The Swamp Road Chronicles

"Walt"

Dear Webmaster,

 

My grandpa was born in 1928. He grew up during the depression; times were very hard, he said. He was the youngest of 12 children and his father had a small farm. They had enough to eat, he said, but there was no money for anything else. The family was quite poor and it was one reason that caused my grandpa to run away from home.

 

Grandpa said he had a friend named 'Walt'. Walt's dad was a brick mason and made good money. However, Walt's father liked to drink whiskey.

 

When he was drinking, Walt's dad became mean. He would fight with his wife and pick on the kids. One night, as he was beating on his wife, Walt had all he could take, and even though he was only 12 years old, he tried to protect his mother and he hit his father over the head with the butt end of the man's own pool cue and splintered it in the process. The drunken father didn't seem to be hurt, but he did calm down enough that the fighting stopped. As he stood there hunched over and rubbing his head, he looked at Walt in such a way that he knew that he was in real danger. He decided at that moment that to run away from home.

 

Walt and my grandpa had been friends for many years and a few days after the pool cue incident they met after school. Walt told grandpa his plans; He said he was going to Florida and wanted Grandpa to go with him. He said they could walk and hitch-hike to Baltimore and hop a freight train going south. Florida was warm, he knew, and he heard there was more work there and you could pick oranges right off of the trees for free. Because grandpa believed that his family could get along better without having to provide for him, Grandpa decided to go with Walt.

 

A few days later they got together about 11 pm and started on their journey south. They walked for a few miles until it started to rain. Grandpa was cold and wet and he had begun to have second thoughts about running off. Walt said not to worry, he knew there was an old boarded-up church nearby where they could get in out of the rain, he had seen it while helping a local farmer bale hay last fall. It was old and white with a tall steeple and was called 'St. Jacob's's Church'.

 

A while later they came to the church; Grandpa said it was creepy looking. It was boarded up tight, but there was a bunker door on the side of the building that led down to the cellar, they got it open enough to squeeze in. Walt had brought matches and a candle, so they had some light. Grandpa said the cellar was damp and cold and musty smelling. They found the way upstairs into the church and were able to lay on the church pews, but Grandpa couldn't sleep, neither could Walt.

 

They began to talk and Grandpa told Walt he was having doubts about the wisdom of their trip. We decided he was going to go back home. If he left right away, he said, no one would even realize that he had been gone. He said Walt was disappointed in Grandpa but he understood. Walt was determined to go, however, so the friends shook hands and separated on good terms. Grandpa said he did, in fact, make it back home before dawn and no one had missed him.

 

Walt had left his mom a note telling her he had left for Florida with Grandpa and that he would send a letter once we had made it there. Of course in the morning Walt's parents came to grandpa's house looking for their son. He told them he had changed his mind and never went with Walt and that he had no idea where he might be. He never mentioned the fact that he had been with Walt up until the church, so that he wouldn't get into trouble with his own parents.

 

Two months passed with no word from Walt. He parents became desperate for news and questioned Grandpa again to try to get some little clue as to where he might have gone. Grandpa was getting concerned too, so he told what he knew about Walt heading for Baltimore and intending to hop a freight train like a hobo and he told them about the night in the church too.

 

His parents went to St. Jacob's church to look for any clues he may have left behind. They found his sack of clothes and after searching thoroughly, they found his body in the bell tower. Of course, after 2 months there wasn't much left, just skeleton mainly. An autopsy was performed, but the cause of death could not be determined. The coroner noted 2 interesting facts: First, Walt was found crouched down into the corner with his hands shielding his head as if he was frightened to death and secondly, and most strangely, he had a small piece of skin and white fur clenched in his teeth; it appeared to be part of an animal's ear, but the identity of the animal could not be determined.

 

The part about the fur was kept out of the newspapers.

 

Grandpa said he regretted leaving Walt in the church alone, but glad he didn't meet the same fate as his friend.

 

As submitted by Wes G. Manor 11-6-22


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