bathed and dressed. Kendall went to a Christian school about thirty minutes away, as Bill would leave to start the second part of his day, I would leave and take Kendall to school. We would be done with the school year in just a few days and summer would really start for us.
It was so hot that summer. In Indiana. it’s cool in the mornings and evenings and hot during the day. It’s not like that in Arkansas. It’s hot all twenty four hours here. We had no air conditioning then and I tried to get all of my house work. cooking and anything else I had planned done early or late. That summer we also had a colicky baby. Oh my word. You could set your clock by him. He started screaming at six o’clock in the evening and quit at nine. We would both by worn out and sweating by the time the episode was over. Kade would hiccup his last few sobs and then fall into a limp, deep sleep and I would thank God for getting us through another night without me losing my mind. Every evening, just before the festivities began, Bill would load Kendall up in his truck and head to town. They would go to Dairy Queen and get an ice cream and ride around and check on cows. Anything to get them away from the terrible wailing that seemed like it would never end. As I had this to look forward to each day, I had to hustle to get my to-do list done. I was worn out most of the time. If you’ve been the parent of a baby suffering from colic, you know the pain. You can’t make anyone else understand the exhaustion of it. I had a new baby, a busy six year old, a demanding house and husband and I was TIRED! Who knew I’d miss it? You don’t know until it’s over how much you’ll pine for it.
Then, though, I just wanted it to be over with. Working on a dairy farm is an every day job. Cows need milked, even on the weekend. Bill was at work most of the time. If he was home, he was eating or sleeping. One hot Saturday, he had to milk in the morning and in the afternoon, but the middle of the day was his. Or mine. I had a long list of things that I needed his help with. Starting with the yard. We had an old push mower, an old manual push mower. My Grandpa had picked it up at a sale and brought it to us. I made some lemonade and got Bill a big glass. He went to mow and I went to snap green beans we had picked earlier that morning. I had Patty Smyth on the radio and the boys were in the living room watching Power Rangers. Standing at the sink, thinking about what all I wanted to get accomplished before the afternoon milking and Kade’s daily meltdown, I was lost in thought. Suddenly something went sailing past the window. I was standing at the kitchen sink snapping beans and I just had to look up a bit to see into the back yard. Bill was completely undone. He had his shirt off and in one hand, swinging it around. In the other he had a hold of the hoe, whacking the ground over and over. He was jumping up and down, pulling his knees up in great, leaping bounds. He was leap=frogging around an old tractor tire that had long ago been used as a lawn decoration. I hated it and wanted it moved. I finally realized that he was bellowing my name over and over again. I skirted around and knocked over the bowl of freshly snapped beans, hollered at Kendall to stay put and bolted out the back door. I ran around the end of the house towards his yelps for help and stopped dead in my tracks when I got close enough to see what all the commotion was about. Snakes. Dozens of them. He had flipped that tire over to roll it across the yard into the spot I had picked out for it and when he did, he found a den of snakes. Is that what you call a bunch of snakes? A den? Pack? Surely not a herd…Anyway, he was dancing a jig. I screeched and ran. Totally left him for dead. Although, not really for dead. They were just garden snakes. We don’t have poisonous snakes there. Growing up. I never had the “was it a poison snake?” discussion. Who the heck even cares?! It was a snake! I banged back in the back door, yelled at Kendall to stay in the house til further notice and went to cleaning up my spilled beans. About fifteen minutes later, Bill came trudging into the kitchen. I couldn’t help it, I laughed. I laughed until I almost peed. Needless to say, the yard didn’t get mowed that Saturday. He wore himself out killing baby garden snakes.
Although I was overwhelmingly busy all the time, I made time to read as much as my life would allow. I was re-reading Needful Things. Mary Jane, my mother-in-law, had gotten it for me as a Christmas Present the year before and I had only read it once. As with almost all Stephen King books. I have read them several times. (Only a few have been not-worthy for a second or third swim, Cell and Gerald’s Game are two that immediately come to mind) This novel was a Castle Rock story and those have always been my favorite. So I was enjoying the book for a second time that summer. I had gotten Kade down for a nap and Kendall had gone to help his dad with the afternoon chores at the barn. It had been a pretty good day. The snake thing was still tickling me and every once in a while I would find myself grinning. Bill had no rhythm and certainly didn’t dance, unless, of course, he was killing snakes with a hoe. I made a fresh peach pie after the breakfast dishes were done that morning and I had brewed a jug of sun tea. I plated a slice of the warm pie, filled my glass with the sweet sun tea, grabbed my book and the baby monitor and headed for the front porch swing.
It was warm and still outside. I had finished my pie and was fighting the urge to lick the plate clean. That pie was awesome! I settled back into the swing, fluffing the pillow I had snagged off the bed, and turned to where I had left off. This book pleased me endlessly. It wasn’t a book that made your spine tingle, but rather tickled your funny bone. I was engrossed in the goings on in Castle Rock at a peculiar store called Needful things and something caught my attention. I stopped swinging so I could hear more clearly. The rusty chains rubbing back and forth made a small squeek each time I floated back and forth. Even though it was a muted sound, I came to a halt so I could hear more clearly. I heard the hushed sound again. I picked up the baby monitor and held it to my ear. I could hear something. I listened more closely. I was sure it was Kade, but he hadn’t been down that long and I wasn’t ready to relinquish my afternoon just yet. I didn’t hear anything more, I went back to my book and casually pushed myself back and forth with the toe of my shoe.
I heard it again. It was an ethereal sound coming from the baby monitor. It was almost a whisper. Not words, really. More of a coo. But not the coo of a baby. Just this low register of a hum. I suddenly realized I had goosebumps. I bolted off the swing, stumbled on the rug in front of the door and careened into the bedroom where Kade was….Sound asleep. He hadn’t even moved. His little yellow blanket was still lightly spread over his sweet little body. His chest was slightly moving up and down and his little lips were pursed into a pink kiss. Everything was still. The house was hot and I was breathing hard from the panic I held felt only moments earlier. I exhaled the breath and had been holding and tittered a nervous little laugh. Good grief! I looked at the alarm clock sitting neatly on the bedside table and saw that it was time to start supper. So much for my little siesta. I headed to the front door to gather my mess from the porch.
Stepping back outside, I picked up the plate and fork that were sitting on the porch floor. I slid my bookmark back into my spot. leaving Nettie Cobb to tend to Raider. I snatched my pillow and grabbed my empty ice tea glass and awkwardly moved through the screen door into the living room. I set my book on the coffee table and tossed my pillow onto the couch. Gosh it was so hot in the house this afternoon! I set everything else in my hands down and crossed to the windows. I had a fan propped in the first sash and I turned it on. I had it facing outward, hoping to draw some of the hot air out. I stopped for a minute and kicked my keds off, hooking them up and tossing them towards the bedroom door. The warm wood felt good on my bare feet. I looked in on Kade again, picked up my tea glass and started for the kitchen.
As I mentioned before, the rooms in this old house were big. Living room, dining room, then kitchen. We didn’t utilize the dining room much. We mostly ate in the sunny kitchen. The dining room was dark and we had little furniture back then. I had a table and chairs that we had bought at a garage sale and an old armoire that I used for Kendall’s games and crafty things. Kendall and I had been doing a puzzle, it was scattered out on the table. The room looked even bigger with the sparse furnishings and I often shopped for things to fill it up at second-hand spots. Walking out of the living room, into the dining room, thinking about what I was going to do for supper, I turned and there stood a little boy.
He wasn’t very old. Six or seven most likely. A black, wide-billed hat sat on top of his head, pushed back a bit to reveal blond hair, unevenly cut and a bit damp from the heat. He had on dark blue dungarees and a white shirt that was partially tucked in. He was bare footed and had his hands shoved down in the pockets of his trousers. He look a bit disheveled and more than a bit surprised to see me. I stopped still and just took him in a minute. So many things ran through my mind so quickly. I was just a jumble of confusion and before I could say or do anything, I blinked and he was gone. No poof. No smoke, No slow fade. Here one second, gone the next, My glass slipped from my hand and shattered on the hard wood floor. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I felt a scream coming. I swung around and stated to run for Kade. I stepped on the glass I had dropped and tiny shards stabbed into the bottom of my foot. I instantly dropped down and quickly pulled the sharp little stabs out of my bleeding heel. All of this happened in seconds, milliseconds really. In no time at all I was beside Kade and although it all happened so quickly, I felt as if I had been moving through quicksand.
I swooped Kade up and startled him into a crying fit. Shushing him and gingerly stepping around the broken tea glass, I moved toward the back door. I got outside, Kade still wailing, foot still throbbing and bleeding and came to an abrupt halt. I was suddenly surprised. I stood there for a minute, pondering my situation. I looked around, hoping to see the boys but everything was empty and quiet. I bounced Kade up and down and swayed gently with him, shushing him and telling him momma was so sorry for waking him up. It occurred to me that I wasn’t scared. I don’t think I ever had been. I certainly hadn’t felt threatened in any way. I think I was just so shocked. Once that realization sunk in, I turned and went back in the house. Kade had quieted down, I fixed him a bottle of jello water, something we did to soothe his tummy. I laid him on a quilt pallet I threw down on the living room floor and propped his bottle up for him. This was still okay twenty six years ago. We still propped bottles, slept on tummies and fed babies cereal and fruit to help them sleep. We didn’t know any better.
I walked back into the dining room, almost hoping my visitor had decided to make an appearance again. I carefully picked the glass pieces up and mopped the tea and blood up. I got a warm wet cloth and hand mopped my way into the living room and on into the bedroom where I had left bloody footprints. After rinsing the cloth, I mopped the floor in the kitchen and then splashed water on the back stoop to rinse away the blood from there also. As I was doing all of this, I would periodically look around as if to catch a glimpse of my guest again. I went into the bathroom and cleaned my foot, squirting Bactine on the tiny cuts to disinfect and numb the throb a bit. After my mess was clean and Kade was gliding along nicely in his swing, I went to the kitchen to finally start supper. Just as I did, the boys came in from their hard, hot chores. As I listened to Kendall excitedly tell me about a calf that they had bottle fed, I cleaned the husks off of an ear of corn then placed bacon in a frying pan. Blt’s and corn on the cob. Cottage cheese and peaches for Kendall. And more pie, of course. I was only half listening to my men, I was thinking about another little boy. I was wondering if he had lived here. He had left someone he loved behind once upon a time, maybe he was looking for her. I have wished so many times that I would have been calm and noticed more. Really though, who stays calm when they see a ghost. I’ve never seen another one. I have a vivid imagination and I read a lot of ghost stories, so I think I hear things. I hope, maybe? I’ll know one day, I’ll see him in Heaven. I’ll know him right away. I will recognize him and we can sit and have some peach pie and a glass of sweet tea. I’ll ask him who he was looking for that day. I never told this story back then, Bill would have thought I was on my period and it would have scared Kendall. It was my secret for a long time…Until someone said, “Have you ever seen a ghost?’