Southern Ghosts

“We all have ghosts, remorse, dreams, things we love and hate.” — Arturo Perez Reverte

Story Adele Elliott

Autumn in the South is a magical time. Even before the temperatures truly drop into bearable digits, there is the promise of cooling.

Spring is lovely and summer has charms. We never tire of the enchanting flash of fireflies, or an unexpected thundershower that splatters puddles on to the sizzling streets. Summer also means “beer-thirty,” a fantasy hour that may not officially be on any clocks. But, we know it is real.

Autumn, now this is the best season. Shadowy twilights arrive earlier, splashing flickering dark shapes under bushes and jagged silhouettes against buildings. Leaves, dressed in fiery colors of golds and reds, scurry across streets as if headed toward a very special destination. They gather in swirls, conspiring, speaking in swishing whispers, making private plans. The harvest moon hangs lower. “I’m here to guide you,” she murmurs softly. “I will light your path.”

The world seems more mysterious now, and we all believe in ghosts. Southerners seldom do their spiritual housekeeping. We tend to hang on to our past in the form of inherited objects and family legends, not to mention grand mansions. Maybe it’s because the ground is stained with blood from Civil War battles, or that valuables lie in shallow graves, long ago hidden from the Yankees. Generations muddle together lovingly, with murky delineations. Everyone has a story.

In the south, “paranormal” isn’t really weird, at all. The mystical is plain old “normal.”

In my first Mississippi home, I lived with two ghosts. One was a trickster. He liked turning lights and the television on and off. Nothing sinister there, just specter humor. The other was a kindly lady who closed curtains when the sun was in my eyes, and was quite fond of my little dog.

I once knew a family who shared their home with someone unseen convinced it was a long-dead relative. When they moved, the spirit went along with them. She (they were also sure it was a “she”) plopped into the car next to them, making an indentation in the seat. They moved happily together to the new home.

We have all heard of table tilting. In my childhood, I met a man who could make small pieces of furniture walk. He did this as a sort of parlor game, until, one day, when he was very sick, a table walked across the room to bring him his medicine. It startled him so much that he never did it again.

These were all Southern ghosts, more genteel than their spirit-cousins in Northern regions of the country. Here they are part of the family. Perhaps they find a bit of pleasure in hiding our keys or toying with electricity. It’s all in good fun, more poltergeist pranks than ghoulish frights.

There are many people who do not “believe.” However, in the South, our experiences merge with those of our predecessors into a mixture too blended to separate. It is sometimes very hard to know what is real. William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”   

In some ways we have made peace with our past. Southern history is checkered with events of which we are not always proud. Ghosts, actual or imagined, are accepted. They are more like houseguests than “haints.”

Autumn is the season to dust off bits of family history and welcome visitors from a time only our dreams remember. The spirits have stories to tell: listen. There is nothing to fear, probably just one of our kin paying us a visit. Don’t forget to ask them where the family silver is buried.