The Ghosts of Cope
My mother grew up in the rural South. The small town of Cope within the City of Orangeburg. Back in the 1940s it was all farmland and poor. Mostly everyone that lived there worked on a farm and racism still ran rampant. People still picked cotton in the 40s but you weren't called a slave, but you were called all sorts of other things not too pleasant. These were the years called "Hard Times." My mom was about 6 years old around this time the 4th eldest out 6 children.
As I said before Cope is a one-horse town, if you were to drive through it today you would miss it if you blinked. But back then, for a little kid it was huge. The kids back then didn’t have Iphones, Air Jordans or skinny jeans. They wore hand-me-downs and mostly walked around barefoot. My mom used to say she had to walk miles to the store. She showed me the route from our ancestral home to the one General Store in Town. It took her hours as a little kid on those dirt roads in the "Boondocks." Whenever her mama Izora used to need something from the store she used to send all her kids to go get it. At the time only 5 lived together (what happened to the oldest child is a WHOLE nuther story) so off they went hand in hand ages 10 down to 3. Even that mangy old mutt of a dog went with them. They were told to walk the main dirt road in Cope and never veer off the beaten path. But a shortcut did exist through the fields of one of the farm owners, the Jennings family. Now everybody knew about this shortcut but none used it. "There's a big old tree in the middle of that field and dey say dat tree was used for hangin niggas," my Uncle Melvin used to say. "And dem Niggas is angry spirits now."
Well it was getting dark soon and the kids wanted to get home early so the eldest, my Uncle Melvin and Aunt Jimmie Lou decided all of them were gonna take the shortcut with my mom Hester watching the two younger siblings Dolly and George. So here they go through the tall grass and started heading towards the tree. It’s about dusk in the hot summer fields of South Carolina. All of a sudden the crickets stopped chirping. It was like the world was at a standstill for a moment. Even the dog wasn’t barking. He stopped dead in his tracks. Up ahead by the tree was a glowing ball of light. There was no car nearby and nobody was holding a lantern. It was too big a light to be a lightning bug either. Then not one, but several balls of light started coming down from the tree branches at the same time. So if you know Black folks we don’t stick around to see what’s what. Those kids high tailed it and made a beeline back to the street! Those little legs and bare feet never ran so fast in their lives! And the dog led the way with its tail in-between its legs. When they finally got home to mama they told her what happened. She laughed at first but then whipped Melvin and Jimmie Lou across their bottoms for NOT LISTENING. She would always say, “If I told you once, I done told you a thousand times…stay outta that field but y’all are hard-headed, AND a hard head makes for a soft behind!”
Decades later, my mom and I would drive by that same stretch of land. It’s a paved road now and has light poles. The town of Cope isn’t the same as it was back then but that field and tree are still there. After all this time it is still untouched and undisturbed. I guess the locals knew the legends and kept away. I still wonder if those souls are waiting for someone to help them out of that tree. Part of me wishes to find out the truth about that land and identify those ghosts. I’m not going to find out though, because I remember what Grandma said. And I don’t want her spirit to come and smack me either!