Larry Brody: ‘Our Friendly Neighborhood House Ghosts’

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NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Live! From Paradise! #4
by Larry Brody

A lot of people have asked how I got to Central Arkansas. Usually I say, “By truck.”

The fact is that for years I worked with a Hot Springs native named Harry Thomason who always talked about how his best pal Bill Clinton was going to be President of the United States and how Arkansas was the most beautiful state in the union.

After Bill was sworn in I started wondering about the rest, and when Gwen the Beautiful and I decided to leave the madness of “Hollywood” Arkansas seemed like a good bet.

My wife being from Oklahoma, we flew to Tulsa and started driving east. As soon as we crossed the border we knew Harry was on to something. We drove through Fayetteville and into the Ozarks, overwhelmed by all the rich, dark, and powerful shades of green.

Near Huntsville a realtor took us to see a hundred and fifty acres of woodland with a mostly-finished house in the center. Gwen and I especially liked the creek that tumbled joyfully a hundred yards away.

But then the realtor showed us its source. A well with a big diverter spilling into the woods. Gwen shook her head. “Why would we come all this way to live in another illusion?”

We drove farther and higher and the next day found ourselves following a winding two-lane highway into mist so thick and reflection so deep you couldn’t tell if you were looking up or down, outside yourself or within. Alongside us was a rushing river walled by high, jumbled rocks and stone-grabbing trees.

“I dreamed about this place,” Gwen said. “I think there are buffalo here.”

We stopped beside a rugged old sign reading: “Buffalo National River.”

Close enough.

We drove about twenty miles north to Yellville, the nearest reasonably sized town. While Gwen relaxed in our motel room I strolled to the town square, with its native stone courthouse in the center. Until that moment the only place I’d ever felt like I was at home was in Gwen’s arms, but I knew I was home now. I knew this town square, and it knew me as well.

The next morning June the Realtor took us to see several spreads. By lunch we knew that our decision was between two places along the I-14. Both good-sized log cabins. Both with the same acreage. One had room for all our furniture. One made us feel good.

We made an offer on the one with more room. The offer was turned down.

We made an offer on the one that made us feel good. Gladys the Seller was a school bus driver who raced her bus to the realtor’s office in order to sign before we changed our minds. The only point to be negotiated was when could we move in.

Gladys wanted us to close yesterday. We couldn’t do it until next week. To make it more attractive, she lowered the price.

June was shocked. “You’re paying less than it originally cost!”

We took the deal. And had a ranch fourteen miles from the Buffalo National River, our own mountain with the densest woods this side of Tolkien, a good-sized pasture, a pond at the bottom of the mountain on one side and a little creek at the bottom on the other. Original Settlers’ Cabins halfway down the creek side. A winding rock ridge wrapped around a quarter mile of caves.

Delly the Interstate Trucker, our nearest neighbor, was the seller’s best friend. “Gladys is living in Florida now,” Delly told Gwen and me one day. “She loves it there.”

She hesitated. Then: “She wants to know if you still like the house. Or if you’ve—“ practically stuttering now—“heard anything.”

“Heard anything?” I said.

“Gladys says the place is haunted!” Delly blurted out. “She says there’s ghosts!”

Gwen smiled. I started to laugh.

Because, yes, we’ve heard something. Voices. Talking. Laughing. Singing. Calling. Even arguing sometimes. Always from the next room, no matter what room we’re in. Or if we’re outside, from off in the trees.

I feel bad for Gladys. I’m sorry what she heard frightened her away. But Gwen and I have no problem. The ghosts make every moment a fascinating mystery. Our friends without form are the ones who invited us here.

They’re why the house feels so good.

Larry Brody: ‘Live! From Paradise! #3’ – Fred & Dead

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NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and occasionally best owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise we had to keep on earning. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

By Larry Brody

One day as my wife Gwen the Beautiful and I were leaving the ranch to drive into town we noticed a couple of trucks pulled over at the side of the road. Several people were standing around and when one of them saw us he waved and called out. “You missing your dog?”

We weren’t, but that didn’t keep us from being curious. We drove over to the group and saw Fred, an old-timer from up the road, and a Mennonite couple and their son. Fred pointed into the woods—our woods on our property as it turned out—and showed me what the fuss was about. A dead dog lying under a tree about fifty feet from the road.

We tromped in for a closer look. Fred showed me four widely spaced bullet holes. Someone had shot the dog, probably from the road. “None of these is a kill shot,” Fred pointed out. “Whoever did the shooting wanted the dog to suffer.” His eyes misted up. “Same thing happened to my dog.”

As we walked back to the road Fred told me about his dead retriever, “the best dog that ever honored a man with her love.” One day not long enough ago for the memory to have healed, Fred’s dog came crawling home to die in his arms after being shot six times. Individually, none of the wounds was mortal, but in combination, “She bled to death is what happened.”

The Mennonite Couple said they’d seen a black pickup going up and down the road slowly several times in the past few weeks, and just that morning they’d heard shots coming from it as it went by. Fred’s eyes lighted up. He described different kinds of black pickups. “Was it a Ford? Dodge? Did it have chrome pipes?” He reminded me of all the TV detectives I’ve written over the years. Sounded like a member of CSI.

The Mennonite Couple answered as best they could. Fred’s expression grew grim. “This old boy with the black pickup is just plain bad,” he said. “I’ll find out who he is—“

“And go to the sheriff…? Gwen said.

“This ain’t a sheriff kinda thing,” Fred said. “Animals’re kind of a gray area. No…I’ll just be paying that old boy a little visit on my own…”

“You might want to have somebody with you,” the Mennonite husband said. He was volunteering, but Fred shook his head. Patted the hunting knife sheathed to his belt.

“No,” said Fred. “It’s best if I go alone. That’s one of the Old Ways.” His eyes rested on each of us standing there, one after another. “Till then, you’d best be watching your dogs.”

“Somebody should bury that one,” the Mennonite woman said, pointing into the woods.

My property, my job. I told the others I’d take care of it, and after they drove off Gwen and I went back to our place, where Jeff, our Unhandy Man, and I grabbed a couple of shovels and did the deed. When we were finished I sent out a little prayer, best wishes for a dog that someone, somewhere close by, most certainly must have loved.

Since then, every time I’m on that road I find myself looking for a black pickup. And, of course, I always find one, or two or three. Part of me says, “Get the license number! Call Fred!” But another part says, “Stay out of this. How’ll you feel if someone gets hurt?”

The truth is, I don’t know how I’ll feel if I hear that an evil old boy with a black pickup was found sliced and diced or shot dead. Or if I learn that Fred’s been charged with the slicing, dicing, or shooting. I’m not even sure what I’ll feel if I hear that an evil old boy with a black pickup took Fred out in self-defense.

What I am sure of is that if in the meantime anything happens to one of my dogs I’m going to regret to my own dying day that, unlike Fred, I don’t have what it takes to hitch up my anger and steep myself in the blood of the Old Ways.

But I’ll tell you this. If that time comes, ain’t nothing in this or any other world that’ll keep me from calling on old Fred.