Family Lines

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Tag: ghost

Heading south – to Nashville

Trying on cowpoke boots and hats in Nashville.

Trying on cowpoke boots and hats in Nashville.

I headed south last week with a group of Calgary friends. We didn’t go to Mexico or Florida or the Caribbean. We went to Nashville, Tennessee — the first time for all of us — where we listened to some music, did some dancing and heard some interesting stories from the past (and created some new ones too).

Nashville is known as the capital of country music and it’s also the birthplace of its country cousin, bluegrass. Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts popularized the American roots music in the mid-1940s. The genre supposedly got the name from the four musicians who formed a band called Blue Grass Boys.

One bluegrass song I know is Cripple Creek. We had to sing it in music class while at Gaspereau Elementary in Nova Scotia. I don’t remember the following verse being included in the lyrics.History of blue grass sign.

I went down to Cripple Creek
To see what them girls had to eat
I got drunk and fell against the wall
Old corn likker was the cause of it all 

Things weren’t as strict in school in the 1980s but I don’t think any parent wants his/her child trilling about being half-cut.

Printers Alley is a little side street in downtown Nashville. It doesn’t look like much but it’s full of alcoves with doors set in them that lead to adventure. In the 1800s, the area was home to newspapers, print shops and publishers. When the printing presses weren’t in use, the workers would meet in the street and the alley became a meeting place.

Printers Alley sign. In the 1940s, Printers Alley turned into a mecca for liquor (when the sale of booze was prohibited) and entertainment. Today you can buy wine or vodka or have a pop and catch up with friends, like I did with a buddy from Nova Scotia who lives in Tennessee. He filled me in on what’s happening with his family as well as former university schoolmates who I haven’t thought about in years.

Food is always a big part of a trip. I tried grits for the first time. Gone with the Wind is one of my favourite books and Scarlett and co. ate a lot of stuff I had never heard of before. Collards, salt pork, hominy and grits are part of Southern Cuisine. Before having grits at Biscuit Love (where we had to stand in line for about 45 minutes), I thought grits were fried lumps of dough. They are not. They’re like porridge made from cornmeal. I think the fried lumps would have been tastier. My grits had cheese in them and I didn’t like the slightly salty flavour and the coarse texture. The biscuits, however, were amazing.

Haunted bar?

The Honky Tonk Pub Crawl took us to historical spots with historical stories (as well as a shot or two). We were regaled with tales about musical legends, pioneers, brothels and visited a haunted bar where a man (it might have been a woman) may have been pushed out of a top floor window by a ghost (or rum vapours?) Nobody knows.

I know that my time in Nashville is now the stuff of legends. My friends and I have good memories of the place and will laugh about the good and the bad and the Southern for years to come.

Anchorage House ghost

Anchorage House.

Mount Allison University’s Anchorage House – where Mrs. Bennett still roams the halls.

Anchorage House is a beautiful old mansion sitting like a grand gentleman on the Mount Allison University campus. The old man has a white beard, white hair, wears a black top hat on and is rather stout. He looks distinguished in the daylight, inviting enough to come in for a cup of coffee or a snifter of brandy. But looks can be deceiving and he can be quite the different sort in times of quiet, especially in the fall when the shadows of autumn grow to collect secrets.

I worked in Anchorage House for a few years. My office was on the second floor of the three storey building and it was a beaut. Hardwood floors and panelling, high ceilings and crown mouldings, windows with a view of tall elm trees and student life passing by. It was a cozy place to do business in fall. Usually.

Anchorage House was built in 1892 by a Sackville, N.B. lawyer and then sold to a doctor in 1906. In 1933 the home was bought by retired Mariner Captain Ronald V. Bennett, brother to the 1930s Canadian prime minister Viscount Richard Bedford Bennett. My office was once the bedroom of the captain’s wife.

It would have been a nice spot for a bedroom as it looked out to the landing, where the first floor stairs met the second floor. Mrs. Bennett could see whoever it was climbing up the staircase and probably watched her children nightly, ensuring they went to bed on time.

The story goes though, that her two sons died fighting in the Second World War. Their mother was distraught at the loss, often climbing the stairs to visit their empty rooms. It was said she did this even after her death many years later. I know this is true, I’ve heard her.

Yes, but Anchorage House was an office building, you say. There must have been lots of people coming and going, up and down those staircases. But not as many as you would think. One autumn lunch hour I was alone in the house. All alone. No one downstairs, no one on the second floor (except me) and no one on the third floor. There was no one else there.

My desk faced out the door with a direct view of the landing. Everyone using the stairs had to pass my office. Up and down and down and up. Even when I was busy with my work I could see all the different shapes of people treading on the steps and passing me by. Except one day.

One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor.

I looked up from my computer to see if someone needed my help, as I was the only one there. But there was no one there. Oh, OK. My mistake.

Back to work.

Again, one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I look up. No one there.

That’s weird. Maybe I’m hearing things. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe the old gentleman house is stretching his bones? There must be a reason for this. I walked to the landing and looked down the stairs. Nothing. No one.

Hmmmm. Do I let myself be scared? I don’t have to, as a co-worker rushed in the front door and up the stairs to her office, her office that’s straight across from mine. I didn’t tell her what I’d been noticing. I didn’t want her to think I was a silly goose.

One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I looked up. And nobody.

This happened a couple more times until my co-worker came into my officer and asked me if I was experiencing what she was experiencing –  hearing footsteps but not seeing anybody.

“Oh yes,” I said. “It’s kind of freaking me out.”

“Me too,” she admitted.

Then one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. There! We were hearing it together. Tiptoeing out into the landing we looked down the staircase. It was a student, my friend Pete, climbing the stairs. He looked up at us expectantly and we started laughing.

I asked him if he had been here earlier and he said no, it was his first visit.

It wasn’t the grieving mother’s first visit and I doubt that day was her last. After that I made sure when I was working evenings to turn on all the lights although it made leaving torturous. I had a million switches to shut off before I left, each light I turned off brought me closer to the darkness. But good old Anchorage and Mrs. Bennett left me alone.

 

 

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