I was loitering around the casket showroom on the day of a delivery. It was the coolest room in the house, a respite on muggy summer days when it was too hot to play outside. The casket room was set in the back of the property where the limbs of shade trees grew close to the building. My father rolled tremendous, long boxes into the room via an outdoor ramp that led directly inside to the casket room. But on this day two noticeably smaller boxes appeared. I stood at my father’s side when he opened the first one. In it was by far the smallest coffin I’d ever seen. The pink satin box looked like a toy. I glanced at him, but said nothing as he opened the second one – a blue satin covered baby coffin. I ran my fingers along the outside of the pink one on which puffy tufts and pleats attempted some kind of design detail. He took the lid off. Inside was a tiny pillow. I asked if it was meant for a baby girl and he said yes, it was.

“Did a baby girl die, Daddy?”


“What’d she die of?”

“She was born dead.”


He continued to unwrap the clear plastic wrapping from the blue one.

“What’s that? What’s born dead?”

“Well, it means that the baby died before it had a chance to be born, it’s called stillborn.”

“Will her parents leave the casket open?”

“No, they won’t.”

“They don’t want to see her?”


“Why? Why don’t they want to see her?”

“It’s just too hard on them. And she’s too small.”

“Did a baby boy die?”


“So why do you have that blue one then?”

“Well, sometimes baby boys die, too.”

“Did the baby girl’s parents know when the baby was going to die? You know, a lot of times you know when people are going to die, I hear you say so and then they do.”

“That’s not the same. I don’t know if they knew. It’s not something you ask a parent.”

“Do you know when I’m going to die?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Do you know when you’re going to die?”


“Where’s the baby girl, Daddy?”

He glanced over at the door.

“In the embalming room? Is she in there right now?”

He knew where my question was headed.

“We don’t embalm babies.”

I didn’t know that babies died. Until that moment I thought that only old people died.

I moved away from him and the baby coffins so that he couldn’t see me. I felt a cocktail of sickness, fear and sadness, but I wanted him to think that I could handle it. I felt his hand on my shoulder directing me out of the room, away from the boxes for dead people.

“Come on, let’s go get a Coke and some peanuts,” he said as he turned out the light.

He closed the door and left the blue baby casket in wait of its yet unidentified occupant.


Southerners learn from the time they’re able to scoot across the floor in diapers that most stories they hear with a drawl and a twang are exaggerated, and none more so than a ghost story.

The Maple Grove cemetery sits on what was once the edge of town. Still small and rural, the town nevertheless grew up around the cemetery. Opposite two gas stations, and at one time, an efficient little milk bottling plant, our cemetery was always on display to those traveling in and out of town and life buzzed along just outside its black rod iron gates. On one corner of the graveyard sits Sexton House where most of the caretakers have lived since 1870.

At the turn of the century the caretaker who owned Sexton house lived there with his wife and daughter. One Saturday his daughter was looking forward to attending a dance. She planned to meet her boyfriend who had given her signals that tonight was the night he would propose. Excited beyond containment she rushed to the second floor to dress. She was in the bath, or maybe not. She was naked, or maybe not. One thing everyone agrees upon is the lightening storm. In the South when the air is pregnant with humidity, before the clouds break water, the sky suddenly grows black and lightening flashes, followed by a long pause and then a shrieking crack of thunder. On this Saturday the lightening storm was so vicious the girl’s parents felt it was too dangerous for her to leave the house and refused to let her go.

The girl was bitterly disappointed, angry to the point of madness. She stood at the window, raised her fist and cursed God. Lightening struck her and before she fell dead to the floor, a lightening portrait of her was etched into the window’s glass. Her parents, who’d heard a terrifying clap of thunder, ran upstairs to check on their daughter, only to find her lifeless body sprawled on the floor.

Soon, people reported that the girl’s etching appeared on nights of lightening storms. Others swore that what they saw was the girl herself, railing at the window.

By the 1920’s the house had become a tourist attraction. The owners at that time painted over the window, but still the number of sightings and tourists grew. In a desperate attempt to stop the congestion in front of one of the town’s few traffic lights, the window was boarded up. This did absolutely nothing to dispel the traffic or squelch the dares of young boys to walk through the cemetery at night.

Years later, another caretaker who’d lived in the house for over ten years decided to remove the boarding and began work on stripping the paint. He never finished stripping the window. One day, while standing in his kitchen, he too fell to the floor when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

I grew up playing in the cemetery and sorely wanted to ask the caretaker about the house, but my father wouldn’t let me. “Leave the poor guy alone,” he used to say. When I was older I drove past the house everyday on my way to high school. My car was full of girls, Cokes, cigarettes and Cheese Nabs, all part of a healthy breakfast. Most of the time our minds were far from ghosts, but once and a while, especially on Halloween nights, we looked up at the window and fully expected to see the etching of the girl, almost dared her to show herself. Someone always screamed, “There she is!”