As the fire burned low, the lap babies had been put down and knee babies were sleeping quietly on pallets, the chatter from the older children slowed as they; too, drifted off to sleep at the feet of their mothers, aunts, and grandmother. Desperate for ghost stories, I hung on the words of my superstitious Maw Maw. She held grandchildren spellbound with all the scary tales she knew. Should she falter, one of my aunts urged her on…”Mama, remember about the big black dogs running through the house.” Her stories were more terrifying because she believed them with all her being.
“Oh yeah, lots of times, late at night, if the wind was still, and the night was dark, me and Granny could hear them ghost dogs, howling and scratching at the door, trying to get in…but once in a while, if the moon was full, we’d see them big, black devil dogs blowing right into the room where me and Granny was, made of black smoke from the fires of hell with blazing coals for eyes. We hid under the covers, ‘cause Granny said ‘if you ever looked in them fiery eyes, you was bound for Hell’.”
Opportunities to hear scintillating stories like these were rare, usually limited to visits with Maw Maw, my paternal grandmother. Mother could hardly snatch her spellbound children from the writhing mass of cousins clustered around Maw Maw’s knees. Daddy ruled the roost, and he liked the stories as much as anyone. Mother held the ridiculous notion that tender minds didn’t need to hear scary stories, more concerned about the nightmares she’d be dealing with in a few short hours than the extreme pleasure they afforded us at the time.
I do wish I could hear and savor those stories again, unmolested by that nagging voice in the background. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. Those stories are just pretend, like cartoons. Now, go on to sleep and forget about them.”
Mettie Swain Knight, a champion ghost storyteller