Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Long Walk of the Stroller




The Long WalkI was eleven or twelve maybe. It’s funny that I don’t remember exactly how old I was because the incident was deeply imbedded in my mind. A permanent mark on an otherwise blank slate, so to speak.

It was summer time, and a hot one at that. I was spending a week with my Grandma and Grandpa Heavener at their home in Longview, NC. They lived on 21st Street SW in the single-story-canary-yellow-with-dark-grey-porch house, a couple hundred yards down from 1st Avenue.

The Circus Hall of Cream was right across an open lot in plain sight on 22nd Street. I wouldn’t be visiting that too often. I think only once all week. Maybe. It was a mighty temptation and a trial of patience to look at the people getting all that cold delicious ice cream on those hot summer days. I endured with the all the patience a young man could muster in that situation. That is to say I begged for ice cream like my life depended on it.

I’m sure I was on my Grandpa’s last nerve and it was getting kind of frazzled. So as a distraction he asked if I wanted to go swimming at the public swimming pool a few blocks over from their house. I jumped on that like a hobo on a ham sandwich.

“Well, get your swimming shorts on and ask your Grandma for a towel and I’ll run you over there for a few hours” Little was I to know that those words signaled the beginning of one of the longest days of my life.

Grandpa took me through a couple of backstreets a few blocks over to where the swimming pool was already beginning to fill with young people swimming away their Summer day. I was a little nervous since I was alone, but no big deal, I was just going to swim and splash and dive as much as possible. So, when he dropped me off and gave me a few dollars for admission and maybe a snack, I was ready to go.

Grandpa leaned over and pointed over toward the intersection of 17th Street SW, and 5th Avenue SW. “If you get tired and want to come home or something happens, all you have to do is follow that road and it comes out right behind our house.”

I never thought to ask which road he meant. 5th Avenue does go over two or three blocks and curves right behind Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house. 17th Street leads off into the vast unknown metropolis of the Hickory/Longview area.

I nodded and said “Ok.” Then I headed for the admissions gate. I paid my way in with something like two dollars, leaving me with about fifty cents. That was cool with me. I headed for the water.

I grew up swimming mostly in the Catawba River. It was a great place to swim and I wore it out every summer. It was a rare treat to swim in an actual swimming pool. I learned to wade, progressed to dog-paddling, then to a more conventional stroke, all in the river. There were no diving or sliding boards on the riverbank so we just ran and jumped as far as we could out into the water. Now here I was with a whole pool, all options included. The water was clear and sparkled with that aqua-blue tint that seems to only be found in swimming pools and no other body of water on earth. I often wonder if that color has a subliminal attraction to it that makes the water more inviting to the human mind. Do they add that on purpose? Or is it a trick of the color of the liner underneath reflecting back into the water?”

I sighted in on an empty patch of water and ran, jumped in a high arch and cannon-balled right into the deep end. The joy on my face must have glowed as I swam to the side and climbed out to do it again. And again, and again. I don’t know how deep the pool is, but I swam to the bottom, across, and up the other side. I rolled over and looked up at the bellies of all the people above me on the surface, then swam up, caught my breath and did it again.

From side to side and from one end to the other and back. Jump in, dive in, climb in and out. I made several trips to the diving board. Then something remarkable happened. I started getting bored. I did not know anybody there and what good was all this with no one to share it with? I went and bought a soft drink with my left over money, then went over and flopped down in one of the deck chairs to soak up some sunshine and rest for a few minutes.

Leaning back with the sun shining on me felt great, so I just relaxed and soaked it in. With my eyes closed the sounds became clearer. I could hear a constant unintelligible babble all around from the crowd of pool-swimmers and sunbathers all around me. Beyond that the sounds of various songbirds in the trees around the parking lot and the shrubs in adjoining yards were lending music to the mid-morning backdrop. The sounds of cars and trucks humming by on side streets around the pool were there also.

The only other pool I knew of at the time was the Catawba Pool in Marion. It had a booming juke box from the time it opened in the morning until it closed at night. I learned all the hit songs of the mid-seventies; it seemed from that juke box. I didn’t go to the pool; I lived across the river from it so we could hear all the music from it during the days it was open and we were outside.

No juke box was playing at the Longview pool. Maybe it was too early and they had an agreement with the neighbors.

Juke box or none, the next sound that assaulted my ears was a horrifying noise that snapped up my attention with the intensity of an explosion and scared me silly at the time.

Suddenly, out of the warm, peaceful morning, this new sound crashed with painful harshness. BLOP-POP-POP-OP-OP-BLOP-POP-POP-OP-OP BLOP-POP-POP-OP-OP!!!! It was about a dozen motorcycles, all pulling into the parking lot of the pool. I sat up to look at the new arrivals.

Now virtually all my exposure to motorcycle riders up to this point had included nothing other than seeing news and movies on TV that primarily spoke of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and the violence and evil that they were involved in. They were depicted as the most dangerous, evil, low-life scum on the planet. Looking at these new arrivals did nothing to assuage that assessment.
They were mostly men, a couple with female riders on board. Their hair was long and stringy and oily looking, and all had beards of various lengths and degrees of unkemptness. Some had black leather jackets with various patches and emblems sewn on, while others wore denim jackets cut off at the sleeves. All wore dark sunglasses of different styles. Boots and jeans completed their attire.

I sat there in fear and awe, with my imagination feeding the various scenarios that my mind conjured up. All of them ended up with a massacre with me in the middle of it. The thought crossed my mind that maybe they were there looking for someone who was among the crowd around me here. I looked from face to face all around the pool. Most looked totally unconcerned, while others were looking through the chain-link fence at the new-comers with a bit of nervousness like myself.

The Motorcycle riders that were now dismounted and congregating under the trees were talking and laughing and saying words my young ears were not supposed to be hearing. The longer they stayed there, the louder they got.

My desire to continue swimming died without a whimper. I was ready to go.

I looked toward the road Grandpa had shown me as a way to get back to his house, and made a fateful, yet bold decision. I was leaving as quickly as possible. I was not going to hang out here and get swept into whatever these “Hell’s Angels” had cooked up for the hapless victims at the public pool on that sunny afternoon.

I got my towel and my tee shirt, (I had no shoes with me), and headed out the gate as nonchalantly as a kid can walk. Out the gate, turn left, down to the corner of the fence and turn left again. Then I was on 17th Street heading toward the intersection Grandpa had pointed out. I walked along in the edge of the grass, looking back occasionally to see if I had been followed.

I made a clean get-away.

So off down 17th Street I headed with the sun on my shoulders, the world at my feet, and Grandpa’s house right around the next curve. Or around the next corner. Or a few blocks over. It didn’t matter, I was on my way. I walked past the entrance of 5th Avenue SW and continued down the street, coming to 7th Avenue, and looking this way and that for a landmark I might recognize, decided that since we had made several turns to get there, then I must need to turn here.

7th Avenue goes east and connects to 14th Street which angles northwest to 2nd and then 1st Avenue. I followed each one until I stood on the corner of 1st Avenue looking left, then right, then left again. It looked familiar, but I just wasn’t sure which way to turn. Across the street Hickman Hardware was open and just up the street to my right was the old Snack Bar restaurant.

“I’ve been by that before, maybe it’s this way.” So I turned east on 1st Avenue and set out for my next land mark. It would be a long time coming.

I walked deeper into Hickory as the sun climbed and the temperature followed it. I was well on my way making great progress, going in exactly the wrong direction.

The street numbers were counting down as I walked, but I did not pay that any attention. I needed to find the right street, but really did not understand the numbering system at the time, plus I did not know that it was in fact 21st Street that my Grandpa lived on. I was simply searching for landmarks that I had seen before.

I spent all my young life playing in the woods and roaming the mountain and riverside around our house at Marion, and never came close to getting lost. In the woods, it seemed, I had a very accurate sense of direction. I was not finding this to be so in the city of Hickory.

I walked past the old bus station, and there was a furniture store diagonally across the intersection, with an awning and some wooden chairs beneath. I walked on. I looked for something to tell me where I was. I found nothing. I walked on.

I finally stood in front of an old house near where Hwy 127 crosses 1st Avenue. That house is no longer there. It was torn down many years ago, but that was the house that decided me: I must have gone too far and missed my street. It was there I turned back and for the first time all morning started walking in the right direction. It wouldn’t last.

I walked all the way back to 14th Street SW and stood there looking around. Why it never occurred to me to walk in Hickman’s and ask for help, I’ll never know, but I stood there for several minutes and decided maybe I had been going the right way after all. I turned back on the route I had already traced, determined to look a little closer at the streets as I passed them this time.

The sun had gone behind some clouds, which was a great relief for the moment. The intense heat of it shining down on my head and shoulders was getting very uncomfortable. A breeze began to blow and dissipate the heat which had been clinging to the city streets like a hot blanket, and the coolness of it seemed to boost my energy as I walked. It grew steadily dimmer in comparison to the sunlit morning.

About the time I passed the old bus station for the second time, I noticed that strange musty, dusty, damp smell of fresh rain on hot pavement. I trudged on up the hill to the next street and found the source of that smell, or rather it found me.

A few drops fell at first hitting the hot pavement to dry and disappear, and then more began to fall. I turned and headed back down the street to that little furniture store with the awning next to the side walk. There were several oak chairs under the awning for sale. They were in the dry; I was not.

“Hey mister, do you care if I sit down here for a few minutes until it quits raining? I don’t want to get soaked in this rain.” He told me sure if I was dry. So I climbed up in the big oak rocking chair and watched the rain fall on the hot street. The dry, hot pavement gradually gave in to the cooling rain as steam rose from the streets in low, wispy puffs that quickly dissipated in the breeze. The rain came in a steady patter at first, then harder. For a few minutes it came down hard and fast, by the buckets full. Then it slowly faded away. By that time I thought I knew where I had made my navigational mistake. I should not even be on this road; I should go back up to where I turned on to it and go back down that street, for surely that was where I missed my turn.

I thanked the guy who had let me sit on his new furniture, then headed west with a renewed sense of purpose. I marched steadily on until 14th street was once more under my feet.

I turned left on 14th and crossed those odd double bridges where 14th Street crosses 2nd Avenue and Highway 321 at the same time. The bridge looks like a “Y” with the intersection of the two streets actually starting on the bridge itself. I crossed 2nd Avenue and hurried on down 14th Street. When I got to the end, I wasn’t where I thought I should be, but I knew where I was.

14th Street SW comes out and ends on what is now just Highway 70. It was known in those days as 64/70 and was a busy four and five lane road that ran east/west through Newton, Hickory, and on westward through Hildebran.

I looked both ways and took stock of my situation. Little did I know that once again I was less than a half mile from my Grandpa’s house, but city streets were proving to be my undoing and I just could not pick out how to get there.

However, one thing I knew and knew for sure: from where I was at right now, I knew exactly how to get to my Aunt Randy and Uncle Mike’s house. Exactly that is, except I had no idea how far it was. There was just one logical decision in my not-so-logical brain. Go to my Aunt’s house and ask them to take me back to Grandpa’s.

By then I suppose it was around one or two in the afternoon. The brief shower that had helped so much to cool down the streets was gone and the sun was back, trying with all its might to make up for lost time. I turned east on 64/70 and set out, for that oh-so-long walk.

The roadsides of Highway 70 were not so much developed then as now and there were groups of businesses here and there, punctuated by long stretches of woods and weed patches. I was still in a fairly busy area as I started. I figured a couple of hours and I would be just fine.

With a fresh dose of confidence and a sure sense of direction, I stepped out. My feet were getting tender from all the walking but I was tough and it wouldn’t be much longer. Or so I thought.

It’s a long flat stretch from 14th Street to the small valley where the Kmart was located, but I trekked along at a good pace, and made a good deal of quick progress. Down that hill, up the next past the Howard Johnson Hotel. Then another little flat and there was the Village Inn Pizza place and an old hotel that I have never known the name of. All of these land marks were familiar to me. I wasn’t yet tired so I looked and walked and ticked off the landmarks I recognized.

I went under a bridge and down a hill, then under the set of bridges that carried Interstate 40 over top of Highway 64/70. There were a couple of small car lots and an auto parts store or something just east of the bridges as I climbed the hill. My bare feet were miserable, and by the time I reached the top of that hill I was not really looking at landmarks or anything anymore, except the traffic and where my next step would fall. It was very painful to step on sharp rocks or sticks so I had started selecting each footfall carefully.

I was also watching traffic in the narrow hope that I would see someone I knew. Mainly I hoped my Grandpa was out looking for me. It occurred to me that they might not even know I was missing yet. I can’t recall a time he had set for picking me up if I did not come home. The afternoon was wearing on but had he gone to get me yet? I thought maybe so. I hoped so.

One step after another, I trudged along, watching traffic and the roadside ahead. I was on the north side of the Highway, walking facing traffic. It was something they had drilled into us in grade school and I stuck with it without thinking about why. Startown Rd. passed on my right, then the college, known in those days as Catawba Valley Community College and Technical Institute; CVCC&TI. Long name. Who cares? On I walked.

I recognized 84 Lumber as I came to it. I looked back at where I had come from, forward to where I was going, and down the slope by the huge graveyard that covered the hillside from just east of the lumber store to the bottom of the hollow next to the Hickory Motor Speed Way. “Must be awful hard to rest in peace there when the track is open,” I thought as I looked at the smooth green lawns and flowers and marker stones. The very depressing thought hit me that that might be where they put me if I don’t make it to Aunt Randy’s. I think that’s where I began to lose hope, at least for a time.

I crossed the top of the hill where Fairgrove Church Road intersected 64/70. Stupid me walked right past the Highway patrol station and didn’t even realize it. At some later date, we drove by on our way somewhere and I saw all those Highway Patrol cars and thought how close I had walked to being rescued and went right on by.

At that intersection there was a lumber company called Moore’s and a couple of mobile home sales lots. The grass had been mowed and was stiff and sharp. Every step was painful as the stubby clipped stalks stabbed into my bare feet. I tried walking on the edge of the pavement, but the road surface was blistering hot. I walked on the balls of my feet trying my best to find a place to put my feet down that wouldn’t hurt. I was about ready to give up.

I stopped, looked around, stood there as forlorn a figure as you can imagine. I was right dead center in front of the mobile home lot on the north side of the road. The shoulder sloped up to a fence of some sort and was covered with that stiff, stabbing grass all the way. I looked east, then west. I stood there for a long time looking both ways. I was hot, tired, hurting and ready to quit. I don’t think I have ever felt so alone as I did there on that hot, dry, miserable roadside on that sun-scorched afternoon. I walked up on the slope of the shoulder and sat down in the grass and started crying. I really let it out for a while, all alone in the middle of nowhere and no one knew where I was at.

It’s amazing how many people can drive by an eleven or twelve year-old boy sitting on the roadside, miles from anywhere, crying his eyes out. Yet cars continually whizzed by. None even slowed down. Maybe that was actually for the best. People weren’t as weird or mean back then, but you never know.

Little did I know but by the time I was sitting on the roadside figuring I was lost for good, a full scale search was underway in the Longview area. They had the police out scouring the neighborhoods and friends and relatives of all kinds were combing the streets outward in every direction from the swimming pool. My uncle was an avid CB radio buff, and he was on the horn with truckers on the roads, and citizens around town asking if anyone had seen me anywhere. So far the answers had all been negative.

I sat until I got it out of my system. I am fairly certain that I was getting dehydrated by this time. My feet and legs felt heavy and I was running out of steam. I limped and hopped through the stiff, prickly grass to the roadside, turned east and started walking. The road ahead was sloping downhill into a small depression and a few trees stood next to the road providing some shade which felt good in the crushing heat. The sun had begun to feel like a heavy fire on my neck and shoulders.

As I neared the bottom of the depression, I looked up and my heart skipped a beat. Coming straight toward me was a North Carolina State Trooper in his cruiser. The black and silver car with the enormous “bubble-gum-machine” blue light on top and the State Seal on the door was just coming down the other slope. The cavalry was here, to save the day! I looked for just a second and threw up both hands and began waving to the officer. I had the towel in one hand and was waving it over my head like a flag on the Fourth of July. I tried jumping up and down but the grass and rocks stabbing into my feet put a quick end to that. The Officer, (God bless his heart), smiled, threw up his hand, and kept right on driving. I stood there in disbelief. “Where did they find that guy? I thought cops were supposed to help people. Did he think this was some kind of parade and I was cheering him on?” I didn’t get it. I stood asking myself these questions for a minute or so then, shaking my head, turned back to walking. So much for help from the cavalry.

Somewhere about this time, near as I can figure, or maybe in the next half hour, someone with a cb radio saw me, but did not know yet I was being sought in an all-out manhunt up in the Longview area.

I walked to the top of the hill and found a store with a long gravel parking lot. I looked at the gravel and my poor bare feet, and then at the store. I looked down the road and watched the heat waves shimmering on the blistering pavement. How much further? I had asked myself that question again and again all afternoon as I walked. The question was once again the foremost thought in my brain. I looked back at the store and that long gravel parking lot. Well, I would ask and then I would know.

I hopped and limped and picked every step with care as I headed across the gravel expanse toward the open doors of the store. It seemed like a mile to the safe, smooth floor of that building, but I was making headway. I only had eyes for the dirt in front of me, picking out the smooth spots and carefully stepping from one to the other to minimize the effects of sharp rocks, sticks, and even small pieces of glass. I made it finally and stepped onto the swept floor of the store building.

I waited a moment for the person there to finish some thing or another that he was doing, then asked my big question: “Sir, do you know much further down here it is to Newton?”

He only barely glanced at me. “I think it’s about four or five miles, maybe.”

My heart sank like a torpedoed ship. Five miles? Five more miles? That hurt. It hurt bad. I hated the thoughts of having five more miles. That is horrible. I hung my head and started to turn away, but some long drilled lesson came into play. I turned back, “Thanks. I appreciate it.” I don’t think I really did, but it was what I was supposed to say.

I stepped back outside and that Gravel Hell sat waiting on me. For some reason, and in some manner, it had managed to at least double in length while I was in the store for those brief two or three minutes. I set out carefully picking my way across the gravel toward 64/70 and the continuation of my journey. It was a long, long walk.

When I finally got back to the highway, and turned to my left and started walking, it occurred to me that that stand of trees on the opposite side of the road about a half mile ahead looked familiar. I walked along alternating between being on grass and the gravel of various drives. The more I looked at those trees the more I thought to myself that I was getting close to Newton. “That guy must not know what he’s talking about.” I finally decided. That determination lifted my spirits considerably, and they were lifted even more when I realized that that stand of trees was in fact the trees right next to the Hardees Restaurant next to the intersection of 321 and 64/70. 321 was the road I had to turn down to get to my Aunts house.

I went on steadily toward the trees. The ground was killing my feet so I decided to walk on the edge of the pavement a bit. Big mistake. The sun was still up and the pavement would have served up a crispy pile of bacon and eggs in short order had they been laid out on a smooth portion of the road. I hopped back off in the grass and kept walking.

I was hot, tired, miserable and hungry. But I was sure now where I was and how much farther I had to go. I felt better. I was going to win.

I got to a point on the road exactly across from Hardees and that stand of trees. I knew I had to get across, but the very recent memory of a few steps on the Asphalt Grill made me stop and consider how my bare feet could stand a seventy-five or one hundred feet stretch of the sizzling black-top.

My answer was to never let my feet set down for more than a fraction of a second between steps. I looked at the traffic and at the road, took several good deep breaths, and took off like the devil himself was nipping at my heels. Based on the heat, I think maybe he was. I know I must have looked a sight: an eleven year old boy with bare feet high-stepping across the road at speeds an Olympic track star would envy. I made a full-bore-linear dash across the road, up into the grass and under a tree to flop down in the shade and lift up my woefully misused and abused feet and wave them in the air. They cooled down from the temperature of the sun, to blast furnace temps, to stovetop levels, to a low burn and after a few minutes I stood up and headed for old 321 where I turned right, or south.

The trip down 321 was uneventful. There were a few landmarks that I remembered, but nothing really sticks out. I was worried again. Remembering the missed turns and wandering the streets of Hickory, it began to worry me that I might again miss a turn and end up just as lost as before. I determined in my head that if I was not absolutely sure where I was going I would not leave 321, but would just find me a place where I knew I was close, and sit down.

It was late afternoon, approaching evening by this time. I don’t know what everyone else was thinking or where they were. I knew that by now someone would be out searching for me, because it was well past the time I was supposed to be picked up.

The thought entered my mind: “Boy won’t Aunt Randy be surprised to see me.” I smiled at that. My spirits were picking up as I got closer to my destination. Soon I would be there.

I looked at one particular street, 16th Street, long and hard. That street looked very familiar. Very familiar indeed. Something about it said “This is it!” but on the other hand I was not quite sure. So I walked on. When I got down to 15th Street, no such doubts remained. That Street was very familiar, since almost every time we visited Aunt Randy and Uncle Mike that was the one we turned on. I knew once on that street it was just a couple of blocks and turn left. I made my turn and hustled across another two lanes of hot pavement, barely noticing this time.

Two blocks up, North Deal Avenue turned to my left. It was the home stretch. I began to try to walk faster but just didn’t have it in me. I was about whipped.

The driveway. Finally I was standing in the driveway. Alone.

There was no car at home. My heart sank; no one at home. “Well maybe someone is here after all and the rest are gone in the car.” I went to the small, closed in back porch, which was, thankfully, unlocked. I opened the door and walked to the kitchen entrance door and knocked. And knocked and knocked. No answer. “Where on earth could they be at this hour? Why aren’t they home? Oh well. I’m not leaving. I wait right here till they come home.”

I sat down on the step for a minute before thinking of the water hose. It rushed in upon my feeble mind just how thirsty I was. I had not had a drink since beside the pool that morning. I got up and walked around the house to the water faucet and turned it on. I let it run for a minute then got a drink. It felt so good going down that I got another, then another, and well, another. I drank until my belly was full of nothing but water. I was thirsty.

After turning off the water, I went back around to the porch and went inside the storm door onto the porch. I was tired. I sat for a while, and then lay down on the rug next to the door. It was getting darker as the sun set and twilight was fading. I pulled the second rug up over top of me and drifted off to sleep.

I awakened to bright headlights shining through the door and the sound of voices and car doors. It was late in the night, but the cavalry had finally come. I sat up and looked through the storm door at my rescuers.

My Aunt and Uncle and my Uncle Stanley if I remember correctly had come to find me here. Apparently the guy who saw me on 64/70 walking had finally gotten word there was a search going on and when he heard the description of the lost boy, he remembered seeing someone fitting that description walking along the highway, but that was all the way down a t Newton. So he got on the horn and told my Uncle Stanley who he was and where he saw me at.

My family had pretty quickly put it all together and figured out where I was headed, if that was me, and they headed down there as quick as possible. Lucky me, they were right.

I don’t recall much of the trip back. It was a whole lot shorter than my trip down had been. Before I knew it we were going past the end of 14th Street SW in Hickory. Imagine my surprise when two blocks later we turned up 19th Street SW and then cut over to 21st Street. I was that close and turned and went so far in the opposite direction.

I got a huge welcome at Grandpa’s house. There was quite a crowd there who had all been out looking for me. My Aunt and Uncle had not been home because they were out looking too. (I have often wondered how they missed seeing me walking down the road as they headed up to join the search, but I figure they probably passed by when I was in that store asking directions, or when I was across the road under the trees cooling my heels, so to speak.)

My Pop was there with Louis Shuford. He had driven like crazy to come all the way from Marion to search. When it was all said and done he asked if I was ready to come home, or if I wanted to stay and finish my week with Grandma and Grandpa. I chose to finish the week. It was only a couple more days. Surely I wouldn’t get lost again in that time…

They called me “The Stroller” for a while after that, but thank goodness, it didn’t stick. I occasionally heard stories about it along the way. There were things that I never remembered the way they have been told back to me, but that doesn’t matter. I know what happened.


The actual distance I walked that day totals up to fourteen miles on Google Maps. It seemed so long I would have sworn it was thirty miles easy. I would hate to attempt that distance now in the dead of summer.

I just found out that my Mom didn’t know I was missing. She was pregnant and very sick with my kid brother, Randy. They had hidden it from her so it did not cause any extra stress that she definitely didn’t need at that time. I had wondered why she did not come but had always written it down to having to watch my brother and sisters at the time.

Looking back, that was one long hard day. I made some stupid, childish mistakes, and I made a few wrong turns, but I survived, and I never really gave up, even though at times I desperately wanted too. The Long Walk, the sun, the heat, and my bare feet almost beat me down a couple of times, but I got up and kept going. There was nothing else to do. It’s sort of a metaphor for my whole life. Hey. Life will smack the heck out of you. Get up, get over it and keep going. I will guarantee you one thing though. I never walked off from where I was supposed to be again.

James Lee Frady (c) 3/24/2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Couple of Poems I Wrote

Alone(a villanelle)

There is no voice I hear
All the world is quiet
There is no one near

No prophet, sage, or seer
To lighten darkest night
There is no voice I hear

No enemy to fear
Or justify the fright
There is no one near

No lover lying near
To make me feel alright
There is no voice I hear

In silence falls a tear
Lonely in its flight
There is no one near

There is no one to hear
No soul in farthest sight
There is no voice I hear
There is no one near.

©2005 James L Frady




Sunset’s Calling

Last evening I heard the call again,
quietly in my soul.
Just as the dying sunset faded,
I felt the call to go.
I saw the gold-lined crimson clouds,
above the silhouettes
of ancient Mountains worn and rounded,
rising in the west.
I stared out past the far horizon,
and watched the fading light.
I felt the pull of unseen places,
far into the night.
Deep inside, a sad, lonely corner,
is hidden in my heart.
That yearns to seek new pathways,
And urges me to start.
But I must keep it locked away,
and hidden well from view.
I cannot yet go seek my dreams,
for I have work to do.


(c) 2005 James L. Frady

Monday, March 16, 2009

Still Here, Just Barely


The area this story is about can be viewed by a satelite view if you go to google maps and type in Dubrovnik, then move north along the coast to find the long, finger-shaped channel that arches due east into the mountains. Click "More", then "Photos" to bring up clickable photos of the area. The click will take you to a site with pictures from various places in the area. The picture posted is a view of the place where the river flows from under the mountain.






Still Here, Just Barely



We called ourselves the Billy-Goat Club. We were just a few guys who liked to climb mountains and we were all stationed on board the U.S.S. Barney during the ’89-’90 Mediterranean deployment. Each time we visited a port that had a mountain near enough to walk to, we climbed to the top. Sometimes it was an easy hike, while others taxed our endurance severely before we reached the summit. We conquered the mountains of several ports and shouted our triumph across the land before one nearly conquered us.


We had nearly finished our six-month deployment and our final port of call was in the ancient coastal town of Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. The coastline there is rough and mountainous. I think we all had already thought of the prospect of climbing one of the mountains before we ever spoke to one another about it. We all agreed in short order that it must be done.


One immediate obstacle jumped out immediately: at that time Yugoslavia was deeply entrenched behind the iron curtain and was a communist country. We were not supposed to leave the ship in anything other than our dress blue, “crackerjack” uniforms.
Crackerjacks are the dark wool uniforms with the black neckerchief and the white sown-on stripes, known as “piping”. They are hot, scratchy, and not at all suited for a mountain climbing adventure in a foreign country.


Several of us found the loop-hole at once. We were allowed to go out in PT gear to exercise. We managed to stretch exercise from the definition of “running or jogging”, all the way out to “climbing yon mountain and conquering it for the greater glory of the Billy-goat club”


It actually took a couple of days to arrange for us all to head out, but finally, one bright sunny morning, dress in appropriate “PT” gear, we started on our way. It was a fairly long walk to get started, but the scenery was nice. The ship was moored at a pier near the end of a long, narrow fjord that arched nearly due east back into the mountains for nearly two miles. The mountain we wanted to climb was at the end of the channel and just north of it.

We left the ship and went through the gate just off the piers, but instead of turning right and heading down to Dubrovnik, we turned left toward the inlet and walked rapidly to get around the bend and out of sight of the ship and port authorities.


The water was clear and blue, reflecting the sky with its few puffs of small white clouds. The morning was crisp and cool with an early spring chill that lingered in the air. To our right a line of good-sized hills lifted up a wall that traced the south edge of the water way. Across the channel to the north was a high range of craggy, rock-strewn mountains standing silent and tall against the deep blue sky. We walked along with the world at our feet and nothing to worry ourselves over. We joked and ribbed each other and there was a lot to talk about as we made our way along a narrow waterfront road.


In a couple of places the land along the shore opened a bit wider, allowing a small village to exist as a cluster of houses and a few small stores, with a pier or two to access the water. The first had houses scattered up the face of the hill and some piers along the water front. It was quaint with beige-colored houses with red tile roofs packed in close proximity between the road and the hillside. The second, near the very back of the cove, was more elaborate, with an enclosed marina which was populated with dozens of yachts of every size. The view was post-card perfect, but the nicest surprise was soon to be discovered, just around a bend in the road.


We could see that the channel to the ocean was being fed by a crystal clear river at the end of the bay, but could also see that the mountains wrapped all the way around the end of the waterway. Where was the river coming from? I suspected an unexpected turn must connect the river in to the upper end of the valley allowing it to turn and flow straight out into the channel. I was wrong. A long, sweeping curve in the road brought us into view of a bridge that crossed the river. Beyond that the river ended abruptly at the base of a cliff.


It was amazing. Thousands upon thousands of gallons of water were flowing straight out from under the cliff, bubbling up into a large, clear, pool approximately one hundred feet across, and then tumbling over a broad, low waterfall to form the river that fed the channel. We stood for some time on the bridge taking it all in. I have seldom seen a prettier river.


We continued on around the curve, and turned back toward the sea, looking to our right to find a good place to climb. Before we knew it, we stood at the base of a high, steep, rocky mountain.

There were six of us if I recall correctly. We started up the mountain as a group, laughing and joking until the strenuous climb began to demand heavier breathing with less of it wasted on words. We paused occasionally to catch our breath and look back at how far we had come.

The mountain was terraced at regular intervals with orchards of some type of tree on most levels, and cultivated gardens on others. It was still early spring so no crops were planted yet, and the trees were mostly bare. These stair-step terraces continued for quite some distance up the mountain.


Time passed quickly and soon we were about two thirds of the way to the top. The terraces fell away behind us and we stood with a rough cliff in front of us and to the right, while the mountain sloped on sharply to our left. It was here we paused once again, and made the fateful decision that nearly got Tim and I killed.


“That cliff looks like it would be a lot of fun to climb.” One of us said. I really can’t recall if it was myself, or if Tim had said it, but I do recall feeling a little more adventurous that day and it seemed like a lot of fun.


Mike Murphy was quick to voice his opinion, “You’re crazy! I’m not climbing any cliff. I’ll just go this way and meet you at the top.” He pointed to the steep slope to the left and three of the others quickly decided with him.


Tim and I discussed it briefly, and noticing all the cracks, crevices and ledges, decided it would be as easy as climbing a ladder. Step by step from rock to crevice to root and we could be at the top in no time. It was as easily as that we risked death on a cold, rocky mountainside in Yugoslavia.


At first the climbing was as easy as we had predicted and we made good progress. Then things got a little harder and we had to start working sideways as we climbed. We moved around the corner of the ridge and into a V-shaped notch cut into the side of the mountain. Below us, about forty or fifty feet down, were the jaggedly upturned rocks that had fallen from the cliff over many long years and tumbled to rest there like sharp teeth looking for a tasty bite of warm flesh. I cursed my imagination and continued to climb, by now sweating from exertion.


Looking up, I could see it was still a long ways to the top, but to my right it looked like the going got easier.


“Let’s move over this way, it looks a little better for climbing there in the corner.” I said as I headed cautiously along a ledge toward the deepest part of the notch. “Watch this rock it’s loose.” I was in the lead and was trying to warn Tim of any upcoming dangers.


“Ok, I’m right behind you.” He said. I could hear him coming along as I moved up and to my right.


“OH MY GOD!” The shout from behind me made me almost fall, and the sound of a large rock tumbling down into the rubble below gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. My heart jumped to my throat and I had an instant of panic as a vivid picture of my best friend mangled and broken among the rocks below raced through my brain.


I jerked my head around to see Tim grabbing for a secure hold and grimacing in pain. He had thought I was speaking of another rock and he had stepped right on the one that was loose, nearly following it to the craggy rocks below. He had twisted his ankle, but not badly, and once his nerves settled a little we were able to continue. It was close, too close. It should have been a dire warning to us to give this crazy quest up for a safer route. No way, not us. We had hills to conquer and being a mere twenty-five years old, we were still semi-bullet proof.


After a few minutes Tim spoke up. “I am sure now that God must have something left for me to do, otherwise I would be down there in the rocks, dead.” It was obvious that the near miss on that fall had spooked him.

I chuckled dryly. “You’re right there, something sure helped you get a grip before you fell, and it wasn’t me.”

It was only a short time later we were in the notch and climbing once again became like climbing a ladder. From ledge to rock to crevice we made good progress and soon our confidence returned as we moved ever higher above the tumbled boulders, which were now sixty to seventy feet below. The top was very close and we knew that we soon would be on much safer ground.

The final ten feet lay ahead and I was still leading the way. The ledge I was standing on tapered upward to an outward-leaning rock about chest high. All I had to do was get across that rock and I would be free of the cliff and safely headed on up the mountain. Simple, yet not.

With careful study of the rock, I decided that I could step in a crack about knee high and push upward and grab a rock jutting up from the upper side and pull myself up, over and then on to the top. Once that was determined, I stepped, pushed myself up, grabbed the rock, and it came out in my hands! I began to slip backward, desperately grabbing for any sign of something to stop my movement. There was nothing but the smooth surface and I was beginning to feel the emptiness of the space behind and below. My desperate fingers clawed and felt for any sign of a crack or bump to stop my slide

My mind went blank for a second and I can’t recall thinking anything at all. Then, suddenly, there was a small tree branch, no larger than my little finger, hanging down just barely within reach. In an instant, I had the branch in a death grip. It was attached to a shrub about four feet high, growing from the top edge of the rock.

“Dear Lord, please do not let this branch break.” I breathed a whispered prayer as I pulled myself carefully back from certain death. My heart was racing, but staying where I was balanced was not an option, so I eased my grip a little further up the limb and reached with one hand to grip the hole the fallen rock had left in the top of the ledge. In a few seconds I was up and safely stationed on the top edge of the cliff.

I turned and helped Tim to get across the rock and up to the ledge, where we both sat and rested.

“Thank Goodness for that bush! I thought I was a goner!” I said, gasping for breath.

“Yeah, no kidding. I can’t believe it didn’t break! There was nothing I could do to help. You were just out of reach and all I could do was watch!” Tim replied.

“I guess the Lord has something left for both of us to do. We both came close to taking the big dive today. Lets get out of here.”

We caught the others at the top of the mountain. The view was everything we thought it would be and more. A vast expanse of semi-arid, rocky terrain stretched away to the north. Trees populated the valleys and sides of the mountains, while the higher elevations lay bare beneath the afternoon sun. We stood on the highest point and did our victory scream across the empty land. The only answer was the lonely wind in the scrub brush and broken rocks. Looking back, we could see the fjord and its blue arch toward the west into the Adriatic Sea.

There were some access roads cut into the backside of the mountain and we went down that way. We wondered from animal trail to farm path, to road down to the lower back slope of the mountain. By that point we were miles from the ship and very thirsty, and were all a bit tired.

We came upon a local farmer, who, in spite of a total language barrier, was able to understand our need for refreshment. He gave us all something to drink and with many smiles and gestures pointed out the quickest way back to the fjord and the ship beyond. We had a long walk back but were immensely gratified in having beaten the mountain and seen the country.


It was the last excursion of The Billy Goat Club. The events of most of our climbs are misty and clouded with age, but that mountain in Yugoslavia is etched clearly and permanently into my memory. Every time I think of that climb I realize that though Tim and I are both still here, it is only by the narrowest of margins.

James Lee Frady (c) 3/16/2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Poison Frogs of McDowell County


Poison Frogs
I was so excited. I got to go to work with my Pop. We were going out to a house he was building somewhere in McDowell County. I have no idea where it’s at today. I’m sure by now the toad population has recovered to its former glory.

It was summertime and the morning was already thick with the heavy feeling of that deep-south humidity that can only be found in these southeastern states that form the heart of Old Dixie. The sun was coming up, the trees were emerald green, and the dew lay thick on the grass and leaves. It was not yet hot, that would come soon enough. It was warm, the sky was blue, and the day was new. I was looking forward to a big day of doing big things, though I knew not what yet.

As with every building site in western North Carolina, the ground was pure red clay. I mean deep red clay; both in color and in how far you sunk in the muddy spots, of which there were plenty. The house under construction was up on the face of a hill, though not all the way to the top, and the site had been graded level, cutting back into the hillside slightly on the upper side. With the excess dirt, aka mud, pushed off in front to level out the front yard some.

There were several piles of scrap lumber and blocks of wood scattered helter-skelter both in front and back of the house. These ranged from blocks cut from the ends of various boards, to partial sheets of plywood and chip-core, with several broken up concrete blocks sprinkled in for good measure.

Pop and I arrived before his two carpenters who worked for him. We sat in the truck for several minutes and looked at the job site. He talked about the house, but I was too young to understand all the technical mumbo jumbo about rafters, joists, sheeting, and shingles. Later in life I became quiet fluent in the trade talk of carpenters, roofers and plumbers, but this was long before that. I imagine I was pretty impressed with it all.

The two other guys arrived. If I remember correctly, I believe it was Ozzy Finwall and Bob Justice. I may be wrong on that. It’s been a lot of years.

We piled out of Pop’s truck and into the mud. Red clay is quite possibly the stickiest naturally occurring dirt-like substance on the face of this planet. Two steps and it was an inch thick on my boots. Yuck, I did not plan for that. Oh well. I could deal with it. After all, I was a boy and this was the nineteen seventies, when boys still got dirty and thought it was fun. There are still some of those around, thank Heaven above. Not enough, though.

In the very short discussion that followed I learned that Pop, Ozzy and Bob were going to work on the roof. I think they were starting shingles, or finishing the sheeting. I know they were up on top. So as they were preparing their tools, nail aprons, hammers and getting a ladder out, I piped up and asked: “What you want me to do, Pop?”

He looked up and looked around for a minute. “You see all these scraps and blocks and trash? I want all that picked up and piled right over there.” He was pointing to a spot near the end of the drive behind the house.

‘Ok, Pop.” I had no idea how big a job that would actually be, and had not something else captured my interest, I don’t think it would have taken me long to realize this was not going to be a fun day. In fact, I would have probably been ready to leave in short order.

Fortunately for me, there was an adventure waiting to begin right out front.

I began in the front yard picking up blocks; stacking several together and carrying them to the pile Pop had wanted me to add all these pieces to. There was already a growing pile there. I tossed them on and returned to the front yard. I was already wishing I had a wagon, though I wonder now if it would have helped with the sticky clay building up on the wheels.

After several loads, I came to a section of a piece of plywood lying with several blocks around and under it. I grabbed it, lifted it up and HOLY COW! LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT TOAD! I had never in my memory seen a toad that big and fat. Not only was it huge, it was a deep red that matched very closely to the color of the red clay around it. I flipped the plywood over and swooped in and the monster was mine, a sudden unfortunate prisoner of war.

I headed up through the yard. I just had to show this thing to Pop. I knew he would be amazed and impressed.

“Hey Pop! Look at this toad I just caught. It’s HUGE! And look how red it is! You ever seen a toad that red?” I was very impressed with myself and my prize. I already had plans for showing it to Roy and Johnny and Dennis and anyone else I could find. I bet I could scare Brigetta and Crystal absolutely insane with it. Probably Charity and Rhonda too. My mind was in full gear at my soon to be notoriety.

“Whoa, boy! You better throw that thing down before it bites you!” It was either Bob or Ozzy, I don’t know which. It doesn’t matter because the other one jumped right in.

“Boy, didn’t you know them red things is poisonous? That thing gets a hold of you and you’ve had it.” The toad bounced as it hit the red earth.

“What do you mean poison? I ain’t never heard of a poison toad. I’ve heard of people getting warts from them, but not poisoned.” I said with very little conviction.

My Pop got in on the act by that time. “Yep, boy. If that thing bites you your head starts to swell. Sometimes they swell so big they bust. I probably wouldn’t even be able to get you to the hospital in time. Better stay away from them red toads.”

I looked at the toad and thanked Goodness for my all-too-narrow escape. What if I had been bit? I swallowed hard and life got very serious as I contemplated my own mortality. There was only one thing to do. I had to make it safe to work around here before someone got bit.

I began my search. Walking around the cluttered yard I looked for the perfect tool. Something long enough to keep me safe, yet short enough to swing accurately. What I found was a cut-off two-by-two that was about two and a half feet long. I whittled a quick handle on one end. Then I began my quest.

Going back to the front yard, I searched high and low for the monster that was a big, fat, red, poison toad. My search was soon rewarded as I flipped over a board near the center of the front of the house. There sat the evil, vile creature.

My heart was racing. How fast were these devil-frogs? Cut I even protect myself? I raised my make-shift club to my fullest reach, and WHACK! One less poisonous red toad to menace the world. I discovered the toads were not the fastest venomous creatures God had created. That was a great relief.

I picked up that block, threw it on the pile, and went back to the front.

Upon returning to the front yard, I began to flip each block that was large enough to hide a toad under by using the end of my club. I picked up one end, peeked underneath, and flipped it over. Nothing there. Ok. I would check several then pick them up and take them to the pile. Returning, I would repeat the process.

From time to time I heard Pop, Ozzy and Bob up on the roof laughing, but gave it no thought. I was way too focused on what I was doing to protect the world from poison frogs.

I flipped over one board and there was the next little demon in red. I flipped the board, saw the toad, brought the club all the way around behind my back and over my head and down right on the top of those beady, satanic eyes. All in one very fluid and graceful motion. Splat! I was a Toad Ninja. All those hours of playing Karate and Kung-fu masters with Johnny Justice served me very well. I didn’t know a lick of real martial arts, but I was doing quite well, I thought.

Gradually the Front yard became less cluttered and eventually cleared of both scrap lumber and of deadly reptilian vermin. So I headed for the back.

The back yard shouldn’t have been as bad since I was so much closer to the main pile. I was going to throw most of the blocks into the pile.

I went for it, but was quickly losing my enthusiasm. My frog count was up to around five when I started through the yard. I was running out of steam and ready to quit. I guess that’s why I wasn’t thinking so clearly when I reached for that corner piece of a plywood board. I grabbed it and started picking it up when an average size toad jumped out, and terror of all terrors; it was one of those red-as-Satan-himself poison toads and even worse, it hit my hand! I practically fell over backward and stumbled three or four steps before regaining my balance. I turned my left hand over and back repeatedly inspecting for the tiny tooth marks that would surely seal my doom. Nothing. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! No doubt the frog had misjudged how quickly I was moving and had missed in his strike at my exposed fingers!

The toad hopped, heading straight at me! I jumped backward! He jumped forward! I yelled and made a wild swing with my club. I missed. The toad kept coming! I backpedalled, and made another swipe. The venomous evil little beast jumped to my right and I missed again.

Oh ye little spawn of the devil! I have you in my sights now! I drew back to full length, lined up, and SMACK!!!! The toad returned to the evil, hot, smoky land from whence it came, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had thought I was a goner for a second there.

That’s when I noticed Pop, Bob, and Ozzy up on the roof laughing like crazy.

James Lee Frady (c) 3/6/2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Mom's Memories of the Yancy House

My Mom read the blog entry about me being scared silly in the Yancy House, and she sent me this note to relate her experiences there. Roy had done some research and had found an article indicating the house had been abandoned because it was destroyed in a fire. Neither he nor I or my Mom and Pop agrees with that. After all, we have all been there since then. I suspect that may have been a story circulated by the family to keep people away, but it apparently didn't work. Roy also reports having been in there and had a dark creepy feeling and that he has seen movements in the old house when no one was there. Anyway, I am not a believer in ghosts per se, but there are some things I have seen that are terribly hard to explain. The Yancey, (or Yancy), House is one of those things. Anyway, here is what my Mom wrote:


Dear James,

The Yancy House was a very elegant home. The floors had been carpeted in the very best carpeting available when it was built. I don't know the exact date. The heirs deserted the house---- just built a new house and left sometime during the late thirties or early forties. Why? Old Granddad Yancy, the builder of the house haunted it.

Originally the land included "Grandpa's” Mountain. But the story goes that Old Man Yancy was very sick during the last years of his life and had to spend all his time confined to his suite upstairs. Many of his days were spent in a rocking chair. When he died, his spirit remained refusing to give up possession of the house.

Yes there were other ghosts as well, but Granddad Yancy, or Old Man Yancy as he was referred to by the old people I knew growing up , was the most prominent. It was told by family and friends alike and by young people who went to "see", that beginning at midnight, Old Man Yancy would rock his chair out of his room, down the stairs, and out the front door to the porch (front) and there he would rock until dawn every night.

I don't know what else happened, but eventually, the family just left taking little of the original furnishings ,not even the books.

Over the years, people would go in and systematically strip out the carpet and anything of value and sell it. On one occasion, when I was in high school, Some of the boys in the community, (Johnny’s brother. Harry, and Phillip Fairchild, Jimmy Justice (Johnny's cousin) and some others slipped in before dark knowing some blacks were planning to go for some of the things still there.

There was a coffin stored in the attic of the old house along with other things from the civil war, Spanish American War, and World War One.

Well, this night, a bunch of the boys decided to have some fun at the expense of the would be thieves. They went in early and hid. One hid in the old coffin with a sheet wrapped around him. When the thieves arrived and made their way into the attic, that boy slowly sat up and looked around. They say the black men turned white that night. There was even talk that they were never seen again.

When I was in the eleventh and twelfth grades, all the kids in our age group would load up in someone's car after church on Sunday night and go riding. One car was a Lil Nash Rambler. We loaded up 3 deep that night (yes, 3 deep except for the driver). We decided to ride out to the Yancy House and see if we could see anything.

We left Yancy Road, turning into the drive tunneled on each side by large oaks hanging with Spanish moss. The lane bore all the traditional earmarks of an old haunted estate of the south--- a long drive by an overgrown pond, oaks trees bordering the overgrown road with a bridge over the dam side of the pond, approaching the house on the side with a fork for front or back.

This night, there was no moon. That is the night I saw the old woman standing in the window. The kitchen had been a cook house outside the main house at first. Later I think they added one to the house. Of course, we got out of there as fast as we could.

The last time I saw the house, your dad and I drove out there just "messing around" one Sunday about 20 years ago. The house was falling down. The floors were already sitting at a 35degree angle. We dared not try to enter. We just looked through old windows and doors and walked around the old gardens and then left. The old pond had been drained for safety purposes. The silt buildup had become a death trap to kids trying to swim in it.

James Lee Frady (c) 3/04/2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Yancey House


The Yancey House


My friend Johnny Justice introduced me to one of the spookiest places I knew as a boy in Marion, NC. I had never heard of the Yancey House, even though my dad had taken me and Roy fishing several times at the pond nearby. The Yancey House was an old Civil-war era house situated between the modern Airport Road and the Yancey Road, close to where the Catawba River flows into the upper end of Lake James.

I don’t know much about the history of the house or the lands around it. I imagine in its glory days, it was an impressive estate. By the time I got to know of it, it was run down and beginning to fall apart in places throughout the house.

It had been a huge white mansion with columns on the front porch and a broad front entrance. It was two tall, high-ceilinged stories up, and a cellar that was about twelve feet deep underneath. A wide, front-to-back hallway led from the front door to the back of the house, with the remains of a broad stairwell to the right. The stairs were completely gone, stripped away by some scavenger who wanted the wood for something, no doubt. Near the center of the house, a narrower hallway ran longitudinally down the center of the house. To the left end there were two large rooms and an extended back sitting room of some kind that was only one story. Turning right would take you down a hall with a set of rooms on the left and right, then an open room with a smaller room branching off it. It had a chimney and we thought of it as some kind of kitchen. In this room, part of the floor was missing and you could see directly into the basement.

The basement was dark, deep and was divided into several small rooms that to our young eyes looked remarkably like cells. Though now I see them as storage areas. We imagined slaves or servants being quartered there whether or not they wanted to be. I remember wondering aloud how many people might have died in captivity down there. Me and Johnny climbed down there once. Once. There were no stairs and we fashioned a makeshift ladder to go down into that creepy, dark, dank place to check it out. I expected at any minutes to trip over a skull or an old dried skeleton. Then I was afraid our ladder would break and leave us trapped to become the next pair of dried up old skeletons in that haunted mansion.

Getting upstairs from the main floor was a lot of work. Roy and I managed to make it climbing the edge of the remaining stair runner still fastened to the wall. It was tough because one wobble and your balance left you and you had to jump back down to keep from falling. We finally made it. Meanwhile, Johnny had gone outside and climbed a tree and out on the roof of the sitting room, then climbed in the window to the upstairs. He outsmarted us on that one. I think he knew from prior visits about climbing the tree.

The second story, near as I can remember, was basically six rooms situated with two on one end of the house with a hall between that matched the entrance hall downstairs. The other four were on the end above the kitchen end. The upstairs covered the whole downstairs, but I don’t recall the details of it as well since we only went up there two or three times all together. I do recall the empty windows that looked out on what was probably once a rich estate. From those windows you could see a pretty decent view of what used to be the front lawn, now grown up in pine trees and tangled vines.

I don’t recall a third floor or attic, but as high as the roof was I think now that there must have been an attic above the second floor.

There was one old outbuilding still semi-standing behind the house. Johnny and I got to digging around in it once and found trunks and boxes full of old letters written many years ago by the one-time residents of the Yancey House. We were not interested at the time so after looking at them for a few minutes we left the letters to the ghosts who wrote them and went on playing. I wish now I could go back and dig through them, just because of historical interest.

I often have a single thought when I see an old house standing somewhere alone, with the weight of the years folding it in upon itself. I always wonder what the stories are which that house could tell if it could speak to me of the people who lived and died there; the joys, sorrows, celebrations; the drama of real life that took place within those walls. It’s more than just a building to me when I see an old house like that. I think that started with the Yancey House. Who lived there? What did they believe? What hardships did they face? Why was this house eventually abandoned? All questions that go through my mind, but which I will never have an answer for.

I mentioned that the Yancey House was one of the spookiest places I remember as a boy.

There were a number of ghost stories that were told about the crumbling old house. Looking at the place automatically moved your mind to the superstitious side. It looked haunted. Almost every window in the place was broken out, and wispy tatters of the remains of curtains wafted in the breeze around the edges of the blank frames. The front door was missing altogether and the ones that remained hung on rusty, creaking hinges that sometimes would shift in an indiscriminate breeze, filling the old house with random sounds. The irregular bumps and creaks seemed to echo from another time.

One ghost story I recall roughly had a daring group of young men with plans to stay in the House over night. I don’t have all the details at hand, but it seems the early hours were all laughs, jokes and pranks, but as the hours stretched toward midnight and the moon was shining in the windows, the young men began to notice shadows that shouldn’t be there. Movements out the corners of their eyes would catch the attention, but investigating revealed no one was there. Curtains moved and doors swung on hinges without the aid of a breeze. Footsteps were heard in the upstairs hallway and rooms. Whispers were heard in adjacent rooms when all the young men were together in one place. The house developed a chill, though the weather was warm and humid outside. These sounds, apparitions and movements began to close in on the huddled men, getting closer and more pronounced until one man felt the ice cold touch of a hand on his arm, and felt a cold breath on his neck. He jerked and ran for the door with the rest right behind him. They all claimed to have heard a rasping laughter as they ran down the path away from the old manse.

One thing I had heard was that often people were seen standing looking out the window. One second they were there and the next they were not. On two separate occasions I saw someone. Once when we were coming up to the front of the house I saw someone. As clearly as I could see Johnny in front of me there was someone there, in an upstairs window.

The person I saw seemed to be a woman, perhaps in her fifties, with dark grey hair and grey-white clothes, just looking at us as we walked up the path. Johnny and I had walked down through the woods to the Yancey pond dam, for whatever reason, and were coming back up toward the house. It was one of only a few times I came toward the house from the front. I looked down: “Johnny, someone is here, do you think we could get in trouble for being here?”

“Who’s here? Where?” he asked quickly.

I replied pointing toward the window, “I just saw an old woman looking out that window at us.”

Johnny looked and no one was there. I couldn’t see anyone by then either. So I figured they had moved away so we wouldn’t see them watching. We went on in before it occurred to me there was no steps for an elderly lady to climb to get upstairs where I had seen the person. Johnny began to poke fun at me about seeing ghosts, so I made up something about it must have been a curtain moving in the wind. I was sure I had seen someone, but started talking myself out of it. Maybe it was my imagination working overtime due to the stories I had heard. I guess that’s what it was, maybe…

The other occasion was the last time I can recall ever going out there.

Johnny and I were there again, and we had come in from the back and found some of the floor supports were failing underneath, the floor was buckling and sagged way down through the center of the long hallway going back toward the part we called the kitchen. It was barely holding together and I should have stayed off that floor, but I was young and stupid. I walked one way toward the kitchen while Johnny went toward the rooms on the opposite end of the house. I got just past the first set of rooms and saw a movement behind me. I glanced and thought I saw a figure disappearing into the doorway a few yards behind me. I shrugged thinking Johnny had changed his mind and was coming toward my end of the house.

I heard footsteps that seemed to come from that room, along with another noise of some kind: something dragging maybe. Then it crossed the hall to the other room. I looked back and saw nothing again, and my nerves began to sing a tinny little tune that made my hair stand up. I walked on a few more steps.

A word about Johnny: He was one of my best friends ever, but he was a prankster and loved to play jokes on people.

That thought entered my mind as I walked down the last few feet toward the old kitchen. I smiled and calmed down a bit, though not completely. It was about then I felt a cold breath on the back of my neck.

“DANG IT JOHNNY! CUT IT OUT!!!!” I yelled as I spun.

There was no one there.

That was when Johnny stuck his head around the corner all the way at the other end of the house. “What?”

My nerves shattered like a glass, but I tried not to show it.

“Never mind. I’m getting thirsty; you want to head back to your house?” I knew if I admitted to being scared I would never live it down. Not with Johnny. I wish that spook had scared him instead of me.

I don’t think I ever told Johnny about the “ghost” that haunted me that day, and I’m glad we never had the opportunity to go back. I had had entirely enough of that creepy place, and besides, it was getting terribly dangerous.


I wonder yet: Was it all an over-active imagination? Maybe it was, but it did, and still does, seem so real that my heart speeds up when I think about it in depth. I guess I will just continue to take it all at face value: Something was there, and it scared me thoroughly, and that's enough for me.

The Yancey House is gone now. I suppose there is nothing left but an old hole in the ground where the basement used to be. I wonder where the ghosts are now. Maybe the story continues as the story of a haunted cellar…

James Lee Frady (c) March 3, 2009