My ancestors come from the mountains of western North Carolina on the other side of Boone and the eastern part of Tennessee around Mountain City. The mountains and their thick laurels isolated the farmers who first pioneered the land and settled there. For generations most social contact came from attending little one room schools and small white wooden churches. Entertainment came through family gatherings to eat, make music, and tell stories.
We still get together for dinners, music making, and storytelling during the holidays. I have always particularly loved hearing the family ghost stories. There is only one though that I have personal knowledge of and that I actually believe to some extent. I still wonder about what happened. The incidents that occurred were curious and to this day I have no explanation for them.
A little over 16 years ago my brother-in-law’s father Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was one of the best men I have ever known and loved his children and grandchildren with all his heart. He only lived about six months after being diagnosed despite taking chemo and radiation. At the end they brought him back home where he was attended by hospice. The night he passed away his little grandson Christopher, who was not yet two, came running by the adults into the room and tried to give him an ice cream cone. Though dying, his grandfather still managed to smile while speaking to the child. After the baby boy ran back out he whispered, “Isn’t he sweet.”
Later Wayne’s elderly mother came into the room. She had mistreated Wayne growing up and throughout his adult life. He had asked that she not be allowed in to see him. Someone let her in though, and despite his pain Wayne forced his body to roll onto his side where he stared at the wall until she left. His breathing was labored as his lungs filled up with blood. It was the first time I had heard what is referred to as the “death rattles.” Before morning he had passed away leaving his wife, children, and friends in tears.
Within a couple of months strange things began to happen in the home and in particular the bedroom where he had died. Wayne’s wife began claiming that things were being moved in the house. She would take her bedroom shoes off and sit them by the bed at night before turning in and find them sitting in the closet in the morning when she woke up. She would lie something on the mantle and come back later to find it gone and in another part of the house. One day when her children and grandchildren were all there her daughter went down the hall and heard Christopher jabbering in the bedroom. When she looked in Christopher was standing in the middle of the floor looking up as if he were staring at someone and listening to them. After a minute he began jabbering again as if he were talking to someone. When she stepped in and asked who he was talking to he replied, “Pap Paw Watson.”
Over the next few weeks things continued to be moved and Christopher continued to go into the bedroom to talk to someone that no one could see but him. One night he was playing with his toys in the floor while everyone else sat around talking and watching TV. Suddenly, he jerked his head up and looked down the hall. He got up and went running into the bedroom where his grandfather had died. When his parents followed him they found him standing in the room and looking up as if he were listening to someone. He would then start talking back as if he were carrying on a conversation. When they asked who had called him to come in there he replied, “Pap Paw Watson.” It was “Pap Paw Watson” who was also moving his grandmother’s bedroom shoes to the closet at night according to Chris.
Something finally happened in the house which drove Wayne’s wife to move out forever. All we know is that she up and moved out and switched homes with my sister and her husband. After moving into the house my brother-in-law decided to completely redo the bedroom where their father had spent his last hours. They took up the carpet and put down new flooring. They redid the walls putting up new paneling and put in new windows. After everything in the room was made new Christopher stopped seeing his grandfather and the movement of objects ceased.
The most obvious explanation is that Christopher was imagining things or making them up as if playing a game. He was barely two years old though and I have just never been able to accept that explanation. He graduates high school this year and has no memory of what happened.
The Iredell County Public Library has many book collections of ghost stories and folktales. Most of these can be found in the 133 and 398 sections. Ghost stories remain popular and communities across the country have begun to sponsor “ghost walks” as part of their tourism efforts. If you have a ghost story set in Iredell County that you would like to share I would appreciate it if you would write it up and bring it by sometime or E-mail it to me at email@example.com.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
For the Statesville Record and Landmark
January 6, 2009