I grew up with a brother five years my senior who loved to frighten me and was equally close to my cousin Russ, six years my senior, who did not. The summer I would turn 6 when we were visiting Russ in Bordelonville, the three of us sat at the picnic table in the deep shade of the huge mulberry tree while he read aloud from Jeanne deLavigne’s collection of New Orleans ghost stories. When he reached the part of a story that described empty boots walking by themselves, he scared me so much I had to run into the house to escape. That night, of course, the dogs outside chose to howl incessantly, keeping only me awake. There was no air conditioning, and I stayed sweating under the covers. Nighttime in Bordelonville can be very, very dark.
But none of this tops the story of Bootsey, told to me on separate occasions by different relatives who witnessed his own personal accounts of what happened to him each night only a lonely dark road in Bordelonville. They all swear Bootsey was no prankster. I first heard this from my no-nonsense great aunt Emma when I was 15 years old, sitting in her Baton Rouge kitchen one cold January night.
Bootsey was one of three orphans raised by my great grandmother in Bordelonville in addition to the 11 children she had personally borne. Just before the Depression, by the time he was 17, he had grown into a handsome young man with deep blue eyes and black hair and was gentle, honest and kind. Bootsey had a girlfriend who belonged to the Desselle famille, and he began visiting her nearly every night. This required a long walk to reach her home and back. When he returned home in the profoundly dark night, as Bootsey passed a grove of trees near a levee, the glowing white spirit of a woman with long flowing hair would run down the levee through the trees and walk beside him weeping. She would stay at his side until he reached a general store and just stand there watching him until he rounded a bend and he could see her no more. Each night when he would return home, he would tell his adopted family what happened to him. He was not frightened, only disturbed.
There being no obstacle to true love, Bootsey began borrowing a horse to go to his girlfriend’s home, thinking this would stop the spirit from following him, but each night when he passed the grove of trees, she would run down the levee and grab onto the horn of his saddle and dangle there, weeping. If he changed his route, the spirit always found him but still couldn’t seem to pass the general store just before the bend in the road.
This continued for the next two years. The spectral visitations from the weepy wraith ended when Bootsey was 19 and a friend accidentally shot him while they were hunting near the ghost’s grove of trees by the levee. Bootsey died in my great grandmother’s arms.
Years later, as an adult, I perhaps did a foolish thing by climbing the levee alone at night where I lived, lured by a beautiful crescent moon and stars hanging overhead. Suddenly the story of Bootsey came flooding into my mind after many years of lying dormant, and it wasn’t the fear of physical harm being alone on the levee that drove me inside; it was the strong frisson that ran through me as I remembered Bootsey’s strange tale.