Last night, in the darkest of early morning hours, I heard the call of a distant train. We all know what that sounds like. It’s unmistakable, like the voice of somebody you once knew. I heard it just as clear and plain as I did when I was a child, when we lived across the river from the railroad tracks and the Norfolk and Southern would sound her alarm as she sauntered by our quaint, coal town neighborhoods. Most of the time, the train’s call was such a distant nuance, like a dream, that we never even woke up at all. We got used to that distant call, and after a while, it became a part of us, a comforting and peaceful wail, an Appalachian child’s lullaby, faithfully reminding us that we were home in our warm beds.
Despite the passing of time and the fact that I no longer live near those old train tracks and haven’t slept in my childhood bed for several decades, I heard that very same train’s distant call. My eyes were open; it wasn’t a lost memory or an echo. For a moment, just last night, I was in my long-lost bed in that old house by the river, and that long ago passed Norfolk and Southern called out to remind me of the comfort and peace that I once relied on in the hours before dawn. It was as real as I am, and as real as you are.
“You don’t really believe all that stuff, do you?” I was recently asked. Now the asker was somebody that I hold in high regard and respect. Somebody that I would cook a meal for, and that’s the truth. And a mountain queen don’t cook for just anybody, and you know it’s true.
“What stuff?” I asked. I was disappointed that they’d not picked a better word than stuff. I like details. I like to call things by their name. Everything has a name, you know. I’m a scholar, thank you very much. I want to know more things, always. I may talk about old ways and lost notions, but I can back up a case as well as the town esquire. But for the life of me, I can’t tell you a thing about stuff.
“You know, the magic stuff. Ghosts and all that. Do you really believe all that?”
Believe. Now that’s a loaded word, ain’t it? I think we all know quite a few folks that believe just about anything they’re told or hear. They’re the devil’s radio every night of the week, and don’t need proof or a witness. No, ma’am. So few of us ever prosper to get loose from the thoughts we were told to think. But I am free, sister. And clear, too, as clear as that nighttime train’s distant lullaby.
Now I don’t claim to have all the answers for everything, but I’ve got a few stashed away for naysayers like my regarded friend, the very one that I thought more of than stuff.
It’s not magic, my friend. It’s physics. And science don’t lie, sister, unlike that ol’ fella you once wasted tears on. Science is truly some bewitching stuff. We’re all composed of magnificent atoms, you know. More of them than you could shake a stick at or count in your mortal lifetime. We are walking and talking embodiments of protons, neurons, electrons, and yes, magic. We are energy. Do you not feel it? Your very heart does not beat without it. Our thoughts are energy, too. And energy moves through space and time like a regular specter. Energy makes things happen, even things we can’t explain. It’s some powerful stuff. This is why prayers work, you know. Memories and moments and scents and sounds, they’re energy, too. Everything, everybody, that once was, is.
Energy never dies. Never. It just goes back home. You may change, as all good things do, but you will not die. Not really. That old energy simply changes forms. It resounds and echoes and hollers and searches for its original path until it finds it again. And it does find it, sister. It always finds its way home, just like that old Norfolk and Southern. And so will you.
Granny looks up from her pot of sweet corn, fresh from the Hunter’s Moon harvest and now in the middle of a rolling boil, and points at the kitchen window. “She’s out there waitin’ for me,” she says. Without a hint of disbelief, she flings a handful of sugar into the pot. Seeing nothing myself, I ask her who’s out there.
“Ol’ Blondie,” she says. “She’s a patient ol’ gal.” Granny has talked about Ol’ Blondie many a’ time. Ol’ Blondie was a golden retriever, sired in 1919 when Granny was a young woman herself. She’d be going on 100 years old by now, that Ol’ Blondie, and those of us with any sort of sense know dogs don’t live even a quarter of that long. Granny knows that, too. But she believes in Ol’ Blondie. And yes, I believe in Granny. Always have, always will.
It’s easy to believe in what we can see, but believing in what we can’t see takes a different set of eyes. You know it’s the truth. Every now and then, you’ll get a fleeting innuendo of an old scent, perhaps your mama’s perfume or your grandpaw’s cherry tobacco. A light down the hall may oddly flicker and dim, or a book might be left open to a page just for you. You may find coins in unusual places. Feathers, too. You’ll have dreams so real that you would swear you’re awake and you’ll have a walk and a talk with someone no longer of this world.
At this minute, you just might feel a slight chill, a rush of butterflies, a hum on the air. I’m telling you, that’s them. You know it’s them, too, don’t you? You recognize them. And they recognize you. You don’t really believe in all that stuff, do you?
Oh, yes, I believe in that stuff. Physics or not, I reckon it really is magic. True magic, with a name and all. Everything has a name, you know.
Tonight, after the trick-or-treaters have ran on home to dig through their sugary treasures, Granny will have a Samhain feast of fried chicken and that sweet corn and her famous bad apple pie. She’ll pull out a welcoming chair at her table that nobody you can see will sit in, but she’ll make a plate just the same.
Granny has a birthday in a couple days, too. She was born in 1896, and she’s been spreading that good ol’ Granny magic for going on 121 years, I reckon. Those of us with any sort of sense know most grannies don’t live even three decades as long as that. Granny knows that, too, but she don’t care a bit. She’s in there in the kitchen as we speak, frying up chicken livers for Ol’ Blondie. Yes, I believe in Granny. Always have, always will.
Believe. Now that’s a loaded word, ain’t it?
You set that table and pull out that chair. Fry up that chicken. And save the livers. Everything, everybody, that once was, is. And they’ll be there. You know it’s the truth. A mountain queen don’t cook for just anybody.
Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain from Granny and me.