Scary stories are best when told by a believer. On a cold, dark night, the women and children clustered cozily around the fireplace at Aunt Ader’s old house while the men were out hunting. By the firelight, mothers in straight back wooden chairs bumped rhythmically back and forth to lull their little ones off to sleep, as their older kids stretched out pallets in the front room enticed by oft-repeated family tales, some funny, some sad, some terrifying.
I recall this sad story as deliciously heartbreaking, though I never knew any of these distant relatives of relatives. My Great-Aunt Jo told of her pregnant Cousin Lou on her daddy’s side from way over in Alabama. Back before Aunt Jo was born, Cousin Lou left her baby Jessie Mae on a pallet under the shade of an oak while picking beans with her family nearby. Lou looked back often to check her sleeping baby. It was resting so well, she picked on a bit longer, hoping to get enough beans to can a few jars. Little Jessie never made a peep. When Lou’s basket was filled, she came back to retrieve the baby and was horrified to find the shade had shifted and the baby burned beet-red in the sun. Lou and her mother, Ruth, rushed to sponge the baby with cool spring water. For three days, Little Jessie lingered between life and death, before dying. The family had to restrain poor grief-stricken Lou from pulling the baby from the coffin at the burial. She gave birth to a seven-month baby a few days later that only lived a few hours. Though she went home to live with her husband, all she did was pine for her lost babies. She became catatonic, unable to eat, dress herself, or leave the chair where she rocked her dead child’s rag doll. A few months after her grieving young husband took her home to her mama, Ruth, it became obvious she was pregnant again. It was hoped the new baby would bring her back to life though she never responded to the new baby Sally, just kept rocking Baby Jessie’s doll. Ruth was left to raise little Sally and manage her sick daughter. On good days, Lou was like a docile child, sitting quietly or doing simple tasks. On rough days, she cried and rocked her rag doll. On her worst days, she wailed and tried find her baby or throw herself in the well. When she finally roused enough to try to hang herself, Ruth had to put her in the asylum where poor, deranged Lou managed to hang herself after a couple of months. Because she’d killed herself, she was hastily buried at the asylum and couldn’t have a Christian burial with her lost babies. Afterwards, people swore they could hear Lou crying, trying to get to her babies’ graves in the church cemetery dark, moonless nights. I still get tingles thinking of it.