My buddies Lisa and Robin over at Facebook reminded me of this story. Originally published in GHOSTS AND HAUNTS FROM THE APPALACHIAN FOOTHILLS (1993), by James V. Burchill, Linda J. Crider, Peggy Kendrick and Marcia Wright Bonner, it always makes me think of my maternal grandmother. Mamaw was one of those whose floors you could eat off of and yet she’d apologize to visitors for how messy the house was–
and she was SO scandalized when she would, for whatever reason, not make her bed when she first got out of it in the morning. I sometimes wonder if she’d heard the story of what happened when Polly Garnett didn’t make her bed one morning.
Polly Garnett was a widow woman, living in a two-room house at the base of Collier Mountain. (I believe this might be in the Appalachian region of Maryland, but don’t quote me on that.) She was one of those who was up at by five-thirty AM, unless she was so sick she had the preacher praying by her bedside and the undertaker on standby, and was always busy, with each chore she set herself done in a set order.
The first thing on that list was, as her mother and grandmother had taught her, and as they had been taught by their mothers and grandmothers: always make your bed as soon as you get out of it. With that task done, the rest of the day followed as a matter of course.
She had eggs to get in, a cow to milk, a garden to keep in proper order, and her inside work to do, but they’d keep until the bed was made.
Wellllll. . .not always.
One morning in late summer Polly woke, as always, at five thirty. But this morning she woke to the sound of thunder and wind and lightning, rumbling and moaning and cracking as a thunderstorm moved in. She could smell the rain coming, too, and knew it would be a heavy one. She threw on her clothes and ran from her bedroom, knowing she had to get her outdoor chores done fast before the rain forced her back inside.
She completely forgot to make the bed. It lay like a tumbled reproach when she came back a couple of hours later; she was wet to the hide, for the rain had caught her anyway, but, without changing out of her wet clothes, she automatically went to make the bed, giving herself a vigorous scolding as she began to straighten the covers.
Her scolding died off to silence, though, when she looked up and across the bed. . .
for she saw another woman there, helping her pull the sheets into place, and straighten the blankets, and plump the pillows.
Polly was too startled to say a word, and, in any case, the woman simply faded out of sight as soon as the pillows were given the final finishing pat.
Polly remembered, the next morning, to make her bed upon rising; nevertheless, the woman was there to help again. She never spoke a word, although she would, occasionally, give Polly a sour-mouthed look of disapproval, and shake her head as if to say leavin’ the bed unmade. I ASK you, what kinda mountain woman forgets that?
Polly, not frightened but sadly puzzled about the apparition, began to wonder if, just perhaps, this wasn’t the spirit of one of her ancestors, those mountain women who had handed it down like gospel that, always, you made your bed the minute you got out of it, and no excuses.
And the more she wondered, the more she began to be afraid the silent woman would never go away: that she would face her across that bed every morning for the rest of her life.
Finally, one morning, toward winter, when the woman appeared in the lamplight, Polly, in an unusual fit of nerves, covered her face with her hands and asked, prayerfully, “Lord help my time, what have I DONE?”
The woman vanished in that moment. She didn’t show up the next morning, or the morning after that, or ever again.
But then, you see, Polly never forgot to make her bed first thing again, either. She was afraid the woman would come back.
I have to say, though, not being much of a housekeeper myself, my bed seldom gets made at all–
but I haven’t seen Mamaw standing by the bed, giving me the evil eye for not making it–