Was it just a dream or visits from beyond the grave?
By Paula Walter, Assistant Editor
Its been almost 20 years since my father died. His death left me so saddened my heart ached with words that were left unsaid. While in my heart I knew my father loved me, those three simple words, I love you, remained unspoken.
My father was a stubborn man, the grandson of Prussian and Irish immigrants. I always knew my father loved me, but we never expressed it in words. As my father lay in his hospital bed, I called to tell him I couldnt get to the hospital that day because one of his grandsons was sick. His last words to me were, Tell the boys I love them. For the life of me, to this day I still do not understand why I couldnt tell him that I loved him. Maybe some of that stubbornness of his was passed along to his daughter.
When Dad died, I spent that first night tormented. Where was he? Where was his soul? Was he in heaven? I prayed all night long. When sleep came, I was restless, tossing and turning until dawn. When I finally drifted off, my father was in my dreams, dreams so real that to this day I am not sure if they were visits from him or my mind playing tricks on me. As I began to dream, I found myself at an Amish market, full of beautiful handmade quilts hanging on lines. As I came out from around one of the quilts, there stood my father, whole and healthy. Shortly before he died, Dad had his leg removed close to his hip. But there he was, looking a bit younger, dressed in khakis he had worn when he was still in the construction business. He was walking, although with a limp, and looked happy and healthy. I began to follow him, my steps quickening to keep up with him. Dad, stop, I said. You need to take your medicine. I looked down at my hands and there lay a bunch of grapes. He paused for just a brief moment and said, Ill never need medicine again. His words have been etched in my heart for all these years. As he continued walking around a curved path in the road, I again ran behind him, desperate to talk with him. Ill be seeing you, he said, as he walked out of sight. I woke up, emotionally drained, exhausted and sobbing.
The next night Dad again came to visit me. This time, we were walking in the snow along a path. He turned to me and said, I want you to know Im proud of you. Speaking to our pastor, I was told that sometimes God lets us know that our loved ones are okay. Despite believing I had been given the chance to talk with my father, there was still more I wanted to say.
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By Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer, Photographer
It was a beautiful autumn day. Leaves of copper and crimson swayed in the light breeze, which was welcome refreshment for my overheated body. I pushed on, up the trail to Gentry Creek Falls, hiking fast, with my spirits high and my soul thankful for the abundance of beauty that surrounded me. As the afternoon sun glowed through the copious hardwoods, I decided it was time for a break. Id been hiking since early morning and my ample gear was becoming a burden.
I still remember the look of apprehension that overcame my grandfathers weathered face as I made him aware of my plan to spend the weekend camping above Gentry Creek Falls. My grandfather had lived at the edge of the Cherokee National Forest all of his life and though I scoffed them off as local folklore, I vaguely remembered stories he told me about strange happenings within the thick backcountry that surrounded his modest farmhouse. In the arrogance of my youth, I failed to value the wisdom in his tales; that is, until it was too late to derail my ill-fated journey.
I leaned my pack against a fiery red Sugar Maple and walked a few paces to the edge of the rushing creek. I cupped my hands and dipped them into the cool autumn water. The chilly splash immediately soothed my reddened cheeks. I repeated the process several times feeling the demands of the strenuous fast-paced hike melt away. As I dabbed the water from my eyes, a drastic change of scenery gained clarity. Gone was the golden sun that warmed the forest canopy; gone were the fallen leaves that carpeted the softened earth. I searched desperately for the Sugar Maple, ablaze in scarlet splendor, only to find that it too had been paled by the mysterious icy haze that replaced the once serene environment.
A Grandfathers Tale:
They say a fog can take over that land quicker than you can blink. I dont mean no ordinary fog, neither. It aint the kind of fog you see on a late summers evenin after a storm moves out and it sure dont clear up as the day gets longer. In fact, it aint so much of a fog as it is a complete whitewash of everything you knew. When it gets hold of you, losing your range of sight is the least of your worries. You lose your senses, all of them. Strange things happen in them woods and in the haze what seems like a good idea can surely turn out to be the worst decision youve ever made.
Id never experienced snow blindness but I thought this must be what it feels like. My once 20/20 vision had completely lost the ability to focus and all that once had been was engulfed by the blinding white. I stumbled to sit on the once familiar ground, fumbling over rocks and exposed roots. When I finally made my way to the stable ground I buried my head between my knees in order to squelch the wintery glare. As I sat paralyzed for what felt like an eternity, desperation began to set it. Though it was somewhat rare, there was a chance of meeting other hikers on the trail. Perhaps further below the summit the haze was absent and other weekenders would take note.
I dont know how long I sat there, crumpled and defeated like a mountaineer waiting out an unexpected frosty squall on a precariously crumbling ledge. When her welcoming hand came into view, the whitened puzzle of what once was a relaxing afternoon trek began to reassemble. The warmth of her presence sparkled just as vividly as the sun and a peaceful trancelike state overtook my fretful mind. She was here to help.
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As I wind my way down the little road through the Walnut Grove Community, specks of bright morning sunshine dance in the fields encircling me. A shower of scarlet, amber and copper leaves fall to the ground in a swirl of color. My eyes are drawn upward to powder puff clouds set against an azure sky, and childhood memories bring a smile to my heart. The smoldering embers of my love for the autumn season, the sunset of summer, are rekindled and come to a full roaring blaze inside me.
Then a sudden chill sends a shiver through me and I physically shudder as I round the bend leading to the old rock quarry. The fiery colors of fall, so overwhelming only yards up the road, have faded to dingy brown remnants of summer lying in damp piles in the road before me. Overhead, the sun shines as brightly and majestically as ever, but somehow neither its light nor its warmth penetrates into the gloomy world I have entered. Peering through the chain link fence surrounding The Blue Hole to the dark, murky waters beyond, the origin of its name escapes me momentarily. Surely no hint of such a rich and vibrant hue has ever graced this dismal place. It would more aptly be called The Hole of Shadows or The Miry Depths.
Not a hint remains of the youthful and light-hearted Mary that stepped into the depths so long ago. I search in vain for a glimpse of the ivory tones of her alabaster skin. Is there no token of her ruby red lips or the rosy blush the fever left on her cheeks? Even the shiny raven shades of her long silky hair have surely been washed away by this somber place. Her flowing white nightgown must be as drab and gray as the waters that closed over her head.
A sea captain and his wife and their only daughter, Mary, had come to the mountains of Tennessee for a change of scenery from their cottage on the seacoast of Charleston. The old two-story house they stayed in just up the road from the quarry was drafty and cold, and the chilly mountain night air quickly took its toll on Mary. She longed for the ocean and the warm, salty breezes that had been her very breath since birth. At night as she lay in her bed, she strained to hear the gulls calling to each other, but was rewarded only with the sound of a cold wind moaning through the boughs of the oak tree outside her room.
Marys parents watched her, day after day, night after night, as she grew paler and weaker and more and more withdrawn from those that loved her. They contacted doctors and specialists who frantically searched for a cure to the mysterious ailment that was draining the life from Mary right before their eyes.
Marys only solace came when she visited the pond that had formed in the recesses of the rock quarry down the lane. She would lie on the bank for hours, eyes closed, listening to the lapping of the waves against the rocks at the waters edge. She imagined she was back home in Charleston, warm and safe and happy again.
Despite Marys trips to the quarry and the doctors best efforts, her condition continued to deteriorate. By autumn she had developed a high fever that sometimes left her weak and lifeless but more often wild and uncontrollable in her delirium.
During one such manic day in late October, Marys mother, exhausted from the constant care her daughter required, fell sound asleep at her bedside just as darkness crept across the floors of her room. A few short hours later, she woke with a start to find Marys bed dampened from the fevers perspiration, but empty. Mary was not to be found. She woke her husband and together they frantically searched the house for the fever-crazed girl, but to no avail.