Haunted Hawleyville #2: Norman and the Newcomers

Great-Grandma and Grandad Ruggles' Grave

He was always larger than life to me, even though I only knew him through his childrens’ stories and old family pictures.

My Great-Grandad Norman Ruggles died before I was born. But when I visited my Great-Grandmother Katie in Tunnelton, WV, he still seemed to be everywhere. His picture on the wall was stern and fatherly, his eyes intense even in black and white. The memories his children carried, particularly my Grandmom and my Great-Aunt Fuzzy, were colorful and vivid.

In my teens, my first boyfriend B and I went with my grandparents for a West Virginia weekend. B and I rode in the back as my grandfather drove. We watched the urban sprawl of Baltimore change to the mountain and farming landscapes of Western MD, and by the time we crossed the West Virginia state line I was full of giddy excitement. These “trips to the country” never failed to thrill me, even as I grew to the age where most teens would lose interest in family visits to remote mountain towns.

My grandmom passed the travel time telling B stories of her childhood in the house we were about to stay in. I had heard them all before, but they still entranced me. Especially the stories about Great-Grandad Ruggles.

Norman was a coal miner and a farmer, who raised my grandmother, her sister and four brothers with a stern but loving hand. He taught them to hunt and fish and farm, and to be proud in spite of being poor as long they worked hard. He was also fond of his booze, and would spend many a night sitting on his porch with a bottle.

Some of my grandmother’s favorite stories were of her father’s drunken singing. It seems I might have gotten my tone-deaf chicken squawking from him. But in the bottle, he must have thought he sounded like Hank Williams, because he sang loud and proud. The children would huddle to listen and try to muffle their laughter. It pissed him off when they giggled at his crooning.

Other times, he’d tell them ghost stories. My grandmother’s best girlfriend growing up lived in a farmhouse up the road. Between their homes was a church and a cemetary. This friend often stayed at the Ruggles house until after dark before traipsing home. My grandmom would walk with her to the middle of the graveyard. Then they would say their goodbyes and each run home alone as fast as they could.

When she got home, my grandmother’s heart would be pounding, and her father would still be on the porch, chuckling to himself. That run home was always scary, because before the girls left Norman would fill their heads with tales of ghosts and ghouls waiting in the graveyard.

By the time we got to the Ruggles house, B had gotten a delightful earful of my Grandmother’s childhood stories. He soon met all the weathered but healthy family members who had been kids in the road trip tales and now had children of their own. He basked in Grandma Katie’s warm smile, welcoming hug and home country cooking. I showed him the picture of Norman on the wall, and talked about how I wished that I could have met him in person. B studied the picture for a bit, his eyes meeting Norman’s vivid gaze. Then he turned away.

The day passed quickly, as those fun-filled trips always did, and before we knew it dark had fallen. We visited late into the night in Katie’s living room, under Norman’s watchful gaze. Then gradually, the great-aunts and uncles and cousins who had gathered to see us drifted home to their own farmhouses. My Grandfather left to head up the road to stay with his own mother, my Great-Grandma Hawley.

Grandmom, B and I were staying at Grandma Katie’s. So were my Aunt Fuzzy and her husband, my Uncle Don, who were visiting from Williamsburg. There were two spare bedrooms in the farmhouse. Aunt Fuzzy and Uncle Don took the one near Grandma Katie’s room. Grandmom and I shared the one by the living room (the same one Grandmom was in during the night I was a ghost). B was to sleep on the couch in the living room.

It had been a long and busy day, and I fell into a sound sleep quickly, my grandmom snoring softly beside me.  I woke sometime in the wee hours of the morning, long before the sun chased away the darkness. The sounds of a door creaking open had startled me out of slumber.

I let my eyes adjust to the darkness. Beside me, grandmom still snoozed. I slid from the bed as quietly as I could, and padded barefoot out of the bedroom. The couch came into view as soon as I stepped into the living room.

B’s blanket and pillow were there, but he wasn’t. The room felt much colder than our toasty bedroom, and the chill nipped my bare arms and ankles. I wandered into the kitchen, but it was empty and cold too, although not nearly as chilly as the living room. I could hear Great-Grandma Katie and Uncle Don snoring in their beds on the other side of the house. I’ve got a lot of snorers in my family.

I crept back into the living room. For some reason, my eyes wandered to Norman’s photograph. He seemed to be watching me almost reproachfully. Then, through the window, I saw a shadow move out on the porch.

I jumped and gave a muffled yelp. Then the shadow grew clearer, and I realized it was B.

I threw his blanket over my shoulders and went outside. He was standing on the porch, looking confused and forlorn.

“What are you doing out here?” I asked him.

“Your great-grandfather told me to get out of his house,” he replied as if that made all the sense in the world.

A shiver went up my spine. The night was dark and the moon was heavy in a cloudy sky. Up the road, just out of view, I knew the church and graveyard rested in the moonlight, and that one of the headstones belonged to my great-grandfather – the same man my boyfriend said had just told him to leave the house.

That’s enough weirdness for anyone to swallow – especially an easily spooked teenage girl.

We sat on the porch swing and talked, shivering in the cold and talking about what had happened. B said he’d awoken to find a man who looked just like the one in Norman’s picture standing over him, pointing towards the door. The man had never spoken, B said. But he’d known that the pointing finger meant “get out of my home.” Not knowing what else to do, he had.

Eventually, I got B to come back into the house. When the sun crept into the sky and my grandmom, Aunt Fuzzy, Uncle Don and Great-Grandma Katie woke up, they were surprised to find us already awake. We told them what had happened.

Sitting around with warm coffee mugs in hand, sunlight streaming through the windows, and family chattering around us, the weirdness of the night faded. My family was convinced that B had a bad dream, fueled by all their stories of how gruff Norman could be and the picture hanging above his sleeping place. In the comfort of the morning, it was easy to convince us they were right.

By the time we got home, it felt like little more than a funny story to share for years to come. Sitting in our living room back in Baltimore, I told my mom about our adventure, expecting her to laugh at our silliness.

Instead, she looked surprised and a little disturbed. I soon learned why when she told her own story.

When they were newlyweds, she said, she had traveled to Grandma Katie’s with my father. They slept in the bedroom where I was sleeping with Grandmom. She had awoken – or dreamed she had awoken – to find Norman watching her. He didn’t point and tell her to leave the way he did B. But by the way he was staring at her, she knew he was disturbed by her presence.

So in her dream, she told him that everything was okay, that she belonged there because she was his grandson’s wife. And she said she felt a sense of peace in him then, and that he went away.

I still to this day wonder what happened.

My great-grandfather, long buried in a cemetary a short walk from his home, was a vivid character in the stories his children told. Did my mother and my first boyfriend coincidentally have similar odd dreams when they visited his home, sparked by those tales and his imposing picture on the wall?

Or, did Norman remain protective of his family and his home even after death, and show up to check things out when he sensed newcomers in his house? Did he treat them differently because he knew that B would not become a part of our family, while my mother of course already had?

I never saw my great-grandfather’s spirit myself, in dreams or while awake. But I did feel his larger-than-life presence in every nook and cranny of the house.

A few years after B’s experience, my Great-Grandma Katie’s health began to fail. She passed away while I was in college. During her last year or so, my cousin Cindy moved in and acted as her caretaker, and she continued to live in the house after Katie’s death.

When Grandma Katie was still alive, Cindy would often hear the little radio in her bedroom playing old music late at night. When she’d peek in, Grandma Katie would seem to be sound asleep. But Cindy would assume that she must have awoken and wanted to hear music, turned on the radio and drifted quickly back to sleep.

She never could figure out why that old radio continued to come on at odd hours and fill that bedroom with quiet old music after Katie joined Norman in the graveyard.

What do you think?


About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Childhood Memories, Family, Haunted Hawleyville, Weird and Spooky Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Haunted Hawleyville #2: Norman and the Newcomers

  1. That is one great story. It’s also nice to hear about your great grandpa. He reminded me of my grandfather. Both are hardworking men who took care of their family well. I can relate to the photographs of our dead relatives. As a boy, I was scared at night at my grandma’s house. She keeps the framed photos of dead relatives some of which died in our ancestral home. I would run to go from room to room after midnight. Same piercing eyes. One time on All souls day, we heard a loud knock on the door and there was nobody there. That freaked everyone in the room. Have a great day!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Oh wow, that is freaky! It is odd how those photos of long-gone relatives can actually seem to be watching you, moving along with you as you go about your business, isn’t it? Like you, I’d be fine with it in the daytime but get freaked out at night!

  2. Stacy Green says:

    What a fascinating story! I’ve had paranormal experiences myself, and the ones that happened to your family sound pretty intense. I feel the same about looking at pictures of relatives that have passed on. We have a large collection of pictures that are a hundred years older or more, and they’re both interesting and disturbing to me.
    Great post!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      You nailed that feeling perfectly with “interesting and disturbing.” My grandmother has boxes of old pictures like that at her house, and whenever I go through them I’m fascinated and often feel a connection when certain facial features remind me vaguely of myself or others in my family, or I see a certain facial expression and think “that’s how my dad smiles!” It makes me feel both connected to people who were gone before my time and a little sad and disturbed all at once.

  3. Catie Rhodes says:

    I loved this story. My great-grandfather was a murderer, a bootlegger, and Baptist. I would love to have met him…but only on a good day. I am wondering…did B break up with you after that?

    Like you, I love looking at old family pictures. I see my face, my mom’s smile, my dad’s dark skin and hair. When I hear stories, I “see” the personalities that have been passed down.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Oh wow, Catie! I’d love to meet your great-grandfather too, but like you said, only on a good day : ). Actually, B and I were together for a while after that – we broke up shortly after his family moved out of state for his dad’s job. Long distance and high school don’t mix : ).

  4. akamonsoon says:

    Wow, that is amazing that both your boyfriend and your Mom had the same experience. That is really neat. I bet it was your Great Granddad just keeping an eye on things.

  5. Jess Witkins says:

    I like this story Pam, and the fact that you had an Aunt Fuzzy. Pretty funny that B actually got up and left the house, how respectful? Creepy? Either way, what a great family tale. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I think if I had been him I might have done the same thing lol! But I wonder, if I’d stayed asleep, would he have sat out there on the porch all night? Aunt Fuzzy was so awesome – at some point in the future I’m going to do a post just about her. Her real name was Alma, but no one ever called her that : ).

  6. Marcia says:

    Great story, Pam. I think I would have done exactly what B did. In fact, I might have slept in the car. creepy!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I think if he’d had access to one, he would have lol! Unluckily for him, Grandad had taken his car to his mom’s house for the night, and he didn’t know my aunt and uncle well enough yet to feel comfortable hunting down their keys and crawling into theirs!

  7. kimkiminy says:

    Most definitely. Norman is still there.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I like to think so. These days, there is no one living in the house, but it is still in the family so one of these days I’d love to go back as an adult and check it out : ).

  8. tsonoda148 says:

    Loved this story! I would have been with B for sure, fraidy cat that I am. When I was pregnant (back in the dark ages) I had a recurring “thing” happen where a woman in a long white dress or nightie or something was standing at the foot of my bed. I still won’t say it was a dream because I literally woke up, sat up and looked at her. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I was preggers so who knows for sure. I was not very good at being pregnant. But that’s another story. LOL

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Oh wow. That is such a cool experience – creepy, but cool. I’d imagine that maybe being preggers could make you more “in tune” with something that was there – you never know!

  9. Jeff says:

    Another great story. I’m loving Haunted Hawleyville! Can it go all year?

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks Jeff! I don’t know if I have enough creepy tales to go all year, but I’ve enjoyed doing these so much that I do plan to keep Mondays as some time of theme-based story time, with the stories being based in real life and the theme changing every month or two. Glad you’re enjoying Haunted Hawleyville : )!

  10. I think people long gone can animate electronic gizmos. I had a radio that wouldn’t turn off and played music not from any station on this planet. And I’ll be posting a story about a SONY color TV that didn’t need its remote… 😉

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Can’t wait to see that story – I think you are right. So many “weird experiences” people have had an attributed to some sort of presence have had to do with radios, tvs or other electronics …

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