Monday, March 14, 2016

The Rock Salt Circle

I woke up for the last time in my room on Lake Lanier to the smell of strawberry waffles and fresh brewed coffee.  “Hey there sweetie – time to get up,” my Granddaddy said as the sun rose over the blue water.  He looked tired which for a ghost was saying a lot.  I knew I would miss him terribly when I went to college even though I had never met him when he was alive.  He came into my world about the time my kitten Sassy was hit by a car when I was six and I prayed to see her one more time.  My prayers were answered when I was able to see the spirit of my sweet kitty along with a whole host of ghosts who decided that they needed the help of a six year old to get closure on their unfinished business.  All of it was over whelming until Granddaddy stepped in from beyond and started to take control of the situation so that his great-granddaughter would not be too traumatized by the fact she could see a wide array of dead people.  

“Okay, I’m up.  But I still don’t understand why you can’t come with me Granddad,” I said not knowing how I would negotiate a whole new world of ghosts without him.   “Now, girlie-girl –we talked about this - I’m bound to this place – the city itself – I can't leave and besides someone needs to keep an eye on your mother,” he said with a smile and a wink.  I smiled back but we both knew it would be a while before I came back home for a visit after the disaster of my Cotillion.  My date - who was the son of one of the richest doctors in town- turned out to be a serial rapist.  I managed to get away before it was too late but two of my classmates – Betty and Sherry – were not so lucky.  My last week at home was a flurry of interviews with police officers who were trying to build a case against Tad Palmer.  At this point I just wanted to get out of town and start my new life in Tallahassee at Florida State.

Granddaddy  sat on-top of my suitcases and looked down.  I sensed that he was going to miss me as much as I was going to miss him.  "I love you Granddaddy," I said as I sat next to him.   "You're the purest soul I've ever met - don't let the bastards get you down.  You got a gift - don't be afraid to use it."   I smiled and leaned in forgetting he was not solid.  I fell off the suitcases which made Granddaddy laugh.  "Girly girl - you do that every time and it makes me smile.  And...I love you too!"  he smiled and faded out.

I threw on my favorite jeans and Bruce Springsteen t-shirt and headed down the stairs.  Etta was standing at the stove making my favorite breakfast.  “Hey Etta,” I said quietly.  This woman had been my rock and I was closer to her by far than my own mother.  She never treated me like a freak because I could see ghosts – she always loved me for who I was.  “Hey there – I made your favorite breakfast for my favorite girl –“ her voice broke off.  We both looked at each other and our eyes started to well up.  I always felt safe in her arms from the time I was a toddler.  I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen – her dark eyes and skin seemed so exotic to me.  She had also guided me through the thorny path of being able to see the dead.  Having grown up in New Orleans she had special understanding of the occult and for her my abilities were not freakish. She never made me feel weird or tried to dismiss what I saw as a child's flight of fancy.  She never wavered – she just loved me.  She smoothed down my hair and served up her classic strawberry waffles and maple bacon.  “I’m going to miss this Etta – you and me having breakfast together – “ “Now Baby Girl – don’t get me started – your father will be here any minute and you know how he hates emotional goodbyes.”
Mother came downstairs with her platinum blond hair coiffed, a cream colored pair of slacks and a matching apricot sweater set -no matter what that woman always had time to coordinate.   “Well Sophia - I can’t believe today is the day.  Are you sure you want to go to now and not wait until January – especially after everything that’s happened?”  she asked showing some genuine concern and residual guilt for setting me up with Tad.  She sat down with us and had coffee which was her habit.  She didn’t really eat breakfast - coffee and a cigarette which she sneaked when no one was around - was her morning ritual.   

The three of us sat there awkwardly - my birth mother and my emotional mother trying to find the right words.  It's interesting when you know one phase of your life is ending and another beginning so you can prepare -  it happens with things like marriages, births, new jobs and going to college.  But so much of life's changes are unexpected - like learning that you can see ghosts or that your date might just take something from you that is precious with terrible force.  

Most times the unexpected is death - and those spirits that can't accept it usually come to someone like me for help.  I try to keep that in mind when I'm bombarded by them but I've come to realize too many people are just not ready to let go - no matter how old they are.   There are any number of grandmothers that come to tell me that they still keep tabs on their children and grandchildren.  Children that still hang around their parents trying to offer comfort.  All needing my help and hoping I might be able to offer a message or two to  those they loved so they can find some peace.   It's a blessing and a curse as Etta put it - so few who had the gift and actually did the right thing by it.  I was apparently one of the few. 

I could discuss these things with Etta.  My mother was just too uncomfortable with it and had always wished I was still her obedient little girl with blond hair and blue eyes who would do exactly as she said before I changed - before Sassy died.  My ability was definitely not one she was prepared for and I think she mourns for the child that I was and the marriage she thinks she lost because of it.  

My father entered with his usual cheer - putting on a happy face even though he had spent the last week berating my mother for the whole Cotillion disaster.  He blamed her for trying to make me a debutante and feeling like my station in life was supposed to be dictated by the man I was destined to marry.  But in the last day or two, he became less frustrated with Mom realizing that it was not helping the situation and was only making me more anxious. 

"Hello ladies!  How's my college girl?"  "I'm good daddy - we can go anytime," I said ready to get the hell out of dodge but still not quite sure I was ready to leave everything I had ever known - both good and bad.  "Do I have some time for coffee and some of Etta's famous waffles?" he asked.  "Of course Daddy - I'll bring my bags downstairs."  "Hold your horses - Sugar Bear - let me have some breakfast and then we'll get going."  My dad sat down and ate breakfast with his girls and made jokes which made us laugh. I wished it could have always been like this.   He and my mother had been at each other's throats but now that I was leaving there seemed to be a relative calm over the house.  

"Sophia, your mother and I have a surprise for you," Daddy said with a huge smile that my mother also mirrored.  "You need a way to get around campus so here you are."  In the drive way was a red 1980 Toyota  Celica it was the cutest car I had ever seen.  "We'll drive down in this and then I'll fly back on Sunday."  I stood in awe that they were able to keep it a secret and I hugged both of them.  "Thank you - oh my God - I can't believe I have my own wheels!"  
Daddy and I loaded up my stuff and I was glad that I had mostly suitcases that fit in the trunk along with Dad's one overnight bag.   I gave Etta a big hug goodbye and another one to my mother who to my surprise I was actually going to miss.  Daddy handed me the keys but I let him drive since he made me nervous whenever I got behind the wheel.  I looked out the window as we pulled out of the driveway so my dad could not see how hard I was crying.   He touched my hand and said, "It's okay Sugar bear, I understand - change is a very hard thing - it's a good thing sometimes but it's also tough to do."  I nodded and sat back.  

Leaving the house I had grown up in, I realized that Daddy and Mother had been divorced longer now than they had been married.  He left the day after the family reunion that my mother orchestrated to show what a big happy family we were.  He had planned it long before I started to see ghosts but in my mother's mind - that was his tipping point.  He'd get me every weekend and we'd spend it together until Cynthia came into his life and then it was every other weekend.   She tried to act like my mother -but I was so angry at the fact that he wanted to spend more time with her than me that we were never very close.  Eventually they got married and she had two daughters - my half sisters Patricia and Abby.  I was 10 when Patricia was born and 12 when Abby arrived.  I had tried to get along with them but the age difference was an issue as well as the fact in my mind that they had stolen my daddy.  I was 18 now and they were eight and six and most of the time felt like their sitter rather than their sister. 

As we were driving I realized that this trip would be most uninterrupted time in years that I had with my father.  Between his marriage, my two half sisters and his law practice - we had very little one-on-one time since I was about six years old.  He felt guilty about the Cotillion and how he was unable to protect me.  It was not his fault - not really my mother's fault either - it was really a world that valued money, power and social position which gave some people in that strata the idea that they could perpetrate any crime and there would be no repercussions.  While my parents had serious qualms about me attending college on my own - I guess they figured if I could handle being assaulted and fighting back and all the ghosts that had come at me over the last 12 years - I could probably handle frat boys.  At least now, I knew what to look for in the asshole department and avoid it.  Frankly, unlike a lot of girls my age - I was not looking for a boyfriend my first week in college. 

As we pulled away from Atlanta on I-75, the reality of starting fresh in Tallahassee hit me full on.  It was fun and scary at the same time.  We made our way down Georgia to Macon and I got some strong impressions but was not sure if it was my own nerves or actually something supernatural going on.  I-75 looked basically the same for hours - the only thing that broke things up were billboards advertising trucker strip joints and gas stations that sold boiled peanuts.  

As we drove into exit 33 and the city of Cordele - I caught sight of a rocket that seemed to be very out of place and asked Daddy if he knew what it was.  "Sugar bear - that is a genuine Confederate nuclear missile," he said matter-of-factley.  "It's a what?" I asked.  "Here let's pull off and I'll show you."  Sure enough as we drove in - there was a plaque near the 11 story missile that explained that it had flown into space in the 1960's.  "That's cool dad," said wishing we had more time to explore the weird side of Georgia.  Just then - I got a very uncomfortable feeling.   There was something weird nearby but I could not get a good fix on it.  My father noticed my face and got the drift that something was askew.  He quickly paid for the Icees from the gas station next to the missile and we were soon back on our way.  

"Hey why don't we get off I-75 and hit some back roads just to break things up?" he asked.  "That sounds great Daddy,"   I said but I felt light headed and closed my eyes hoping a little sleep might clear my head.  We went on Route 300 and the feelings only got more intense.  I kept on seeing flashes of Klansman along the side of the road and other people running away from them - some white and some black.  I could also smell whiskey and gun powder.  My father got quiet and serious as well.  "Daddy - did you see something?" I asked wondering if he could feel it too.  "No Sugar Bear, it's just getting later than I'd like - I wanted you to be there before dark," he said trying reassure me.  

The images kept appearing and disappearing.  Seeing the KKK didn't surprise me - we were in Georgia after all but the people looked like they were from the 1920's - not from the Civil War.  The people dressed as the Klan seemed to be trying to capture the white people with the same vigor as they had for people with darker skin.  Just when I wondered if it was my overactive imagination - we drove by a farm with a confederate flag flying high over the crops. 

"Sweet suffering Jesus - some people  just cannot give up the fight," my father said with a huge dose of disdain.  I was feeling a real heaviness on my chest and my head hurt.  I also had to go to the bathroom but didn't want to stop around here but my bladder had a different idea - damn that extra large Icee.   "Daddy, can we stop?  I really have to use the ladies room."   We drove past some interesting sites like the Salt Lick Sausage Factory and the future location of the Grits Festival trying to find a road side stop.  We finally found one - a small filling station next to a country store that seemed quaint.  My head was still feeling strange but I attributed that to the fact that I was going to burst if I didn't get to a john ASAP.  I ran into the store and sighed with relief when I saw the word restroom on the back.  My dad got some coffee and talked to the sales clerk who was a heavy set woman in her 40's and a teased up-do with bright red lipstick. 

As I entered the bathroom which had a few stalls, I felt something in there that was not friendly.  "Hey, I just need to go to the bathroom and I'll leave you be - I really don't want any trouble," I said to the entity that seemed to be spoiling for a fight.  I used the toilet and started to wash my hands when something literally shoved me against the stall door.  "Hey, that's enough - I mean you no harm now let me go in peace," I said more sternly just like Granddaddy had taught me.  Just than I heard the phrase "Too late, N-gger lover" as I got thrown out of the bathroom.  

I tried to keep my composure as the clerk named Aggie and Daddy watched me nearly trip over a display by the bathroom.  "Be careful Sugar Bear -" he said not realizing I was being harangued by something on the other side.   Daddy handed me his coffee cup and I took a sip which helped steady me.  "What is the history here Aggie?" I asked casually but I had a pretty good idea of what it was.  

Aggie looked  uncertain at telling a pair of outsiders what the place had once been.  "Oh, you know, farms around these parts - God fearing people mostly.  We're actually gearing up for the Grits Festival -" she replied when all of the sudden the cigarette display behind her fell forward.   "What the hell?" she asked as she leaned over to pick up a pack of Lucky Strikes when the beef jerky in an nearby isle was also knocked over.  "Daddy, we need to go now - I get the feeling the spirits don't like us here," I whispered. 

But my warning came too late.  There was a circle of ghostly Klansman surrounding the outside of the store.  It didn't matter that it was barely dusk- they were out for blood and whelded axes and torches.  My father looked outside and jumped back.   "Daddy, do you see that?" I asked quietly.  "Sugar bear we best not go outside," he whispered back.  The clerk got under the counter trying to pick up cigarettes.  I saw the apparitions of men in white sheets rush the front of the store. The doors to the beer display were thrown open while bottles of Bud and Heineken exploded causing glass and ale to flood the place.  The bottles of carefully arranged Boones Farm Strawberry Wine also started to implode. We jumped behind the counter with the Aggie.  "Hey- has this happened before?" I asked as more glass and alcohol smashed around us.  "This here county was dry up until about six months ago and we just started selling beer and wine last night," she replied.  "Was the Klan active around here with prohibition?" I asked trying to keep my voice down.  Aggie looked down realizing keeping the family secret was not worth it anymore.  "Yes, outside of Atlanta, this was one of the most active Klan Orders in Georgia.  They went from lynching coloreds to killing bootleggers in the 1920's.  My great grandfather was the Grand-Dragon and this was their headquarters.  Our store was failing so once we were not a dry county anymore we decided to sell alcohol."   

The smell of the beer and wine was getting to me and I felt sick.  We crawled to the storage room and tried to get out through the back door only to see a still in the supply area blocking the exit.  "Holy shit," my father whispered, "you  have a still?  Do you know how flammable that stuff is?"  "It's a sideline we were hoping to launch when we got a full liquor license," Aggie replied still not sensing how much danger we were in even with all the glass breaking in the store.  We saw the back door open and another ghostly figure in a red Klan outfit walk through the door.  Aggie could not see him but Daddy and I could.  "Ladies get behind me," he said as he grabbed two broom sticks and twisted the ends off of them.  He then broke one in half.   He grabbed a box of rock salt that was near an ice cream maker and threw a handful in the face of the ghost as we ran out the door.  The ghost stopped and covered his face.  Daddy found a hammer, nails and a gas can near a lawn mower outside.  He hammered the two sticks together to make a cross and then poured gas over it. 

"What the hell are you doing?  You can't do that here -" said Aggie afraid of stirring up images of the past that her family had tried to erase.  "Look, that glass breaking is a bunch of pissed off Klan ghosts who think your defaming their land by selling booze," I replied understanding where my dad was going with this.  "We need to lure them away from the store or they will completely destroy it," my dad stated.  It dawned on me that he knew more about ghosts than he had ever let on.  

We ran to the home behind the store with a small pond and a large backyard.  I looked and saw the Grand Dragon close behind.   "Do you know where some matches are?" I asked.  Aggie looked in the BBQ but there were none to be found.  "We need to light this or your store is gone."  We searched frantically and heard the rhythmic footsteps coming closer.  He spied some copper wire and iron nails on the porch that looked like they were part of some art project on black velvet.      

''Daddy plunged the cross in a couple of bags of soil and started to put a big copper ring around the bottom of the cross with the nails and wire.   "Dammit - I need matches or a lighter - anything!" he exclaimed as we started to see the branches of the hedge nearby move.  I noticed a blow torch under a tarp.  "Hey will this do?" I asked.   "Yeah, but we need a spark," Dad replied as the plants around us started to move on their own and the Grand Dragon was in full visage - even Aggie could see him and screamed.  I looked near where I had found the blow torch and spied a flint.  I handed it to my father and he lit the cross. 

It was just getting to be dusk and the cross was visible over the pond.  We could hear the ghost scream "No one burns a cross on my lawn, that's for n-ggers!"  The Grand Dragon rushed to the flames as Daddy closed the copper ring making it impossible for him to escape.   "Sophia, put a circle of rock salt around you and Aggie - then throw me the box!"  I did just as he said and kept Aggie close to me.  Daddy grabbed some ash from the BBQ and mixed it with the salt and started to say the 91st Psalm.  The other ghostly Klansmen started to come through the yard - with blood on their hands and blood dripping from their masks.  Aggie shreiked - they came near us but could not touch us because we were in the rock salt circle.   

They turned to Daddy who kept in reciting the 91st Psalm - Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.   I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress my God, in whom I trust’…” The Klansmen looked confused as their leader was powerless and writhing in pain.  “Because he loves me says the Lord, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation," my father recited confidently never breaking eye contact with the evil wizard trapped in copper wire.  Just as he got the the last line -  "I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation," he threw the ash and rock salt in Grand Dragon's face.  The flames then engulfed his red robes and you could here his moans  which were magnified over the pond.  He had tried to say on this earthly plane for as long as possible but now the gates of hell were pulling him in and he was no longer in control.  The rest of the Klansmen stopped in their tracks and let out a ghostly howl as the pond opened up like a fiery pit and sucked them into an unholy abyss.       

A quick hot breeze brushed by us and then everything went
silent.   I looked over at Aggie - who had her hands over her ears and her eyes closed.  "It's okay Aggie - they're gone," my father said quietly.  Aggie opened her eyes and the pond was quiet with barely a ripple.  The only thing that looked fiery was the sun as it was setting behind the magnolia trees. 
"Let's get a broom and clean up the store but if you know a priest or a minister - I'd have him do a blessing before you open back up," Daddy said wisely.  I didn't say anything because it all seemed so surreal not just the run-in with the ghosts of the Klan but my father being able to banish them.     

We helped Aggie throw away all the broken glass and mop up the floor which smelled of sweet wine and old beer.  They had destroyed about half the alcohol stock but at least the store was still standing.  Aggie thanked us but I was pretty sure that she was in shock.  I gave her the Angel of God prayer to calm her down and my father suggested that she do the 91st Psalm every day before she went to bed and to put rock salt around the property as well as the windows to keep bad spirits out.   He grabbed an extra box and had me put in my suitcase just in case we saw anymore unfriendlies on the road.

As we got in the car, I looked at my father-completely amazed at what he'd done.  "Daddy, how did you - I mean you never - you could see all that?" I asked still wrapping my head around it.  "I mean all this time - you never let on - you never tried to tell me - " I said trying not to get angry - but hell this was a pretty big secret to keep considering I had been seeing ghosts for the last 12 years of my life. 

"Sugar Bear, I didn't know how to tell you and frankly you can see and talk to them way better than me.  But these entities, they were so strong and evil I could see them easily and frankly they were only going to be banished by someone who seemed like an Alpha male," he said with a huge degree of authority.  "But the bible verse, the salt and ash, you knew what to do - what if I had been alone?" I asked.  "I know which is why I wanted to take this car trip with just you and me to try to explain my life a little better and how you can banish ghosts.  Your great-grandmother had the gift and then I got it to a certain degree and then it landed on you.  I never told your mother," he said with remorse in his voice.  "I should have been there more for you - I'm sorry.  I just spent all my life running from this and then when you said all those things at the family reunion  from the ghosts of our families I wanted to stay but your mother just kept pushing me away.  I wanted custody but back in the 1960's they never would have given it to me.  I'm so sorry, baby, I really am."   For the second time in my life - I saw my father cry.

We sat in the car and looked out the window not saying anything.  At least my father had come clean but all those years felt wasted and I didn't know what to say.  "Sophia, I want you to know I will always be there for you- believe it or not - I always have.  I talked to Etta about using her knowledge of the occult to help you.  I also asked Granddaddy to mentor you as well.  I wanted you have people and entities around who could help and protect you when I was not around - the way I wished someone would have helped me.  The rock salt circle was protection from the bad things - that's how I want you to see me.  I love you baby girl more than I can say.  Please forgive me." 

I wanted to say something about how I felt like he was not around enough, that I felt abandoned when he started his new family, that I needed to know about all this sooner.  But he was telling me now and that meant something.  If I've learned anything from all the ghosts I've encountered  - it was that having regrets in life were not easily released in death and I didn't want that for him or me.  "l love you too Daddy and I always will."   I leaned over and gave him a big hug and he held me close just like that time I was six and he carried me up the stairs after the reunion.   

Daddy started the car and we got back on the highway - the road to college and my soon to be adult life.  I wasn't sure what the future held but I knew one thing for certain - my Dad would always have my back.