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The Walnut Tree (from a Farmer in South Carolina)

by Kat Beyer

My mother never minded that I didn't believe in ghosts. She patiently told me about each one on our farm, from the old man that walked with her and pointed to the ripest carrots and beets, to the woman who giggled in the rafters when the rain was coming. Some were long-dead friends and relations, others helpful strangers. According to her there were even two twins who guarded all the chickens and ducks. They came by one October night after the war was over, and stayed, and no fox or raccoon ever got one of our birds again. My mother left the twins two bowls of cereal every full moon.

"Easiest time for them to see my gifts," she explained, "their eyesight isn't so good."

She taught me what each ghost liked and went on letting me laugh and tease and shake my head.

Stopped laughing about a year after she passed away. Saw the old man for the first time the summer after she went, and he walked the rows with me in the dusk. I apologized for not leaving out his pipe tobacco as she had instructed, but he just smiled and shook his head as if he understood. She always said he never spoke.

A few nights later I asked him, just before I hoisted the basket to my shoulder and went to fetch the kids, would Mama come back too, to help? And he smiled and pointed at an old walnut tree and nodded. Right now I think she's traveling the world, but I'll look for her to settle there when she's ready.

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