Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Ghost of Cooter McGhee

Last summer, while I was on vacation from college, I went to visit my grandparent's farm. All day long I sat soaking in the beauty of the magnolias in bloom and did absolutely nothing. Just as my boredom became unbearable, my grandfather walked out onto the back porch holding a box of odds and ends. My curiosity peaked as he sat down and began to assemble the pieces.

"Umm, Grandad? What's that?"

"What's what?"

I pointed to the box.

"This? I call it a catywampus."

"A catywhat?" That was new to me.

"Catywampus. It makes weird noises. We used to make them as kids"

"O…K… So what are you going to do with it?"

With a glint of mischief in his eyes, he smiled. "I'm going to scare me somebody."

"Well, Granddad, you coulda scared me, but now I know. You’ve lost the element of surprise."

"Oh no, it isn't for you," he stretched a rubber band over the small box, "No, I have someone in mind. Someone very deserving."

He rubbed his hands together with an evil laugh. "Can you keep a secret?"

Of course I can keep a secret. Does kudzu climb trees? I nodded eagerly and sat up in my rocking chair.

"I'm going to scare your Uncle Bill."

Uh, oh. Uncle Bill must be in some mighty big trouble. "Why?" I asked.

"Well, I can say this now that you are grown up, but he's messing around with another woman."

I was truly shocked.

"Don't you tell your aunt what I'm doing here. She won't like it." He went back to stretching rubber bands.

"Granny won't like it either, Granddad."

I paused.

"Can I help?" I asked eagerly.

"Naw. You just take it easy. It won't be until tonight anyway."

I knew that I just had to see this. "But, what are you going to do?"

"Well, you see, your Uncle Bill is mightily superstitious. You know how he is always claimin' that the ghost of Cooter McGhee is hauntin' the woods behind his house?"

I nodded. Uncle Bill was one shot short of a margarita. Everyone knew Cooter haunted the local jukejoint.

"Well, I'm gonna introduce him to ol' Cooter with this here catywampus. I’m gonna hide in the woods and if I'm lucky, Bill will think it's Cooter."

I shook my head. Granny was gonna send him to the old folks home when she found out. And of course I told her all about Grandad's plans. When she said she would take care of it, I promptly forgot about the whole mess.

Later that night, a noise woke me up. I peeked out and saw Granddad tiptoeing down the hall, holding the box. A minute later, a white ghost passed by in his footsteps – a ghost with blue bunny slippers shuffling under the white sheet?

Oh Dear Lord.

"Granny? What on earth are you doing?" I whispered loudly.

The ghost that was my dear, old Granny turned around. "Shhhh. I'm going to help your Granddaddy. Your Uncle Bill has shamed the family and deserves to be horsewhipped. Here. I have an extra sheet," she said, holding out a light yellow twin size.

Oh right, like I am going to dress up like a ghost, go trouncing out in the woods at midnight to scare my uncle. I paused again. There ain’t no way I was staying behind and letting them have all the fun.

"I’ll just be the ghost of a squash," I said, grabbing my new costume.

So off we went, walking through the woods to Uncle Bill’s and Aunt Marlene’s doublewide trailer. Granddad hid behind an old willow tree and began plucking the catywampus, making an eerie noise. Almost immediately, Uncle Bill poked his head out the back door.

"Who’s thar?" he asked nervously.

That was our cue. Granny and I stepped out from behind the bushes and began to glide around with our arms outstretched.


Well, it was just plain shameful the way Uncle Bill screamed like a girl and slammed the door shut! Granny and I were laughing under our sheets so hard that we almost peed in our pants. Trying to be quiet while laughing isn’t easy, you know.

Then Granny slipped in the mud and fell, all tangled up in her sheet. I could still hear Granddad’s eerie music punctuated with quiet laughter. Then the door opened up again. Uncle Bill and the lady from the Piggly Wiggly stuck their heads out like prairie dogs out of a hole.
I snorted and started gliding again, but Granny was laughing so hard, she gave up and just lay there in the mud in her sheet. I kept on doing my ghostly boogie and Granddad was still plucking away.

Then, I saw something that I can't explain. Right behind Uncle Bill's trailer was an apparition floating down. He must have known something was wrong because he slowly turned and saw what I saw: a white ghost howling and waggling its arms frantically as it careened towards him.

Stunned, I just stood there and watched the thing come closer as Uncle Bill and his fancy lady took off running. It had to be Cooter McGhee! The tales were true! Our woods WERE haunted! I don’t think I have ever been that scared in my life!

"Roger, stop that infernal strumming!" Granny yelled as she struggled out from under the sheet. The music stopped. "Ok, Marlene, you can come down now."

The ghost landed with a bump and an "Ooof!" on the back deck. It threw off its sheet and revealed itself. The ghost was Aunt Marlene!

"Just what in tarnation is going on here?" I asked, puzzled, as she hung from a wire.

"Heavenly justice, darlin’. Heavenly justice," she answered as she unhooked herself and fell to the deck with a grunt.

I just nodded, quite bemused. I guess every southern family has its ghosts. I just wish I’d have gone to the bathroom before that one came flying out.

© 2005 Dana Sieben