Scary stories mom told us
October 31, 2010
Halloween is a time for scary stories. But back when my mom was a little girl, scary stories weren’t limited to October. She used to tell us those stories often, and they still seem scary to me.
Mom told of a family going away in an evening in their buggy pulled by horses. They stayed late, and by the time they headed home, the moon was shining brightly. Suddenly, they noticed something running alongside their buggy. It was a headless pig. It followed them all the way home before disappearing. Was it just their imagination or shadows cast by the moon? Or was it a forewarning of something terrible about to happen?
Often, Mom told us of seeing mysterious little white lights, moving back and forth in a grove about a mile from where her family lived. She called them “air-liktle,” probably a German word meaning little floating lights. She said they would move about and then disappear. I often wondered if they had anything to do with bootleggers selling their wares, but surely they’d have been more careful about being seen. Mom said no one ever went to the grove to find out what they were. Apparently they felt it wiser to leave them be.
Especially chilling were Mom’s stories about what happened when someone died. If a person committed suicide, the dishes in the cupboard in that home would rattle. And sometimes, a bloody red hand would appear on the wall of a room where someone died. Then it would disappear all by itself. Sounds as though someone should have been investigating a murder there!
Although Mom’s stories about Gypsies didn’t seem all that scary to me, those mysterious, swarthy-looking people were clearly a source of fear to many people back then. They’d come in large groups, riding in wagons pulled by horses with extra horses trailing along. Mom remembers the little Gypsy girls wore red dresses which were not very clean.
My grandmother always gave them whatever they asked for because she was afraid of their curses. In exchange for bacon, butter, milk, bread, and oats for their horses, they’d give Grandma a package of lace. One time she was asked for a hen to make soup for a Gypsy lady who was about to have a baby. Another time, Grandma invited the women and children in and shared their dinner with them.
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Mom tells of a farm wife near Wagner who wouldn’t give the Gypsies what they wanted. The Gypsy woman laid the woman’s broom stick across the threshold of the house and told her that, if she picked up the broom stick or walked over it before a certain amount of time, she’d be cursed. The farm wife did as she was told. She’d heard stories of the curses. One of them told of a family who wouldn’t give the Gypsies anything. The Gypsies told them their next child would look like a monkey, and when it was born, it had hair all over its body.
I suspect superstition played a bigger part in the lives of people years ago, making it easier for them to believe such stories. But I think I’d have done what was necessary, too, to avoid a Gypsy curse. And maybe I wouldn’t have had the courage to investigate “air-liktle” either.