My Grandmother Werner (right, at seventeen) was a first generation American. Her parents came from Bavaria with three children and went on to create five more once they were settled in Pennsylvania. Gram loved to tell stories about the Old Country and I'm glad she did. So, since today is Halloween, this is for her.
Gram told me that her parents lived on the edge of the die Schwarzwald, the Black Forest, and her father was a blacksmith and tinker who worked on a great estate. In his free time, he made pots and pans that he took on a cart into the nearest village on market day. To do that he had to push his cart through the Schwarzwald where, he told Gram, it was so dark that the spooks and “haunts” lurked and caused trouble for lone travelers. He fashioned a chain lined with bells and clattering bits of metal that he hung over his cart so the noise would scare away the ghosts as he made his way to market.
Gram believed in witchcraft. The name “hexes” was commonly used instead of witch and Gram swore this story was true. When she was a little girl it was her job to take their cow every day up the street to the cemetery to graze. This was a common practice in St. Marys (the Pennsylvania town her family moved to) and she loved their cow. She said she was never afraid anything bad would happen when she was with the cow. There was an old woman who lived near the cemetery who people were deeply suspicious of. The rumor was she was a “Hex”. Gram's mother often warned her not to let this Hex-Woman come near her but one day when Gram (who was only 9 at the time) was walking home with the cow, the Hex-Woman stopped her. She said what a handsome cow and she petted it. This scared Gram because, of course, her mother had warned her against such things so she didn't tell her mother.
The next day the cow gave no milk. This was a terrible thing for a family of ten who relied on their cow for milk, cream, and butter. Days went by but the cow was dry and could give no milk. Gram's mother, Great-Gram whose name was Marie, was desperate so she consulted her neighbors about what to do. And they told her this: Go to the cow and squeeze out what few drops of milk you can. Put it in a silver cup and bet it with a silver spoon. While you are beating it someone will come to the door and ask for something. This will be the person who hexed the cow and you must ask her what she wants to take away the hex. So, Great-Gram Marie did this and, as she was beating the milk with a silver spoon, the Hex-Woman knocked on the kitchen door and asked to borrow a cup of sugar. Great-Gram Marie asked what she wanted to remove the hex and the Hex-Woman asked for a sack of potatoes and a loaf of bread which Great-Gram Marie gave her.
Gram swore that the next day the cow gave milk again and continued to do so for many years.
But my favorite of Gram's ghost stories was this one: When she was a young married woman her husband, my Grandfather was a musician who played trumpet with a band. Usually she went with him when he played but after their first daughter was born, my Aunt Jane, she couldn't do that. One night for some reason (I was never clear on this) she and Baby Jane went to spend the night with a friend named Catherine while Grandfather was out playing music. Catherine lived in a very old house that was quite foreboding. That night Gram and the baby were lying in bed and the bedroom door was open. Gram swore she saw something white and translucent flitting in and out of rooms up and down the hall. She was scared but then convinced herself she was imagining things and closed her eyes and went to sleep.
She was awakened by her bed shaking. She sat up and there at the foot of the bed stood a woman all in white with a veil over her face. Gram said she had her hands flt on the bed and was shaking it. “What do you want?” Gram asked. The lady said nothing. So Gram asked again --- still no answer. Gram was shaking but she had her rosary with her and she said, “Would you like me to pray for you?” She said she felt like the woman wanted that so she began to pray the rosary. About halfway through the apparition faded away.
The next morning Gram asked her friend Catherine about it and Catherine said, “Oh, yes, she comes and goes but if you pray for her, she goes away.”
Gram told me that sometimes when souls get stuck in Purgatory they need people to pray for them so they can move on to Heaven and, if no one remembers to pray for them, they sometimes come back to earth to get prayers. She swore this was true and, for the rest of her life, she always said extra prayers for the forgotten souls in Purgatory. And she never stayed at Catherine's house again.
Happy Halloween and thanks for reading.