I was raised in a little town called Pleasant Ridge, Kentucky, population under 1000 or so. It's hard for me to think about how many people may have been in the town because not only was there no sign proclaiming "You are now entering Pleasant Ridge, population ____" (although a neighbor town did have a unique sign that said, "Welcome to Hartford, home of 2000 happy people and a few soreheads" - literally), but also because we were one of many tiny little towns in the area whose boundaries were fairly blurred. One quarter mile from my house, you could ease off onto a little road that ran, at its deepest, about 1/8 mile behind my house. It came up about 2 miles down the road again and rejoined its mother, Highway 231. The length of that baby road was a town called Buford. Behind my school, aptly called Pleasant Ridge Elementary School (the last I heard it had been turned into a printing company - it had 6 grades and about 200 students total), was a small stretch of road that was a town called Bells Run. So it gets a little vague about where PR or "the Ridge" begins and ends. Regardless, it was quite small.
As you can imagine, everyone knows everyone and is all up in everybody's business and most are related (although usually not in a big eared, banjo pickin, funny-eyed way). My mom didn't have a drivers license until I was 15, so I didn't get to go "into town" much, which involved driving the 20 or so miles into Hartford and Beaver Dam in one direction or 20 minutes to Owensboro (the metropolis) in the other direction. Consequently, most of the people I was hanging around with lived within a mile or two of my house. We'd walk or bike to visit, depending on how energetic either of us was feeling. Often, we'd meet at the little, tiny, one room country story that was about 1/4 mile toward Hartford from my house, get our Dr Pepper in a nice glass bottle from the big red Coca Cola cooler with the bottle opener built into the side, grab some cheese crackers with peanut butter and be ready for our day. The drinks were 27 cents if you had a bottle deposit and the crackers were 15 cents (plus tax). The widow lady who owned the store, Mrs. Ethel Bartlett, was a town fixture. She lived in the back of the store with her mother, Mrs. Dawson, who was blind and sat in the store in Her Chair to chat with the people who came in. That store is now someone's house, Mrs. Dawson and Mrs. Bartlett long dead. God, I'm in the middle of a righteous nostalgia attack, so bear with me.
I had three great friends in the area. I had other friends at school (my dear pal, Charlene Greer, who went to PR school with me, but lived too far away to visit, my sweet friend Ava who just died last October - a story in and of itself, Paula Phelps, and the incomparable Sandy Martin - my first real step into the world of intellectual humor), but seldom got to see them outside of school. Kim and Vickie Stewart (who were grandnieces to the Widow Bartlett) lived across from the country store and Susie Dame lived up the hill from me (and *I* lived on a hill to start with). My house was on a smaller hill on Highway 231, which runs north and south and her hill was up a long dirt road that ran east. Susie was about 3 years older than I was, so I was grateful that she'd hang out with me. Her mother was a musical genius and played any instrument she picked up and examined for longer than 5 minutes. She was also an incredible painter. Her father was a watermelon farmer. It was through him that I learned to pick a decent melon (always check for a good "lay mark" where the melon was on the ground for a while...should be yellowish and look a little dirty, THEN you go for the hollow sound by thumping - making sure you are supporting with watermelon on your finger tips rather than palming it - with the flats of your big three fingers rather than with your knuckles - it's a science). Susie's mom is named Adrian, but everyone called her Butch. Every year on Halloween, Butch would make a batch of the most incredible sorghum molasses popcorn balls you ever could hope to put in your mouth. Halloween is Butch's birthday, so it was a special day for me even when I was just a little tiny witch. Woody, Susie's dad, was very gruff, gregarious when he was drinking and, according to my father, "crazier than a shithouse rat." My dad loved Woody. He was about his only friend. I remember that he was blind in one eye (or was it a glass eye? I don't recall - this would be Woody, not my dad) and yelled a lot. The family lived off of Woody's watermelon harvest takings (he'd load up the back of the pickup with melons and go to town, sitting on the side of the road and selling them for $2 each...they were wonderful) and what the kids made helping people work in the tobacco fields. Tobacco and coal mines were the two main industries in my area when we were growing up. They seldom had two extra dimes to run together (neither did we), but they lived in a house that Woody built from spare lumber he dredged up. The house was really big and open and most of the bedrooms were lofts. It was a great, lumbering (pun intended) monstrosity and I thought it was the most wonderful place on earth. Susie's was, to my memory, the only bedroom that was downstairs and had a real room feel to it.
Anyway, I told you all that to tell you the next part, which is the spooky part of the story. From the above, being a self-gratifying walk through the past for me and a mood setting operation for you, you should have distilled the following for use in the next part of the story: 1) We lived in a small town 2) Woody Dame was my best friend's dad and my dad's best friend who tended toward the loud and expressive nature 3) The Dames lived on a lonely, tiny, spooky little back road that basically served as their driveway to the tune of about 2 miles of driveway...single lane, no one traveling it or even finding it who wasn't on the express mission of visiting or leaving from visiting The Dames. Susie has two brothers, Steve and Mark, but for the purposes of this story, that is irrelevant. 4) Mrs Bartlett ran the little store that was the hub of the community and rested about 1/4 mile south of my house.
So here we go, you equipped with all the info you need to enter the story with a background working knowledge and me immersed in the past and ready to tell the tale.
One night, we were sitting at home (Most nights we were sitting at home. We weren't much on leaving home), Dad on his CB (a Siltronix 1011C of which he was most proud, almost as proud as he was of the PDL2 quad beams that broadcast his words to the sideband world and why I still know THAT 30 years later is a mystery - HA! Let's continue!. His nonsideband call letters were KSH4678 and his handle was "Cadillac Man" for the time when he only had a mobile unit and some trucker called a "breaker" for that "guy in the Japanese Cadillac," which was his racist nomenclature for our bright orange AMC Gremlin. I was "Kentucky Sunshine," but we won't talk about that) and my brothers and I watching some long lost show on one of the 4 networks (ABC, CBS, PBS or NBC was it - we didn't know cable or satellite dishes would ever exist). Suddenly, there was a loud banging on the front door. I was just recently explaining to my husband what to him was unthinkable. In my day and in my hometown, one never considered calling anyone before they visited. Unless a birthday dinner (which would have been a "supper" since we ate "breakfast, dinner and supper" for our three meals - lunch being some ambiguous meal eaten by people on TV - I always wondered growing up why when people went out to "dinner," it was dark outside and submitted for consideration and validation is the fact that when people eat Christmas or Thanksgiving "dinner," it's usually in the day, so there) or something requiring massive planning was being orchestrated, gatherings were seldom, if ever, planned or expected. So the door banging itself wasn't unheard of, just it's intensity.
When I opened the door, Woody pushed by me like a mack truck and asked, "Where's your daddy, girl?" I called Dad and he pulled out of the back room and he and Woody went to the kitchen table to talk and the boys and I went to the door to listen. : > Woody was white as a sheet. Then we got to hear his story which began with:
"Shit, Holy Shit, Guy (my Dad's name), I just killed some lady and her kid."
It seems that Woody was coming back from a day of selling watermelons in town and had done fairly well for himself. He was barreling the pickup up his driveway, going pretty fast because no one is ever on that road and he was eager to get home from a day in the sun. As he came flying over one hill just in time to see a woman and a little child of about 4-5 walk right out in front of his truck. He slammed the brakes hard, but felt the sickening thump of their bodies hitting the cow catcher in front. Badly shaken, he got out to check and there was nothing there. He looked for the better part of a half hour, trying to figure out what had happened. It was dusk, but he had his headlights on. He'd seen them clearly step right out in front of the truck at the last second, felt them hit the grille. But there was no mark on the truck, no bodies, not even a break in the tall grass between the trees and bushes to the sides of the dirt road.
Dad suggested to Woody that maybe a deer had jumped in front of him, been wounded and lit out through the woods after it was hit. This was one of the very few times my dad made absolute sense. Deer were very common in the area, especially back in the woods toward Woody's house. Woody was not convinced...loudly not convinced.
"If I'd hit f**king deer it would have wrecked my f**king truck as fast as I was going and as hard as I hit and I SAW a goddamned woman and kid!!"
Dad finally managed to get Woody calmed down and suggested that he head on home to Butch to see what she thought about it. He told Woody that if he'd killed somebody, they would have been around and there was nobody there. Woody allowed there was no way he was driving that road again by himself, so dad said he'd follow behind Woody in his own truck and make sure he got home OK. Dad was gone for about an hour, so we figured he'd stayed to have coffee with Woody and Butch (Dad was never a drinker). When he came in, HE was white as a sheet and couldn't speak well. He told mom and me (the boys were in bed by then - being 5 & 7 years younger than I) that he'd followed Woody up to the place where Woody said it happened. He got out of the truck and looked around, but Woody refused to get out of his truck. Dad looked around and saw absolutely nothing. There wasn't a drop of blood, no sign of anything or anyone romping from the road into the woods...nothing. He took Woody on home, sat for a few minutes while he told Butch and then came on back. When he got to the spot where it happened, sure enough, a woman and little boy walked right out in front of his truck. He was able to see her scream in the headlights, but didn't hear anything. He slammed his brakes, backed up (for to hit her again, I guess...my dad...he was special) and sat in the truck...looking...trying to breathe...trying to think. He had seen the woman clearly and also seen the child for a split second before they hit. He felt them hit hard but didn't hear her scream...just saw her eyes widen and her mouth open in a scream. He drove home.
A week or two later, I rode my bike down the hill to Bartlett's grocery to get a DP and talk to Mrs Dawson. As I started to pedal back up the hill to my house, I could see, maybe 200 feet ahead of me, a woman holding the hand of a little boy, walking with her back to me. She was wearing a black dress and he had on short pants and a t-shirt. Three things were odd about the situation. One was that I didn't recognize them. The other was that the distance between me and them did not ever decrease, even though I was biking and they were walking in 4-5-year-old steps. The last thing was that I lost sight of them for just a few minutes until I rounded the hill and when I did, they were gone. The only thing on that hill is my house and about 1/8 of a mile from my house, the driveway to Susie's house. There's a shallow ditch on each side. There was nowhere they could have gone.
There were several other sightings of this odd pair that spring and summer. Sometimes at night, sometimes in the day. I never heard of anyone but my dad and Woody ever running them over and before the night Woody saw them, I never heard anyone ever mention them. I don't think they ever showed up again after that year. The clothing I saw on them was indistinct as to any time period. They weren't quite close enough for me to gauge the details and I was only seeing them from the back. They were out of my view for maybe 10 seconds at the very most.
Some could say that Woody was a little too deep in the cups that day, but I saw him and I knew that he wasn't drinking. Some could say that he was given to exaggeration and a great storyteller, but the terror I saw on his face that night was very real. Some could say he was a crazy guy who'd spent his day in the hot sun peddling watermelons to feed his family. However, my dad had not. It's one of the mysteries of The Ridge, I guess, but it's graveyard true.