Currituck County Tales and Legends
Miss Suzie Practices the Piano
Contributed by Robert Etheridge
This is a second person account of a mysterious incident that happened in Currituck County near what is now Harbinger in the first part of the twentieth century. It seems to be a ghost story, but my mother did not believe in ghosts. “A great gulf exists between the living and the dead.” She always quoted this scripture in support of her contention that what she related was not ghostly, but an omen of things to come.
The names of the principals in this tale have been lost to history, but for the purpose of telling the story, I have assigned a generic name to the pianist. It is safe to assume that the doctor was that beloved physician of Currituck County, W. T. Griggs.
Miss Suzie Practices the Piano
The last customer had bought his last item. The last gossiper had put his chair back against the counter. The last of the checker players had completed their game and departed. The last rays of the sun had disappeared in the west. It was only then that a certain country storekeeper began the process of closing up his store for the day. He fed the resident store cat who promptly assumed his position as guard against any rodent who would dare set foot in his area. He counted the day's receipts and put them in his safe. The last thing he did was walk over to the Regulator clock on the wall and wind it. He always set his pocket watch at the same time. On this evening he noted the time was exactly 9 p.m. as he left the store.
The walk from his store to his home was about one quarter mile. It led along the road through a quiet countryside where only frogs, insects and a far off Whippoorwill could be heard. They were pleasant night sounds and he joined in with a low humming of his favorite hymn.
About halfway between his store and his home and standing back off of the road approximately fifty feet was the little country church that the storekeeper had been attending most of his life. As he approached the church he was surprised to hear the piano playing. He also noticed that a light was shining through one of the windows. He stopped in front of the church and listened. “Why, it's Miss Suzie practicing for Sunday services!” he said softly to himself. Then he thought this odd because he knew that Miss Suzie, who had been the pianist at the church for years, had been very ill. Nonetheless he was sure that it was Miss Suzie playing because there was a certain “signature” about the way she played. She had a flair at the keyboard that was unique. The hymn that came floating out of the church that night was “He Leadeth Me”, the storekeeper's favorite.
Satisfying himself that Miss Suzie was improved in health, he decided to walk up to the church and speak to her. As he approached the church the piano rang out louder and louder. He thought to himself that it was too loud. “If she plays that loud on Sunday, she will keep the congregation awake,” he thought.
As he passed the one tree in the churchyard, a Chinaberry, a most remarkable thing happened. The light in the window of the church suddenly went out and the piano stopped playing. Everything was silent as before—no, more than that. It was deathly quiet. Even the night critters could not be heard.
The storekeeper, though stout of heart, felt a chill run up his spine. Nonetheless, he decided to walk up to the church and investigate. When he got there, he discovered that the church was shut tight and there was no evidence that anyone was inside. There was enough light from a crescent moon for him to peek in through the windows and the church was empty.
Feeling a definite chill now, he turned and walked back up the path away from the church. The instant he went under the Chinaberry tree, the music started again and as he turned and looked back, he saw that the light was once again in the window. This time he did not go back.
Once back on the road, he checked his watch by the light of the moon. It was fourteen minutes after nine o'clock. As he continued on his walk home the strains of “He Leadeth Me” gradually softened and finally turned to silence. When he entered his home that night, the storekeeper heard frogs, insects and the distant Whippoorwill singing.
The next morning the storekeeper enjoyed the breakfast prepared by his wife, said goodbye and started the walk to his store. As he passed the church, everything looked normal.
One of the first folks that came into his store that morning was the county doctor who was just beginning his daily rounds. He was a dedicated and hard working doctor and the county loved him. He told the storekeeper that he had a rough night. Three different people required his attention. One of them was Miss Suzie. “Unfortunately I was not able to help her. She died”, he stated. The storekeeper's face blanched as he asked the doctor, “What time did she die, Doc?” The doctor turned and looked curiously at the storekeeper. “A little after nine—nine fourteen to be exact. Why do you ask?”
My mother always told me that this storekeeper was an honest, Christian man who did not drink or imagine things. “If he said it happened, it happened!” was her refrain. Still, she did note, that the man did adopt another favorite hymn after that night!