It was straight out of a Charlie Daniels song.
October is more than changing leaves, pumpkins and candy corn (that is if you really like candy corn). It’s the time of year to scare the wits out of you (if you have any wits).
“We’re gonna drive to Mayhayley’s grave on Friday night,” said my 16-year old across-the-street neighbor Donnie Muse in 1980.
“Who’s Mayhayley?” I asked, only 11-years old at the time.
“She was a fortune teller who lived in Heard County, and everything she told people came true,” said Donnie.
“I want to go,” I said.
“I doubt your mother will let you go,” Donnie replied. “Let’s go ask her.”
We walked into my house and my mother knew we were up to something.
“Betty, can Joe go with us to Mayhayley’s grave tomorrow night?” Donnie said (my mother was one of the cool parents who liked our friends to call her by her first name).
“Are you driving?” she asked. “Who’s going?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Al, maybe Edwyn and possibly one more.”
“I guess so, but why in the world do y’all want to go to Mayhayley’s grave?” she inquired. “Maw Maw always said, ‘Nobody needs to go messing with the dead.’ ”
Before we left, we gathered at Donnie’s house where his mother Jean told us a few Mayhayley stories.
“Now my granddaddy would have had a fit knowing that I went with my grandmother once to see Mayhayley,” said Jean. “He was a Baptist minister and preached against anyone with the power to see spirits and look into the future — but we went anyway.
“My grandmother used to hide her money inside a little sack which she pinned to one of her brassieres,” continued Jean. “One day she forgot about the money sack when she did the wash and left it outside to dry on the clothes line. Well, her money went missing and she didn’t know where to begin to look. After scouring her house and yard, she decided to go see Mayhayley. And Mayhayley told her who stole it.
“Since my grandmother knew the girl, she approached the girl’s mother,” Jean articulated. “And it didn’t take long for the little girl to confess. My grandmother got her money back.”
“Did you ever ask Mayhayley to read your fortune?” I asked Jean.
“I sure did,” said Jean. “It was only once and she told me I was going to meet a short black-haired man who I would marry one day. A few weeks later, I met my husband Newt.”
Jean also told us about Mayhayley’s role that’s featured prominently in the book and later made into a television movie in which June Carter Cash played the famous fortune teller in “Murder in Coweta County.”
After listening to Jean’s stories, we loaded into Donnie’s 1974 Volkswagen Beetle and drove to Roosterville. While we approached the Heard County line, Donnie told us that it’s possible someone would shine a light on us as we entered the cemetery (In reality, it was the headlights hitting a spot on the stained-glass windows at Caney Head United Methodist Church that reflected back to the car to create the illusion. It still scared me to death).
Finally, we reached the dirt road that would take us to our destination. And then, it happened.
The new Charlie Daniels song “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” blared on the radio. It was a sign (perhaps from the Devil himself) as the lyrics would say—
“If you ever go back into Wooley Swamp, son, you better not go at night
“There’s things out there in the middle of them woods
“That’d make a strong man die from fright
“There’s things that crawl and things that fly
“And things that creep around on the ground
“And they say the ghost of Lucias Clay gets up and it walks around.”
“Let’s turn around,” I screamed.
We didn’t. I buried my head and then followed the crowd while we stood around Mayhayley’s grave.
Who knows what we heard next? Maybe it was the wind telling us to move along? Heck, it may have been an acorn falling on a graveside pebble? It doesn’t really matter because something spooked us and we ran back to Donnie’s car.
Vroom. Vroom. The VW Beetle caught a wheel in the dirt and we sped away toward the big city of Ephesus.
Thankfully, we arrived back home safely.
“Well, did y’all get scared?” my mother asked.
“No m’am,” I replied.
For the remainder of the night, I slept with the covers over my head. I think Maw Maw was right when she said it’s best to not “go messing with the dead.”
And every now and then, when the autumn sky turns dark, the leaves rustle and the ghosts whisper to me in bed, my mind drifts back to a dirt road on a cold October night—and the spirit of Mayhayley Lancaster fills my head.