10/31/2008

Mama's Ghost Story for Halloween




Mama and Mary Alice Herbert


I was married and living in San Antonio,Texas when Mama and Daddy moved into the house at 1118 Buchanan Street in Charlotte, North Carolina. So I was hardly prepared the first time I drove into the drive way to open the driver’s side of the car and practically step onto the Herberts kitchen steps. The only thing that stood between those two houses was a shared concrete driveway. Before I saw my own mama I looked full into the face of Mary Alice Herbert who was standing at the sink in her kitchen staring out the window.

Mama was in Georgia with the family when Daddy came up to Charlotte and signed a lease. He probably never noticed that they were going to be living in their neighbor’s hip pocket because so much was right about the house. The catholic school was across the street for the youngest two children and St.Patrick’s Church was next door to the school.

Mama and Daddy moved into the two story Cape Cod on New Year’s Day 1960. It was an unusual New Years Day for Charlotte; it was freezing cold and it was snowing.

If Mama had any qualms they must have been swept away by Mary Alice Herbert - she stepped across the driveway that separated their houses and gathered up the youngest child and took her to her warm kitchen next door to play while the movers emptied the truck. That’s just the sort of good neighbor she was. Over the next twenty years Mama and Mary Alice became very good friends and it’s a good thing because they did live VERY close.


You could step out of my mother’s kitchen, down three steps, take five long strides and step onto the grey wooden stoop outside the Herbert kitchen. A bit of sugar or a cup of coffee or just a friendly word or two was always near to hand.

Both the Herberts and the Diggles lived their lives through their back doors so they saw each other often during the day and everybody knew who was coming and who was going and they usually knew where and why.

I have been there and heard a sharp rap on the back screen door “Louise, Louise”. Mary Alice had a high-pitched Minnesota accent.

Mary Alice Herbert died in December in 1980. Mama really missed her. Jerry and Martha Ann divided the furniture and closed up the Herbert’s house. Mama said that for weeks she really hated driving into the driveway, especially at night when it was so dark on that other side. Once they closed the house Jerry stopped coming over. Mama got used to the dark house and Mary Alice drifted out of her mind.

Since I live away I keep up with Mama’s life over the phone ? we tell each other the stories of what has been happening during the week

“Ellouise you are not going to believe this. You are just not going to believe it ? I hardly believe it myself - but as God is my witness it’s true.

Your Daddy and I were sitting in the den the other afternoon – that’s Monday. I was watching the Young and the Restless - You know I am always Johnny on the spot at 12:30 p.m. for my program.
When - right in the middle of the program I heard Mary Alice calling my name, “Louise, Louise.” Just like she used to. We never lock our back door and she would stick her head in and call me in that funny way of talking she had.

At first I passed it off - just my imagination. Then I heard it again,”Louise, Louise." Ellouise she has been dead six months and I heard her voice as clear as a bell as if she had just stepped out of her kitchen door and across the driveway.

I was startled I can tell you. Robert, Robert . do you hear something?

What? No, I don?t hear anything? What are you talking about?

Robert, I heard Mary Alice calling my name.

Louie, that?s crazy. You're just imagining it.

I guess you're right. It must be my imagination - but I tell you - it sounded just like her,

Well I didn't think anything more about it.

The next night - that's Tuesday - I was washing the dishes. I was in suds up to my elbows with the pots - when I heard a rap at the kitchen door - just like Mary Alice used to do - and then she called out, - Louise, Louise. T here was no mistake. It was Mary Alice. I lived next door to that woman for twenty years and I would know that voice anywhere.

I went to the door. No one was there. I closed the back door and went back to the sink.

Louise, Louise. She called me again.


Robert, I called your Daddy. Robert. He came into the kitchen.

Robert I just heard Mary Alice calling me again.

Louie this is foolishness. Mary Alice Herbert is dead. Dead people do not come to your back door. What is the matter with you?

Nothing is the matter with me. I tell you Mary Alice Herbert is trying to tell me something. And I know it. I am going to call Hilda Ricketts right now. She has the keys to that house and I think she needs to check on things. Something is not right..

Well, Ellouise, I called Hilda and told her about my hearing Mary Alice calling me and she didn't laugh or make fun like you Daddy was doing. She came right down like I asked her to. She checked all through the house. Checked out all the doors and the windows. Everything was fine. So she locked everything up again and went home.

The next day - that's Wednesday- I was sitting I the den. The Young and the Restless was just over when the front door bell rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin it starled me so bad. Nobody comes to our front door.

Hilda was standing on the porch with her dog. She had something in her hand

"Louise I know why Mary Alice was calling you." She waved an envelope under my nose. I could see that it came from Wachovia Bank. "I was walking Pepper - and when I came to Mary Alice's sidewalk it was as if something was pushing me up that walk and onto her front porch. Look what I found in the mailbox next to the door.
THIS is what Mary Alice was trying to tell you."
The letter had been outside so long the glue had come loose on the flap.

Hilda pulled out a check for $5,000.

"Louise look at this. It has been in that box for four months.
No wonder Mary Alice is restless. You know how careful she was with a dollar."

"I will call Jerry and tell him to come get it."

"You sure have been a good friend to her Louise - Don't you know Mary Alice is going to sleep better tonight."

"I knew it, Ellouise, I knew it was her.
And I've told your Daddy that too."

I guess Mary Alice did rest well after that because she never called out to Mama again.