October skies are blue and unadorned by the smallest white cloud, while Pilot Knob is still mostly green.
A few trees are starting to take on a little color and the maple tree above the bank here sports a touch of red. Three heavy frosts in a row reassure us that the trees will soon take on the vivid hues of autumn. October has always been my favorite month.
I have always loved the “witchy” fall nights that we have this time of year, when a few dark clouds drift over the moon, and a capricious breeze flutters the leaves on the trees. This was the time of year that we began having our “play parties”—actually the only recreation that we had outside of walking miles to and from church.
Through the summer, we were much too busy with the serious business of raising gardens, hoeing corn, picking berries, and all the multitude of chores that country youngsters found it their lot to do. When fall came, though, and the gardens were all harvested and the corn shocked, we found time to have our parties.
It didn’t take much of an excuse to have one—just a simple suggestion, “Let’s ‘gather’ up and have a party was enough. We would gather wood for a bonfire, and young people would walk miles to play the old ring games that were handed down from generation to generation. I can still feel the excitement of those fall nights, with the firelight casting weird shadows, and the smell of wood smoke in the air. There would be a huge gang of us holding hands in a ring and skipping around singing, “Oh, the old dusty miller, and he lived on a hill, and he worked all day with a pretty good will. One hand in the hopper and the other in the sack, the ladies step for the and the gents turn back. Here we go a’sowin’ oats, here we gp a’sowin’ oats, here we go a’sowin’ oats, and who will be the binder? I’ve lost my true love, I’ve lost my true love, I’ve lost my true love, and right here I’ll find her!”
The young people of Mom’s generation played the same games that we delighted in as youngsters, but they seem to have died out now. As Hallowe’en draws near, it brings back memories of those long ago nights. When Mom was young, one of their favorite places for such a party was at “the Ha’nted Mudhole.” This was a low place where the country dirt road dipped on Twistabout Ridge, and it was common knowledge that it was ha’nted.
No one really knows how it had gained that reputation, although it was rumored that a hanging had once taken place there on the big oak tree that shadowed the mudhole. People had reported of seeing strange things there, and unexplained noises. Someone told of seeing a dog walking toward them at that place, and although the dog was traveling fast, its feet didn’t touch the ground. Then there was an instance when a tiny casket floated through the air at that spot, to the astonished eyes of the onlookers.
One night my mother, who had much more nerve than I’ll ever have, was coming home late at night (alone) and reached the haunted spot. Just as she started through, there came a screeching, cackling laugh that rooted her to the spot. Almost consumed with terror, she heard a weird, louder garble that came from another spot nearby. It sounded like two old women giggling and tittering in a strange tongue. After the blood began coursing through her veins again, and she was able to move, she realized that it was two screech owls communicating with one another. (After this, she had to pass through a cemetery on her way home.)
There is something in us that delights in being scared, or else why would anyone pick such a spot for a party? But at Hallowe’en they gathered there for the night. One night one of Mom’s older brothers and a couple of her sisters were coming by the “Ha’nted Mudhole” and one of the braver girls decided to call up the ghost. “Come out, Ghost,” she yelled. To this day, no one can adequately explain what happened. Something like a piece of gray material rose up from the road and flapped about their legs, hindering their movements. They tried to run, but their legs were heavy and impeded by the apparition. The girls almost fainted.
There were other manifestations there through the years. Different people reported hearing something heavy “like a length of two by four” fall from the huge oak tree where the hanging was supposed to have taken place. And there was the young man who rode his horse through there one night, and just as he reached the dreaded spot, something dropped from the tree and rode behind him. It hung on until he almost reached Maw Whites, and then fell off in the brush.
After the big oak tree was cut down, and the “hard road” was built there, it should have slain the ghost. But a couple of my aunts and an uncle passed there in broad daylight, and all of them saw a “white funnel” rise up and dwindle away. A woman who moved near there later used some of the wood from that tree for firewood. She told an aunt of mine that she should have seen the strange lights coming from the wood when it was burned. “Perhaps it was foxfire,” my aunt suggested. “Oh, no, I know what foxfire looks like,” she answered. “Did you know that tree was supposed to be haunted?” my aunt asked her. Having moved there in later years, she was completely unaware of the tales concerning that place.
(Please believe me when I say that I am not swearing to the truth of these tales. I am telling them to you, just as they were told to me. We heard them all the years that we were growing up, and reacted with horrified delight. Yes, our family was superstitious, but we loved the tales.)
John Keats wrote:
“Keen fitful gusts are whispering here and there,
Among the bushes half leafless and dry;
The stars look very cold about the sky,
And I have many miles on foot to fare.”. . . .
Be careful when you pass through the “Ha’nted Mudhole.”