Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Spooky Tale of Pottsville

Because it's Halloween and because I haven't spoken of Pottsville in a very long time, I figured I would share a spooky tale of Pottsville and kill two birds with one stone. Now, this isn't something spooky thing that happened in Pottsville, mind you, because in spite of there being only three lonely residences out in the middle of the boonies, far from anywhere, there really wasn't much spooky that happened there.

For those just joining us, Pottsville was a little homestead on a hill three miles off a dirt back road stretching between the hamlet of Woodruff and town of Snowflake.

Pottsville was founded by my Grandpa and Grandma Potts  in the early 1970s; then our little family of four joined them upon our move from Normal Town-Normal Life, Ohio in the late '70s. Finally, we were joined by my Aunt Barbara and her children Jack, Tawnya, David, John and Michelle (Shannon came later and was the only native-born Pottsvillian). We 13 people and assorted dogs, cats and the occasional milk cow, Shetland pony and pigs were the sum total of the inhabitants of Pottsville.

Grandpa and the other menfolk built a windmill that provided electricity for Grandpa's and Aunt Barbara's homes. We had a diesel generator down the lane, and we had Army field phones connected between the three homes. I kid you not. This was my life from nearly nine through age 13.

Ours was a very low key, if busy, existence. We gardened, cleaned, gardened, dusted, canned, did Grandma's laundry on a roller washer, gardened, made cheese, rendered lard, the works. The TV was only on while ironing one hour a week, we listened to a battery-operated radio and read by Coleman lantern in the evening. Again, I kid you not.

But this is not the spooky part of the story. No, that comes much later.

Let me finish painting this image of Pottsville. Grandma and Grandpa's place was at the bend in the road; Aunt Barbara's house was a matter of 50 to 100 yards, I guess, down the road from them; and we were 1/4 mile from Grandma's. There were no street lights, no sidewalks, no asphalt anywhere to be seen. There was a dirt road and we lived along it.

Flash forward about 22 or 23 years, when we had all long since moved from Pottsville to places with stop signs and forced air, and such. Grandma and Grandpa had passed away, I was living in the Phoenix metro area, my cousin John had just moved to southeastern Arizona and Aunt Barbara moved into a little rock house in Woodruff.

John and I had brought our kiddos home to Woodruff for Halloween, as we did every time Halloween fell on a weekend. We were chatting while our kids were trick or treating and I said, "Hey, I have to tell you about this weird recurring dream I've been having the past few years...." and I proceeded to tell him the following:

In my dream, we are up in Pottsville and I know it's sometime in the future, in the way you just seem to know these things in dreams. It's dark and a bunch of us from our family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, older grandkids -- are hurriedly packing belongings into the back of a truck that belongs to my Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam is there, along with John and me, and lots of others, and Uncle Sam says with his Georgia drawl coming through in a low, urgent tone, "Come on, guys, let's just get this packed and get out of here. Let's hurry up and get this done."

I instinctively know we are trying not to draw attention to ourselves.

This Pottsville looks nothing like our Pottsville of old. I know that's where we are, but it's transformed into a makeshift shanty town, with hastily thrown up lean-to kinds of dwellings, string lights strung haphazardly and unevenly from one dwelling to the next.

The dwellings look something like this, but without the water:

They're lining just one side of the street -- the side our family homes had been on -- and they extend from down where our house had been, up the road and around the bend in front of Grandma and Grandpa's place, then on down the road from their house about 1/8 of a mile.
The string lights (which look kinda like these):

aren't flickering, but they're swaying a little bit -- whether from all the bustling activity or a breeze, I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that there is a menace in the air. I mean a menace. Anyone see "Escape from New York" with Kurt Russell and Adrienne Barbeau in the '80s? Yeah, that kind of menace. That "keep your head low, don't make eye contact, don't even breathe loud" kind of heavy franticness in the air. (I don't care if franticness isn't a word; it's what I mean.)

Trucks with all kinds of mean looking dudes go driving past, with threatening looking guys in the cabs and a few in the truck beds, holding rifles, for good measure. Dogs are weaving in and out of the action, moving through the groups of people. There's a droning noise - a mixture of idling engines, generators, and the trucks motoring by.

The mantra repeats in my head, "We gotta get outta here. We gotta go. Let's go, let's go." Even in your head, you muttered it low so no one could hear. I was tense and afraid and intent. And I knew so was every member of my family around me.

I had the sense that if we messed up, something like this would happen:

And that was it.

That was the sum total of the dream.

Where were we trying to go? Why had that little shanty town emerged up on our hill? Why did it feel like the whole world was in the same boat and that wherever we were heading wasn't necessarily going to be much better?

No clue.

As chilling as the dream was, and as unnerving as it was to have it over and over, over the years, the dream wasn't the spooky part.

This is the spooky part.

After I described the dream to John, expecting to elicit a witty quip or rash of questions from him, instead I noticed he'd gone a little slack jawed.

"What?" I asked.

Slack jawed wasn't what I'd anticipated.

"What?" I repeated.

Anyone who knows my cousin John knows he's a jokester and can understand why I was just waiting for his goofy rejoinder.

Instead, he said without a hint of humor, "I've been having that same dream."

There went my shave job.

Does that ever happen to you? You shave your legs, then you go and get goose bumps and out pop the little stubbies on your legs? Well, that's what happened to me in that moment. Instant stubbies.

I took a good look at him to see if he was pulling my leg, but he asked, "Who's in your dream?"

I rattle off the cast of recurring characters.

"That's the same as mine, except Grandpa and Uncle Bob are there, too."

Uncle Bob and Grandpa have been gone for years by the time we have this conversation.

Not knowing what to do with this creepy little turn of events, we changed the topic and didn't speak of it again -- to each other or anyone else.

Then, Halloween rolled around a year or two later, and John and I found ourselves at his mom's house where we were visiting while our kids bagged candy from the neighbors.

As we were sitting there I ventured, "Hey, Aunt Barbara, did John ever tell you about the weird dream about Pottsville we've both been having?"

Aunt Barbara is a no nonsense, doesn't-brook-fools kind of woman and I love her dearly for all her grumpy protestations when people are acting ridiculous. I honestly did not know how she would respond to our tale, but since it'd been a couple years since we talked about it and I wasn't as spooked anymore, I figured we'd give it a whirl.

So, we finish telling her about the dream, and without flapping an eyelid, she shrugs her shoulders and says, as cool as a cucumber, "I've been having that dream for the past 10 years."

We had no words.

Then Aunt Barbara added, "But in my dream, one of the dogs has short fur and I know it's cold,so I take a pair of flannel footsie pajamas that belong to one of Teri's babies -- because, Teri, I knew you wouldn't mind -- and I put them on the dog."

And we've never spoken of it to one another since.

What the heck does it mean to have three people dreaming the same dream over the years, with no shared knowledge of it and certainly without any basis in any kind of shared experience we'd ever had? Why would this happen?

I can tell you that since we had that conversation, I have not had the dream again. I haven't asked Aunt Barbara or John whether they have, either.

And that's my spooky Pottsville tale.

Happy Halloween from the farm,

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