What follows is one of the tales that make up The Grimmholt Collection. It was collected by The Grimmholter some years ago in the American South. At present, The Collection has only one tale concerning “Ruthy,” but it is to be hoped that more may be found at some future date.
Please ‘low me to introduce m’ self. My last name is Rutheford so folks call me Ruthy. I don’t much care for m’ first name so I never use it. I am what you might call a pragmatist’s wizard. I don’t do no magic or nothin’ like that, it’s just that things that baffle other folks, like ghosts and other such cooters, are as real to me as rats in the barn and if they’re causin’ a ruckus then I hit ‘em with a big stick and haul ‘em off to the dump. If’n I can see it, then I c’n touch it. Always been that way. Hell I was nearly twenty before I understood the meanin’ of the word eee-thereal. I guess the first time I figured out what was different about me was when I was tellin’ my daddy about wandering around the swamp out back o’ the farm knocking the will-o’-wisps around with my Louisville Slugger. As I grew up, word kinda got around that if’n you was bein’ haunted or had some cooter monster botherin’ you, well you just look up Ruthy and his big stick and he’ll take care of it fer ya. We got us a bushel ‘n’ peck o’ ghosts ‘n’ cooters ‘round here so I’m never short on things to hit.
Like just th’ other night I was walkin’ through th’ graveyard when lightin’ starts shootin’ out o’ the ground an’ this big ugly cooter pops up all horns an’ scales. He takes a look at me standin’ there just as cool as can be an’ says I should be on my knees t’ him. He called himself the third demon of some damned place. I called him an asshole. I guess that kinda riled him some ‘cause he come after me like he was gonna do some damage. I just hauled off an’ kicked him in the nuts. Well, he fell down all curled up like you’d expect an’ whimpered that I wasn’t s’posed to be able to do that on account o’ he was o’ the spirit world. I said he was in my world now. I reckon he didn’t like my world ‘cause he just up and left. I got a bunch o’ stories like that.
Now th’ other day I’m sittin’ at the counter at Melba’s havin’ me some o’ her strawberry-rhubarb pie and a cup o’ coffee when Doris comes runnin’ in all covered in goose bumps and shakin’ like a leaf. Doris is the town librarian since Thelma Jean passed on. Now I could tell that sump’n was up ‘cause normally Doris, young as she is, is about as excitable as a dead pig. Well now, she comes runnin’ in hollerin’, “Melba, Melba! Have you seen Ruthy? I got to find Ruthy!”
“Look left, ya’ silly girl. I’m sittin’ right here,” I says. “Now, why don’t you sit down here and tell me what’s got you so riled up?”
Well after a cup o’ tea and a bunch o’ blubberin’ she finally gets it out. “Ruthy, there’s a ghost in the library.”
Now, there’s ghosts, an’ then there’s ghosts. Mostly I don’t like t’ go hittin’ folks as have just passed on lessn’ they’s causin’ trouble, ‘cause most o’ the time they’re just getting’ themselves together before movin’ on. So I ask Doris to tell me a bit more ‘bout what she saw.
“Ruthy, I think it’s Thelma Jean!”
Now, that set me back a bit ‘cause Thelma had been gone near on a year, an’ she wasn’t the kind to cause no harm, ‘cept that time she smacked me with a ruler when I spilled coffee on one o’ her books. No, Thelma Jean Coolidge was a nice, quiet old maid what never hurt a soul. She passed just as quiet on a fine June evening. Near as I c’n tell she had come home from work, had supper, then settled down for a little light readin’ with Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, fell asleep an’ just never woke up. So I finish my coffee an’ leave Doris sittin’ an’ recoverin’ an’ head off to the library.
Ever since I figured out ‘bout my little knack, I been goin’ to the graveyard after a funeral to pay my last respects to them what’s passed and offer a last handshake if’n they chose to show up. Now I’ve noticed sump’n ‘bout folks. People go where they reckon they ought to go. I seen high minded rascals, who cheated an’ lied, rise up through th’ sky; an’ I seen good men, thinkin’ they was bad, sink into the dirt in flames. Now in all her life, Thelma Jean reckoned she ought to go three places. She ought to go to church. She ought to go home, but mostly, Thelma Jean reckoned she ought to go to work.
When I get to the library, I start makin’ my way ‘round the place an’ sure enough there’s Thelma Jean standin’ in the romance section readin’ Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Now, bein’ a big man, I tend to make a bit o’ noise when I move, so when I come ‘round the corner Thelma Jean gives me that famous look and a “hush up there, Ruthy!” So I sidle up kinda close and whisper, “Thelma Jean, what’re you doin’ here?”
“What do you mean, Ruthy? This is my library. I work here,” she whispers back.
“But Thelma Jean,” I says as gentle as I can, “Honey, you’re dead. You been dead nigh on a year now.”
Well, that does it. I guess I weren’t all that gentle ‘cause ol’ Thelma’s face goes all streachy and she starts t’ howlin’ an’ carryin’ on an’ books start flyin’ off the shelves an’ the card catalogue starts t’ spittin’ cards all over the place. I’m startin’ t’ think maybe my life’s in danger, but I never could bring m’ self t’ strike a lady so I just yells out, “Thelma Jean, you’re makin’ a mess!” That got her attention sure. Ever’ thin’ falls to th’ floor an’ Thelma looks around in horror like she just seen an axe murder.
“Oh Ruthy, what have I done? What have I done?” an’ with that she crumples t’ th’ floor and starts in t’ weepin’ like a baby.
Well, I reach over an’ gather Thelma Jean close an’ hold her so’s she can have a good cry. Now, I never woulda done that while she was alive, but bein’ dead kinda changes things. She weeps on for a while an’ I just let her an’ then she looks up at me an’ says, “Ruthy, I can’t cross over. I can’t find my way.” An’ th’ tears ‘re just rollin’ down her poor dead face, “Preacher said there were supposed to be angels and chariots to carry me across the Jordan, Ruthy, but there ain’t nothin’ like that.” Now I knows she’s really upset ‘cause Thelma Jean never said “ain’t.”
I seen a lot o’ strange things, but th’ only angels I ever seen was on greetin’ cards an’ th’ only chariots I seen was in Ben Hur, so I didn’t take much stock in either one commin’ for dear Thelma. What I do know is that ever one of us, livin’ or dead, needs a little help when we done lost our way. Me bein’ among th’ livin’, I wern’t really th’ one t’ guide poor Thelma t’ her rest, but I had me an idea who could, if’n I could get t’ him. So I says, “Thelma Jean honey, I think I knows how t’ help ya. Now dry yer tears and put just a little faith in yer boy Ruthy here and I’ll do m’ durndest t’ set things right. D’ ya think ya can get to the graveyard tonight an’ meet me ‘round midnight?” She ‘loud as how she could an’ promised as how she would leave poor Doris alone ‘till then. Things bein’ settled at th’ library, I set off to the hardware store.
Livin’ in a little bit of a town like this, ya get t’ know how things is with folks, even if’n they wished ya didn’t. Well, as things was, I knew a thing or two ‘bout the late Jimmy Horner. James Earl Rochester Horner was a right fine man who knew the ins an’ outs of hardware like nobody else. Didn’t matter what kind o’ part ya needed, Jimmy had it. He’d run ya credit if’n times was hard, but get right strict if’n ya had the money. Why, that good ol’ boy ‘ud even open up th’ store in the middle o’ th’ night if’n ya was in a fix an’ needed sump’n bad. Jimmy’s only fault, apart from his wife, I’ll get t’ her in a bit, was that he fancied his self a wood carver. Jimmy went and got himself a big ol’ slab o’ seasoned oak tree an’ proceeded to carve what he thought was a beautiful pit’cher on it for th’ front door o’ his store. Ol’ Jimmy ‘ud see visitors lookin’ at that ugly door an’ think they was admirin’ it. He’d go outside all proud like an’ ask ‘em if’n they would like t’ take a photograph. If’n he wern’t such a good man, he’d ‘a’ been a laughing stock. When Jimmy died, a couple years ago, the first thing his boys done, was t’ take that door down an’ put up right fine factory job.
Now Jimmy had his self a wife named Rose who hen pecked that poor man ever day o’ his life right up t’ the day she died. Folks ‘round here thought she was too mean t’ die. They all reckoned that neither th’ Good Lord ner th’ devil ‘ud want her, so she’d prolly live forever. I don’t figure it was either side had a hand in it when that Kenworth run her over, her bein’ too proud t’ look both ways b’fore crossin’ th’ highway. The best thing said at her funeral was one o’ Jimmy and Rose’s boys sayin’, “May th’ Good Lord grant her peace, now that he’s granted us some.”
Well, when dear Rose got herself shuffled off, Jimmy’s affections settled on one Miss Thelma Jean Coolidge, only he never really let on ‘cause he was kinda shy ‘bout women folk. But if’n you was lookin’ ya could see th’ way he’d look at her as she passed his store commin’ an’ goin’ t’ th’ library. Jimmy ‘ud stand on th’ porch an’ say, “Good Mornin’ Miss Thelma,” an’ “Good Evenin’ Miss Thelma,” an’ she’d smile sweet like an’ right back with, “Good Mornin’ t’ you Mister Horner.” It was a sweet and funny thing t’ watch.
Well, it was long ‘bout six o’ clock when I got t’ th’ “Horner ‘n’ Sons Hardware Emporium” an’ Jimmy Jr. an’ Ethan was just closin’ up fer th’ day. We give each other a “hiya” an’ then I asks ‘em, “Say fellers, d’ you by any chance still have that fancy door your daddy carved.” Jimmy Jr. kinda gives a shudder an’ Ethan just chuckles deep down. “Yah we do Ruthy. Jimmy Jr. tossed it up top th’ hen house on account o’ it’s such an eye sore. You want it fer sump’n?” “Well I’d just like to borrow it fer th’ night,” says I. “I’ll bring it back come mornin’.” “What ya want with it?” asks Jimmy Jr. Now, I start scratchin’ my chin thinkin’ just how to tell these fellers that I’m a tryin’ t’ get in touch with th’ feller what carved that door, when Ethan says kinda fearful like, “Jimmy Jr., I reckon maybe we better not ask what Ruthy’s up t’ t’night, don’t ya think?” Jimmy Jr. looks back t’ me, gives another shudder an’ just turns back in t’ th’ store. “Hen house is out back Ruthy. ‘N’ you just keep th’ door,” an’ in goes Ethan. Here I was thinkin’ maybe I’d get some help cartin’ th’ thing up t’ th’ grave yard. Well I can’t blame ‘em really. So it’s me, m’self an’ I with a big ol’ ugly slab o’ oak footin’ it two miles out to the grave yard.
Most folk, when they see me doin’ sump’n strange, just kinda pretend they don’t see me. I guess they fig’r it’s better not knowin’. I was just tickled when Melba met me in th’ street with a sack supper and a thermos o’ coffee. She didn’t say nothin’ but that I should have a care. I think she’s sweet on me.
‘Long ‘bout ten thirty, I make it up th’ hill t’ th’ “final restin’ place”, eats me some o’ Melba’s fine fried chicken, an’ then I get on with th’ business o’ rescuin’ poor Thelma Jean. I took th’ door an’ lays it down right or’ top Jimmy’s grave an’ then I starts in t’ knockin’. “Jimmy,” says I “I’m awful sorry t’ bother you so late but I’m in a fix here an’ I need some help.” I keep a doin’ this a spell an’ then I hear Jimmy’s voice a commin’ from behind th’ door. “Ruthy? ‘S that you? “This better be good ‘r I’ll tan yer hide fer pesterin’ me so late.” Jimmy always give out like that, but I think he kinda liked bein’ needed. Well to make short work of it, out come ol’ Jimmy, wearin’ his Sunday best just like we buried him in.
“Jimmy, I sure do ‘preciate you getting up fer me.”
“Aw Ruthy, you know I can’t but help someone in a fix. What ya need, son?”
“Well Jimmy,” I says “It ain’t really me in the fix this time. You remember Miss Thelma Jean don’t ya?” At th’ mention o’ Thelma’s name ol’ Jimmy starts in t’ blush an’ that’s a sight t’ see on a ghost. “Ya see she passed on ‘bout a year ago now. Trouble is, she’s havin’ a time findin’ her way ‘cross. It’s a sorry sight I tell ya.” I see Jimmy gettin’ mighty concerned. “That fine, gentle lady weepin’ an’ moanin’ ‘cause she’s got not a soul t’ show her the way.”
“Ruthy that’s th’ most awful thing I ever did hear. That just ain’t no good at all. Why Ruthy you don’t s’pose that maybe she’d ‘low me…na, she wouldn’t want th’ likes o’ me t’…would she, d’ ya think?”
I know I shouldn’t o’, but seein’ ol’ Jimmy so flustered was just so funny that I couldn’t help but laugh at the poor ol’ boy. It got even funnier when I told him she’d be here soon so’s that he could ask her his own self. I don’t think I ever seen anythin’ as funny as watchin’ a ghost tryin’ t’ slick his hair back an’ askin’ if maybe I didn’t have a mirror an’ askin’ if’n he looked alright. You ain’t never seen a school girl at her first barn dance more flustered than was ol’ dead Jimmy Horner.
Well it wern’t long b’fore Miss Thelma Jean showed up. “Thelma Jean, you remember Jimmy Horner don’t ya?” I says.
“Well, o’ course I do. Good evening t’ you Mr. Horner,” she says courteous like.
“Miss Thelma, it’s a right pleasure seein’ you again,” says Jimmy, just blushin’ to beat th’ band. I gives Jimmy a nudge. “Miss Thelma…uh…um…”
“Go on ask her,” I whispers.
“…Um …Miss Thelma, Ruthy here tells me…um… I mean, I was wondering if maybe you would ‘low me to escort you…um…”
I’m watchin’ Thelma as poor Jimmy is goin’ through his convolutions tryin’ t’ talk an’ I can see that she’s blushin’ just as much as Jimmy only she seems t’ be holdin’ a bit more composure. Finally she takes mercy on the poor boy an’ says “Mr. Horner, I would be delighted to accompany you where ever you lead.” An’ here Jimmy just beams, an’ I mean that literal like ‘cause a light starts shining off him makin’ the midnight like noon time in July.
Jimmy holds out his arm which Thelma takes an’ they start headin’ fer Jimmy’s door. B’fore passin’ through Thelma turns t’ me an’ says, “Ruthy, thank you ever so much. You’ve given me much more than just a guide.” Then she give me a little kiss on the cheek and crossed over. B’fore Jimmy his self heads off he takes a good look at that slab o’ oak he carved an’ says, “Ya know Ruthy, that’s the ugliest damn door I ever laid eyes on.”
Ya know, I hear some as say that folks ain’t married in heaven, that when we cross over, all th’ things of this life don’t matter no more. I can’t see no evidence that gold an’ such count fer much passed this life, but love? Yessiree. Love goes on f’rever.
Well anyhow, like I said m’ names Ruthy an’ if’n ya ever need sump’n done, land cleared, fence posts set or cooters what need an ass whoopin’, just look me up ya hear?
Article by GC Curators
Use Category: (HO/LK)