One day back in the winter of 1929, the wind blew up quite a snowstorm, howling through the valley and racing over the river in a small railroad town in Estill County, Kentucky. I was just a small child, six or seven, the best I remember, and snowstorms were not unusual, but this one was different. More than likely, it stands out in my memory because of what happened that night.
My Aunt Polly, quite a character, I might say, and a good storyteller, had come to visit. We, five of us children and our mother, sat around the potbelly stove warming ourselves and listening to Aunt Polly’s ghost stories. She could make the hair on your arms stand on end.
No one had noticed the snow piling higher outside the window until my mother tried to get out the door to take the wash off the clothesline. It took all seven of us to pry the door open enough for her to get through it with her laundry basket, and wider still for Aunt Polly, who was more than a little on the stout side. Aunt Polly fretted about her horse, Shadrack, being cold and carried out a blanket to drape over him. She had hitched him up under an open-sided shed next to our house. All us children pulled on our coats and wraps and helped shovel snow and help Ma take down the clothes; although upon finding them still damp, she abandoned the task. I helped Aunt Polly feed and water Shadrack and secure the blanket over him, what time I wasn’t looking toward the railroad’s roundhouse, wondering if my father would be able to get home through the blizzard. I couldn’t see anything through the blowing snow, but I could hear the chug-chug of a locomotive winding toward the depot. It sounded like footsteps, like the tromp of a ghost in one of Aunt Polly’s stories. Then when I heard this loud, long howl, I grabbed onto Aunt Polly with such a might that we both tumbled into a deep snow drift. She thought it great fun and explained that the sound I had heard was only a train’s whistle carried on the cold wind. But I knew what I had heard.
Later on as the moonlight fell on the snow and I crawled into bed, I was just as certain that that ghost from the graveyard of a mining town in the mountains of eastern Kentucky had hopped aboard that very train, just like Aunt Polly had said, and was here looking for people to haunt, banging on windows, raising its arms and howling like the wind.
I lay perfectly still, my head covered, every little noise magnified. Everyone was sleeping, for I identified every snore, even Aunt Polly’s. Hers had a long whistle at the end of a snort.
It seemed like the night would never end, what with the snoring, and then the howling. At first, I told myself that it was just the wind whipping around the house, like it had done all day, but as I listened I became convinced that it was “the” ghost. This howling went on for a great long time, way into the night I’m sure, then it stopped and everything seemed quiet and still. Slowly, I slipped the cover down from my eyes and peeped out the window. My breath caught in my throat. I could not move or utter a sound. Then I screamed as loud as I could. My father raced into the room. I think at that moment, he was just as scared as I was. I hid my face against his chest, my hands covering my eyes, and told him that I saw a ghost outside by the clothesline. He hugged me tightly, and now that I think about it, he must have had a hard time trying not to laugh. It took a good deal of begging and pleading from him before I finally took my hands from my eyes and looked out the window.
The ghost was nothing more than a pair of his white long johns that had frozen stiff on the clothesline from the cold, the arms raised, the legs lifted, the whole thing flapping wildly and noisily in the wind. I would not sleep until my father removed the “ghost” from the clothesline and brought it inside where I watched it thaw from the warmth of the stove and crumble into a cold heap on the floor.
(Adapted and fictionalized from a true story told by my mother)