Appalachia Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

Momma Jones’ Rocking Chair

Today’s guest post was written by Keith Jones


Momma Jones’ Rocking Chair written by Keith Jones

It has the kind of finish that furniture gets at a certain age: blackish-brown, shiny only where hands have rubbed away the finish, here and there some checking as the old varnish breaks down. It’s not really remarkable as a rocking chair. Thousands like it were bought from Sears Roebuck, J.C. Penny, and those other long-gone moguls of mail order.

The seat is a worn leather circle, the engraved stamping that lent a fashionable aura decades ago now visible only as faint lines. The dowels that form the back have occasionally slipped from their sockets. Here and there are clumsy tacks my grandfather used to make rough repairs. The rocking chair sits atop a pile of other unused furniture, in a climate-controlled storage unit, with other possessions that have no immediate use, but are too tied to sentiment or too valuable to dispose of out of hand.

My first memory of the chair was of my grandmother, known to one and all as Momma Jones, sitting in it after breakfast each morning to brush her hair. Dull gray, her tresses were distinguished only by their length. As a young boy, I wondered at how so much hair could be wound up into such a small bun on the back of her head.

When she unwound it, Momma Jones’ hair reached the floor and pooled there, like some fairy-story Rapunzel past the prime of life. She would take hold of her hair about three feet from her head, and hold it up off the floor. Then she’d patiently brush from her hand to the ends. After the carefully counted 100 strokes, she’d move the ends to her lap, and do 100 strokes from her head to where her hand had been holding her hair.

No matter whether she was at home or visiting relatives, this morning routine did not vary. I would see her sitting in a rocker in our guest bedroom, and it was as if somehow she’d transported a little capsule of her home to our house.

Time grinds, and all lives are its grist. And so time ground Momma Jones, bringing small strokes that gradually made it dangerous for her to live alone. Today, we might diagnose Alzheimer’s or senile dementia. All we family knew was that she couldn’t stay on Ralston Street in Gainesville any more.

We helped her sell the old house, with its chicken-house converted to storage, and the old barn, outhouse, and a massive turkey fig tree, right there in town, where a neighborhood had grown up around it. Dad and I worked to connect water and sewer to a brand-new mobile home just steps from our back door.

Momma Jones never really made the transition. She was there long enough to get her dose of the oral Polio vaccine that was being distributed then, but we soon learned that she needed 24-hour care, or she’d wander off into the woods seeking the johnny house—walking right by her brand-new, gleaming bathroom, of course.

She lasted six years in the nursing home. The trailer was sold, although the dead grass where it cast its shadow was years coming back to normal. The rocking chair was moved to our guest room, which eventually became my room as an older teenager.

Dad was away, seeing about Momma Jones. I was walking in the yard, picking up fallen limbs before mowing the grass. I’d just discovered a patch of remarkable clover that had a dozen or more 4-leaf stalks, and some with even more. When Mom called me, I said, as only an engrossed teenager can, “I’ll be there in a minute!”

“No, son, right now!” Her tone told me something was wrong. Soon we were on the way to Gainesville. We didn’t return until after the funeral. I found it strange that I drove the sixty miles home from Gainesville, following Dad and Mom in our second car, before I’d ever been allowed to drive the three miles to the town closest to home.

That night, I fell into exhausted sleep. It was a warm, late spring night, so the curtains were open and the windows were cranked out. I don’t know what woke me, but it was sudden. Moonlight was streaming in the window beside my bed. And square in the center of the moonbeam was Momma Jones’ chair…rocking, just rocking.


I hope you enjoyed Keith’s ghost story as much as I did. The perfect tale for Halloween.


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  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 2, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    How can I say things like “enjoyable read” or “I really liked your story” or “unsettling”? Those rejoinders take away from your recollection. I can say I’m glad you put it down in writing and I’m glad I got to read your poignant essay. Thank you for sending it to Tipper for us to see.

  • Reply
    November 1, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Awww, sad to hear the rocker in storage after that. Might bring a comfort to know a loved one lingered after death to watch over you. To some though, maybe not.
    Some of us believe our Mother lingered in our old house after she’d died, because many many years after, a wee great niece living there had an “imaginary” playmate that she described as a “nice lady” with “brown curly hair” whose name was “Mary” which all described our mother, her great-grandmother that she’d never met or heard much about cause she’d died many decades before, to a “T” – right down to the name.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Vickie Carnes
    October 31, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    I will not “last” in a nursing home. If I cannot care for myself and I don’t have a family who wants to care for me then I don’t want to be. We come into this world helpless and we leave the same way. In between our purpose is to care those who cannot provide their own. Listen to the Wilson Brothers’ “I’d Rather Live Beside of the Road.”
    If they put me away, they’d better keep me strapped me down. “Living” in a nursing home is not living. Calling it “assisted living” doesn’t help. I would rather you sat me in my rocker on a highway overpass and let me hitch a ride on the front of a shiny red Peterbilt.
    Rest in Peace-Momma Jones

  • Reply
    October 31, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Love has no boundaries. It goes well beyond the grave, and is sometimes felt when we see an old flannel shirt.
    Though my grandmother died when I was a child, I am still very touched by a picture of her with her purse clinched tightly under her arm. It probably contained less than one pays for Starbucks, but was obviously guarded closely for it was the key to her family’s survival. Thank you, Keith, for jogging my memory.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 31, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I really hate to interrupt this spooky story day with this news…but…
    I was just shocked to see all sorts of birds of a feather and not swooping into and around my feeders and water baths. I hang my water bath/water containers in the trees to help protect the birds, when they bathe and drink! Plus the leaves give them a little privacy…just kiddin’ bout that. There was a huge flock of Robins, which usually don’t arrive in flocks from the North to here until late December! Generally this is a sign of cold snowy weather North of us. There were silhouettes of birds I didn’t immediately recognize, maybe late migrators, I ran for my bird book….Personally I have never seen Robins checking out feeders, they must be hungry!!!
    Tell Ed, did he know that the biggest snows fall round here at about 34 degrees and that sometimes it has to warm up to snow!
    However, I loved his poem! Very cute!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…It is very overcast here, very chilly on my hill and looks and smells like rain before haunting time, 6:00 to 8:00 tonight!

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    October 31, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    I have my Great Grandmother’s rocking chair. I grew up watching it at my Grandmothers. We never were allowed to sit in it. When my Grandmother died in 1999, I claimed it for mine. I don’t know how old it is. My Grandmother was born in 1900 , she got it when her Mother died. It has a special place in our home. Barbara

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 31, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    That was another terrific story by
    Keith. What a nice tribute to his
    Grandmother, and a story of real life to go along with it. Thanks
    Keith, your mama has taught you

  • Reply
    Erie Specter
    October 31, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Is it true that if you see the apparition of a deceased loved one, you are soon to join them? That it is you not they who is crossing over?

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 31, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Loved this story, thank you for sharing it. I sometimes see my grandmother just sitting and rocking.
    Happy Halloween all, keep warm tonight!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 31, 2014 at 11:31 am

    There snow need to worry!
    There snow need to dread!
    It snot gettin cold enough!
    ittle be all rain instead!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 31, 2014 at 11:07 am

    and Keith…A wonderful ghost story, however it was more sad to me than scary. I miss my granny!
    By the time Mamma Jones left the nursing home and then got past the “cemetery holding container”, I am sure her spirit was happy but restless. She just wanted to redo and brush her hair, wrapping the bun the way she had always done. All the while rocking in her little rocker one more time before taking off to heavens door with her brand new mind and spiritual body!
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Keith
    PS…”Happy Halloween”
    PS…I brung in my “brass monkey” put some “long johns”, “wool socks” and a “toboggan” on him! Just in case that snowy cold front draps down to our neck of the woods!
    Wouldn’t it be fun to have a big snow on November 1st!!
    “What a skid of snowmobiles” that would be….I just made that venery term up by my ownself! LOL

  • Reply
    October 31, 2014 at 10:31 am

    What a wonderfully true and touching but tragic life story! He must get that rocker out of storage maybe it’s story is not finished. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    October 31, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Well, as I read Mama Jones’ Rocking Chair I never thought of it being a scary Halloween story. I guess I was just thinking of how my mama use to brush her hair and then braid it to pen to the back of her head. THANKS for a beautiful post!
    Eva Nell
    p.s. Hope you got 11-08-14 @ 7:00 on your datebook for my reading of “Fiddler of the Mountains” over in Blairsville!

  • Reply
    October 31, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Thanks for sharing the ghost story. However, I think the spirit of Mamma Jones rested heavily on your mind. She really appreciated your thoughts and kindness.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 31, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Keith’s story, “Momma Jones’s Rocking Chair” brought back some very poignant and sad, but caring times in our family. What did the “rocking” rocking chair convey?
    That all was well with Momma Jones after a long spell of suffering?
    Think what you will, but that’s how I remember the rocking chair, void of person but a reminder that love lives even beyond death.

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