by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
Pop took me to visit Grandpa Compy one day when the kitchen gardens were just beginning to grow.
In those days, the porches had pantries so the food did not spoil near hot ovens. The pickled vegetables stayed fresh out of doors in summer and cool but not frozen in the winter. Grandpa Compy’s meager garden was just off the back porch down three wooden steps. The porch was screened, and the pantry was full.
“Them witches been botherin me,” the old man said to Pop when we came upon him in the kitchen. He sat at the metal table covered with the same red and white checkered cloth that Gramma had on it when she died. It was probably still sticky. It was always sticky. I sometimes envisioned Grandpa Compy eating pancakes and dripping the syrup, but I had never seen him eat pancakes in my whole life.
Birdie did not cook food like pancakes, anyway. They ate frog legs and beans and lots of rice. Birdie talked about crawfish and oysters. She put a red hot spice on all her suppers and said it tasted just like in “the big easy.”
Birdie was from New Orleans. She was really from Pennsylvania, but she had been in New Orleans long enough to live like it and never change back. Birdie had come to stay with Grandpa Compy when Gramma died. Pop never told me to call her Aunt Birdie though. She was Grandpa Compy’s daughter, and now we were not related. Grandpa Compy had just been Pop’s step-dad when Gramma was alive.
Pop was ignoring Grandpa Compy, so he said it again. “Them witches bother me all the time.”
Pop gave him a scowl. “What witches? What are you talking about?”
Grandpa Compy looked up at Pop with big-eyed innocence. “I heard ‘em in the garden. I heard rustling around in the garden, and when I went down to see what the rustling was, it stopped. When I come back up on the porch, I heard it in the pantry.”
My eyes must have been round as saucers because when he glanced at me, he smiled crookedly and whispered, “Right there.” He pointed to the pantry through the screen door. “She was right in there. That’s where she was.”
Grandpa Compy put his hands over his heart. “I’m tellin’ you, the witches been in the pantry. I opened the door, and wooosh!” He jerked his head to the side to show us what it was like. “She flew right passed me so fast I didn’t see.”
Pop met my eye and gave his head a slight shake.
“It’s true!” Grandpa Compy insisted. “Them witches been in the garden and in the pantry. They been botherin’ us round here. I shut the doors, but they get in the keyholes.”
Pop crossed his arms and leaned against the green countertop. “The keyholes?”
“Witches shrink themselves small to get in the keyholes,” Grandpa Compy said. He turned to me and out came the toothless grin. “In there.” He pointed again at the porch pantry. “Look through the keyhole. Go on.”
Pop opened his mouth to object, but I was too curious. I heard him sigh as I turned on my heel. I opened the squealing screen door and let it bang behind me.
The keyhole of the white cupboard was rather large. I could see straight into it. Something reddish purple was just behind. Maybe pickled beets.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I took a deep breath and leaned down.
Nothing but pickled beets.
“You see her?” Grandpa Compy called.
I glanced over my shoulder. He looked so expectant and cheerful that I wanted to say yes. I had to admit, I was disappointed.
“No, sir,” I said.
On the drive home, Pop muttered an explanation. “Birdie’s been telling stories from Mississippi. She believes those things. There ain't no witches, and they don’t fly through keyholes.”
He thought I would be afraid. I was only a little afraid when I turned out my light to go to sleep that night.
The next day, keyholes were everywhere. They had always been there, but I had never noticed them before. There was one on every door! I bent down and peered through each one, surprised that I could see most of the room on the other side.
When I got to my own bedroom, I stood in the hallway and peered through the keyhole. There was my unkempt bed. My little dresser. My G.I. Joe. My army men. My –
Something whizzed through the keyhole right by my ear as fast as lightning. I thought it made a tiny squeak. I whirled around, but the hall was too shadowed to see anything so small.
I stood still for a moment hoping them witches would not start botherin me, too. Then I smiled. At least it was true.
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*Based on a true story told to me by my father. Grandpa Compy also said that they would leave keys in the keyholes to block the witches from entering.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.