As I went out walking this fall afternoon,
I heard a whisper whispering.
I heard a whisper whispering,
Upon this fine fall day...
As I went out walking this fall afternoon,
I heard a laugh a'laughing.
I heard a laugh a'laughing,
Upon this fine fall day...
I heard this whisper and I wondered,
I heard this laugh and then I knew.
The time is getting near my friends,
The time that I hold dear my friends,
The veil is getting thin my friends,
And strange things will pass through.
Will you follow me? Its Halloween and I thought that maybe, just maybe you would be in the mood for a ghost story but first we have somewhere that we need to be. Yes, I know that the woods are dark, but isn’t the smell intoxicating this time of year? The leaves are wet and seductively sour, sweet ripe apples are still hanging on the cool bare branches and the musky scent of deer lingers all around in the still night forest . We have come here the other way, through the woods instead of the churchyard, the old way…….the way that she came.
Just be careful where you step for the wrought iron fence that surrounds this family plot is broken in places and terribly low. I know that you are wondering why I’ve brought you to this place that smells of old grave dirt, wood smoke and limestone. I know that it’s scary because the soundless dead that lay here are so very different from you. In this place I can practically hear the blood and adrenaline pounding through your veins. I can’t tell this story anywhere else though for this is where she finally, peacefully lays. It is the story of fragrance as it passes through the veil.
I used to live in a very old house built in1848 and we actually had to perform an exorcism (I hate that word, it’s not truly appropriate) on a woman who died in childbirth , whose spirit was trapped in our upstairs back bedroom. She died alone and without her husband who had gone off to fight in the civil war. Her name was Lucy Smith. She presented herself to me when I was upstairs one night nursing our son Alex, whom she loved very much. I was rocking him in our chair and was surprised to hear a very slight breathing accompanied by soft moans that became more labored over time and would fall away only to be repeated over and again. As I screamed for my husband the hair began to stand up on the nape of my neck and my breast milk ran dry. We searched the room for a draft, anyplace or anything that could be making such sounds. It was the most tragic sound that I have ever heard. It was the sound of a young woman giving birth and dying at the same time. After that night I always knew when she was around because of the fragrant smell of spring violets tinged with blood that accompanied her even in the dead of winter.
She used to open the door that was dead bolted from the inside on the first warm day of spring. She loved our rocking chair and we would find it moving in the still of night and then hear her soft footsteps as she went back up the stairs. It was that icy moment just before winter turns to spring when we were working to help her break her bonds to this plane. I would bring her vases of fresh pussy willows and snowdrops that grew around the house because she loved our/ her farm so much. Through the relationship we established a very deep love grew. As strange as it sounds, she began to trust us and we her. Finally one evening she shared her whole story and that was when we saw the blood that we had smelled so often. She was a beautiful woman with long dark hair and deeply in love with her husband. She led us with happy visions through her wedding day that took place in the barn that we owned, shared with us the scent of dancing leather boots and her wedding supper. Sadly the last image she shared was the moment of her death as we saw her lying in her own blood, sobbing and holding the lifeless body of her dead child who is buried with her here. She was 38 years old when she died.
Several more days passed and one morning I went upstairs and felt her presence all around me. I knew then that soon she would be able to go. At that moment I heard her voice as soft as the wind telling me that she loved us, thanking us, that she was grateful. I felt myself being held by her, a sensation that I will always remember. I will never forget the smell outside of the window after she left.
It was of nectar, a honeyed presence that speaks to the presence of the divine and it lingered throughout the morning. There was still snow on the ground and I cried all day, more alone then I had ever felt in my life.
Lucy was an amazing woman and even after she was gone she would come back when Alex was sick and help me care for him, she loved him so much. One night when he had been ill for three very long and sleepless nights, I went upstairs to his room, pulled him out of his crib and brought him downstairs to rock him as he choked and coughed. When at last I took him back up to his crib I removed the beautifully folded blanket from the edge of the crib and placed him back into it. He fell quietly, instantly asleep. I went back downstairs to thank Jim for straightening up the room and he looked at me quite queerly. My husband hadn’t left our bed the entire time. Alex didn’t let go of the blanket for 4 days and he still remembers her. My son has been in danger’s path several times and known immediately and without question to run because of the voice that he still hears. I am sure that it is hers.
After she left, I went to the library and the historical society to see what I could learn about her. There were diagrams of the old McBride family cemetery where we now sit and I found her in those old crumbling papers , buried with her stillborn son. I took Alex and Moon, our Rottweiler for a walk the next day. After walking through the churchyard cemetery, I went through the woods and found the old family burial ground. As soon as we moved past the rusted gates my dog released her scent glands, a rank perfume of terror that I had never smelled before. When we got back to the old broken tombstones she started to pull me out of there. I stopped her long enough to read the headstone she was bolting from. It was Lucy’s.
This is a true story and indeed a very sad story, made lighter only by the fact that she did eventually become free. It was interesting , when I was thinking about what I could share with you tonight I smelled the faintest odor of violets and heard her softness. ..”Speak…… of me.” There was more it seemed that she wanted me to know.
Lucy was wonderful, although at the point when she was trying to reach out to us for help she was terrifying. It broke my heart when I realized how many families had lived in the house with her right there under their noses and she had struggled so hard to let them know of her presence without any success. I didn’t blame her for finally resorting to some very ghostly tactics to get my attention. I treasured my time with her.
Eerily, there was one more voice in our house……a young boy who came and went with frequency. He wasn’t trapped like she was and there was always the strangest smell of frogs, oats and brackish water that accompanied him, along with the fragrance of blackberries which coincidentally grew in abundance all around our farm with the juiciest ones always flourishing by the pond . He loved to run and skip around our halls. When I began to think about the telling of her story I came back to this place and went once again through the old records. I wanted to find him again , I needed to know who he was. Look to the right of her grave, over there where the two tiny headstones sit. He is there with her now, her young son James.
I had always wondered what bound Lucy to this world, why she took such good care of my child. I am sure that she did the same for everyone who grew up in her house, for those who never even knew. She was a beautiful and generous spirit, in life she must have been an extraordinary mother. Her son James died one year after she did……she must have been distraught to leave him, he must have died from the heart break of living without her and the bitter uncertainty of his father gone off to war. I never knew why the story seemed to still haunt me. It was unfinished and I am glad to know now.
Tonight I have come with a bouquet of sunflowers for her , carved pumpkins and candy for her children…..I always wear a simple Penhaligon perfume of violets on Halloween, strange and unearthly in the autumn air to honor her.
Lucy, if you can hear me still, know forever that I am grateful for it all.
Happy Samhain to all,
On this night we remember……….