Pictured Above, Mettie Martha Knight Swain, my paternal grandmother
Desperate for ghost stories, I hung on the words of my superstitious Maw Maw. While the men were out hunting, the women and children of the family gathered to share the long evenings. As the evenings stretched on, lap babies were rocked to sleep and knee babies drifted off in their mother’s laps and were put on thick pallets of quilts on the floor to sleep. Earlier in the evening, the women took turns telling tales of their youth but as it got later and more little ones drifted off, they moved on to scary stories. At the peak of the evening, when the most impressionable had nodded off and the lights were low, one of the daughters would encourage Maw Maw to tell a story. She held her grandchildren spellbound with the scary tales. 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. Once she started, I was too deliciously terrified to even risk a trip to the bathroom alone.
“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 to 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.”
Top Left Cousin Ricky Compton, Sister Phyllis Swain Barrington holding Sister Connie Swain Miller, Cousin Allen Lee, Linda Swain Bethea, center, Standing Aunt Ola Bea Shell holding Cousin Trudy Shell
First row, Cousins Sandra Shell, Gary Shell, and Leslie Shell in right front corner.