The Folklore Project
Powder Springs, Georgia
Ghosts in the Hollow
By Amy Hyatt Fonseca
There’s magic in that hollow. Hidden in the little house nestled near the bend of the Cartecay River and the slope of Appalachia’s hills. She’s a gypsy of a shack with her whitewashed boards and tangled rose bushes that clamber on either side like vines to nowhere.
Granny sits on the end of the porch with a spit cup of snuff and a mama cat that snoozes beside her. The hollow is quiet until Granny’s three-legged dog snaps his jaws at cars whizzing past them. Drivers headed to town, too hurried to notice the house and her peculiar charm.
But sometimes, in the wee early morning, the mist rolls into the valley and settles in her bones. That’s when you might get a glimpse of the house and the apparition from her past who lingers outside her door.
Oh, but take heart little house because I see you.
I’ll always see you.
Peek through the cracked window with me, and you might spot her Technicolor ghosts too. Look, we stand near the table, my cousins and I. How we scamper through the house after church and giggle when our towheaded auntie snaps her dishrag to shoo us outside to play.
In the kitchen, fried chicken sizzles on the stove while Granny’s homemade biscuits brown in the oven. The aunties, five of them with indigo eyes, gossip about a story on the front page of last week’s Times Courier. Sometimes in hushed tones, they mention a baby girl too; a sixth sister named Joan. She lies in the cemetery with Pawpaw, now — rock-a-bye baby beneath a headstone.
Then there’s Granny, the matriarch of the hollow. A true Appalachian lady, calloused hands and Godly hearted. On this Sunday afternoon, she teeters through the kitchen. And the thump of her cane against the slanted floors makes all the aunties flutter. One pulls out a chair at the table while another fetches Granny’s coffee with cream and no sugar.
Meanwhile, the cousins and I gather around to listen when Granny speaks. Wise words about the pole beans in her garden or the applesauce she’ll can for us next fall. I want to sit and chat with Granny more. I do. But a buttery aroma weaves through the air and makes my belly grumble. So we leave Granny behind to sip her coffee while we flock to the porch and visit the uncles.
The screen door bangs. Bitter cigarette smoke rises and twirls around us. Mama’s brothers, three of them with faded cobalt eyes, puff on Marlboros and shoot the breeze. Not Daddy, though. He leans forward in a homemade shaker chair with a movie reel inside his head. He tells ghost stories too, haunted tales about friends lost in war.
Near the porch’s edge, another cousin strums a few chords on his guitar. From time to time, when the music seeps into the house, Mama and the aunties venture out to belt a few tunes — Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn. Followed by my favorite, a rendition of Oh, Come, Angel Band. Sometimes the cousins and I join in too:
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run;
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
I hum the song while I dig through the cooler near the door. My numb fingers sift through the ice until I strike fool’s gold. I grab a Coca-Cola because, as Mama says, we aren’t sweet tea people. After I pop the top and take a swig, my eyes sting from the bubbles that fizz down my throat.
Then I hear it. An auntie hollers dinnertime. The cousins and I grin at each other and sprint back inside, a failed effort to beat the boys to the food. Crammed shoulder-to-shoulder around the table with my kin, I mutter a prayer in my head. Dear God, please grant me a scoop of mashed potatoes before the boys eat them. A drumstick might be nice too. Amen.
It’s dessert I love best, though. Particularly, Mama’s homemade cheesecake swirled with chocolate on top. How I miss the sweetness on my tongue now that Mama’s confectioner smile is long gone — rock-a-bye baby beneath the headstone.
Once we fill our bellies, Mama tells my brother and me it’s time to go home. My chest tightens, and I beg to stay longer, but she always shakes her head no. So, I lean in to give Granny a woeful hug and inhale her scent — lavender and snuff, mixed with resilience. She pats my shoulder, and I promise to come back soon. To Granny and her gypsy of a shack with its whitewashed boards, and tangled rose bushes that clamber on either side like vines to nowhere.
And every Sunday I keep my word.
I visit Granny.
I play with the cousins.
I eat biscuits and drink Coke.
I go home.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Until one day, I don’t.
Now, dear Granny resides there still. Between the Cartecay River and the slope of Appalachia’s hills. Through the window she watches another generation of cousins play, beneath the gnarly boughs of her applesauce-making tree.
And although I live miles from the little house nestled near the bend when the wind whips across the scrubby pines I swear she whispers in my ear. I inhale roses and earth, and my mind wanders back. To the hollow, the little house, and those Sundays long gone. A ghost fated to return — rock-a-bye baby beneath a headstone.