I think the last time I was so frightened that I was almost sick to my stomach was when I was told that my husband had cancer. This week, that same feeling returned, but for a different reason.
In 1973, when my grandmother passed away, her property was divided among her eight children. Our house sits on a part of the land that my father inherited. As a young girl, my favorite spot (other than my grandmother's front porch) was a little grassy area beside the branch that ran behind her fields. The branch, narrow enough to step across in most places, and barely deep enough to wet one's toes, flowed into Cohay (Okahay) Creek.
I had heard Granny tell about the panthers and bobcats that roamed up and down the branch, in the Spring and Fall. In late Fall, when the weather began to cool, it wasn't unusual to hear the cats as they moved from one area to another. The bobcats had a roar like a large, angry cat. The panther, on the other hand, sounded like a woman screaming - but the loudest, eeriest scream. Granny often told the story about "Aunt Charity and the Panther". Aunt Charity, my grandfather's elderly aunt, lived across the branch. When Aunt Charity was coming for a visit, she would walk through the woods, and when she got to the branch, she would let out a yell. Granny would send one of my uncles, who were probably in their teens, to help Aunt Charity across the branch. There were no phones, so I'm not sure if the visit was always prearranged, or if Granny just knew about when to listen! On one such day in late Fall, Granny heard Aunt Charity yell, so as she usually did, she sent one of the boys running to help her across. He had been gone only a few minutes, when she heard another yell. Granny quickly realized that the first yell, to which her son was running, was actually the panther that roamed up and down the branch.
Granny sent another son, running toward Aunt Charity, while yelling his brother's name. Fortunately, the first son had also heard the second scream, and realized the dire situation. Both boys got to Aunt Charity and got her across the branch and all got safely home. I can still envision my grandmother pacing back and forth across the back porch, until everyone was safe and sound.
In the late fall, my brother and I have sat on my porch and heard the bobcat as it wandered through the woods, along the banks of the branch, and then up Cohay. Never have we experienced the screams of the panther, and after this week, I hope to never hear them again.
The weather forecast, at 10:00 p.m. had predicted one of the coldest nights of the season. Bob had mentioned, earlier in the week, that the vents that allowed for ventilation under the house, needed to be closed. Because of his cancer and weakened condition, he had begun to be unable to do many of the things he'd always done. I knew the vents hadn't been closed.
I put my coat on over my pajamas and slipped on my shoes, before heading out the door to close the vents. Rather than crowding between the deck and the back of the house, I walked up onto the deck, intending to reach over to close the vent. I hadn't thought about turning on outside lights - after all, I could see perfectly well with the light that shone from the window. I walked up onto the deck, none too quietly, and got down on my knees to bend over and close the vent. Just as I bent down, just around the corner of the house, over my left shoulder I heard the loudest, eeriest "scream" that I've ever heard. I knew it HAD to be the panther, and it HAD to have come up into my yard .....out of the woods.
I'm at the age, once I'm down on my knees, it takes awhile to get up and moving. Not that night! I'm not sure how I got up and I really don't recall coming down off the deck. I only remember getting inside the house and feeling as if I was going to be sick. At that moment, I knew exactly how my grandmother had felt, all those years ago.
I haven't heard that noise since, but I do know......it sounded like a woman screaming. Was it giving me a warning? Would it have come up onto the deck, to find me? I don't know, but I do know that any "outside chores" will be done in the daylight hours!