A Different Kind of Haunting
- Blog Post by: Rhonda Hayes
- March 16, 2013 - 8:31 AM
The stacks of mail are sorted. The piles of laundry are folded, well, almost. My warm winter home-away-from-home is just a memory, thanks winter, you waited for me to get back.
My time in Savannah was different from last year when I lived between Pinkie Masters, #3 dive bar in the south with its raucous sidewalk revelers, and the soaring spires of St John the Baptist Cathedral with its jubilant and punctual but jangly bells.
Changing to a little apartment on Abercorn was quiet for the most part aside from a heavy-footed fellow on the floor above. The ten thouand souls buried across the street at the historic Colonial Cemetery were well-behaved despite the various ghost tours that peer through the fence in the evenings talking up spooky tales that earn this city a spot on the most haunted list on a regular basis.
Around 600 tombstones remain but thousands more were laid to rest after suffering the ravages of yellow fever, frenzied duels and general misfortune from the mid 1700's until just before the Civil War when it closed down. Yet with all this potential for paranormal sightings I found myself haunted by another soul, an uneasy one but still alive.
Keeping my dog at this apartment saw me heading out 6 times everyday from dawn to dusk and then dark for his walks. We quickly found favorite routes with lovely gardens for me and patches of public grass for him. We would stroll through a few squares, hit a couple quiet of lanes and then double back through the cemetery and home.
Everyday unless it was raining I would see him sitting on the same bench facing south. He wears a heavy green Army jacket and keeps a black knitted scarf over his mouth. The rest of his face resembles a dark, shiny walnut burl.
I talk about him in present tense because I know at this very moment he is probably there on that bench.
He sits upright and statue-like, and somewhat dignified in sleep for the better part of the day. Other times he rocks in place. Those few times he leaves this spot you see that the bench seat is polished from his presence, a burnished circle he has worn into the wood.
When it rains he sits at the covered bus stop by the cathedral. When the wind blows he switches to the other side of the street by the breakfast cafe. At night he goes one more block, startling me the first time I see his shadowy figure curled behind the plexiglass as I hurry past.
Dog or not, I walk miles in Savannah all through the Historic District, through Forsyth Park, down the city's spine on Bull Street, zigzagging through the squares on my way to coffee shops to write or larking around with my daughter, but this new dog routine made me much more aware of the characters and forgotten folks of this pretty city that Lady Astor of England famously called "a beautiful woman with a dirty face".
For all I go on about Savannah I am keenly aware that just beyond the boundaries of the historic district the Disneyland-like cobbled streets and gaslit facades fade into a misery of gangs and crumbling buldings and housing projects. The number of transients, mentally ill and the desperate populating the parks has increased. I find the back and forth from blight to beautiful within blocks disconcerting and frustrating. That tenuous safety I felt before is shakier.
Feeling powerless you can try to vote, volunteer and donate it away and still it continues, everywhere.
There's a group of kind people that wander through Savannah's parks with a red wagon bringing food and other items to the homeless and aimless. I know that's how "my" homeless guy eats. I considered leaving food at the bench.
I would have felt like a pathetic do-gooder trying to engage him in conversation. I felt he deserved his privacy.
Is it enough I now think about him everyday?
© 2016 Star Tribune