“Spirit In The Yard”
It was a cool October afternoon as Harper drove into the city limits of Selma. Spanish moss draped the crooked limbs of the oaks lining both sides of the street. She immediately felt surrounded by history and recanted the memories of this place from when she was young. Harper and her twin brother, Spencer, had spent countless Fall breaks at their Uncle Al and Aunt Lucinda’s home. It was a massive house with a wraparound porch and enormous windows that rested on the banks of the Alabama River. On days like this, Spencer would help Al start a bonfire down by the water as Harper and Lu prepared each of them a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Then, they would enjoy sitting around and listening as Al told tales from his time spent in Vietnam. Time always seemed to stand still underneath that starry sky. Harper considered those moments as some of her fondest childhood memories.
Several years went by and the visits to Al and Lu’s grew slim. Both Harper and Spencer had grown older and were very busy with their own lives. Harper graduated college and moved to New York to work with a large real estate company with whom she had interned. She adapted very quickly to the big city lifestyle and had become very successful. With an extremely hectic work schedule, it didn’t leave much room for anything else in her life. She had been intending for six years to pay a visit to Selma. But now those intentions no longer mattered. Spencer, who had joined the military after 9/11, had called Harper with the news that Uncle Al had passed away. He had been battling a terminal illness for a length of time and it had finally taken its grim toll. Harper immediately felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. She had not seen her Uncle in so long and hadn’t paid him much attention the last time they were together. She recalled when he and Lu had taken a trip to the Big Apple. It was a trip they had hoped to take for decades and when Harper got a job there it finally gave them a reason to go. She was supposed to be their guide around the city showing them all of the must see attractions but the demands of a new job and fast paced living came first. Harper had apologized to them both repeatedly for not being more present during their trip and had promised to come visit soon. Now, that opportunity would never come.
As Harper drove over the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, she looked down at the murky waters below. The river was like a reflecting glass to days gone by. Memories crashed over her like tiny waves breaking along the edge of the sandy bank. As she made her way under the huge steel arches, she imagined the thousands of feet that had walked over it’s pavement in hope for a better tommorow. To her right, sitting on the edge of a rocky cliff was a charming yellow cottage known only as “The Bridge Tenders House”. As she drew closer to New Live Oak Cemetery, she passed several historic homes. Their windows transported Harper to a time when the world moved at a much slower pace. She could almost see the ladies in big hoop skirts and the gentlemen in uniform who were called to action during the great Battle of Selma. She could picture the days when the trotting of horse hooves took the place of the noisy cars that were now zipping past. She finally came upon the big iron gate that led to the cemetery. For a place that held such sadness and grief, it was breathtakingly beautiful. Pops of pink and purple azaleas added a gorgeous blanket of color to an otherwise gray and dismal graveyard. The trees were bursting with vibrant reds and fiery oranges. Tiny peeks of Southern sunshine playfully chased shadows along the cement. Harper did not care for cemeteries nor did she feel comfortable being in them. Yet, she did not feel uneasy here. She felt a peace wash over her as her car came to a halt. It was almost a magnetic feeling that had led her here.
Al’s service had been a small, intimate affair with not much fuss. That’s the way she supposed he would have wanted things. Harper couldn’t catch a plane until later in the week unfortunately which had caused her to miss the funeral. So, here she was now standing all alone in the middle of the cemetery attempting to pay her final respects to this man who had left such a memorable impression on her childhood. The only problem was, she wasn’t quite sure where he had been buried. Harper adjusted her thick cowl scarf as a blast of Autumn air blew throughout the trees. She walked slowly up and down the aisles of headstones that stuck up out of the earth. She wondered the reason how each person ended up here as she read the names engraved into the slabs. There were old graves with deteriorating markers and some that looked as if they were recently placed. Half an hour passed and she was still not having any luck locating the site where her Uncle had been laid to rest. She was sure with his old southern money he would have had the largest headstone this side of the Mason-Dixon. But with so many names to pour over and the sun beginning to set, Harper gave up and headed back towards her car. As she was just about to round the last corner, a black figure bolted across her pathway! Harper was so startled she fell backwards nearly toppling over a vase of faded daisies. Panic pulsed throughout her veins as she scrambled back onto her feet. Shook to her very core, her eyes searched all around for the culprit. Whatever it had been was now nowhere in sight.
“Oh, don’t mind him!” a soft voice called out from behind a large tree. Harper looked in the direction the voice was coming from.”Hello?” she said. “That’s only Jeffrey.” a small lady answered as she stepped into visibility. The tiny woman was wearing a straw garden hat and a pair of bifocals rested on the tip of her nose. “Who is Jeffrey?” Harper inquired. “Jeffrey is a friendly ghost.” the lady chuckled. The lady didn’t seem to be worried in the least but Harper could feel a haunting feeling sweep over her. She didn’t believe in ghostly apparitions but still felt as if she was being watched. Who was this mysterious Jeffrey character she pondered and why did he not want to be seen? The lady had spoke of him as if he was some sort of companion and even called him “friendly”. Harper just smiled and commented on the clouds rolling in overhead. “Do you have someone special you are here visiting?” the lady asked. “My uncle was buried recently and I am searching for his grave. We sort of grew apart over the last few years.” she answered with a catch in her voice. “That’s a shame.” the lady replied with sadness in her tone. She reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a black hand comb. Fishing around her pocket a second time, she drew out a piece of wax paper. Harper watched as the lady wrapped the comb in the paper and began to run her pursed lips over the teeth of it. A harmonious melody filled the air closely resembling the sound of honey bees. Back and forth she played. Harper quickly recognized the tune. It was “Amazing Grace” and had been her uncle’s favorite song. She wondered how the lady could have possibly known this or was it a coincidence. She was fascinated by this woman’s unusual talent. She had never witnessed anyone playing music on a comb before. “I’m Harper.” she offered. “It’s very nice to make your acquaintance.” the lady politely replied. “We weren’t expecting to meet anyone new today.” “We?” Harper stood puzzled. Who else was she referring to? A chill crept up her spine. She wasn’t sure if it was the fall wind or her paranoia beginning to set in.”Did you know that Selma is the comb playing capitol of Alabama?” the woman questioned as she plucked a flower off of a nearby shrub. “No, I wasn’t aware.” Harper responded. “When I was a young girl, families spent much more time together than they do now a days. Time was a precious gift and we didn’t waste a second of it.” the lady said. “Back then no one had television or internet so we connected to each other in more unique ways. Our family spent many happy days playing the comb together. It’s something you don’t have to be very good at but it brings people together.” Harper smiled and said, “That reminds me so much of my own childhood.” Memories came flooding back as she told the lady of the many evenings she had spent on the beautiful riverbank in Selma. Her heart ached for the days when life was much simpler.
“I could teach you to play the comb if you like.” the lady suggested. She reached into her pocket and pulled out another plastic comb. She extended it to Harper and instructed her how to wrap it in the wax paper. “Now you just put it between your lips and hum!” She did as the woman directed and an awkward buzzing noise escaped her lips. She played her favorite church hymn and it was soothing to her soul. She closed her eyes as a tear slipped down her cheek and fell. When the song was finished, she thanked the kind lady. “I really must be going now.” Harper said. “We certainly don’t want to get locked in here overnight!” As she began to walk back towards her car, Harper realized she hadn’t even asked the woman her name. She turned back around quickly but the lady was now nowhere to be seen. Where could she have gone so quickly?Harper thought. Her eyes searched in the direction the lady had went. A blurry shape in the distance caught her attention. She was certain it was the same figure that had darted into her pathway earlier. As Harper walked closer, the figure seemed to dissipate. Was it a figment of her imagination? She looked down at the headstone next to her feet. It read: Kathryn Tucker Windham. “She was twice blessed. She was happy and knew it.” What a lovely saying, she thought. The same feeling of peace as before washed over her. She wasn’t quite sure why but she is the one that felt blessed that day.