Sara Whitman

Haunted Memory

Filed By Sara Whitman | March 09, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Lynchburg, old family home, Virginia

Oh dear, I've been sick as a dog for the last few days. Children with germs- what can you do? And they wonder why I yell at them when they come and drink from my ever present glass of water.


I've been pondering for the last few days a picture my sister posted on Facebook of my great aunts house in Lynchburg, VA. She was driving to Georgia to pack up her last things, and stopped on the way. What was once a grand, beautiful home is now in shambles. It breaks my heart- my great grandfather built that house. My great aunts all born there, and died there.

So many family members died there. The place was incredibly haunted.

As a child, I loved going there. I can remember the smell of ham cooking, biscuits, and always iced tea.

You havin' some tea with your sugar? My great aunt Ginsie would say to me.

When we went, I believe I always stayed with my mother in "her" room. The bedroom at the top of the stairs, with a bed so high up off the floor it was a jump to get in. Every room had a fireplace, as it was built in 1901 before central heating. The front parlor, where the fancy furniture was, reserved only for when the ladies from church stopped by to visit.

Visiting was an art.

I remember being given white gloves to go to church for Easter Sunday. And once putting on my mother's powder make up on my face, only to have it come off in rivers of sweat while sitting in the pew. Again, Ginsie tsk tsked me, and wiped my face off, somewhat pleased at my attempt to be a grown up.

As I grew older, I became terrified of that house. To the point of a phobic response. I hated sleeping there because of the footsteps that were always going up and down the stairs all night long. My mother shrugged and said it was just her grandfather and he was the nicest man in the world.

Don't be afraid.

But I was. The last time I slept in the house was in college, when I went with my mother there to visit. By then Ruth, my other great aunt, had moved to the downstairs bedroom- the one where everyone died- and I stayed alone in her room upstairs. I remember grabbing a book, any book, to read to try and make myself so tired I'd fall asleep.

I couldn't. Instead, I lay awake listening to those damn footsteps all night, waiting for them to come in my room.

If you don't believe in ghosts, that's only because you've never been in a haunted house. I don't think I'm particularly sensitive- I don't think anyone had to be in that house.

I don't understand why I was so afraid. My best friend growing up lived in an old farmhouse that was haunted, too. Mr. Shilling, we would say, walked about the attic at night. I was never afraid in that house.

Mind you, I never went into the attic, either.

But there was something about that Lynchburg house that made my skin crawl when I was older. It's just out of my reach.

I want to go back. I want to stand in that house again and understand. Honestly? I don't think it's about the ghosts. I think it's about my mother. Who she was there. Something about her history and her past- she loved that place and yet when Ruth died, after Ginsie, she tossed it away. All the furniture, all the things... gone.


Was my great grandfather a sweet, wonderful man as she said? Why did she carry a bag full of over 100 letters he wrote her, everywhere, for years and years? She said he was the only one who ever truly loved her.

Was it my shame of being a lesbian in a place that it was clear I would never be accepted? I was told to sit and shut up when my great aunts would go on about the "coloreds."

Not a word, my mother would say. I've tried and it's not worth it.

Why have I never told my own kids about the two doting old women who called me "Miss Pitty Pat" after the character in Gone With the Wind. Who taught me about the Civil War from the Southern perspective, and would not have the name Sherman or Grant ever whispered in their home.

I am feeling much better today, and piles of work await. I can't spend the day ruminating on it, trying to picture the staircase, the kitchen, the roses that were Ruth's pride growing in the garden.

But I can't help but wonder... Why?

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Rick Sours | March 9, 2010 7:13 PM


Thank you for sharing this extremely personal and moving story.

Kirk Lammert | March 9, 2010 10:48 PM

Sara... out of all the commenters and bloggers here at Bilerico, you are the only one that I always take the time to read no matter what the subject. Thank you for being there, being honest, and being generous with sharing your personal stories.

thank you for taking the time to write that, both of you.