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That Old Time Religion (a Halloween Tale)


I was just a kid in the 1950's. Life back then in Southern Illinois was pretty bland considering what I took as enjoyment was me usually watching the world pass from the backseat of the old family Dodge. Life did have its moments, however, and road trips certainly never disappointed.

My adult role model was an industrious stepfather who tried (among other things) his hand at The Gospels, doing so on street corners, preaching to all that would listen. His behavior clearly at odds, him with a bottomless thirst for the "devil's drink" -- as if calling it that put him on the Lord's good side.

In what seemed to me even then as blatant theatrics, I recall seeing Dad many times, him saturated as a skunk, climbing from the old Dodge, his sleeves pushed to the elbow and pumping that old brown leather bible of his ever higher into the air, all the while shouting Scriptures and spitting slurred condemnation for an invisible but apparent multitude of sinners. A lumbering dance always ending the same: Pleas for donations to support spreading The Word.

There could be no question, still speaking of that old family Dodge of ours, it was a rattle trap. But one built of solid stuff; its bullet-nosed front was like an army tank. And that could be a good thing as the car was nearly always operated with "a snoot full" as we kids (that would be me and my two half brothers) jokingly called the intoxicated, staggering effects of Dad sipping too much of his home brew throughout the day -- The fermentation of such concoction often waking us kids at night as the pressure inside the glass bottles loudly 'popped' a random cap or two -- The fun part was trying to guess how many would blow as Dad howled his dissatisfaction from the darkness.

Now there was this one trip I remember, it just happened to be Halloween, and after our 'trick or treating' was supposed to be over, and after being persuaded by us kids to take us all for eats at the local Spotlight Diner. In his attempt to park the car, Dad's foot slipped from the brake pedal -- and -- inadvertently slamming on the accelerator -- propelled us through a plate glass window with such 'trickery', with such jarring, splintering force, to cause the Dodge to rest hard up against the serving counter. The result, a mixture of engine roar and breaking glass and shouts of panic as affected patrons scattered to safety from their suddenly compromised perches. Pumpkin pie and dishevelment everywhere.

"Makin' a quick tavern stop, boys!" responsible for that one.

And not to belabor things here but there was this far longer trip we made, it being yet another Halloween memory, of all things, that we all made to stepdad's boyhood home. Sn isolated, dilapidated, old farm along a graveled road lost deep in the hilly Missouri backwoods, near the Arkansas border.

On the trip down, the Dodge blew a tire. Dad wrestled the car to a stop and after a few choice words way too serious for our young ears, exited the car only to return to the passenger window and announce angrily that although we had a spare, we didn't have a jack. He couldn't replace the flat; saying we were stranded until someone helped us. What seemed a very long intermission with only a few cars passing, and no one providing assistance, a car did finally pull behind. Dad got out and spoke with the driver. And within minutes returned with a smile and the necessary jack, a loaner from the Good Samaritan.

Dad started right in on the repairs. We were ordered to remain inside the Dodge, all the while the occupants of the rescuing vehicle looked on. Dad said it would only take a few minutes and for the Good Samaritan to return to his car, no reason to get his hands dirty. A good Christian thing to say, considering.

Completing the tire exchange, Dad threw the flat along with the loaner jack in the Dodge's trunk, and slamming the lid shut, raced to the driver's seat where he commenced to speed off in wild laughter and a shotgun blast of spitting pea-sized gravel.

Slow to react, the other vehicle gave chase, blowing its horn and blinking its headlights, but soon fell far behind and was lost due to the speed the Dodge was doing escaping down the highway. Eventually, we turned onto a 'crunchy' road; and a few miles further, onto a hard-packed and rutted dirt driveway.

Seeing the farm, Dad said to us, "Hate to tell you this, boys, but it doesn't get much better. No television, no electricity. Fret not though there is a cozy, be it a bit smelly, outhouse out back for when nature calls." He laughed.

That night, having met with all the in-laws and related out-laws, I heard Dad's brother ask if he was "... Ready to perform the exorcism on Mother?" I had never heard that word before, exorcism, and had no idea what to expect. The two discussed her behavior of late and her refusal to accept help from outsiders. Dad had been called upon mainly because of his qualifications as the sole preacher man in the family.

The farmhouse was dimly lit. The only only light came from a few smoking oil lamps, the kind with a blackened finger printed glass chimney and little brass wheel with adjustable wick. Everyone seemed excited. Dad's brother spoke again, this time urging everyone to find a seat, and before long the room grew quiet as people moved around inside the flickering, shadowed orange-and-black uncertainty. I too found my place, on the floor, near the wall, promising an excellent view.

A straight leg chair was placed on a throw rug in the middle of the room. I noticed the rug nicely hid the worn linoleum there. And that stepdad's mother had undone her surprisingly long, gray hair as she was escorted to the chair, where she sat down; and clenching the wooden seat beneath her, immediately commenced rocking on her hands. This apparently the cue for Dad to walk to the woman. Neither spoke, not at first.

With the Bible I had seen so often now clenched tightly to his chest, his other hand out, fingers stretched wide and wavering as if battling an unseen force, Dad said a few words sounding biblical. This all seemed so familiar as his words came slurred and repeated:

"In the name of the Father... (hiccup) ... Be gone, Satan!" And with that, placed the Bible on top his mother's head.

Suddenly, the woman stopped rocking. And with the guttural 'roar of a lion' jumped to her feet; and then just as quickly, collapsed to the floor, sobbing, where she was eventually assisted by onlookers.

I'm not sure what others saw that night, there was some discussion about that later, but what I saw was a demon, something misty, something with horns, come out the mouth of that old woman; and with one continuous movement the apparition vaulted out the window into the night leaving two linen curtains whipping in the breeze.

I couldn't take my eyes off my stepdad. His hands trembling from this unexpected psychotic outburst, his dark oily hair having fallen over one eye, turned in my general direction, and with the demeanor of a truly sobering man, asked "What the hell was that?"

That fidgeting old woman and my Bible thumping alcoholic stepfather with a heavy foot for the accelerator scaring the living hell out of me again, on Halloween!

"That's what the hell that was!"


Jerry Bridges

Spring Branch, Texas 78070

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The following comments are submitted by users of this site and are not official positions by Please read our guidelines and the previous posts before posting. The author, JerryB, has the following expectation about your feedback: I will read the comments and participate in the discussion.

RedWolf (30 stories) (1289 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-09)
So you can understand my story Update on Spirits Around me you may want to read Spirits Around Me It is about two children Billy and Sarah that were spirits in my house, their father murdered them and their mother, long before houses were built in my neighborhood.

I certainly do have a fire in me, thanks LOL. I have scared the hell out of my mother in-law when I was mad at her more than once. I have dark brown eyes and she looked at me like I grew horns and a tail.
Also when I worked at a really gang filled school district even the toughest kid gave me respect. Especially after I tackled a kid before he could take a cheap shot at some guy a security guard had pinned. The three fellows that were with the pinned guy looked at me like I was crazy. I got yelled at by other security guards because they said I should have radioed for help because I have back problems.
JerryB (8 stories) (189 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-08)
Biblio - thank you for your corrective input. That's the teacher coming out in you. I completely agree the beginning needs to be reworked. I laughed when I read how you were waiting for me to tell of an auto accident and as a result a possible ghost sitting alongside us as we went. I clearly see I put in too much otherwise unnecessary detail which only served to confuse the story I had intended to tell. Not a good thing, me doing that. It's difficult enough as it is to keep one's interest, muddling up the process is inexcusable. Seriously, thank you for your suggestions to help make the story better. Believe in your world (I.e., academia) what you suggest is called 'constructive critism'. Certainly the best kind to get.
JerryB (8 stories) (189 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-08)
RedWolf. Never thought of it that way -- you're right, in an effort ahead of its time, my step dad did invent the drive thru. Ha. Had to work a few of the bugs out however, this being the first attempt at such. All that broken glass and shouts of surprise and clutter had to be better worked out. That's he way it is with being the first. And I do agree that this little old lady came packed with more than one demon, her anger was a display of such possibility. And the one demon that abandoned ship that evening in the flickering room light was probably the lesser of the lot. Too bad step dad never got around to trying to exorcise additional demons. Actually I'm quite surprised the first one gave up so easily, having been confronted by a would-be preacher under the influence shall we say.

Change of subject: I read your comments elsewhere regarding the verbal assault on Miracles51031. Makes me proud to be part of a group so willing to protect the job of our moderators. You certainly said it the right way. And with that fire you have in you, you might want to consider going into the exorcism business yourself. Just saying.
Bibliothecarius (8 stories) (971 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-07)
Hi, Jerry:

While not as polished a single narrative as your other encounters, a fact to which you readily admitted, this story has a much more exciting pace. I would suggest that the narrative remain pretty much intact, but that you edit the first paragraph (should the need arise) to include "and road trips with my stepfather never disappointed. Before I tell you about the time he exorcized grandma, I'll explain his religious [and legal?] convictions."

The reason I suggest this is simple; I really loved the stories you were telling, and the manner in which you told them, but I was about two-thirds of the way through the story before I began to wonder *why* I was reading it on YGS. I was half-expecting your stepfather to kill someone with his driving, ending up with a spectral passenger in the front seat of the Dodge!

There is a precedent for this type of storytelling, though: James Thurber. I strongly recommend his brief autobiography, "My Life and Hard Times." It's only about 80 pages long, plus some pages of scribbled drawings, and his recollections of Columbus, Ohio, are oddly endearing.

RedWolf (30 stories) (1289 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-07)
I loved the story. I could just imagine having to see your step-dad bible thump then ask for money to spread the word. And hey he did invent drive up service when he crashed through that diner. 😆.
As for what you saw I can't say but if your step-grandmother was as nasty person I would bet your step-father only got one of her demons out.
You really should think about becoming a writer,you're such a wordsmith, you shouldn't have any problems in becoming an author.
JerryB (8 stories) (189 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-05)
Hello Brokentree, thank you for your exceptionally flattering comments. No, I'm afraid if I told you that I'd be lying; just a story teller, but a truthful story teller. As to any calmness of heart, that can best be expressed as me not fully understanding what was happening, not completely. What seemed to take most of the time was preparation for the exorcism, that, and just generally taking their good old time about matters as first one, and then another, and yet another, beer was consumed.

Only thing I ever personally encountered like this was this. And when that movie The Exorcist came out years later (years ago now) I can only say my experience was nothing like the movie. And glad for that being the case as that movie was frightening. And speaking more of that movie, when I did see it years ago, I saw it at a midnight showing at a little theater many miles away from home, and after the movie, had to drive home alone over dark and lonely hills, and narrow winding roads (I was living in Germany at the time, a soldier), checking my inside rear view mirror and backseat constantly for confirmation I was in fact alone. So much for calmness if heart heart, I think I was something else. Smile.
BrokenTree (76 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-05)
Please tell me that you write for a living. You caught my attention immediately and carried it through the story. You have a talent and you should use it.
Do I believe your story? Yes I do. I have seen, heard and experienced some very strange things over the course of my long life but none was ever an exorcism. You seem to have dealt with it with a calmness of heart. Something I am sure I would not be able to do.
It was a great story and I hope to read more from you.
Caz (300 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-04) doesn't really matter whether you saw what you think you saw or whether your mum influenced you or not! It seems that you did see 'something' as it has been corroborated by two other witnesses! It may or may not have been a horned demon, but that doesn't matter either, because whatever you saw had absolutely no business in being in the body of that old woman! Capiche? 😉 Change of subject...Me? Miss one of JerryB's stories? Nah...ain't ever going to happen! I'm cooking dinner right now, but I'm looking forward to reading it later! 😁
JerryB (8 stories) (189 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-04)
Thanks, Caz, always such nice comments coming from you. Funny too. What I claim to have seen that evening has remained pretty constant in my memory of events over the many years since. Thinking back to that very night, there was a lot of confusion after that old lady howled like she did and fell out of the chair to the floor. Lying there suddenly put her on the same eye level with me considering where I was seated, also on the floor. As I said, I'd never heard of an exorcism; had no knowledge what was coming or what to even remotely expect. It all happened quite quickly. Did I really see what I think I saw? I wouldn't swear to it in a court of law, knowing how the mind can play tricks on us all. I said confusion, maybe excitement is a better word choice. There was plenty of that for sure. Some were even angry as I recall. That could have been more the alcohol talking than anything else. My mother never did seem to cozy up to the old woman, and when she and I discussed that evening over the years that followed she too claimed to have seen a demon come from the woman and move out the window and escape into the night. Did she influence me? Maybe. She was there as I was there. But the funny thing is when the old woman was on the floor, at my eye level, she and I seemed to share, seemed to have an unspoken awareness from that moment forward about this that my two half brothers (her actual grandchildren) and her never shared. We never spoke about it, just seemed to be aware that something unusual had happened, and we both knew it. For such a tiny person, she seemed driven by anger and I respected her enough to always speak kindly around her for fear of setting her on an anger rant. Didn't always work as I came to earn when she came to live with us for awhile. Never saw anything about her that repeated that night. It was avoide conversation for us all.

Change of subject but somewhat surprised I haven't heard from you about my other story that came posted back to back with this one (not related) but has since moved off the page: The Woman Who Came To Help.
Caz (300 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-04)
Wow Jerry... Once again your talent for story telling and your knack for setting the scene, had me feeling I was right there beside you, whereas in reality, I was probably playing hopscotch or skipping ropes on a Glasgow street! 😁 I'd like to ask if you and your stepdad were the only two who saw this demon come out your stepgran's mouth and even if you were, something must've set those curtains flappin' in the breeze! 😉
JerryB (8 stories) (189 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-04)
Thanks, folks, by your comments it is obvious that you read and took some interest in what I said here in this particular story. Yes, MACKNORTON, you are correct the story could use some serious editing as I too see that the beginning and the ending seem to be addressing two separate accounts. My fault as I tried to relay a particular and undesirable character trait of my step father, i.e., his irresponsible dabbling in religion as motivated by his non-stop alcoholic consumption. I'm sure this came across but granted not as well as it perhaps could have. It could have been better told. Yes, this step father is the same person as in my story The Strange Object In The Woods.

VALRICRY, I can understand and appreciate your conflicting thoughts regarding my tale. A nice little grandmother on one hand yet packed solid with an evil so powerful it should require an exorcism. Well, that's what happened. More to the story (a detail not told in my story above, was more as to the strange setting and what led up to the setting. In short there was much discussion (all the while those oil lamps flickered their growing shadows throughout the room as evening grew darker, inside and outside) a lengthy discussion regarding a few local teenagers and how one, a young girl, had lost her mind it was said upon opening a package of developed film. Seems they, the teenagers, were experimenting with a new camera and drinking and laughing and the young woman aforementioned aimed the camera at the clouds, and cursing, and with a rant of blasphemy regarding God's existence, snapped a photo if the sky -- opening the package days later and seeing that one shot of the clouds -- there was a clear but black and white depiction of Jesus Christ. I saw his photo and sure enough there He was, His face and shoulders clear as a bell in among the cloud formations. That set the mood in the room as the photo was passed around to all present. That and plenty of beer and other strong drink being passed around to the adults present.

MANAFON1, always a pleasure hearing your thoughts on my stories. I must agree with your appraisal. Perhaps I saw only what my mind thought I should see. The atmosphere sure did lend itself to such possibility. I do recall the woman crying for a considerable time afterwards as she was assisted to by my step dad and his intoxicated brother. The next day and days afterwards she seemed alright to me, but there again, I really didn't know the lady very well. She did live many miles away from us and this was my first introduction to her. Over the years that followed, I only saw her once or twice more. She did come to live with us for a couple of months, I remember my mother keeping her distance mainly because if that exorcism event. She did seem an angry, mean spirited person, and recalling my own introduction of her, I too always maintained my distance, just in case.
Manafon1 (5 stories) (623 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-03)
Jerry--It does seem that the power of suggestion was probably at work. Shamen, medicine men, preachers and so on perform much the same type of service psychiatrists and psychologists do for a large part of many populations. That said there are always many who put their faith in exorcisms (as your account details) and seem to derive some benefit from it. A big question that comes to my mind is did your grandmother completely recover after this excorcism or did her mental issues return?

That power of suggestion and a room full of "believers" could certainly have made it ripe for you and your stepfather "see" a demon exit the mouth of your grandmother. Certainly the shadows created by the oil lamps would have added profoundly to the proceedings, especially for a young boy. I believe you experienced the events you describe but think the sensational aspects of the excorcism were figments of fervent belief in an atmosphere tailor made to accommodate them. Just my opinion. It was a well written account and very evocative of the time and place it concerned. It kind of reminded me of a film called Apprentice To Murder that came out in the late 1980s. It too concerned the power a faith healer held over the citizens of a small, religious and superstitious town in rural America sometime in the 1940s.
Macknorton (5 stories) (553 posts)
4 years ago (2015-12-03)
Hi Mr Bridges. Thanks for sharing another epic story. It's a shame the really interesting paranormal part appeared to be an add-on on the main story. Some more information around Grandma would be great as I'm sure not many people have witnessed an exorcism, let alone such a successful one!

I am really interested in what Grandmas symptoms were that people decided she was possessed by an evil spirit. Can you describe what happened to Grandma and what she talked about once this demon jumped out of her body and then out the window?

Did you rush up to the window to see where it was?

Possession and exorcism is a contentious issue (due to obvious confusion with mental health issues) and in my country there have been several cases of people being killed by (I assume well-meaning) people attempting to "exorcise" them.

And one last question, was that stepfather the same person who saw the alien reptiles and space ship with you in the woods?

valkricry (45 stories) (3053 posts) mod
4 years ago (2015-12-03)
Dear Jerry,
Not quite sure what to say here... Part of me was sitting here shaking my head over your description of your stepdad's family farm. Back up in the hills (Kentucky) I have relations who still live that way. I'm all too familiar with that flickering 'uncertain' oil lamp lighting and the really weird shadows they can throw. Way too familiar with the adventures one can have with nocturnal trips to the outhouse too. Lol
To be honest (and I mean this with sincere respect and not a slam at all) another part of me is saying, "oh get on with yourself! Pulling my leg aren't you? A possessed grandma? Really? You've got to be teasing." Especially since the 'preacher' was so fond of drink. But... I really don't believe you are. You would have tossed us more 'details' about her behaviour and such. Not at all sure of what you saw mind you, but everyone there BELIEVED your dad could help, and she believed, and HE believed. Belief and love are very powerful elements, and with enough of it anything is possible.

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