LITTLE BOOTS

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Ghost stories and legends abound in America’s remote  mountain areas-like Little Switzerland, North Carolina, where I was born and raised. But I don’t  remember being  much affected by the fairy tales my grandfather used to tell  us around the big fireplace before bedtime. As a boy of six,  thoughts of ghosts were far from  my mind.

However, a  strange thing happened that year (1930), which to this day is still a mystery to me.  I had a playmate of my own age named  Jerry Palmer  who lived  nearby. We were inseparable through the long  summers, and when winter came we  had sleds our dads  had built for us.

Jerry’s father always had more money than  mine and Jerry always had better clothing and more store-brought toys. My father was a moonshiner and bootlegger.  Corn liquor  and brandy sold for 25 a pint or $ 1.50 a gallon-when he  could find a buyer who had that much money.  With a small and unsteady income, my father was hard put to support the family,  let alone  buy nice clothing and toys.

When winter came Jerry appeared in his  new  clothes,  wool pants, shiny little boots, and a  heavy corduroy coat.  I wore overalls, a denim  jacket, and somebody’s  nondescript  hand-me-down shoes. I don’t think I really  envied all  Jerry’s  advantages,  but I did take a shine to those  little  boots.

In November Jerry took sick and died  within  a few  days.  He had been an only child and his  grief-stricken parents  moved away, obviously to find a place where  they would  not be constantly reminded of their  little  boy.  They left  behind many  of Jerry’s  belongings. His death made me  sad and  lonely .

After  a few  weeks,  I thought that if  I visited the scene of our  many  contented hours together I might recapture some  of the  happiness  of  the past,  so one day I wandered down the path  through  the woods to Jerry’s  house.

I found the house open, and as any little  tad  would do,  I went in to  explore. In a cupboard near Jerry’s bed I  found the corduroy coat and  boots I had  admired. Childlike,  I carried them home with me.  I hung  the coat  on the  foot  of my bed and put  the boots underneath, impatiently   anticipating  the following  day,  when I  would wear  that warm  wonderful coat and those  shiny little boots.

When  bedtime came I looked again at my new  treasures and happily fell asleep. Sometime during  the night  I was  awakened by the  shaking  of my bed. Sometimes was moving  in my  room! I cowered under the  covers,  petrified  with fear. The bed stopped shaking and the room became silent as a  tomb.

Then I  heard the footsteps-were they Jerry’s   footsteps in his little  boots walking slowly toward  the door?  I also heard  a dragging  noise, like the little  coat brushing  along the floor. I couldn’t see a thing but the  sounds   continued  through the door  of my room, then silence .

Finally,  exhausted  by my  awful fright I went  back to sleep. In the morning I awakened slowly,  stretched, and snuggled   back for another nap when suddenly the night’s events flashed into my mind. I jumped up and looked  at the foot  of my bed.

The coat  was gone. I bent  to peek under the  bed;  the boots were gone too! dressing quickly I dashed through the house and outside. In the snow were the  tracks  of the  little boots and marks that showed the coat had been dragged alongside.

Summoning  up the whole store of my six-year-old  courage,  I followed the tracks-right back to  the house  from which I had  taken the items the day before.  Thoroughly  frightened, I ran madly for the  haven  of home.   At breakfast I had no appetite and my  parents  knew  something  was wrong. They pressed me until  slowly and  reluctantly I told  them about my terrible night. They pooh-poohed my tale, until I insisted that my father come out to see the tracks in the snow.

As the sun rose higher, shedding a welcome warmth  into  the woods and hollows, I began to doubt my senses.  It had  been only a nightmare-but no, I had gone to Jerry’s house  and taken the things  from the  cupboard.

Now I strode purposefully back down the path and into Jerry’s house.  Less  assured I approached the cupboard near Jerry’s bed and   cautiously opened the door,  dreading to find what I knew  would be there- the coat on its hook  and the little  boots on the  floor,  both showing  the damp  evidence  of the  night’s travels.

I firmly closed the door and made my slow and thoughtful  way home. I related the final chapter of my  adventure to my  mother  and father who answered in the fashion  of hill-country folk. “Son,  don’t never bother with things that belong to the  dead.”

Fred J.  Lowery

Deer Lodge,  Montana

November 1967

 

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