"I don't believe in ghosts, but I am afraid of them." - Socrates
A funny thing happened on the way to the fudge shop.
Last month I mentioned that life had become hectic for a month or so, and I even missed a couple of GroveZines; well, it's time to come clean and give you the real story. I've been dreading telling this one, because at one point I sound like a terrible, pompous, horrible person – which I really hope that I'm not! Still, we all have our little moments in life, and I certainly had mine. Here's what happened. A friend of mine owns a store here in Jefferson that carries my books, and periodically I'll go down there to sign the ones that he has in stock. As I was talking to him on one visit, he said, "You know what I really need? I need a cookbook. About fifteen years ago the person who owned the Hamburger Store restaurant had one that I sold here in my place, and it did really well. Do you think that you could track him down and get the rights to it?" It was a natural question to ask me, because I've worked in the publishing industry for a couple of decades, but I immediately knew that I wasn't going to be able to help him with his request. I mean, I know the restaurant well, but the guy he was talking about was at least three owners ago – who knows where he is now. Still, I figured that I'd try and see what I could do. When I started making inquiries, it was one dead end after another and I just dismissed the whole idea.
I told my friend that I thought that the situation was hopeless, even though he continued to ask about it every time I was in his shop. Finally, when I was in a couple of months ago, he added a twist. He said, "I really do need a Jefferson cookbook to sell; I get requests every week. Why don't you write one?"
Here's the part that's embarrassing and really tough to admit. When he asked me the question, my immediate thought was to be a little insulted. I immediately swelled up and got all full of myself – I thought, "Hey, I write well-researched, serious non-fiction. When I have made the occasional foray into fiction, like The Midnight Saint, I've won awards for my writing! Cookbooks are put out by Sunday School classes and Girl Scout Troops, not by serious writers like me!" That is incredibly humiliating to admit, but that was my first thought. I immediately dismissed the idea and held my nose up in the air a little higher as I left the shop.
I was telling my wife about it when I got home, and just for fun pulled out one of the many local charity cookbooks that we've bought over the years. This one had three identical recipes for sausage balls, all submitted by three different people. I told her, "See, when people put recipes in a cookbook, they use throw-away things that they never make in their kitchen. Who in their right mind would give away their treasured recipes. If I was really going to do a cookbook, it would have to be full of family secrets and dishes that have been part of our lives forever." That simple phrase turned everything around... I began to muse about what dishes I would actually include in this hypothetical endeavor.
It wasn't that long before I had pulled out my mother's old recipe box, and was sifting through handwritten notes and ingredient lists from three generations of the family. Before I knew it, I'd done a complete one-eighty on the idea and was suddenly and furiously working on a cookbook. I put some serious skin in the game - giving up our 30+ year secret chili recipe and a seasoning mix that I've been sworn to secrecy about for years. My favorite story comes from my grandmother; whenever her church had a dinner, a lady named Miss Kitty brought a delicious no-bake fruit cake. She would never reveal the recipe, though, so all the other ladies of the church tried to dissect it and copy it. I have a note in my grandmother's handwriting that says, "This is as close as I could come to Miss Kitty's no-bake fruit cake!" I put that note in the book with her recipe... and it's delicious! Although these were all recipes that we've made any number of times over the years, we had to re-do each one to take pictures and verify the written recipe (some are so much a part of our daily life that we haven't looked at the actual recipe for years). Of course, that took time, along with writing the story behind each and every one. When it was finally complete, I had to laugh at myself - I had scoffed at the initial idea of a cookbook, but it ended up being a wonderful experience that was a flood of emotion, nostalgia, family memories, and of course, incredible food. I guess it reinforced the fact that occasionally life offers you little detours from what you expect, and it can be incredibly rewarding to take one of those every now and then.
The Grove becomes a house of horrors on Halloween!!! Okay, maybe not a genuine house of horrors, but we did have something horrific happen... or at least, it was a little bit gross. It was the first tour on Halloween, and we had a great group of people. We'd just finished up in the parlor, and were walking into the dining room, when I saw something odd under the china cabinet. As I looked at it I realized that it was a tail - a squirrel's tail. Suddenly I realized that our predator cat, Elsie, had killed a squirrel and brought it in the house to devour... right in the middle of the tour. She'd apparently abandoned the corpse, but I saw that in the course of her meal she'd beheaded her prey, and the head was just a few inches from the body. All I could think was, "Great... this will freak everyone out and ruin the tour." Only a couple of folks saw it, so I slid a dining room chair over in front of the crime scene and went on with the tour. Afterwards I cleaned it up, and then saw Elsie walking across the porch. I chastised her for freaking me out, all the while wondering if she thought that the headless squirrel would be a great contribution to the Halloween tour!
After Halloween, Veterans Day came around. There was a big push in the media about changing your porch light out to be green to show your support for veterans. Since a number of people in our family have served, we got behind the idea and decided to do that here at The Grove. The only problem was that I waited until the week before to look for a green bulb, and they were all sold out. I tried our two local hardware stores, Wal Mart and Lowe's in nearby Marshall, Texas, and struck out everywhere. In one sense that's a good thing, because it meant that a lot of people were doing the honor-the-veterans thing, but it didn't help our efforts at all. Finally I had an idea... since Christmas lights were starting to be put out in the stores, I'd get a string of green lights and stretch them out across the porch, which is what I did. We turned off the other lights so that the veterans would hopefully know that we were showing our support. Next year, we're going to be a little better prepared.
My wife is a member of the local garden club, and for years has been the chairman for the Diamond Bessie grave committee. They keep flowers on the grave, keep it clean, etc. (if you're not familiar with Diamond Bessie, just do a Google search). Since I wrote a book on Diamond Bessie this year, she's become kind of special to me, and I help out with the maintenance on her grave. People leave all kinds of things there - costume jewelry, stuffed animals, coins, etc. The coins are collected and put in the fund to buy flowers for Diamond Bessie's grave. The other things are left until they start deteriorating. Every December, though, we find a very unique thing - a number of plastic champaign glasses around the tombstone. At some point during the holiday season, a small group of people apparently come in and have a toast to Bessie there at her resting place, which I think is infinitely cool. This happened again this year, and it made me smile. The tradition has been going on for years, and I've always wondered one thing... do they leave a glass of wine for her?
Ah, now for a few ghost stories. First of all, I'd like to give a tip of the hat to a website that was pointed out to me by a GroveZine reader. It's called The Lineup, and its tagline is, "5 chilling mysteries. Twice weekly." Apparently they recently listed The Grove as one of their chilling mysteries, and I have to say, "Thanks guys, we appreciate it!" You can visit their site by clicking on this link.
My next story is with an undisclosed person at an undisclosed place... and while I'm not fond of being so clandestine, the person this happened to is still processing it so I want to give them their privacy. It didn't happen at the grove, but at a business in downtown Jefferson. I have two preliminary comments to make. The first is that you wouldn't believe the number of business owners downtown who have told me ghost stories about their places. Most tell me not to share their stories because they don't want people to think that they're crazy, or shy away from their businesses, but I really believe that there are more downtown businesses in Jefferson that have supernatural activity than those who don't. Anyway, the second comment is that this is a bit like last month when a skeptical friend of mine had his arm grabbed at The Grove and didn't know what to think. In fact, it's a LOT like that but it didn't happen at The Grove. Instead, it happened at a business downtown where my friend happened to be. As she was standing still, someone pinched her butt. She spun around to see who it was, but no one was anywhere near. As she played it back in her mind, someone definitely pinched her, but that seemed impossible to her - unless the guy who was being fresh and forward was a supernatural being. My friend is laughing about it now, and in fact told me, "My first supernatural experience... and I got felt up!"
There is another possible explanation, however. The building that my friend was in was once a medical clinic many years ago, and when a nurse was giving a shot in the derriere, they might have pinched the skin up a bit... kind of like the nurse is doing with the arm in this photo. So maybe that was what actually happened - a ghostly nurse could have been preparing her for an injection like she did countless times in life in that same building. No matter what, my friend has no question that she had her first physical, tangible supernatural experience - one that she can't deny!
And finally, to The Grove. I was doing a tour this past month and we had something like half-a-dozen people on it. We started in the parlor, and I was giving a brief introduction to the history of Jefferson. Now, if you've been reading the GroveZine for any length of time, you know that there's one corner in the parlor that is extremely active with the supernatural. When we walk in the room, I always enjoy watching to see if anyone ends up over there, and as the tour progresses I like to watch to see if they're experiencing anything. On this particular tour, a lady seemed to be agitated as I talked, and when I finally got to the stories about the corner, she said, "That's it - that's why I'm feeling this way!" She went on to explain that when she first walked into the parlor and stood there, she felt ill. After that she felt cold, but then broke out in a sweat. Everyone reacts differently to that corner, but the thing that I find most interesting about her experience is that she had no preconceived notions, no forewarning, nothing... she was caught by surprise by what happened. And you know, those are some of my favorite stories that people tell me about The Grove.
Well, the end of the year is upon us... has time flown by that quickly? I guess that it has, but then, everyone seems to tell me how time is speeding by. When the next GroveZine pops up in your inbox, it will be 2016. You know, it doesn't seem that long ago when we were all worried about Y2K, and wondering what we'd call the years of the new millennium... two thousand one, twenty o-one, etc. But all that's over a decade ago, long gone. I guess that we're on to bigger and better things, and so I'll sign off for this GroveZine, and talk to you again soon. Thanks for reading!
Here's what's coming up around Jefferson...
1/22-1/24/2016 - Quilts on the Bayou annual quilt show
2/5-2/7/2016 - Jefferson Mardi Gras
3/18-3/20/2016 - Route 49 Biker Rally
4/28-5/2/2016 - The Diamond Bessie Murder Trial Play
4/28-5/1/2016 - Jefferson Historical Pilgrimage Weekend
7/4/2016 - Jefferson Salutes America
...and much more throughout the coming year!
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