Thirty – six

Dickel Barrel Select

I forgot to look and see what the food special was.

Do spirits get wet? Did it flood under my house? Evidently not, is the answer to both questions. This week past was the week of Florence, the massive storm that crept through North Carolina and Hillsborough dumping many inches of water. I checked the crawl space and found it, amazingly, pretty dry. In fact, I am seeing the last of Florence’s rain as it continues, off and on, all this afternoon. Right now.

I did, though, venture out several times.

Other than one afternoon when the power was out, the Penny was open most of the time, I drove down and dashed in to have a drink, a good one because I was sick of drinking the crap that I still had left on my list of 69. I had a George Dickel Select, of which I had some personal experience during my trip a few months ago when Sherry and I visited their distillery in Tennessee. One of the whiskeys they gave us after the tour was the Barrel Select, which is a newish addition to their line. Readers of this blog might remember that Dickel 12 is my house whiskey, so I was looking forward, first at the distillery, and now at the Penny, for a taste. We learned at the distillery that this whiskey was actually a mistake. They hold the barrels for aging in several different buildings. Every several years it’s someone’s job to go move the barrels around so that those that were in front are now in back and vice versa, but one year they forgot to do it in one area so they ended up with ten barrels that were aged longer than they were supposed to be. So they called it Select and charged more money for it. It’s a good whiskey, but I still prefer the Number 12 that I usually drink. The Number 12 is a bit rougher and at 90 it’s higher proof than the select, which is 80. As a footnote, I recently learned that the number 12 on the bottle no longer means the whiskey was aged for 12 years, as it used to mean. I don’t care, I still like it best.

Transgressions. I’ve been thinking about the meaning of this word as I plan my bone-burying foray at the Margaret Lane cemetery.  I don’t really think of this as an actual crime, though I imagine there are some sorts of statutes about it. I have never been much of a criminal. My old pal Allan Bridge, now deceased, may he rest in peace, enjoyed various criminal acts: shoplifting, blowing stuff up, shooting out shop windows, nothing really heavy, but I found it difficult to go along with these shenanigans. So I tried out a late-night stroll around the block just to see what I was in for.

There are many small things that can turn a perfectly reasonable action into a transgression. The time of day can make all the difference. I can go for a stroll around the neighborhood at 2:00 in the afternoon and no one will even look at me. But if you do it at 2:00 in the morning, if a cop sees you he’s going to stop and ask what you are doing walking the streets at that hour. And you’d better have a reason besides rehearsing your moves for when you’re off to dig a hole in the graveyard to bury some old bones. So last Wednesday night when the hurricane paused and there was no rain, I waited till Sherry was asleep and then when out and walked around for a while.

Everything was dripping wet and it was very quiet. It’s not really that dark because there are streetlights and plenty of people have outdoors lights that they leave on all night. A couple of cars passed me, which scared the shit out of me as I thought any of them could have been cops patrolling. But none were, and after about a half an hour I was back in the house and glad to be there. I’m going to drive down to the area where the parking lot is where I’ll park the car when I make my run on the cemetery. I’ll get out and walk around if it looks safe. Safe meaning I’m not going to get caught doing my recon, or doing the actual deed.

I have a new piece of gear for my upcoming adventure. head lightThis is a light on a headband so you can keep your hands free for digging or fending off ghosts. I’ll wear it when I head under the house to dig up bones. It has a setting that is just red lights, which seems like it might be less obtrusive than the very bright light setting. I will wear this with my white suite with the hood. And speaking of which…

No, I’m not going to post pictures of me in my white suit, so you can quit sending me emails telling me that I must post some pictures. If I don’t already look stupid enough in the hoody suit, I’m going to add on the headband light and I will then look like an animated potato about to descend into a coal mine.

When my kids were little, hell, they actually still do this, when we would go on vacation and visit stores that sell tourist gear they find it great fun to have dad try on hats. It is well known in my family that I have no, what my pal Allan Janus calls, “hat sense.” Meaning I look really stupid in hats. Any hat. So we’d be standing in a store and the kids would goad me into trying on one hat after another while everyone — Sherry, the kids, the shop owners, gawking tourists, babies in strollers –would howl with laughter at how stupid I looked. I took it like a good sport, but if anyone ever thought I looked dumb in just a hat, you should see me in the potato suit. With the headband. So, no, just no. This is serious business. I’m about to put myself in harm’s way, and all you folks can think about is how funny I look.

Notice something else in the picture. Behind the head light is the bottle of ancient, what? Whiskey? Over time it is getting lighter. It started out the color of weak coffee and now it’s just barely tinted. I wonder if it’s turning into whatever Rafe drinks at the Penny, the frosty cold drink in a shot glass, as clear as an angel’s tear. But I’m not ready to open it. Some day I may need it, but not yet.

 

 

 

 

Thirty-five

Becherovka

 Ham and Cheese with Deli Ham, Deli Pickles, Peppercorn Mayo, Lettuce, Swiss and Cheddar on Toasted Marble Rye.

I ducked into the Penny to have another disgusting drink. I’m nearing the end of my quest and most of the drinks that are left are the ones I didn’t want to consume, but a deal is a deal. I knew I was in trouble when I ordered the drink and my server said, “Oh, you mean the Christmas Tree drink.” It’s heavy on the ginger and cinnamon, so I get the Christmas reference, but I would rather eat a branchful of pine needles than ever order this drink again.

On to this week’s entry…

The Margaret Lane cemetery is located, obviously, on Margaret Lane. I can walk to it from my house, but I’ve always driven as I’m casing the grounds for when I make my move. I have decided, as all of you have gathered by now, that I’m going under the house to retrieve the bones that I believe Rafe has already dug up, dig up more if I can figure out where they are, and then I’m going to rebury them in the Margaret Lane cemetery. Hopefully this will bring peace to the unhappy spirit living beneath my house, she’ll stop weeping and I’ll be left to my own peace.

Trustees for the Margaret Lane Cemetery were appointed by the city in 1854, but like the Old Town cemetery it is supposed to have existed from before that date as a burial ground for slaves owned by landowners in the surrounding area. Like many slave cemeteries, it has a history rich with mistreatment by the white citizens of old and present Hillsborough. As always, I am boggled by the perfidy, thoughtlessness, and criminal acts of these people.

The cemetery was filled to capacity by 1931. A local historian, Mary Claire Engstrom wrote in a small self-published book in 1973 that at one time the cemetery was enclosed by a low brick wall on the west and north sides. It is unclear how the pigs and cows were kept out in the early days, probably no one cared. There are now no obvious indications of any graves except a single small wrought-iron fence and gate in the southwest corner. Only six identifiable gravestones remain in the cemetery. Three are preserved in a brick memorial on the site, two are in the wrought-iron enclosure and an obelisk marks the grave of one George Hill, who died in 1900.

And where are the rest of the gravestones, you may ask? Those of you who have been keeping up with the blog know that the slave graves were not usually prepared or attended to in the way white graves were. Often the markers were made of wood, or if stone was used they weren’t usually inscribed. The various shells, urns, lamps, and bowls and other ephemera used to indicate the graves have long been plundered or lie hidden under the dirt and vegetation on the two acres of the yard.

I always park my car about a block from the site in a large gravel parking lot that faces a row of businesses: a couple of excellent bars, a pet food store, an ice cream shop, and the Hillsborough BBQ restaurant that has some of the best BBQ in the area, if not the entire state. It’s a huge parking lot and there are often plenty of cars in it, even late at night, a fact I’m counting on when I undertake my grave digging. There are also many earth moving-type machines scattered around as this area of town is undergoing a major revitalization.

The cemetery is like a park and you can often find folks walking their dogs there, but it’s really a very quiet spot. After some infighting about who owned the property, the two lots were turned over to a citizens committee to take care of; the cemetery was rededicated in 1987. It was a mess before they restored the grounds.

Over the years (before 1987) the citizens of my fair town showed their indifference to history or at least any history that didn’t feature the noble confederacy and their gallant war with the North. This was a slave cemetery, a black cemetery, and the great majority didn’t give a damn about it. It was overgrown with tall weeds and scrub brush; the gravestones had all been stolen to make walkways and as underpinnings to houses. (I wonder about my house and half expect to someday come across a gravestone jammed under a pillar.) But in 1987 those that did care cleaned up the property and rededicated it. This is what it looks like now.Mln cem 1

Besides the six gravestones there now, there was another that had been found and was at the rededication. It was leaning against the dedication stone and had the name of the slave, Dinah Thompson, crudely carved into the stone. Several days after the dedication it was destroyed by vandals.

It always surprises me to find that physical changes to the landscape, the earth, the ground, usually remain changed, unless someone comes along and completely reworks the land. In this case, the sites of the hundreds of years old graves are sunken, making the landscape a series of rolling hummocks. When you walk across it, you have to be careful not to trip over the unevenness. It is said that after a light snow the grave impressions can be easily seen.

In 2006 the firm Of Grave Concern did a study of the sunken areas, the general surface conditions, and controlled probing. They identified 142 graves and thought there might be another 32 that they weren’t sure of. Each authenticated grave is marked by two small marble markers at ground level at the head and the foot of the grave.  These are difficult to see, which is just as well as if they were more obvious someone would probably steal them.

If the small park is lonely even on the nicest days, it is far lonelier in the middle of the night. I’ve made several reconnaissance trips there around 1:00 to 2:00 AM. At 1:00 AM, there are still cars in the big parking lot, but by 2:00 anyone walking around is going to be suspicious. But it’s dark and the folks that live around the perimeter of the cemetery seem to go to bed well before then. There are few outside lights that remain on, so a guy dressed in black skulking through the deep shadows with a rucksack that contains some old bones and a fold-up shovel would have a pretty good chance of pulling off a minor interment. I wonder what the law is anyway? I don’t know who actually owns the cemetery now; I don’t know what the law is about burying old bones. I have a feeling that a decent lawyer could get an old duffer like me off by declaring that I’m sort of crazy anyway, it was all just a prank, or maybe research for a novel. Or a blog.

Anyway, I’m going to break it up into three forays: one, go the graveyard in the middle of the night and dig up a spot and see if anyone notices or calls the cops; two, head under the house and get what bones are there and/or dig some more up; three, rebury the bones in the cemetery.

Wish me luck.

tombstones and fence

Thirty-four

Wild Turkey AM Honey

3 Bean Local Beef Chili, Fries

I ducked into the Penny while I was in town paying my water bill. I had a quick shot of Wild Turkey Honey and found it, as you might imagine, disgustingly sweet. I used to drink WT as my house bourbon before I switched to Dickel. I haven’t had the regular version (either the 80 or 101 proof) in years, but I imagine it’s still pretty good. Hunter Thompson was a famous drinker of Wild Turkey and mentions it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I once was at a small lecture in Montana where Thompson was scheduled to speak. About thirty of us sat in a small, overheated classroom at the University and waited on him for an hour after he was supposed to start. He finally wandered in, smacked down a bottle of Wild Turkey on the teacher’s desk, sat down and said something on the order of how he didn’t understand why anyone would come to hear him speak and in particular why anyone would wait an hour to hear him speak. I wondered that myself, stood up and walked out.

This entry is a bit rambling. I find it harder to concentrate these days. I don’t sleep much as Ada’s weeping reaches me wherever I am in the house, even upstairs in bed. It feels now like it comes directly into my brain. I don’t “hear” it; it’s just there. If you don’t know who Ada is you need to go way back to the front of this blog and start there. And the band that I sometimes hear at night, it seems like it’s always there in the background as well. I see Sherry giving me odd looks, like she knows something’s going on, but she hasn’t figured out enough of it to ask the right questions. She doesn’t hear Ada or the band. She’s going away soon on a trip to Washington soon; that’s when I have to act. This can’t go on. Rafe’s not here, so I’m going to do it myself.

Since I decided on my current plan, I thought I would probably end up in the slave cemetery fairly near my house, the Margaret Lane cemetery. The Old Town Cemetery, described two entries ago, was for rich people, certainly for white people only; I know my Ada, the annoying, frightening, sometimes diabolical spirit that lives beneath my house would not be happy there. And the New Town Cemetery, described in the last entry, even though parts of it date from the 1870’s is, well, to my eyes, too new. And so we move on to the Margaret Lane Cemetery. Here’s an old slave song that I find haunting.

I wonder where my mudder gone;

Sing, O graveyard!

Graveyard ought to know me;

Ring, Jerusalem!

Grass grow in de Graveyard;

Sing, O Graveyard!

By the mid 1700s there were laws stating that slave owners had to have some sort of graveyard where deceased slaves could be buried. Usually this was a piece of unwanted land. These slave graveyards were kept up by the slaves themselves, in what little “free” time their masters allowed, though none of them was ever as elaborate as the white graveyards. Slave cemeteries were not particularly orderly, and it wasn’t important to keep family members in plots that were separated from others. Markers, when there were any, were often painted on boards or were simply indicated by offerings left on the surface of the graves.

From an article I found…

“Probably the most commonly known African-American grave marking practice was the use of “offerings” on top of the grave. One of the most detailed discussions of this practice is provided by John Michael Vlach, in The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. He notes that the objects found on graves included not only pottery, but also “cups, saucers, bowls, clocks, salt and pepper shakers, medicine bottles, spoons, pitchers, oyster shells, conch shells, white pebbles, toys, dolls’ heads, bric-a-brac statues, light bulbs, tureens, flashlights, soap dishes, false teeth, syrup jugs, spectacles, cigar boxes, piggy banks, gun locks, razors, knives, tomato cans, flower pots, marbles, bits of plaster, [and] toilet tanks.”

As noted above, families were not necessarily buried together like they were in white cemeteries…

“Although generations of related kin would be buried at the same graveyard, the tie was to the location, not to a particular 3 by 6 foot piece of ground. The Bennett Papers, in the South Carolina Historical Society, reveal several stories of African-Americans wanting to be buried in very specific graveyards, although specific plots are never of concern. In one case a black was reported to have specifically warned his friends, “don’t bury me in strange ground; I won’t stay buried if you do. Bury me where I say.”A somewhat similar account is provided in an article from the Journal of American Folklore. An article recounts the legend of a slave who begged not to be buried in the graveyard of his mean-spirited master. When his dying request was ignored, he found retribution by haunting the plantation.

I have supplied the above italics.

All of this is reflected in what Rafe told me some months ago when explaining Ada, my under-the-house spirit. That she was not given a proper burial when she suffered her unknown, unfair, untimely death, that somehow she ended up under my house and that he, Rafe, was digging up her bones and would, I assumed, bury her somewhere permanent and respectful. Well, where the hell has Rafe gone?

Here’s more of my research…

“Cynthia Conner, an archaeologist who studied South Carolina low country plantation cemeteries, remarked that the very ideology of black and white graveyards is fundamentally different. In white cemeteries, the idealization of death is paramount. The romanticization of the landscape is intended to create heaven on earth in the cemetery grounds and deny the blunt reality of death. This is initially accomplished through placement [of the white cemetery] in a favorable location. The setting is further enhanced through the simultaneous control of unrestrained natural growth and the use of a few select trees such as live oaks to create a park-like atmosphere.  The black cemetery, on the other hand, is not directed toward a park-like environment, or, I believe, the denial of death.

African-American cemeteries have grave depressions and mounded graves. There is no attempt to make grass grow over the graves or create special vegetation. Trees, typically, are neither encouraged nor discouraged. Cemeteries, as previously mentioned, appear “neglected” or even “abandoned” in contrast to the neat, tidy rows of a white cemetery.”

So I went to the remains of the slave cemetery near my house. I will report on this next week. Meanwhile, my latest Amazon purchase:

NACATIN Portable Folding Shovels, Tactical Military Collapsible Camping Shovel with Nylon Carrying Pouch and High Carbon Steel Handle

  • LIGHTWEIGH AND FOLDABLE: The tri-fold shovel weighs only 1.33 pound which is ultra light for you to carry. (Easy to hide in a backpack.)
  • MULTIFUNCTIONAL TOOL: It can works as shovel, pickaxe, saw, hoe, etc. Our folding shovel is a helper for your car, garden and outdoor activities. (I have a different outdoor activity in mind for the shovel.)
  • HIGH QUALITY AND COMFORTABLE: The camping shovel is sturdy and labor-saving with triangle handle, high strength carbon steel sharp blade and non-slip grip. The triangular handle is strong and fits comfortably in either hand.
  • EASY STORAGE: It comes with a nylon carrying case. (Like I said, easy to stash in my backpack so it doesn’t look suspicious.)
  • WIDELY USED: Designed for exploring, camping, traveling, hiking, gardens. It is also great for keeping in your vehicle in case of getting stuck in snow/mud. (Also, great for digging graves in the middle of the night.)

 

 

Thirty-three

Fireball Whiskey

Brewery Wings: Chocolate Fire Sauce

New Town Cemetery
New Town Cemetery

I am continuing my study of Hillsborough’s graveyards. Some of you have probably figured out what I’m planning. This morning I walked a few blocks east from my house to the New Town Cemetery. In 1871, after the Old Town Cemetery described on these pages last week, filled up, the town purchased six acres of land to be used for the burial needs of the citizens of Hillsborough. They were offered eight acres, but they turned it down. Seen all at once, six acres probably looked to the town fathers like there was room enough to bury the good citizens of Hillsborough for all eternity. Since that time, all 3200 graves have been filled, or at least used and/or purchased for future use. Like the Old Town plot, there are many well-known, illustrious citizens sleeping beneath the sod in the New Town.

Our house is known as the Daisy Lynch house, named for one of the more recent Lynches who have lived here.  I mentioned in last week’s entry that readers should remember the name Lemuel Lynch. I believe Lemuel, one of the town’s prominent residents in the ante bellum period, was the first owner of the two rooms that were the Ashburn School’s original schoolrooms that form the ancient core of my current home.

There are many Lynches buried in the Town cemetery. Daisy Lynch GraveNote Daisy’s stone. She lived to be 92 years old and residents of the town remember visiting her in her house, now my house.

Here’s my question, as I wander between the gravestones: are there any African Americans buried here? Surely there must be, but I have been continually surprised (as noted in these blogs) by the extent of segregation throughout the area. I know, I’m foolish, uneducated, misinformed and naïve, or at least that’s what most of my long-time North Carolinian neighbors probably think of me. I’ll say it again: I still don’t understand slavery.

And so I wander the pleasant, shaded, quiet older part of the Town Cemetery, among the Lynches and the Cates and the other old-time inhabitants. I know there must be African Americans here, as well as all the Scotch, Irish, English, white Americans, though I have no real way of telling. It feels white, though, privileged, at least in the old part. Which means it’s not right for my purposes.

I have one more cemetery to examine.

I’m in the Penny, having a drink, working my cell phone, scrolling through the protective garments for sale on Amazon.

I’m closing in on the last lap for the 69 drinks and most of the rest are disgusting libations I’ve been putting off. Tonight I ordered a Fireball. This is an awful liqueur consumed by idiot youngsters who have not had a proper education in the art and craft of drinking. I found an article on the website Delish that I found amusing. Here it is, with some cuts for brevity.

Fireball Whiskey

  1. It tastes like Red Hots soaked in water.

Actually make that Big Red gum soaked in pee. Just the thought of sipping this syrupy mess is enough to make you gag and start dry-heaving.

  1. Fireball has the worst recipe ideas with even worse names. 

Any drink that ends in “balls” or “nuts” is best left behind. Same goes for the eye-roll–inducing fragile masculinity of the”Man-mosa.”

  1. It’s always ordered by the d-bags at the bar.

You know who I’m talking about: the bros with popped-collar Polos and gingham button-ups, finance guys who always cut you but somehow touch your lower back while doing it, sorority girls and college freshmen (with fake IDs, obviously) looking to get plastered on a Thursday night, juice heads bragging about how much they can lift.

  1. Sorry, but it’s “whiskey” not “whisky.”

The makers of Fireball, Sazerac, are based in Louisiana. So there’s no need to use the United Kingdom’s spelling of whiskey. According to the brand, the drink contains Canadian Whisky. Our friends to the north apparently drop the ‘e’, hence the spelling choice, but we’re not sold.

  1. It’s weak as hell.

At 66 proof, Fireball has 20 percent less alcohol than a true whiskey, which typically clocks in at somewhere between 86 and 100 proof.

  1. It always leads to terrible decisions.

No one orders a single shot of Fireball because it’s cheap and weak and apparently people like to torture themselves. And so, since it’s only ever had in excess, it inspires ridiculously drunk behavior—like peeing in public and starting fights with the bouncer. Hate to break it to you, Fireball, but no good story ever started with “Well, we were drinking Fireball…”

  1. It will give you the worst hangover. 

Sugar and spice and everything not so nice. The morning after drinking this nasty concoction should be enough to make you quit it for good.

  1. It used to contain a chemical used in antifreeze.

A fact so unsettling to Europeans that sales of the sickly sweet booze were “temporarily halted” in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, which Fireball says was “due to a small recipe-related compliance issue.” The chemical coming under fire is propylene glycol, which supposedly enhances flavor by absorbing water, a slightly less toxic compound than ethylene glycol, which was—until recently—most often used in anti-freeze. According to the FDA, propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” when used in food “at levels not to exceed current good manufacturing practice,” but nonetheless, Fireball removed the chemical from its recipe.

You see what I do so I can give you a fun read while choking down the 69 drinks?

OK, here’s the result of my research on protective gear. I bought a set of these, $14.00.

3M Disposable Protective Coverall 4510

  • The 3M Disposable Protective Coverall – 4510 helps provide a basic barrier protection against light liquid splashes and hazardous dusts. (Does it protect against hazardous fleas, other biting insects and malign spirits?)
  • Other features include a 2-way zipper with a storm flap, and elastic waist, ankles, and wrists for easy movement. (Good, I need to be able to move fast if the house begins to collapse on me.)
  • The anti-static coating on both sides helps reduce static build-up and prevent the risk of static discharge during use (Could be useful against strange aura and other possible electrical phenomena.)
  • The 3M Disposable Protective Coverall – 4510 does not contain components made from natural rubber latex or silicone to help prevent reactions from those with sensitivities or restrictions. (Not a problem for me.)
  • Typical applications for this safety work wear may include: spray painting, metal polishing, machine or vehicle maintenance, and general industrial clean-up and processing. (Crawl space explorations?)

 

Thirty-two

Isle of Jura     Mellow Corn

 Rare Seared Tuna Tacos w/Asian Slaw, Farm Cucumber, Sriracha

There are five notable cemeteries in my town of Hillsborough, North Carolina. Six if you count the one underneath my house. If you read last week’s entry, (31, scroll down) you know that my advisor, Dr. Aiden Mann, who lives at a long gray table on the second floor of the local library, suggested that I might be able to solve my present “problem” by researching local graveyards. My problem? There is an entity living (living?) in the crawlspace beneath my house.

She appears to me to be a young girl. I’m told, by the mysterious and missing Rafe — an expert on things that should be dead but somehow aren’t — that she is the — pardon the term — “ghost” of a slave girl who died approximately 170 years ago and who was buried, or misburied, if there is such a thing, beneath my house or maybe she was buried there and my house was dragged over her grave. It’s unclear. Just one of the many mysteries that cling to my old, M.C. Escher-like house.

(Aside) By now readers of this blog know that my house started as two rooms moved from the nearby historical Ashburn school to where my house is now. These two wooden rooms have been built onto in a mostly reasonable fashion over the last 160 or so years. When I wrote the words above, “M. C. Escher house,” I almost added  “Like Topsy, over the years it just growed.” But I stopped myself, wondering if what to me was a familiar and benign phrase (hardly ever heard these days) had become, in some way, offensive. So I didn’t put the sentence in, and now that bothers me, so I’d like to discuss it. (And I’d like to hear comments about the phrase from any readers familiar with it.)

When I was a kid, adults might discuss something that had occurred without anyone noticing, that had come into existence and become remarkable in some way. At this point someone might ask how the particular thing had come to be without anyone noticing and someone else (always an adult) might say, “Well, I guess it’s like Topsy, it just growed.” And everyone would nod in agreement. I remember hearing my mother say that phrase to me one day when we were discussing some subject I have long forgotten. I didn’t understand what she was talking about and was surprised to hear my mother use language that even I, at whatever young age I was, knew was not “correct” grammar. Yes, we were West Virginians but woe betide if you ever used the word “ain’t” or any other hillbilly words in our household. (I now find myself wondering if anyone uses the phrase “woe betide” any more. This was also commonly used when I was a kid. As in, ‘Woe betide if you touch any of these cookies I just baked!’ Usually spoken in a mock dramatic voice. Meaning some terrible punishment would fall upon your head.) So I asked what she meant by “growed.” Mom told me that the phrase came from a book which she read and loved as a child called Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was about a young slave girl named Topsy who had very little education and referred to herself when asked where she came from as having “just growed.” Over the years I heard this expression quite a few times, and then I never heard it again in ordinary usage except spoken ironically. (Almost always by me.) So I just looked it up and found the following:

 “St. Clare’s daughter Eva becomes friends with the young slave girl Topsy, and the novel recounts a conversation between Topsy and St. Clare’s cousin Ophelia: “Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?” The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual. “Do you know who made you?” “Nobody, as I knows on,” said the child, with a short laugh. The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added, “I spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody never made me.” [Chapter XX]
Given the astounding popularity of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (at the time of its publication it outsold every book previously published in the U.S. except the Bible), legions of readers were charmed by Topsy’s declaration that she just “growed.” Soon “it growed like Topsy” had become a popular figure of speech to describe something that grew or increased by itself, without apparent design or intention.

(Thus ends the Aside.)

Before my self-interruption, I was discussing the spirit that lives beneath my unusual house. Her name, Rafe says, is Ada. How does he know? I wish I could find him to ask this question, and others.

I have been living with this mostly benign, sometimes not, apparition for almost a year. If you start at the beginning (scroll way down!) you will understand the story and where we are now. I have learned, in my way, to accept it as, well, not normal, but just the way it is. I’ve been hoping for many months that somehow the situation would resolve itself: it hasn’t. That my friend Rafe will solve it for me: he hasn’t. That I can convince myself to just ignore it: I can’t.

Last week (see entry 31) I skulked downstairs in the middle of the night, rolled up the rug in my wife’s office, lay (laid?) down on the floor and put my ear to the old, ancient wooden boards and heard Ada, my Ada, weeping. It’s a sound you would have to hear yourself to understand why I have to stop it. It’s a mournful lament that can’t be borne, at least by me, without trying to do something about it.

So on the way to the Penny the other day, Sherry and I visited the old graveyard by the historic Presbyterian Church on the main street, Churton, in town. This was the first official graveyard in historic Hillsborough and many of the luminaries of those early days are interred here. You enter the graveyard through one of two gates, on either Churton or the cross-street, Tryon. (Formally Church Street in the olden days.) There is a small sign at either entrance explaining that over the years so many tourists have made rubbings of the headstones they have become worn down to such an extent that many have become unreadable. So, no gravestone rubbings, please.

Sherry wondered, as we went in through the Tryon Street entrance, why I was suddenly interested in graveyards. Since she doesn’t know about Ada and my midnight excursions, I mumbled some excuse. I guess she bought it; at any rate she didn’t ask for a further explanation.

The cemetery grounds run about an acre in total and might be described as a bit gloomy, but what self-respecting graveyard isn’t? The headstones are indeed well worn, as you would expect since the cemetery dates officially from 1754 and local lore says folks were being buried there even before that date. The names on the headstones are names well known to historic Hillsborough:  Among them, William Alexander Graham, N.C. governor, vice presidential candidate and U.S. and Confederate States senator; John Knox Witherspoon, first pastor of the Presbyterian church which is where the graveyard is situated, a young man once considered the savior of the modern Presbyterian church; Frederick Nash, North Carolina Chief Justice; William Hooper, one of the Revolutionary War’s leading lights and a signer of the Constitution; William F. Strayhorn, Mayor of Hillsborough, and his wife Harriet, who was the town postmistress; and many other illustrious citizens. As you move through the more restricted, fancy-pants part of the cemetery you come to the public burial area where there are far fewer tombstones, and where ground-penetrating radar shows probably 100 unmarked graves beneath the bucolic surface. One wonders where the original grave markers have disappeared to; sources suggest that thrifty Hillsboroughians pilfered them to construct the pillars beneath many of the houses, houses just like mine.

In the first area in the graveyard off Tryon Street is a tall obelisk commemorating the death of John Berry, John Berry gravewho was a famed local builder (he built the Hillsborough Courthouse among other famous buildings) who I mentioned in an earlier entry. Berry was the man who undertook the renovation of the nearby Ashburn School in 1850 and is listed as the first owner of the two-room schoolhouse that is the ancient core of my house, beneath which Ada is buried. From my study of other records, it appears that Berry sold this schoolhouse, now on my lot, to Lemuel Lynch, noted North Carolinian silversmith, who had a jewelry store on Churton Street in the center of town.

Remember those names. Lemuel Lynch and John Berry. They will appear on these pages again.

The mosquitos were chewing Sherry up, so we moved on to the Penny. Continuing my 69 drinks quest, I had an excellent scotch, a ten year Isle of Jura. It was very good, one of their least pricey brands coming in at around $50.00 a bottle. The Internet tells me that Jura is an island in the Inner Hebrides off the West coast of Scotland and it has one road, one pub, one distillery, 200 people and 2000 red deer. It is very difficult to get to. Sounds like a perfect place to spend six months or so while writing my next novel.

We shared a plate of chicken wings, and I had a shot of Basil Heyden’s Bourbon. This is a medium/higher priced bourbon that I’ve had before. At $50.00 a bottle it’s a little pricey, but it’s good. Maybe I like it because it has a high rye-to-corn ratio. It pairs well with chicken wings, but what doesn’t?.

On the way back up the hill Sherry went on ahead (those damn mosquitos) while I leaned on the old stone fence on the east side of the Presbyterian graveyard. There were lots of fences around these old cemeteries to keep out the cows and the semi-feral pigs that wandered the streets in the olden days. There were actual laws about cemeteries, walls, and pigs, enacted more than several hundred years ago. If left to their own brutal natures, pigs tend to dig up buried bodies and try to eat them. Hence the walls.

On the eastern side of the tract where I was leaning on the stone wall is a set of three headstones. Hugh Owen graveBeneath the ground in this eastern section are at least 100 unmarked graves. It was evening now and the graveyard had a gloomier feel; it seemed like I could sense those buried, unmarked 100 souls who were lost to history. I wondered if one of those pilfered gravestones was now shoring up a pillar underneath my house.

It’s difficult to tell from the picture below, probably because the stone is worn away from all those tourists making rubbings, but the dead man is Hugh G. Owen, who died the morning of July 15, 1861. I went home and looked up the Hillsborough Record and after scrolling through several issues around the July 15thdate, I found a notice of Hugh’s death. The photocopy of the original newspaper was so bad I spent considerable time puzzling out the particulars, but I could see that the Record reports that the cause of death was “Intemperance.” I felt the pull, across time, of a kindred spirit. Perhaps Hugh was embarked back then on his own version of 69 drinks, or maybe it was 6900 drinks, when death claimed him at the age of 42 years. It was certainly uncharitable for the newspaper to announce the cause of his death as intemperance, which must have been an embarrassment to his mother who was still living at the time of his death. And people think newspapers are cruel and vindictive these days.

Rest in Peace, Hugh Owen, rest in peace.

 

Hugh Owen gravestone

 

Thirty-one

I decided to go to the library and talk to Professor Mann. Maybe he had seen Rafe. I can’t say I much cared for his holier-than-thou, angry-professor demeanor, but he had a certain power, or presence, that was undeniable. Besides, I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

His setup in the back of the top floor of the library was the same as when I had last been there. Were those the same students sitting around the table? I had no idea, but one of them stood up from the chair beside the professor and moved down to the end without being asked, just like last time. I had the weird feeling that they hadn’t left the table in weeks, that they sleep there and live off Cliff bars while the library turns a blind eye: crazy Professor Mann, yes, he lives in the back, takes bird baths in the sink in the restroom, sends his minions out for candy bars and to do his laundry.

The prof, dressed in a blue polo and black jeans, looked at me with an expression you might describe as either blank or neutral or disinterested. Or maybe he was trying to figure out who the hell I was. “I wondered if you’ve seen or heard from Rafe,” I asked, sitting down. No point in making small talk; the prof was not a small talk kind of guy.

“No.”

We sat there for a couple of minutes, neither of us saying anything. I decided to ignore his pose, whatever it was supposed to be. I had the questions, but he was the one with answers. “How do you know Rafe?” I asked.

“He used to be a student of mine at Duke,” the professor said. “He wasn’t registered, but he monitored my classes. Informally. Which means he attended because he was interested in the material. I allowed it, welcomed it, actually. He was always the smartest person in the room.” I raised my eyebrows with the unspoken question. “Yes, that included me, much of the time.” Then he smiled, as if the thought of Rafe sitting in the back of his classroom gave him pleasure. By now I could tell he’d remembered who I was.

“He knows things, our Rafe,” he went on. “I don’t just mean facts and figures, dates, that sort of thing, but the why of things, the feelings, the reality of history. Sometimes he would tell us stories that were quite remarkable. Remember, I told you I wasn’t interested in the larger elements, the larger personalities of slavery, the men and women who became famous for escaping the system. I want to know what it was like on the ground, in the fields, in the homes, the quarters.”

“Hard history, I believe you called it.”

“That’s right.” He sat quietly for a moment. “But what of you — Allen, isn’t it? You’re on a quest, as I remember. Your house, buried slaves? Rafe is helping you. How is that going?”

This was a question I had been asking myself all week long. “Allen, yes. Allen AppeI. My quest. I don’t know,” I said, deciding I might as well be honest; beating around the story wasn’t going to help. What was one more person thinking I was crazy? “I got into it because I was hearing and seeing strange apparitions that were, as far as I could tell, living underneath my house. It turned out that Rafe was digging under there. He explained to me that what I was seeing were spirits connected to bones that were in the ground in my crawl space.” After each sentence, I paused to see if he was going to laugh at me, order me away or maybe smack me for wasting his time. He did nothing, just sat there listening. “Go on,” he said.

I shrugged. “Rafe says that if someone dies in a, I don’t know, unfair way and their body is not given a proper burial, then that person’s spirit can’t ever settle into being dead, they inhabit a kind of middle space, purgatory maybe.”

“And that purgatory exists beneath your house?”

“Are you making fun of me?”

“No. If Rafe said it, I’m not going to say he’s not right.”

“He didn’t call it purgatory, I don’t think that’s the right term, though I don’t know what it would be.”

“Purgatory implies the dead person has committed a sin while living and until the sin is expiated he, or she, will not be admitted into Heaven. In general, it means a place of temporary misery. Rafe says these, um, persons you are seeing can be released from this state?”

“He says if the bones are gathered and then properly buried the spirit will be freed.”

The professor appeared to be thinking. He was tapping a blue pen that had the Duke University name and logo on the side.

“This is a very common belief among many cultures all over the world. The Japanese, have their Onryo, the Navaho Chindi,the Chinese Mogwai; really, I can’t think of an ethnic group that doesn’t have some spirit of that sort. It was a very strong belief in slave culture in this country. You’ll find many references to dead slaves who come back to haunt not only their cruel masters, but the other slaves where they died as well.”

“So how do you get rid of these spirits?”

“I don’t know that I have any instructions for that. You said that Rafe says you have to dig up the bones and then re-inter them?”

“Something like that. I’ve been trying to find him. I was under the impression he was working on it when he just disappeared. He implied that was his job.” I decided I wasn’t going to describe the night a week ago when I saw him in front of my house. I had almost convinced myself that I had dreamed that. If I told the story out loud, I would be committing myself to it, and I wasn’t ready for that. What it implied was something I was not ready to believe. Even in a world of wandering spirits, poltergeists, Onryo, and Chindi, there are limits. At least there still were for me. When those limits were gone, what was left for me to cling to?

I realized I had mentally drifted away from the discussion. The professor was looking at me, not in a judgmental way, but patiently. When he could see I had dragged myself back from wherever I had been, he continued.

“I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with the rituals around slave burials. There might be something useful for you there.”

“Could you point me in a particular direction?”

“You seem to be doing fine on your own.”

“And Rafe?”

For the first time he frowned.  “I think you should forget Rafe for the time being. He comes and he goes and there’s no way of knowing when or where he’s going to be, and there’s no way of knowing if he can or if he is even still willing to help you if you were to come across him. He seems to have put you on a path of, at least understanding. If you’re going to proceed further down this path and eventually make a change in your unusual world, I think you are going to have to do it on your own.”

“He saved me once before.” I remembered when he dragged me out from under the house, when the spirit girl Ada had my cat. And how he took Sweetie cat and gave her to me.

“That’s good,” the professor said. “But we all know the Lord helps them who help themselves.” He gave me a big beaming smile, so big and beaming that it scared me. For the first time since I had met him, I thought to myself that of the two of us at the table it wasn’t me who was the crazy one, it was old Professor Mann. I came to several tentative realizations: this guy –the old professor, the beloved History master — was nuts. And Rafe was probably not going to save me again. Like the man said…

I was on my own.

That night, last night, I slipped out of bed at 3:00 AM and went downstairs. Very quietly, I rolled up the oriental rug Sherry had put down on the floor in her office covering the slits in the floor. I stretched out and put my ear to the wood. I was afraid I was going to fall asleep, and Sherry would find me in the morning. But I wasn’t there that long before I heard crying. It sounded like a young girl, quietly sobbing. It had to be Ada, weeping, weeping, weeping.

 

Thirty

Sauza Hornitos   Corralejo Reposado   Casamigos George Clooney   Conniption Gin  Compass Spice   Compass Box Peat   Compass Box Oak Cross   Suntory  Booker  Mother Earth Gin   Flying pepper vodka   Goslings Rum   Cynar  Dominion Gin   Diplomatico Rum

 This is the drinking entry. After my unusual experience last week on my front lawn in the moonlight it has become increasingly clear that it is Rafe who holds the key to the mystery that surrounds my house. Or rather that lies beneath my house. So I decided I would go to the Penny every evening to see if he might show up. I had, as always, questions to ask him.Some nights Mark was with me, some nights Sherry, but mostly I was drinking alone. If you’re not interested in the drinks in the 69 drinks challenge, you can probably skip the rest of this entry and go straight to the last few lines.

I hate tequila. I believe I mentioned this in an earlier entry when I tried to choke one down (there are four on the list) by having the bartender mix it as a Bloody Mary, which he informed me was called a Bloody Juanita. It was terrible, so I decided to drink the rest of them straight and get it over with quickly. I know, I know, you’re going to tell me I should have had margaritas, but I hate margaritas as well. Sometimes you just have to knock this stuff back like a man and stop complaining.

The Corralejo Reposado was straw colored, due, I guess, to its being aged for four months in a wooden barrel. Four months! Why do they even bother? It wasn’t bad, I’m sure if you’re a tequila drinker it would qualify as a “sipping” spirit. The Sauza Hornitos was awful. Really, I had to clamp down on my gag reflex as I was drinking it. I seriously considered “accidentally” knocking it over, but I got it down. The Casamigos (loosely translated as “group of friends”) George Clooney wasn’t bad at all, so I looked it up when I got home. Here’s the backstory. Evidently George Clooney and his business partner were each building a ranch in Mexico and since the two of them were down there a lot and they were drinking plenty of tequila they decided they would develop their own brand, just because it would be cool. I guess this is the sort of thing you do if you’re a gazillionaire. They came up with a recipe that they liked and had it made by a distillery. The early reviews said it was pretty tame as far as alcohol burn was concerned. Also they made it sweet. This was in 2013; in 2017 they sold the brand for a billion dollars. So the rich get richer, and… well, you know how that saying goes. The Internet informed me that since George sold the brand, the tequila has been made even sweeter and more watered down. And that, my friends, must be why I could actually drink it. It no longer tastes like tequila.

Conniption Gin. This brand is distilled in nearby Durham, so it’s drinking local for me. Gin is one of my go-to drinks, and I’m usually a Tanqueray man. Tanqueray is an old school gin, heavy on the juniper. Nowadays there are lots of artisanal gins, and I usually don’t like them. Each tries to out-botanical the others which leads to flowery, often sweetish efforts with strange medicinal overtones. I’m happy to report that Conniption leans in this direction, but as yet steps back from the line. I liked it.

Compass Spice…Compass Box Peat…Compass Box Oak Cross. Compass Box produces a number of blended scotch whiskies. They have blending facilities in London and store their individual scotch in Scotland. On their website the distiller talks about modern tastes and innovation, which usually means that they’re making mild, sweet whiskeys with little character. The sort of whiskey that the young folk of today might like. The result is certainly drinkable, even though it tends to be bit too much of a kid’s drink for me. I found the Spice and the Oak Cross simply OK, but the Peat version was a true peat bomb. Tons of smoke. I liked it, but it’s too intense for everyday drinking. The odor was so strong the entire end of the bar where I was sitting commented on it.

Suntory is a well-known “scotch” whiskey crafted by the Japanese. As with all the Japanese whiskeys I have tasted since starting the 69 drinks, it’s very nice, has excellent flavors, and is very smooth. But it has no heart. There’s nothing wrong with this whiskey, you could drink it every day for the rest of your life and be perfectly happy, but you would never find yourself in love.

Booker is an American bourbon. It was served to me mistakenly when I thought I was getting Bakers. Eventually we got it straightened out after making a few corrections on the list. Hey, it’s noisy, crowded bar, it’s a wonder mistakes like this don’t happen more than they do. No harm, no foul. Booker is an excellent Kentucky distillery and the bottle is pretty pricey. It’s smooth, maybe a little too smooth for me, but it doesn’t have so much of the dreaded sweetness that I hate. I’d be happy to drink it in the future as long as someone else is buying.

Mother Earth Gin. Another local product, this time out of Kinston, NC. If you put my feet to the fire I’d probably say that I liked it better than the aforementioned Conniption, but it’s really a toss up. The problem with these artisanal products (and many others) is that they’re too damn expensive.

Flying Pepper Vodka. Another local artisanal, this time vodka. It’s produced in Pittsboro, so close to where I live I could almost walk there. They infuse a local vodka with Tobago peppers which gives the drink a vegetal taste, by which I mean a green pepper taste, without any heat. I’ve been searching for a pepper vodka since I can’t get my regular Stoli Pepper anywhere around here in the ABC stores. These days there are many bottles labeled pepper, but they all turn out to be green peppers rather than black pepper, the kind that’s in your kitchen pepper grinder. And why anyone would want to impart the green taste with none, or very little, of the heat is beyond me. I tasted this straight and then in a Bloody Mary and neither did much at all for me.

Dominion Gin. I have no memory of drinking this and the Internet fails me. I guess it was pretty good, otherwise I would have noted disliking it.

Cynar. This is a digestive like Fernet Branca, which I mentioned several blogs ago. (Fun Fact to Know and Tell: After publishing that entry I read that the Fernet Branca producers are the largest saffron consumers in the world.) Cynar is made from artichokes and is the same sort of bitter as the Fernet. I like the taste and it certainly isn’t sweet. It’s kind of a weird color.

Diplimatico Rum. Diplimatico distills a number of rums, and I’m not sure which version this was. Next time I’m in the Penny I’ll look at the label. I thought it was very good. My server, another big guy with a beard, told me that it used to be impossible to get in this area until he convinced the ABC stores to stock it. Then you could only buy it by the case, but now it sells so well you can buy it by the single bottle. It’s heartwarming stories such as this that keep me on my grueling quest for the legendary 69 drinks.

Seven days, 14 drinks, and no Rafe. No one in the Penny had seen him for weeks, maybe months. I know he must be around, remember, I saw him last week outside my house on a moonlit night.

Didn’t I?