Saturday, December 21, 2013


by Sara Jo Holan
“Home sweet home!”  My mother said cheerfully. 

I rubbed my eyes and looked out of the car window.  Sure enough, there it stood; our new home. 

From our apartment in New York City to this old white farm house in rural Georgia, I was experiencing a little bit of culture shock.  I suddenly felt sick, missing my school, my friends, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Just a month before, my father sat mother and me down in our kitchen and told us he quit his job as a stock broker to pursue the job he had always wanted: open his own museum.  That being said, he was also tired of the city.  My father and mother unanimously decided to relocate and start a new life in Dawson, Georgia. 

Enter the begging, bargaining, crying, screaming, slamming doors, threats to run away, and eventually, acceptance. 

Once the move became decided, my father happily set out looking for Civil War memorabilia and antiques that would make his museum a sensation.  My mother basked in his happiness and ease, elated that he was for once at home with her. 

As soon as we pulled up, I got out of the car and grabbed my Louis Vuitton purse.  My mother walked up to the U-Haul that my father had driven, and started unloading our essentials.  Because it was almost 10:00 p.m. the real moving in would happen in the morning. 

I got my suitcase and sleeping bag and headed inside after my parents.  The house was quite old.  Specifically, it had been new in 1869, 4 years after the Civil War ended.  The first owner and builder of the house was Mr. Thomas Kelly, a Northern business mogul from Vermont.  He moved to Dawson with the intention of starting a company that gave freed slaves the opportunity to make better lives for themselves.  Although they had been technically freed, most slaves had no choice but to look for work with their previous owners.  The freed title required former slave masters to now pay their workers to do what they had always done, which they did.  The pay the newly freed received, however, was barely enough to feed their families, making it impossible to break free from their new “jobs.”

Knowing this, Mr. Kelly started up T.G. Kelly & Co., a company that specialized in growing the best produce around.  Because no one in the South embraced that kind of new thinking, Mr. Kelly’s business came from Northern grocers and farmers who loved the way T.G. Kelly & Co. did business.

Mr. Kelly built his beautiful 3 story farm house with a wrap around porch on 300 acres, started up his business, and paid his workers handsomely.  As his workers made enough money for nice houses of their own, many built on Mr. Kelly’s land.

Not long after, though, Mr. Kelly was met with resistance from the locals.  One summer night in 1872, minutes after Mr. Kelly left the house of one of his workers; Mr. Kelly was met by a lynch mob and hanged from the branch of an oak tree in his own back yard.  He was found the next morning by the daughter of one of his workers, who had been sent out to the water pump by her mother to do laundry.  When little Lucille saw the lifeless body of Mr. Kelly swaying gently in the breeze, she screamed, then fainted.  There were “investigations” and some of the locals were tried in court, but it was ruled a suicide.  Everyone said that Mr. Kelly was an unstable man, tired from the stress of running a company with former slaves.  Though his faithful friends tried to keep the company, new regulations and taxes made it impossible to do.  The houses were sold, the property was parceled up, and many of the T.G. Kelly & Co. workers took the little money they had left and moved north. 

Now, as I looked at this house, I could see that it had been well cared for.  Granted, there were some cosmetic changes to be made, like the 70’s style wallpaper in the bathrooms was peeling, and the counters were cracked.  But all in all, the house was sturdy and, though I hated to admit it, charming. 

I set my things in the foyer and went to explore the house.  I climbed the stairs and went into the first bedroom on the right.  It was very large, much bigger than my bedroom back in New York.  It had a large bed that looked to be made of oak with a vintage oak chest at the foot of it.  There was a large window with white lace curtains that overlooked the backyard and pastures.  I suddenly felt excited to explore outside when the morning came. 

There was a large walk-in closet, and a dresser right next to it.  The floors were hardwood, and I noticed that they could benefit from a sanding and polish.  I loved the room, and decided it would be mine.  Although I missed the city and the life I was used to, I also shared my father’s appreciation for history and antiques.  If I was going to live here, I might as well try to make the most of it. 

I ran to get my things, and began setting up camp in my new room.  My parents had busied themselves unpacking in the master bedroom down the hall.  When we all met in the hallway famished, my mother brought up the cooler in which she had packed sandwiches from our favorite sandwich shop, iced tea, pita chips, and a Tupperware container filled with glazed melon.  After we finished eating, we all got ready for bed and said goodnight.  

It was a really warm August night, and my hair was sticking to my neck and forehead.  I opened my windows, which took some prying, and let the cool night air in.  I unrolled my sleeping bag out on my new bed and lay down on top of it.  I heard crickets chirp outside and the breeze blew the curtains.  It was too quiet.  I was used to the sound of traffic and people while falling asleep and the peaceful country commotion outside just didn’t do it for me.  I checked the time on my phone.  It said 1:30 a.m.  I was just starting to fall asleep when I suddenly felt incredibly cold.  I got up to shut the window and closed the curtains.  I went to lie back down and fall asleep when I heard someone by my doorway.  I couldn’t see in the dark, but I figured it was one of my parents checking on me when they heard me shut my old window.  I softly said “mom?” but as I said it I heard footsteps walking away.  Exhausted from the long drive and resisting sleep, I closed my eyes and slept peacefully.


The next morning I awoke to my mother opening my curtains and window.  Sunlight streamed in, and I grumbled.  I sat up and looked at my phone.  It read 10:00 a.m. so my annoyance at my mother melted away.  There was a lot to do, and my parents had mercifully let me sleep in.  I got out of bed and unzipped my suitcase. 

“Mom, did you or dad come to check on me in the middle of the night?” I tugged on an old pair of Levi’s. 

My mother looked at me confused.  “No we didn’t.  We were both so exhausted we slept straight through the night.  Why do you ask darling?”

“Well I closed my window last night because it got too cold in my room, and when I got back to my bed, I heard someone come by my door.  I figured it might have been one of you two coming to make sure I hadn’t decided to run away.”  I said the last part sarcastically.  When I saw the slightly hurt look on my mothers face, I regretted saying it. 

“Well, it was windy last night and this house is old, so it was probably just the house creaking.  Let’s go grab some breakfast so we can start unpacking.”  We both headed downstairs.  In the kitchen my dad had donuts ready on a plate and fresh squeezed orange juice in a glass pitcher on the table.   I grabbed one of the donuts and a glass of orange juice and headed to the porch.  I sat down in a wooden rocker and bit into my donut.  It was still warm and it left frosting on my upper lip.  When I finished my food I dumped my dishes in the sink and went back outside to explore.  As I got to the East side of the house, I marveled at our backyard.  It had a large green lawn accompanied by a large oak tree and a couple small willows.  I suddenly felt like Scarlett O’Hara, living in my very own Terra.  I wondered if when we got settled my parents would let me get a horse. 

I heard my mother call my name for me to come help move in, and quickly ran back to the front of the house where the U-Haul was parked.

My father spotted me and handed me two boxes stacked on top of each other.  The boxes said KITCHEN UTENSILS in my mother’s messy scrawl. 

“What do you think of our backyard Munchkin?” My father asked.

“I have to say, dad, it is pretty nice.”

My dad smiled at me with pride.  “There is an old rumor that Mr. Kelly, the man who built this house, still roams around at night, looking for the men who hung him from that old oak.”

Curiously, I looked at my father.  “You mean that one right there?  That isn’t the same tree dad.  That was almost 150 years ago! The tree would be long gone by now.”

Dad shook his head.  “Now, munchkin, does that tree look to you like it was planted in this century?  That is the exact tree.  It even stated that in the papers.  But you needn’t worry; Mr. Kelly has been long laid to rest.”

I watched as my dad left with some boxes.  He was right, I knew.  But I didn’t believe in ghost stories.  That the tree Mr. Kelly had swung from by the neck stood just below my bedroom window didn’t even faze me.  I picked up the kitchen utensils boxes and carried them inside. 


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