The Hunter’s Moon is past, when leaves are falling and the game is fattened. We are heading for the Beaver Moon, when it is time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze and to ensure that we have a supply of warm winter furs. It is also called the frost moon, and we can expect colder weather to come soon.
What I like is a full yellow moon (we call it a “Halloween Moon,” although it is just a family term and not an official one). When it hangs suspended in the autumn night, with a few thin, wispy clouds moving blackly across its surface, it brings back memories of childhood fun. The wind will blow in gusts, picking up the dry leaves in its path to toss in a mad, swirling dance. It seems like a night when anything can happen.
When I was a kid growing up here in the hills, “tokens” were my secret terror. A token is an omen or sign of a person’s impending death, and they were discussed as a matter of fact when I was a child. Mom’s family was sort of superstitious, and friends and families would sit around the fireplace at night, telling tales of the things they had seen and heard.
These things were recounted in such serious, sepulchral tones that we children would sit and listen with dry mouths and fast-beating hearts. Later, we would creep off to bed, still frightened. I remember pulling the covers over my head and barely breathing.
One of the stories I heard recounted many times was the time my Grandma Samples was walking past the “Ha’nted Mudhole.” This place was reputedly haunted because a young soldier (Union or Confederate?) was hung in the big oak tree that arose above it. Grandma had two of her little boys with her, and there appeared a little dog walking about 2 feet above the ground. One of them said, “Maw, did you see that dog walking on the air?” or something to that effect.
Then there was that time when Aunt Hallie and some others were walking past the Mudhole and with a show of bravery, my aunt hollered, “Come out, Ghost!” They recounted later that it was as if some sort of material wound around their legs, and they could hardly walk. The tree was cut down later, and there were no more weird manifestations.
Although I am not superstitious, I must admit that my mother possessed what we now call “ESP.” She did have dreams and premonitions that could never be fully explained. She passed it off lightly as being the seventh daughter. One night we were out in the yard, looking at an eerie moon, spotted and dark streaked. “There’s blood on the moon tonight,” I remember her saying. “When there’s blood on the moon, death lurks in the shadows,” I replied. (That was a line from a movie I had seen advertised.)
“I didn’t know there was such a movie,” she answered me. That very night, one of our neighbor’s boys, who was nicknamed “Moon,” fell off the back of a truck and was killed. For a while after that, I was almost afraid of my own mother. I was so afraid of seeing a token that I wouldn’t go to the barn in broad daylight to fetch the dry onions we stored there.
She tried to explain to me that there was nothing to fear. “You will never see a token if you are afraid of them,” she said.
I do remember this, however. When Grandpa Hooge Samples (Mom’s father) lay on his death bed, a strange dog came and sat outside Mom’s bedroom window for two nights in a row and howled at 2 o’clock in the morning. The third night, someone in the family came and told Mom that Grandpa had died at 2 o’clock.
There was the light that neighbors saw the night that Granny Cottrill died. They had gathered there at her home to keep vigil, as it seemed she couldn’t last much longer. The man that related this was there, and he swore it was the truth. Some of the young men had grouped in the kitchen to keep a fire in the cook stove.
One of them happened to glance out the window, where he saw a light. It looked like the beam of a flashlight, shining on the outside wall of the chicken house. He wondered aloud the reason for it, and a couple of other boys joined him at the window.
While they watched, the spot grew larger and larger until it was a huge circle covering the whole side of the building. Then it slowly grew smaller. It diminished to a pinpoint until it vanished altogether. At that precise moment, two of the women who had been at Granny Cottrill’s bedside stepped into the kitchen to announce that she had passed away just then.
I am sure about every family here in the country has tales to tell about their departed loved ones, but the one that still amuses me is about my Uncle Grover Samples. He was coming home one dark night many years ago, and the family lived on Big Laurel Creek. There was no road into their home; just a path out past Twistabout Ridge, around a graveyard and down over the hill.
Uncle Grover was extremely near-sighted, the night was pitch black, and he was alone. Just as he neared the cemetery fence, he caught the glimpse of a ghostly white shape moving through the cemetery. He stopped in terror, the blood draining from his body. While he watched, it shimmered and moved closer to him. Sheer horror lent wings to his feet, and he started to run in blind panic.
As he plunged headlong through the brush and weeds, he fell suddenly over a huge black shape that was warm and alive. As it lumbered to its feet with a startled “Moo,” he realized it was his neighbor’s cows that were peacefully chewing their cuds along the graveyard fence. The trip on home was made in record time.
My own children have grown up with normal nightmares about bears and witches. I have never seen or heard a token, and I hope I never will. In fact, it has been years since I’ve heard any talk about them. Perhaps they are a thing of the past. I love this Bible verse in Proverbs 3:24 that says, “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.”