Wednesday, August 15, 2012

it's ironic that while i entertain the possibility of ghosts, i always assume they are as stuck on geography as i am, in spite of the obvious fact that, since they don't have real bodies, they shouldn't necessarily ever be bound to one physical location. for example, if they belonged to a person who died in a house, why should they have to stick around and haunt that house? it's not like they can't walk down the road and go haunt another house.

but then, the idea that one place is just a little more haunted than another goes along with the idea that when you get there, you get this feeling, a kind of chill in your bones, and you know that there's something there, in that location, that you can't necessarily see, but which would make itself clear if you could. so, for example, we'd be walking along a path in the woods in a park and there would be this cave, and it would be easy enough to imagine that hundreds of years ago, people lived in that cave and it was a very important home site. some old towns or ghost towns are like that too. it's partly just the environment itself that makes you sure there are other spirits, or characters, hanging around.

one time i was hitchhiking out in the wild mountains of east tennessee and i came upon a crowd of people who lived back on the slope of clinch mountain in a hollow behind bean station tennessee, kind of an area where one road cuts up through the mountain slaunchwise, and the main road, so-called bloody eleven-w, runs up along clinch mountain and goes ultimately from washington d.c. to new orleans. this eleven-w was a crowded road, dangerous, it may have been replaced by now, but when i was there in the seventies it was held in fear and respect. now i couldn't quite figure out what i was doing there but folks were nice to me, fed me, allowed me to camp on that mountainside for as long as i want, and i joined them in their hollow for a while. That place seemed a little more haunted one day when a woman got mad, threw her love letters into a huge fire (they were burning an old outhouse) and the letters came shooting back out at her, causing her great mental distress and almost causing the outhouse fire to go untended for a while. it was winter, january, but the mountain shielded us, and we had a lot of stove fires and sat around eating rice and natural foods. the wood smoke would come out the chimney and kind of get trapped in the hollow, between clinch mountain and the highway, and it would smell good and hang in the air as the dead leaves crunched at my feet. in people's cars we'd go up and down bloody eleven-w, sometimes they had a job down the road and other times they'd go up the road to buy supplies, and one time this pickup we were riding in the the back of lost a wheel, right out there on the highway, causing sparks to fly all over the place, and causing us to stand there, at the side of the road, out in the mountains somewhere, trying to figure out how to get home.

the only reason this little time in my life, about two weeks long, came up, there was this cadillac, it's for sale right next to our house. deep in the heart of texas, this big red old cadillac, about a 1968 or so, a convertible, and i said to myself, maybe that's hank's. i had no idea what happened with hank williams dying in a cadillac, or when, but i associated it for some reason with texas. so it encouraged me to go look up the facts. of course i couldn't buy this cadillac, you know by the mere fact it's sitting there, they're asking too much for it, but nevertheless i thought i'd find out what i could, and i did.

now i'd just finished talking to a friend of mine, her father died on the main street of our town, i don't know the details, but because there's a well-known ghost in the old post office there on the main street, i brought it up; she didn't believe in ghosts much, but the question came up, is there any reason a person on the road driving, would die here or there or anywhere else in particular? most people die in beds of course, so it's the rooms in any given old house that have a feeling to them, but for that small population that die out there in a car, or in a horse, or even in an airplane, you can't help but wonder if it matters. you see these roadside markers beside the road as if people are like me, they feel someone is still there, someone owns the spot, someone will be appeased if some flowers are laid right there by the side of the road. but who knows, it's not like a ghost can't walk, or get around any other way. they could go and haunt any place they wanted, couldn't they?

so the story of hank drew me right in, and it turns out his cadillac was blue, and was about sixteen years earlier, and he was from alabama. but one december he and his driver headed up toward west virginia in this cadillac for a pair of gigs up there and got stranded in knoxville tennessee; they put hank in the back of that cadillac one night and started driving again, but got pulled over and cited right near bean station. some time after that hank was found to be dead; he was 29; he'd lived a rough life and had been given morphine in knoxville, because of being sick. some suggested that he was dead as far back as knoxville, but apparently they got pulled over and given a ticket, without the police poking him to see if he'd stir. the driver also was not really suspected of wrongdoing; he'd just driven, through a storm, up through bean station and then up into west virginia.

of course the country music world lived and relived the fateful trip and finally saved the cadillac and put it in a museum in alabama. it was a fifty-two, roundish, but new at the time (this was new year's eve, fifty three), and i'm sure it's something to see.

but you relive the night hank was carried, coughing and wheezing, from his room in knoxville, and then you figure, pulled over, getting a ticket, car open, sitting around on a cold snowy night, when even the plane was cancelled out of knoxville due to snow. i'm figuring hank died somewhere right around bean station.

if anyone said anything to me about it, it went right over my head at the time, though they might have. there was a lot going on, a lot of people, a lot of traffic on that road, but at the time, i didn't know how big hank williams was in the country world; i had only a vague idea. even as recently as last week, i associated the whole story with texas, for some reason, i thought he'd died in texas. and for some reason, i pictured him alone, out in the desert, under the stars. goes to show, you make an image in your mind, and after a while you believe it, and in the end, it doesn't matter much whether ghosts are real, the fact is, we feel stuff, and we make up the rest. there could be ghosts all over the place, and they could even reach out and grab someone, or grab the wheel off a truck, who knows? but most likely, it's just the world, doing its usual stuff, and making us wonder.


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