A Mother's Love Defies Death


Today wraps up my October series of spooky posts. It seems appropriate to end with my favorite mountain ghost story. The tale comes to us by way of Blind Pig Reader Ethelene Dyer Jones.



(A Mountain Story)

by Ethelene Dyer Jones

This morning is cloudy and dark. The overcast sky puts me in mind of days in the mountains in my childhood when the clouds hung low and fog rose like a giant shroud hiding the majestic peaks that stood like sentinels over Choestoe Valley.

Then I thought of the tradition of mountain storytelling, and how we were entertained as children by hearing stories that had been passed from generation to generation by our Scots-Irish forebears. My favorite storytellers from my childhood were my first cousin, much older than I, my mother’s nephew, Earl Hood and his wife Allie Winn Hood. This delightful couple had no children of their own, but they seemed to be very pleased when Earl’s nephew and nieces and his young cousins went to spend the night. With no electricity then in that mountain home and the only heat being from an open fireplace, we settled down to a wonderful night of entertainment provided by master storytellers, Earl and Allie Hood.

The recipients of this rich legacy of mountain tales, many of them about ghosts and haints, were Little Ed and Bertha Hood Dyer’s children, our cousins Wilma, Genelle, Harold and Sarah Ruth, and my younger brother, Bluford Dyer and I, Ethelene. We all got permission in advance to go to Allie’s and Earl’s to spend the night on certain Friday nights, and walked the distance from Choestoe Elementary School to their house. It must have been more than three miles, but the anticipation of what we would enjoy once we arrived made us skip along, laughing and talking all the while, with the boys, Harold and Bluford, outstripping the girls and arriving first, boasting that they were stronger than we girls.

After the evening chores of milking and feeding and getting in the wood were finished, Allie served us a wonderful meal of hot cornbread, vegetables and country-cured ham, topped off by dried apple stack cake. We quickly washed the dishes and then settled down for an evening’s entertainment, the likes of which has never been surpassed, even with the advent of television years later.

One ghost tale I remember them telling—and they had a way of making us “see” the scene they laid out before us with their words---was one about a mother’s love for her baby. Allie would warn us that we should not try to match the names in the stories to people, living or dead. This had happened so long ago it would be hard to remember them exactly. The story went something like this:

Years ago, when sawmillers first came to our mountains to cut down the virgin trees and saw them into lumber, there lived far up near Round Top Mountain, a couple named Sexton, Eliza and John. They loved each other dearly. And in the course of time, Eliza had a beautiful baby girl whom they named after her mother but called her Liza. The midwife or “Granny Woman” named Mary had attended little Liza’s birth. Things were going along well until two days after Liza’s birth her mother came down with a raging fever. Granny Woman Mary administered her herbal remedies, but none had any effect on the fever. Eliza grew worse.

John told Granny Mary that he was going to Blairsville, some fourteen miles from his home, to get the doctor. He took off down the rutted mountain road, made worse by the snaking out of the saw logs and the rough treatment from big trucks, just then coming into the mountains, hauling out the sawed lumber. John finally arrived in town in his buggy drawn by his horse. But the doctor was out on a call delivering a baby and was not expected back until the next day. John decided to stay in town and wait for the doctor, because he would have to take the doctor in his buggy back up to his cabin on Round Top. John didn’t get much sleep that night, trying to rest in his buggy. Fortunately, he had brought along a blanket to protect himself from the night’s cold. All he could think about was how sick Eliza was, and even how still the newborn baby seemed in the large basket that was her crib.

About daybreak the doctor came back from his all-night call, tired and sleepy. But he agreed to go with John to examine Eliza and little Liza. After a hot breakfast and coffee which the good doctor’s wife prepared for her husband and for John, the two men got into John’s buggy and took off at a lope, as John urged the horse to a trot.

Finally they arrived at the John Sexton home. Granny Woman Mary met them on the porch. “I’m afraid you’re too late,” she said. “Both Eliza and little Liza died during the night.” John, gripped with deep grief, went inside his cabin where he saw his beautiful Eliza and the little baby laid out for burying. How could this have happened? If only the doctor had been at home, maybe his wife and child could have been saved.

The doctor and Granny Woman Mary tried to console John. Neighbors came, and made a casket. They placed the bodies together in the homemade casket, the baby in Eliza’s arms.  They were buried in the cemetery near the little log church called Salem. John, so devastated, did not want his neighbors’ sympathy or their food which they always took with loving concern to the household that had experienced death. John latched his cabin door and told his neighbors he would have to bear his burden of grief alone.

The next morning John’s neighbor, James Collins, went to his barn before daylight to milk his cows. Times were hard in those days, and there were always people on the road dropping by farmhouses and barns to beg for food. James realized someone was in the barn with him. He turned and saw a woman, dressed in black, the sort of finer dress like the women in the community wore to church. She sat a tin cup down on a bale of hay. James knew she wanted it full of milk, so he took the cup and soon filled it with warm rich milk. The woman nodded her thanks but did not say a word. The next morning and the next, the same woman visited James as he was milking, begging with her cup. On the fourth morning, James decided he would follow the woman who would not give him her name. Maybe he could find out where she lived.

He saw her dark form disappear into the woods, but, running, he was able to follow her to the cemetery. Then it was just as though she disappeared into one of the newly heaped graves. This frightened James, but he knew he must do something.

James quickly returned home, got his shovel and ran to his nearest neighbor’s house. He told Lish Hunter what he had seen. “Get your shovel,” James said, “and come with me.” Lish wondered what had come over his neighbor James Collins, but he grabbed his shovel and the two men went in that early, foggy morning to Old Salem Church Cemetery. There they began to dig into the newly-formed grave. Getting down to the casket, they gingerly removed the lid, and there was the woman James had seen four mornings in a row at his barn, rigid and cold in death. There was the cup in her hand. And lying on her breast, gurgling but weak, was a beautiful baby girl, still alive, still breathing.

Then they removed the baby, and covered the grave. They went to John Sexton’s home. The door was still barred with the grieving husband and father inside. “Open  up,” James ordered. “We have a gift for you. Here is little Liza, alive and well.”

John could not believe his eyes or the story James told him about the baby’s rescue. What rejoicing he had as the baby, safe in his arms, began to cry. “Come down to my barn and I’ll give you some milk for the baby,” Jim Collins told John. And he did. Nevermore did James Collins see the woman in a black dress with the tin cup come to his barn begging milk. But you can be assured that he remembered it the rest of his life, and told the story again and again.

Little Liza grew up to be a beautiful young lady. Her daddy, John, married again and had more children. But Liza always held a special place in his heart because she was the miracle baby, his first-born rescued from the grave by his neighbors James and Lish.

“Is that true?” we kids asked Allie and Earl. They only smiled and told us it was time for bed. But every time we climbed the hill to Old Salem Cemetery, we looked at the grave marked with a fieldstone, with no names readable on it. We always remembered the story told to us by Allie and Earl, and wondered about the mother who loved her baby so much she would return from the grave to get warm milk to keep little Liza alive. And as we milked our own cows early on foggy mornings, we were always aware that if a woman with a cup appeared, we were to fill it promptly with warm milk. I think we were a little disappointed that no woman ever came to our barn for us to do this service of love and mercy.


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene's story as much as I did! 


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • Saturday November 12, 2016 @ TBA - Brasstown Community Center Brasstown, NC
  • Saturday November 19, 2016 @ 1:30 p.m. - Marble Elementary Fall Festival Marble, NC

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Knoxville Girl

Knoxville girl - the tradition of music in appalachia

When I hear someone talking about the many murder ballads of Appalachia, Knoxville Girl is always the one that comes to my mind. I can't really remember who I heard sing the song first. It might have been The Louvin Brothers or it might have been Pap.

The song has a long history and may have originated as far back as the 1600s. Over the years it has morphed this way and that changing the name of the town to fit the place and time period to fit its new abode. 

I was going to share details about the song's history, but I found someone had already written it better than I could. Go here to read the history of Knoxville Girl and then come back to hear Pap and Paul sing it.  


Definetely not a song for the faint of heart. But as I told you a few weeks ago, the sheer number of murder ballads and the longevity of them, show I'm not alone in my love of the songs.

I'm not sure if I like the songs because of a feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I", morbid fascination with death, or the satisfaction of knowing the troubles I have in my life seem minor compared to the story told in the song. Maybe it's because while I'm listening I can vicariously live out a range of emotions-fear, outrage, despair, and then when the song is over I get to go back to the sunshine.

I've had several folks tell me their mother sang Knoxville Girl to them when they were just a child. Seems like a strange song for a lullaby, but I'd guess the song had been sung to the mother when she was a child and she was just passing along the tradition of the song-never giving a thought to the subject matter it contained. 

A boy I grew up with would always ask for Knoxville Girl to be played if a group of folks were sitting around jamming. If he got the group to do the song he'd sit and cry like a baby. He said he loved the song because his grandparents sung it to him when he was little. 


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Me and Rice's Mill and Some Cats

Today's guestpost was written by David Templeton.

Ghost story about a gristmill in appalachia
Me and Rice's Mill and Some Cats by David Templeton

It's with no small amount of chagrin that I see others claiming my story for their own. First, such claims, over the years, have tended to lessen my experience upon the ears of those who heard my story and at once had heard other claims, claims I assure you are lies. Mine was a singular nightmare, except for what had happened to those poor souls no longer in this world and can't tell their tale. Secondly, the nightmarish thing that happened to me, recounted by someone else as their own could then be disregarded as folklore and merely an amusement. Amusing, I assure you, is not a word that fits what I saw.

Near the little village of Church Hill, in Hawkins County, Tennessee, stood a grist mill owned and operated by a Mr. Rice. Rice's Mill had ground corn and made meal for the area for many years and had been passed down through the generations.

When I was fifteen Daddy had lost his job of work at Eastman to mechanization and couldn't find good work because of he had a withered arm. We were left awful poor.

I determined that I would have to go off and try to find work, as it was summer and school was out and my younger brother could chop the wood and help keep the place up while I was gone. Before I set out, Daddy gave me his pocket knife, says "Now, David, you take this. Hit's got regular blades and hit's got a kinduva little fork and hit's got this here silver blade that's for skinning and cuttin' up meat and cooking and all such stuff as that." And, I lit out on down the road.

I went all up and down the road asking store owners and shops could they put me to work. Things had been okay during the war but then the defense plant idled down and not much money was coming into the area and nobody could hire me so I went on down the road.

And I went on and I went on and it commenced a getting dark and I finally came upon Rice's Mill. As the mill stood a way down the road from where we lived, nearly down to Surgoinsville, I never had been to the mill and the only time Daddy went there was when he needed a turn of corn milled, which was only a few times a year. The last storeowner I talked to about a job of work told me that he had heard that Mr. Rice couldn't seem to keep a helper very long and I might try down there.

When I got down there it was late in the day and I got out by Ol' Man Rice's house and hollered "Hellooooo...! and he came out with a lantern in his hand and said what did I want and I asked him was he Mr. Rice and he said he was and I told him my name and that I had come down from Church Hill as I had heard he might find a job of work in his mill for me.

He said he could shore use me if I wasn't afraid to take the job because the last three fellers he had hired to run the mill for him had each been killed during their first night staying at the mill and it looked like each one might have been poisoned someway. Said if I could overcome all that hex and make a go at running the mill that he would make me half owner as he was too old to run it anymore and had no more family to leave it to.

I said could I see the place and look over the mill and he took me down to the mill and I looked it over and he showed me how to turn the water to the wheel and start the stones a'runnin' and turn the corn into the millstones and the milling room was all fixed up with a place to sleep and there was a big fireplace and skillets and all and there were twelve small open windows spaced evenly around the room and about ten feet off the floor and with good air the dust from the mill would draw on out those windows and I said I think I might just take the job.

Well, Mr. Rice took me on back up to his house and he gave me some cornmeal and some bacon and other victuals and said he didn't know where his ol' lady had got off to but I could meet her tomorrow. And I went on back to the mill and started me a fire and commenced a'cookin' me some bacon and frying me some fried cornbread.

Hit was a moonbright night and light was coming in those windows and I went on making me some supper and all at once seemed like things got kind of dim and I looked up and there was black cats settin' single in each one of those little windows; twelve black cats, each glowing yellow eyes and flicking their tails, you know, like cats'll do when they're agitated.

And, I went on cooking and dreckly this one big old black cat jumped down out of her window perch and came over to where I was cooking and she sat there a minute or two and then she hesitatingly reached out and started to reach her right paw into my skillet, see could she grab my bacon and she said "Have it!" That's what it sounded like ... "Have it!. I was cooking with my pocket knife's silver blade and I drew back with my knife and I said "You git!" and she recoiled and flicked her tail and them other eleven cats kinda wharrrred real loud and agitated about and purty soon here come the cat again and she reached out her right paw fast this time and yelled "Have it!!" and I knocked her away and I said "Yore gonna think "Have it!! You reach in my pan again and you won't have a right paw. I'll dang sure chop it off!!"

I went on cookin and just about forgot about her and here she come back and stuck her paw right in my skillet and yelled "Have it!!!" and in a flash, without even thinking, I come down on her paw with that silver blade and cut it clum off. She ran and jumped up and out her window and the other eleven cats jumped out and all were soon gone.

I forked her paw out of my skillet and wrapped it up in a rag and put it aside and took my skillet out to the millrun and washed it out over and over with sand and fresh water till I knew it was perfectly clean, washed my knife clean, went back in and made a new supper and ate that and went to bed and to sleep and got up early in the morning and got the mill a'runnin.

And, as I was a-stirrrin' around I accidently knocked that rag off in the floor and instead of a cat's paw falling out, out fell this hand ... a right hand ... a woman's right hand ... wrinkled... long fingernails ... wearing a ring ... bloody.

Without touching it, I took a stick and put the hand in a old flour sack, turned the flume water away from the wheel and switched the driving gear out, left the mill idlin' and set out to Ol' Man Rice's house with the sack.

Got up there, showed Mr. Rice the hand and told him all had happened by my fire and how I chopped off that old black cat's paw and about that chopped-off cat's paw a-turnin' into a old woman's hand.

Mr. Rice took one look at the hand, said, "Well, I'll bedad! This is just about what I been suspectin'. David, my old woman is still in bed, won't get up. Says she's feelin' poorly. Wanted me to send for these eleven women from around the area, to come and be with her and I've got them all a'comin' here. You come on in the bedroom with me, I think we can get to the bottom of all this." Went in, said, "Old Woman, this here's David and he's going to be runnin' the mill."

About then all them other eleven women came in and gathered around her bed and she stayed all under the covers. They all acted real concerned and nervous. Mr. Rice said, "Old Woman, stick out your right hand, I want to see it." She scrouged all around, stuck out a hand but it was her left hand. He said, "I told you to stick out your right hand!" She wiggled all around under the cover, shifting around, then stuck out the left hand again. Mr. Rice shouted, "I told you yore RIGHT HAND!! and with that, he grabbed the covers off her, grabbed up her right arm and hit was all bloody at the wrist and her right hand had been cut off.

Before any of them could move, Mr. Rice grabbed me, pulled me out the door, locked the door tight on his ol' lady and them eleven others, and threw coal oil on the house and set it on fire with those twelve hags inside and you never heard such meowing and screeching and clawing. Burnt them all up.

Said, "David, when I saw that hand with that ring on it and knowing what me and the village has been suspecting, I realized my wife had been headin' up a big coven of witches. If you hadn't had that silver blade to chop off that paw, she would have just growed that paw back on. It takes silver blades or silver bullets to stop a witch."

On hearing the story from Mr. Rice, folks around there were real pleased that those witches had been destroyed. Things got a lot better and the mill got real busy and my little brother would come to see me and I would send money back home and my portions of cornmeal from when people couldn't pay except to barter. Mr. Rice built him a new house. Lived on till one day he went to his final reward. Left me everything.

Many years later, I sold it all; did okay.

The old mill is still there, back in the weeds and overgrowth and all fallen down. A historical marker stands out on US 11W. It doesn't mention the history of witches down there.


I hope you enjoyed David's spooky story as much as I did! If you'd like to read a good mystery about an old grist mill go here for the details. 

At 3:00 p.m. today The Pressley Girls  will be performing at the Martins Creek Community Center. The event is a benefit for Sharon Chastain Roberson. Sharon is a long time friend of our family and has been through a rough time over the last year-enduring cancer and the sudden death of her husband Tim. The benefit starts at 2:00 p.m. and will have music, a silent-auction, a regular auction, and a poor man's supper. If you live in the area we'd love to see you at the community center. Sharon's father, LC, was Pap's best friend and was the first person I ever interviewed for the Blind Pig and The Acorn. He died a little over a year before Pap. The night before Pap died LC visited me in a dream, but that's a story for another day. If you'd like to read my interview with LC go here


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • TODAY-Saturday October 29, 2016 @ 3:00 p.m. Martins Creek Community Center -Benefit for Sharon Chastain Roberson
  • Saturday November 12, 2016 @ TBA - Brasstown Community Center Brasstown, NC
  • Saturday November 19, 2016 @ 1:30 p.m. - Marble Elementary Fall Festival Marble, NC

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The Mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights

A few weeks ago Blind Pig Reader Will left this comment:

"This was a great article and I just love some of these old 'Spooky Tales' as it be, and I get reminded of a song, not sure of the originator of who wrote it but I have always liked the song, and I think it was about  a mountain in North Carolina, the version that I am familiar with was by Bluegrass singer Charlie Moore, and the song was titled I think 'The Brown Mountain Light', Maybe some of you folks could let me know if you have heard of the song, or know it's origin, I would greatly appreciate it, Thanks, Will."

I'm most familar with the song about the Brown Mountain Lights. The lyrics explain the lights are from a lonely old slave who comes back from his grave searching for his master by lantern light. Here is a short video about the mysterious lights. 

Now that you know the story behind the legend you need to hear the song-here it is:

Have you ever heard of the Brown Mountain Lights?


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • Saturday October 29, 2016 @ 3:00 p.m. Martins Creek Community Center -Benefit for Sharon Chastain Roberson
  • Saturday November 12, 2016 @ TBA - Brasstown Community Center Brasstown, NC
  • Saturday November 19, 2016 @ 1:30 p.m. - Marble Elementary Fall Festival Marble, NC

Subscribe to Blind Pig And The Acorn by Email

Death Superstitions and Traditions in Appalachia

      Death superstitions in appalachia

Like many people, I like to walk around old graveyards reading headstones and wondering about the folks who lie beneath them as I go. Customs surrounding death have drastically changed over the last 60 years here in the mountains. But there are a few of the old traditions and superstitions that are still being upheld, at least for now. 

When Pap was a boy one of the first things to happen after someone died, was the tolling of the bell.

The church bell was rung to notify the community someone had died. Traditionally each ring represented a year the deceased person had lived. Ringing out the years of life helped folks figure out who had passed away.

In some areas folks who lived too far away to hear the bell were notified by a letter sealed in an envelope that was edged in black.

With no funeral homes, the deceased were kept at home until burial. Neighbors, friends, and family with food in hand would gather at the home to comfort the grieving family in much the same way that they do today.

Close friends and family would stay all night- sitting up with the dead. This may be the most well known tradition since it was made famous by Ray Stevens and his funny song.

In my lifetime several of Granny's family members lain in state at Granny Gazzie's house instead of at the local funeral home. In fact, Granny Gazzie was one of them. During her death and the deaths of my aunt and uncles I never thought it odd that their visitation service was held at home instead of in town at the funeral home. I wasn't one of the folks who set up all night with the loved ones, but there were others in the family who did.

In days gone by folks pitched in to help when someone died. They prepared the body, dug the grave, and made the casket. One of The Deer Hunter's friends lost an uncle last year and the men in the family built the casket themselves. He told me staying up all night with the other family members and working on the casket that they would lay their beloved uncle, brother, father, and friend in to rest was of the most meaningful things he had ever taken part in during his life.

Filling in the grave once the deceased was buried was reserved for close friends. 

There are tons of Appalachian Superstitions surrounding death and its omens. I've joked that it seems like pretty much everything portends death in Appalachia. Here's a few superstitions that come quickly to mind:

  • If a bird flies in the house someone will die
  • If a picture falls off the wall someone will die (How crazy is this one!)
  • If you hear a screech owl at dusk someone will soon die
  • Death comes in 3s (This one is still alive and well in southern Appalachia and I believe it myself.)
  • Mirrors must be covered after a death in the house or whoever looks into one and sees their reflection will die
  • Howling dogs in the night signify death (I've lived near coon-dogs my entire life and let me tell you everyone in Brasstown would be dead by now!)
  • If you dream of birth it signifies death
  • When someone dies all the clocks in the home must be stopped to prevent another death
  • It is bad luck to walk on graves (I can remember being cautioned about this one as a child and I passed it on to my girls. Its actually a combination of respect for the dead and a fear of bad luck.)
  • Pregnant women should never look at a deceased person or it will mark the unborn child (When my Granny Gazzie died I was pregnant with the girls and I was warned over and over about this one.)
  • You must tell the bees if there is a death in the family or they will swarm
  • Bees carry the news of death
  • Never rock an empty rocking chair because it signifies death

Traffice pulls to side of the road out of respect for the funeral procession

Back in the summer I was reminded of a funeral tradition that I've always taken for granted. 

My sister-n-law Kim lost her Daddy, Robert, at the end of August. That means my nephews and niece lost both their Grandpaws in the space of a few months.

Robert and Pap were great friends. They went to Martins Creek School together as boys and had some great stories to tell about those days. They were both tickled to death when their families were joined together in marriage when my oldest brother Steve and Kim got married back in the day.

Robert and Pap remained close friends right up until their death. In fact, Robert ended up having the same hospice nurse as Pap did. Kim told me when Robert first met the nurse he told her all about his family and how proud of them he was. When he mentioned having two grandsons who had received full ride scholarships to Yale the nurse commented that kids around here must be really smart because she had another patient with two grandsons going to Yale on full scholarship. Robert took extra delight in saying "If you're talking about Jerry Wilson then it's the same grandsons."

Pap was buried at the church where his funeral was held so there was no procession of cars driving to the cemetery, there was only the walk across the road to the plot under the old oak trees. Robert's funeral service was held at a funeral home in Blairsville GA and he was laid to rest back over the NC state line in the community of Bellview beside his lovely wife Evelyn and their beloved daughter Robby and son Keith.

As we drove the distance between the funeral home and the graveside service my heart was brightened by all the cars who pulled to the side of the busy road in respect for Robert and his loved ones.

Traffic stopping out of respect for the funeral procession is a death tradition in Appalachia that I hope never ever goes away.


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The Attic Visitor

Today's guestpost was written by Keith Jones.

Ghost story about lady in long dress

The Attic Visitor By Keith Jones (FaceBook/MountainStoryteller)

Robert Jiles was the most unimaginative man I ever met. He was unflappable, phlegmatic, and plainspoken. He was so literal-minded that when anyone’s answering machine message came over the phone, his first words were always, “Are you there? Are you there?”

Rob had a meticulous, unimaginative job—health inspector for the county. He did a thorough job, and local folks learned to check for his signature at the bottom of the health certificates in local eateries. It didn’t matter if the restaurant looked good. If he gave it less than a 90, you didn’t want to eat there. And even if it looked like a hole in the wall, if Rob had graded a ‘greasy spoon’ at 95 or above, you might not like the food, but it was safe to eat.

He was the last person you’d expect to encounter a ghost, much less admit to it.

Mr. Jiles had reached his mid-30s, and had settled into a quiet life. A bachelor who wouldn’t marry for a few years yet, he lived with his widowed mother in an old story-and-a-half frame house on a pioneer era road that had been bypassed by the four-lane running from Atlanta to Athens. As a boy, Rob and his older twin brothers Clayton and Coy shared a bedroom upstairs under the eaves. With the brothers having married and moved away, the bedroom was now Rob’s alone.

Strange things used to happen in that house. If Rob and his mother were having supper, they’d hear what sounded like footsteps in the guest bedroom upstairs, across the tiny hall from Rob’s room, and as far away from the kitchen table as it was possible to be in the house. Sometimes Rob would secure the front and back doors, peek into his Mom’s bedroom to see that she was asleep, and trudge up the narrow stairs to his bedroom, only to have either the front or back door bang open. “It’s the ghost, again!” his Mom would say sleepily. She’d also been raised in the house since her family moved there during her girlhood, and always claimed the old structure had a spectral resident.

“Mom, you know there’s no such thing as ghosts!” Rob would say. “Or maybe I just didn’t fasten the latch.” He’d throw off the covers that hadn’t yet had a chance to warm up at all, clomp back down the stairs, fasten the latch securely, and stomp back up the stairs. Usually that took care of things, but one stormy night he had to climb the stairs to refasten the back latch, only to awaken an hour later to the sounds of howling wind and rain blowing across the front porch and into the now-open front door.

“Robbie, it’s the ghost for sure!” called his mother.

“Just a bad storm, Mom. Just the wind. You know this old house creaks and sways in the wind. It’s a wonder it doesn’t fall down.”

It was an ongoing, semi-nagging argument between the mother and son. One of those things you kind of get used to talking about over and over. Mrs. Jiles stubbornly argued for the ghost, and Robert argued twice as stubbornly against it.

“Don’t you remember when you, Clayton, and Coy went through that cubbyhole in your bedroom wall into the attic over the kitchen? You know y’all found old rags with rusty brown stains, and that old bloodstained quilt, and that broken Navy colt pistol. Why won’t you admit there’s a ghost in this house?”

“Mom, I know all about that stuff in the attic. You remember I took it to my history prof at UGA, and he told me there was a cavalry skirmish right out the road from us. Probably the Union or Confederates used our house for a hospital. There were several wounded in that little battle. That doesn’t mean there’s anything such as a ghost!”

The disagreement went on and on, neither mother nor son giving an inch.

One bright fall afternoon, Robert had a particularly hard day, but managed to finish an hour early. He got home to an empty house, because it was his Mom’s day to attend the women’s group at church. Hanging his jacket on the peg at the foot of the stairs, Rob climbed the steps to his bedroom, anticipating a quick afternoon nap.

As he opened the door, to his surprise a young man in raggedy gray and khaki clothes was standing by his bed, right in front of the room’s only window. His back was to Rob, and he was looking longingly out the window.

Shocked to find someone standing so boldly in his own personal space, Robert blurted out, “What do YOU want?!?”

Slowly the young man turned. His face was smudged with black at the corner of his mouth, and there was a scrape along his right cheekbone. Robert noticed for the first time not only how ragged the clothes were, but that the pants were held up by a length of rope, and both the pants and jacket seemed too big. The young man was even younger than Rob had first thought, perhaps only a young teenager.

“I just want to go home,” said the figure by the window.

Still filled with surprise and consternation, Robert Jiles said the first thing that came into his unimaginative head: “Well, go home, then!”

“The thing you’ve got to understand,” Robert told me some years later, “the thing that’s really hard for me to believe to this day, is that up to that moment, the young fellow was just as solid as you or me. He was nothing like the white sheets you see at Halloween or some spirit you can see through. It was just a person standing there. I thought he was maybe a burglar. But when I told him to go home, his eyebrows went up… and he smiled a little wistful half-smile… and then he faded away right where he stood, in maybe five or ten seconds. And from then to now, there’s been no strange footsteps at our house, and the doors stay shut when we close them.”


I hope you enjoyed Keith's spooky tale as much as I did! If I couldn't go home I might take to haunting people or at least take to making a lot of racket to show my frustration and despair. 

Blind Pig Reader Eva Nell Mull Wike will be sharing a presentation for authors at the Pulic Library in Andrews NC this Friday October 28 from 1:00 p.m. - 4 p.m. She will have copies of her book Fiddle of the Mountains: Attuned to the Life and Times of Johnny Mull for sale as well. 


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • Thursday October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC
  • Saturday October 29, 2016 @ 3:00 p.m. Martins Creek Community Center -Benefit for Sharon Chastain Roberson
  • Saturday November 12, 2016 @ TBA - Brasstown Community Center Brasstown, NC
  • Saturday November 19, 2016 @ 1:30 p.m. - Marble Elementary Fall Festival Marble, NC

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Halloween Rhyme from Appalachia

Mommy Goose Rhymes from the Mountains by Mike Norris

HALLOWEEN RHYME written by Mike Norris

Billy stuffed the witch’s mailbox with hay,
And threw rocks at her cat.
Then he laughed and ran away.
He ought not to’ve done such as that.

In the night he dreamed an awful dream,
That his feet got sealed up in a coal seam.
Then the witch came whispering in his ear:

“This is what happens if it happens twice, dear.
You’ll catch measles on top of mumps,
And sleep locked up in a army trunk.
I’ll make your little dog disappear,
And coat your tongue with boils and blisters.
I’ll trim your ears with pinking shears,
And you’ll go to live with my twin sister.”

Billy woke up a brand new boy.
He said “please” and “thank you” and shared his toys.
Later, in the yearbook, his eyes looked glazed.
The teacher wrote, “Nervous, but well behaved.”


I hope you enjoyed Mike's Halloween Rhyme as much as I did! And if you did-then you must check out Mike's book Rhymes from the Mountains.

Although the Halloween Rhyme isn't in the book, it is chock full of wonderful original rhymes which feature our colorful vibrant Appalachian Language. To find our more about Mike go here


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Do you like Deviled Ham?

Deviled Ham

Do you like deviled ham? I do. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like it's a food that is shunned by most of society. Eating a deviled ham sandwich with fresh soft light bread spread with mayonnaise washed down with a glass of sweet tea takes me straight back to childhood. 

Deviled Ham Sandwich tastes like home

While there are other brands of deviled ham, the Underwood Brand is the most popular. 

William Underwood's food business started in 1822 in Boston. In the beginning, Underwood used glass jars for his food stuffs, but once business picked up he was forced to start using cans because the local glass makers couldn't keep up with his glass jar needs.

Much of Underwood's success was due to the migration of people heading west, his canned goods were the perfect staple for them to pack for the trip. Once the Civil War started the government began to purchase Underwood products for soldiers in the field.

In 1868 Underwood's sons begin experimenting with ground ham. They added a variety of spices and once they achieved the taste they were pleased with, deviled ham was created.

Shortly afterwards the famous pitchfork toting devil trademark was created and the Underwood Company began using it on cans of deviled ham. Interesting tidbit about the trademark-it is said to be the oldest trademark still in use in the US. 

Deviled Ham and Mayo

Once I discovered the product dated to the late 1800s I asked Pap if he ever ate deviled ham as a child. He said he didn't remember eating deviled ham until he was an adult, probably in the early 1950s. 

I think us kids used to look at that red dancing devil on the wrapper and pretend we were really eating devil meat. But then again maybe that was just me pretending.

Deviled ham - yes or no?


*Source: http://www.underwoodspreads.com/

p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • Thursday October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC
  • Saturday November 12, 2016 @ TBA - Brasstown Community Center Brasstown, NC

  • Saturday November 19, 2016 @ 1:30 p.m. - Marble Elementary Fall Festival Marble, NC

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In the Pines

In the pines traditional murder ballad from appalachia

The Pressley Girls first learned the song In the Pines back in 2013. They've been doing the song ever since. Chatter and Chitter do the song in the same arrangement as The Louvin Brothers did-including imitating the mournful sound of the wind. 

The song is sometimes called Where did You Sleep last Night and is considered to be a murder ballad. In a 1994 the New York Times published an article about the song titled POP MUSIC; A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time written by Eric Weisbard

Weisbard wrote the article primarily to point out the oddity of Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana fame, recording the song as well as to highlight the longevity of the song itself. Here's an interesting excerpt from the article:

"Researching the song for a 1970 dissertation, Judith McCulloh found 160 different versions, a finding that raises the question: Why does a song like "In the Pines" endure and permutate so insistently? The answer may be that its essence is not a specific story or even a musical style but the kind of intensely dark emotion that, as is the case with much in American music, survives longer in popular memory than does treacly sentiment.

The song probably has its origins in the Southern Appalachians, where it is still passed on as part of an oral tradition. The mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb says a college friend from Georgia taught her a verse that she used as a chapter heading in her 1992 novel, "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter." As she demonstrated in a telephone conversation, she can also sing a very different "Mitchell County, N.C." version that includes a reference to the local Clenchfield railroad line.

Dolly Parton, who performs a version on her recent album "Heartsongs" says: "The song has been handed down through many generations of my family. I don't ever remember not hearing it and not singing it. Any time there were more than three or four songs to be sung, 'In the Pines' was one of them. It's easy to play, easy to sing, great harmonies and very emotional. The perfect song for simple people."

In the 1981 book "Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong," the music historian Norm Cohen notes that "In the Pines" has three frequent elements, not all of which always appear. There is the chorus "in the pines," a stanza about "the longest train I ever saw" and another verse in which someone is decapitated by a Train.

"The longest train" section probably began as a separate song, which merged with "In the Pines"; references in some renditions to "Joe Brown's coal mine" and "the Georgia line" may date its origins to Joseph Emerson Brown, a former Georgia governor, who operated coal mines in the 1870's. The earliest printed version was four lines and a melody compiled by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky in 1917. Another variant, mentioning the train accident, was recorded in 1925 by a folk collector onto cylinder, a precursor of the phonograph. The next year, commercial hillbilly recordings of "In the Pines" and "The Longest Train" began appearing.

How did Kurt Cobain discover "In the Pines"? Long before Nirvana's rise, he and Mark Lanegan, leader of the Seattle rock group Screaming Trees, formed a friendship around a mutual love of Leadbelly. Mr. Lanegan owned a copy of the original Musicraft 78 rpm of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" that Leadbelly recorded in 1944. "My father gave me the record when I was a kid," Mr. Lanegan says. "He was a schoolteacher, and he found in the attic of an old school a box of blues records." Mr. Lanegan and Mr. Cobain recorded an EP of Leadbelly tunes, but only "Where Did You Sleep" was released on Mr. Lanegan's 1990 album, "The Winding Sheet," with Mr. Cobain playing guitar.

Although Leadbelly is credited with authorship of "Where Did You Sleep" on "The Winding Sheet" and Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York," his own discovery of the song was almost as secondhand as that of the Seattle musicians. Alan Lomax, the folk music archivist and promoter, reported to Ms. McCulloh that Leadbelly learned parts of the song from someone who had taken it from the 1917 Sharp version and other parts from the 1925 cylinder recording.

For all its complicated history, the meaning of "In the Pines" may be even more blurry, a vast continuum of different varieties of misery and suffering. "This unique, moody, blues-style song from the Southern mountain country is like a bottomless treasure box of folk-song elements," wrote James Leisy in his 1966 book "The Folk Song Abecedary." "The deeper you dig, the more you find."

The basic elements of the song remain similar from version to version, but the context can be altered with a few words. It may be a husband, a wife or even a parent whose head is "found in the driver's wheel" and whose "body has never been found." Men, women and sometimes confused adolescents flee into the sordid pines, which serve as a metaphor for everything from sex to loneliness and death. The "longest" train can kill or give one's love the means to run away or leave an itinerant worker stranded far from his home.

In the bluegrass and country versions popularized by Mr. Monroe, the song's eerie qualities are rooted in the genre's "high lonesome" sound, with fiddles and yodeling harmonies used to evoke the cold wind blowing. Lyrics about beheading drop out, but the enigmatic train is almost as frightening, suggesting an eternal passage: "I asked my captain for the time of day/ He said he throwed his watch away."

In other versions, the focus is clearly, as the novelist Ms. McCrumb notes, on a confrontation: "There's a woman doing something not socially acceptable, and she's been caught at it." In one case, a husband demands: "Don't lie to me; where did you sleep last night?" In their traditional interpretation, the Kossoy Sisters begin: "Little girl, little girl, where'd you stay last night? Not even your mother knows." Despite all the variations of "In the Pines," these questions are almost never asked of a man. The woman may also be asked, "Where did you get that dress, and those shoes that are so fine?" and the answer is "from a man in the mines, who sleeps in the pines."

I found the article fascinating because even though I've heard the song my entire life, I've rarely heard the verses that talk about asking the Captain for the time of day and I've never heard the line about the head and the driver's wheel. McCulloh can add one more version to the 160 that her research turned up-The Pressley Girls version.

Lots of folks have a problem with changing the pronouns in a song to better fit their own gender. Chatter and Chitter see things differently. They say they need to feel like the song is about them for it to be part of their creative outlet so they always change the pronouns. In the case of the song In the Pines they're singing about a boy instead of a girl. 

I hope you enjoyed the video! To hear Leadbelly's version of the song Where did You Sleep Last Night go here.


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

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Ghosts at the River

Today's guestpost was written by Garland Davis.

Ghost at the River

Ghosts at the River written by Garland Davis

It happened on a clear night shortly before Halloween when I was a little boy. I think I was ten or eleven years old. I remember it well. It was the night the ghosts talked Grand Pap into whipping Uncle Buddy and me.

Seven or eight of my cousins, my brothers and I wanted to camp out overnight down by the river. Our parents said okay as long as Buddy stayed with us. Joe Davis Jr. (AKA Buddy) was four years old when I was born. He was more like an older cousin or brother than an uncle. Since buddy and I were the oldest kids, our folks gave us the responsibility of overseeing the activities along the river.

Our parents provided three or four packs of weenies, buns and mustard. We also had a box of graham crackers, marshmallows and a couple of Hershey bars each. We were set for a big night on the river.

It was between a quarter and half a mile to the area we had selected for a campground. Buddy had a large square of canvas that he and I pulled over a rope stretched between two trees and pegged the corners down, creating a tent like structure to sleep in. We each had a quilt to wrap up in.

We set up the camp, gathered stones for a fire ring, pulled up logs to sit on, laid in enough dry wood to keep the fire going all night and settled in for a memorable night. The fire was started, after a couple of arguments about the best way to do it. My cousin Tony, a Boy Scout, tried to start it by rubbing sticks together and got mad when someone else struck a match and set his sticks on fire. This almost started a fight until Uncle Buddy threatened them with bodily harm.

Once the fire was going and the sun was sinking low, we settled in for supper. Weenies were roasted, hot dogs were consumed and marshmallow and chocolate sandwiches were eaten as the mosquitos began snacking on us. Green leaves and water plants were thrown onto the fire to create smoke. I don’t know whether it bothered the mosquitos more than it did us. It did seem to help a bit with the skeeters.

At sunset, as the dusk settled, my little brother and my cousins began to hear things moving in the woods. There was talk of alligators, ghosts, haints and painters (country for haunts and panthers). Buddy and I added to their unrest by periodically exclaiming, “Did you hear that! What’s that noise?”

Buddy says, “I’ll bet it is the haint of Jim Westmoreland and his four boys that drownded in the river back a few years ago. I’ve heered it said that if’n you call out their names, they will come and set with you.”

We were all quiet. One cousin, began crying, saying, “Don’t call them. I’m scared. I don’t want to set with no haints,” as the wind shook the leaves in the trees. By this time, I think staying close to the fire and the dark was the only thing that kept them from running for home.

We all gathered closer to the fire, one cousin adding more wood. I said, “Don’t use up all the wood, it’ll get dark and they will come for sure.”

Buddy laughing, calls out in a loud voice, “Jim, Jim Westmoreland, Bob Westmoreland!”

I joined in calling, “Franklin, Junior, come sit with us.”

My youngest brother begins crying, screaming “I want to go home.”
Buddy and I are laughing. The others are caught between laughing or running. More wood was thrown on the fire. By this time, we had a veritable bon fire going.

“Ooooo, Jim, Bob, William, Franklin, and Junior Westmoreland come set with us. Oooo.” Buddy says laughing. The younger kids were crying and begging to go home.

I threw a stone into the river and yelled, “They’re coming, I hear them in the river!”

My youngest brother wet his pants. The other brother and he broke for the path toward home, both screaming bloody murder. The others took off behind them leaving Buddy and me. Laughing, we put the fire out and followed the path back up to Pap’s house.

Pap was on his way to feed his pigs as my brothers and a stream of cousins came screaming into the yard and house. Half of them had wet or messed their britches. They all had tears and snot running down their faces. Their mothers ran to comfort them while their dads were laughing saying, “They held out longer than I thought.”

It seems that a great flood of the river in the early nineteen hundreds had relocated the river from a point near Pap’s place to its present location. The Westmorelands had drowned just down from Pap’s hog pen. He had been feeding his pigs when Jim and his four boys appeared out of nowhere and told him. “Joe Davis, stop, them boys from calling us. I thanks they need a good hidin’.”

When Uncle Buddy and I got back to the house, Pap took his razor strop down and whipped our butts for disturbing the ghosts.


I hope you enjoyed Garland's story as much as I did. As a once backward skinny little girl who was sometimes aggravated to death by older cousins I find myself smiling that the ghost of Jim Westmoreland instructed Pap to whip the boys. 


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • TODAY-Saturday October 22, 2016 @ 2:00p.m. Cherokee County Fair Murphy, NC
  • Thursday October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC

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