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Clio's Temple

Gordy's Ghost, or Upsetting the Past

Because my paternal grandfather died years before I was born, all I knew of him was what I learned from my father and uncle, and the impressions of him from my grandmother. To make a long story short, I now believe that Grandma always bore some resentment at the fact that my grandfather didn't resist the demands of his brothers to loan him money. Eventually, even some land that his own mother had left to him went out of his hands. At that point (about 1925), my father's family relocated from Georgia to Florida and Grandpa went into the lumber business.

It took a ghost to make me re-think my own notions. Specifically, while doing some family research during the summer, I learned the tale of "Gordy's Ghost." I had first heard of this incident in 1994, when my wife ended a phone conversation with her mother with the question to me, "Do you know a Jim Gordy?" When I responded in the affirmative, she told me her mother had seen a story involving him on Unsolved Mysteries.

That was the starting point for my explorations. Using my friend Google, I started digging into the Gordy family background. The tale, as told on the TV show, involved a family in Ellerslie, Georgia, that moved into an old house recently vacated. During the move-in, the family's young daughter (3 or 4 at the time) came in one afternoon and told her mother she had met a nice man who had swung her on a swing. She described him as wearing a dark suit, dark shoes, a white shirt, and a tie. Her mother thought this was just another imaginary friend until her daughter reported later contacts with the man. At this point, alarmed that a potential kidnapper or child molester was on the loose in the neighborhood, they asked the neighbors for help. Families brought in pictures of every man who had lived in the neighborhood, going back several decades in the past. When the photos were laid out on the table for the little girl, she unerringly picked the photo of an elderly man wearing a dark suit. Her mother and aunt started digging into the man's background and found an obituary for "James S. Gordy," who had died in 1974. That was my great-uncle Jim.

There's a lot more to the family's tale, some of it very upsetting, but the bottom line for me was that they believe the house was haunted. They claimed later visitations from spirits that were menacing, even threatening to assault them. However, the visitations from "Mr. Gordy" were always friendly ones. They came to think of him as a protector.

This required some reappraisal of my long-held ideas about my grandfather's brothers as little better than scoundrels. However, it appeared that Uncle Jim's ghost was a benevolent presence in the lives of at least one family. His conduct in the televised episode certainly doesn't sound like the conduct of a rascal. So, I'm now left with a mystery. At least some of what I've always believed about my family may be inaccurate. Or perhaps I just have a great-uncle with multiple personalities. Losing a familiar past can be upsetting.

I tell my students that I'm related to at least two U.S. Presidents: Jimmy Carter (2nd cousin once removed) and Lyndon Johnson (9th or 10th cousin). As a result of my recent research, I also confirmed what I had heard from other sources, that Berry Gordy, Jr., founder of Motown Records, is a 3rd cousin once removed. So I have two presidents and one entertainment tycoon in the family. Who'd have thought it would all begin with me trying to track down a ghost?

3 Comments to Gordy's Ghost, or Upsetting the Past:

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Kim Blum-Hyclak on Monday, September 01, 2014 7:44 PM
What fun! I hope you keep digging and finding more interesting characters in your family tree.
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Barbara Evers on Monday, September 01, 2014 8:30 PM
Steve, As a child I drove my parents crazy because of my fears. I remember odd things that happened at night that other family members do not recall. Did I dream them? Did my family refuse to remember what couldn't be explained? I don't know. My mother finally admitted to me when I was in my twenties that my grandmother could sense the presence of ghosts. Mom thought I had inherited this sensitivity. I have my own stories,but they'll have to surface in my blog or stories some day. As for ancestors, I'm a direct descendent of Dolly Madison. My sister-in-law traced our family history back far enough to find a man known as the Barber of Seville. The literary one or an odd coincidence? No idea.
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Bonnie Stanard on Sunday, October 12, 2014 11:55 AM
I'd like to read more of your "very upsetting" family tales. It's been my experience that a family hides its misdeeds in silence so deep only the rare explorer finds them. I've come to believe our ancestors populate our subconscious.
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