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Hi everyone - well, I know that I'm running late with the GroveZine when I start getting emails from every direction asking what is wrong and why the zine hasn't arrived! As it turns out, it's been a tough six weeks or so, for a number of reasons. First of all, I had a birthday... I turned 50. That's right, half a century old and still kicking. I have friends who are twenty and others who are eighty, and they all keep telling me that 50 is no big deal - and I guess that it isn't really, because mentally I feel 18 years old. Still, there's something about crossing that particular hurdle that made me pause. I'm planning on living to be 100, so I'm only halfway there, but for some reason this birthday was a tough one.
I was in a funk all week long, really struggling with the reality of the situation. What happened on the morning of my birthday? Well, I got up, went to shave, and to my horror saw that I had a giant zit that had suddenly come up on my nose. I'm not kidding - I looked like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Writer. I just stood there shaking my head - here I was fighting with the idea of turning a half-century old, and God had a little joke for me... a giant zit!!! I'm glad that everyone seemed to be having a good time with the big event. Check out the actual photo of me on my birthday (okay, okay, maybe it's just a mock-up... but that's what it felt like!)
I got a lot of wonderful birthday wishes, but one stood out above all the others - not because it was the best, or the most heart-felt, but because it caught me completely off guard. It was a letter from my health insurance company, and started out with a birthday wish. "You just had a birthday, and everyone here would like to wish you the best of all things and a wonderful future ahead..." I thought that it was kind of nice that they'd remembered my birthday, and had gone to all the trouble to send me a letter. I read on to a second paragraph, though; it went something like, "Now that you've entered a new phase of your life, your rates will be doubling to the point where you can barely afford to pay them..." Okay, it wasn't that bad, but close. I could have handled a rate increase notice, but to make it part of a birthday wish was a really cold thing to do - a backhanded compliment, if you will. All they needed to add was, "P.S., Don't worry, that extra weight you picked up this summer looks good on you!" Sigh.
We've had some other excitement around here as well: my latest book will be out in the next week or so, and although it is based in history instead of ghosts, I had a ton of fun researching and writing it (more about it later); also, Texas Monthly magazine came to visit this week to take photos of The Grove for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue; but the biggest thing, and it was maddening, was our cable internet service. For the last six weeks - if not longer - our service has been down. If we unhooked the cable from the modem and then reconnected, the internet might come up for anywhere for ten seconds to ten minutes. We could check and send email on a limited basis, but using the web was pretty much out of the question. The cable company gave us promise after promise - after three different service calls and three technicians, though, we'd finally had enough. It was clear that they weren't capable of fixing the problem. We now have DSL, and are once again enjoying having internet access 24/7.
With all problems over, August seems to be going along fine. You know, I've determined that being fifty isn't bad at all - it was just turning fifty that almost killed me!
We had something terrible happen here in Jefferson in July - during a particularly nasty thunderstorm, lightning struck the top of the historical museum downtown. It blew a hole about the size of a refrigerator in the roof, and knocked out all of the windows on the top of the tower. Everyone was in shock, and it even caused the city council meeting to adjourn so that those in attendance could rush down to see what had happened. It could have been much worse than it was, though; thankfully none of the collections were harmed. Within a week, the hole had been repaired, the windows replaced, and everything was back to normal downtown.
Speaking of downtown, there's a new business that just opened, and I may be in heaven. A shop just came in named Pat's Gourmet Popcorn! You have to realize that popcorn is the perfect food to me. I could eat a full steak dinner - 16 oz. T-Bone, baked potato, and a basket of rolls - and even if I could barely get up from the table, I could still eat a tub of popcorn. It's also my absolute favorite thing about going out to the movie. And now, there's a gourmet popcorn store in Jefferson over on Walnut Street just north of Austin Street. Now, I haven't tried all the flavors yet, but so far my favorite is Jalapeno Ranch - it's awesome! Be sure to put this on your list of places to visit when you come to Jefferson - you'll find me there several times a week.
Okay, let me preface this next item by saying that people tell me their ghost experiences all the time, and if they don't want them shared, I respect that. I could literally drive you around Jefferson, point at many, many places and tell you ghost stories that have been shared with me by the people that experienced them first-hand. I keep secrets when asked, and if I don't have permission to tell the names of the people involved in a story, I don't - which brings me to the next big event that happened in Jefferson, although it has nothing to do with ghosts... no, instead, this week someone saw a Chupacabra here in town. So what's a Chupacabra? Well, a quick internet search will tell you everything that you need to know, but it's supposedly a small, hairless, creature with gray skin or scales, fangs and long nails that preys on livestock. It walks upright, is 2-3 feet tall, and sucks the blood of small animals. Its origin is in Mexico, which accounts for the Hispanic name (Chupacabra = "goat sucker"). Is it real? Well, it's the same debate as bigfoot. So why is this in the GroveZine? Well, I tell you guys all the interesting things about my life in Jefferson, and this one was too cool to pass up. Plus the fact that since I heard the story, I keep looking out into The Grove's garden several dozen times a night... just in case the little beastie shows up here! So far, nothing but moonlight and one of our cats strolling around. Still, a Chupacabra in Jefferson is big news. While I haven't got clearance to relate the names of the people involved, I do have to say that I know everyone involved - they are all friends of mine. Here's what happened...
Friend "A" happened to be driving past friend "B"'s house about 10 o'clock one evening. He saw something strange in the yard - initially thinking it was a dog, he looked again, and realized that it was something very odd. He made the block, and the creature was still there; it was something that he'd never seen before. When he got home, Friend A went online and typed in a description of what he'd seen, and a picture of a Chupacabra came up - he immediately called Friend B to tell him what was out in his yard, but after a quick search, Friend B could find nothing there. Still, Friend A swears that what he saw was the mythical beast itself, the Chupacabra, right here in Jefferson, Texas. Now I didn't see it myself, but I do find the story interesting, and had to pass it on to you. Next time you're in Jefferson, keep an eye out for odd little beasties - who knows what you might see!
As a side note, every time that our dogs have gone outside and started barking, I've stepped out onto the back porch and snapped a photo or two... just in case! No Chupacabras have shown up, although the picture here did catch my interest - see the glowing eyes? Well, as much as I'd like to say that the photo shows something paranormal, it's actually just our cat Elsie, with the camera's flash reflecting in here eyes. Wicked, right? Still, I would have much rather seen the Chupacabra that was reportedly seen in our neighborhood. Maybe one of these days...
Speaking of interesting things, though, Tami and I have discovered something very cool. We have a metal bank that looks a lot like a large Coca-Cola can, and at the end of every day we put our change in it. The grocery store where we shop has a machine that you can dump change into; it counts it, and it gives you a voucher for that much money. The great thing is, we've discovered that after about three months we have built up around $90 in change - so we take it to the grocery store, cash it in at that machine, and then get "free" groceries for that week. Of course, they're actually not free, but filling the change bank with a few nickels here and a couple of quarters there, it adds up. I just thought that I'd pass that on to anyone who wants to get a free trip to the grocery store every few months. You don't notice the lack of change in your pocket every morning, but in this economy it is VERY nice to have the grocery bill paid every so often!
Ah, time for the latest ghostly goings-on from The Grove. Well, this first ghost story is almost an exact repeat of something that happened years ago. If you've been reading the GroveZine a while you may remember that back in 2003 I was moving a stack of boxes from the kitchen to the side gallery, and some unseen hand threw the deadbolt on the door and locked me out of the kitchen. Well, that very same thing happened again this month. This time I wasn't moving boxes, but was instead going through paperwork on the island in the kitchen, and then taking bits of it out into the side gallery to file in the appropriate folders - just part of the housekeeping that my writing business requires every week or so. I was going back and forth, working through the papers, and had gone out into the side gallery. As I tried to open the door to the kitchen, I discovered that it was locked. Although I was home alone, someone had locked me out of my own kitchen! I thought, "Oh, surely you guys didn't do that again after all these years," but when I walked around the long way and back into the kitchen, the deadbolt had been thrown from the inside. I complained - loudly - to the house about playing such a joke on me for the next hour - it's like I've said many times, living in a haunted house isn't necessarily scary... it can be downright annoying!
Odd things involving the doors aren't always about them closing and locking - sometimes they open, as well. You know, I've talked about the shadow people activity over the last few months, and some of the more dramatic things that have happened around here, but often it's the little things that we find most interesting. Case in point - One of my duties before a tour is to hook up the leaf blower and clear the front porch and steps of any leaves and debris; living in a grove of pecan trees means that something is falling from them year-round. I'd gone out on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, and as I was hooking the blower up I heard the front door knob click open. I assumed that Tami was coming out to tell me something, but the door only swung open a few inches and stopped. I stood there looking at it, waiting for her to finish opening the door, but nothing happened. I nudged it open, and the front parlor was empty. I went inside and found her back in the kitchen. I looked for innocent explanations for the door opening, but I'd pulled it shut when I went out - the doorknob had to be turned to open it up. But even if I hadn't, the door wouldn't have opened; the house slants down toward the river, which is in the direction of the front porch. In other words, if you open the front door and let it go, it slams shut. I have no doubt that some spirit opened the door, but why, I have no idea. It was an interesting week - someone closed and locked one door, someone else opened another one. Little things like that happen all the time, and are just part of living at The Grove.
Probably the most interesting thing to me is an explanation for something that has been happening since we first bought the house. A very common thing is the feeling of something brushing against the back of the legs of our visitors. It's been reported since we started doing tours years ago. Some ladies have been alarmed that the hand of some invisible man was stroking their legs, while others have just been intrigued by the experience. We had one guest on the tour this month that reported that same thing happened to her twice on the tour. She went on to tell us that she'd been a "cat person" all her life, and that the feeling was exactly that of a feline rubbing against her legs - although when she looked down, there was nothing there. We thought that was interesting, because even though we have two cats (as you can see in the picture), they usually aren't in during the tours. It became even more interesting the next day, however. We happened to meet a gentleman who did yard work for Louise Young, the lady who spent her entire life at The Grove until her death in 1983. He told us several stories about her, but at one point, said, "You know, she was crazy about cats. If she had one cat in that house, she had twenty." That made us wonder if some of the things that people feel on their legs aren't those cats coming back for a visit... and it might also explain some of the weird behavior that our bassets have shown over the years.
Finally, one of the strongest things that people experience in The Grove are energy fields. You'll walk into a room - especially up front - and in a certain area the air itself will feel like it's electric. The hair on your arms and the back of your neck stands up, it feels cooler than the rest of the room, and there's a sensation that someone is there with you. It happens quite often, but usually in specific areas, such as the corner of the front parlor. One Saturday evening recently we were in the den, and Tami had walked into the game room. The door to the dining room was open, and she could see the front door. Someone was moving around up there, and she assumed that it was someone on the porch. She called to me and I ran up there to see who was outside - generally people don't come up onto the property at night, but occasionally they do. The problem is, when we see someone outside at night, we have no idea who they are - they could be a burglar, a peeping tom, or worse. When I opened the front door, though, no one was there. No cars were on the street, no one was running away, it was a quiet, still evening. When I shut the door, we walked over into the parlor, and it was as if someone was having a party there... the energy was STRONG! Imagine it like this - if I blindfolded you and escorted you into an empty room, you'd know that no one else was there. On the other hand, if I led you into a crowded room, even if the people there were silent and didn't move around at all, you'd still feel their presence. The latter is what this felt like - as if a group of people were there mingling around, visiting, enjoying themselves. We just looked at each other, and then Tami said, "Hey, you guys are welcome here, as long as you don't tear anything up or disturb us when we go to bed!" We left, but the party seemed to continue.
Well, as we wind down the summer, leaves are already starting to fall here at The Grove... which means that I'll be on raking detail before long. It's been a stressful month, but a very good summer. Sorry to hit you so late with the July GroveZine, but it means a lot to me that you read it every month. I especially appreciated the emails saying, "Where the heck is the GroveZine?" They meant a lot to me.
But I do want to close with some good news - my new book came out. If you've heard the story of Jefferson, or taken the tour of The Grove, you may recall that a massive logjam on the Red River played a strategic role in that history. It was called the "Great Raft," and when explorer Thomas Freeman first saw it, he penned in his journal, "No hope can be entertained of the great raft ever being removed..." While doing research for a different book, I was looking for information on the Raft and found that there was no definitive work documenting its history, which affected everyone from the Caddo Indians to the outcome of the Red River Campaign of the Civil War. I became fascinated with its story, and as I combed books and periodicals from the 1800s, the incredible story of the Great Raft emerged. If you want to find out more, just click this link..
If you'd like to check any of my books, you can find them at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon.com, or
at The Grove's website if you'd like a signed
copy of anything.
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