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Thursday, January 6, 2011

A peep at the past

Have you ever been to the tiny southern Clay County town of Coalmont?

Not much there these days. Wasn’t a lot more there when I was a kid, either. But it was colorful. I remember Mama taking us there to visit her former neighbors, and the place always seemed tired, laid back, and somewhat forgotten. An old rusty steam shovel guarded the northern entry to town, sitting derelict on orange-stained earth and coal rubble. I was always sad because it wasn’t the Little Engine That Could.

One of the long-ago residents used to have a really cool clock collection. Mantle clocks, cuckoo clocks, wooden and ceramic, none of them said the same time. It seemed like there were hundreds of different ticks and chimes going off every minute.

That was one of the few modern homes at the time. Indoor plumbing. Out-houses and hand pumps were the common facilities. Air conditioning was an open window.

The folks who live in that house now gather herbs and other plants to make natural remedies. The allergy eyes drops are highly recommended, and the poison ivy itch medicine also works for bug bites and other skin irritations.

Anyway, I got to thinking about Coalmont today when I was sitting in a courtroom listening to a police report about a Peeping Tom who went way too far and broke into a woman’s apartment and assaulted her.

Momma told a story about a Peeping Tom in Coalmont, and she told it in a way that made it sound like a local mystery. This was back in the 1950s or early 1960s, when my older brother and sisters were kids. She said a lot of the residents reported seeing someone standing out in their yards after dark, watching the activities inside the homes. One evening, Mom was washing supper dishes in a tub in the sink. It was a hot summer night, she said, so she had her blouse off, wearing only her bra and shorts. When she was done with the dishes, she carried the tub of dirty water outside to the porch and tossed it into the shadowy yard – all over the Peeping Tom.

Another time, my brother Pete was playing hide-and-seek outside after dark with a bunch of other kids, and he jumped under a bush where he thought a friend was also hiding. But the other person got up and ran away. It was the Peeping Tom.

The scariest story Momma would tell was about the time the Peeping Tom actually tried to come into the house. She said there were no locks on the door to the room where she and her kids slept, so she wedged a butcher knife into the door jamb to keep the door from being opened from the outside.

One night, she said, she heard someone enter the house after she and the kids had gone to bed. I recall that she said the person was prowling around in the basement, and then they heard his footsteps on the stairs. Soon, she said that in the moonlight she could see the doorknob start to turn and heard pressure being put on the door. Terrified, she and the kids watched and waited until the person gave up and went away.

According to her, no one ever figured out who was causing the nocturnal terrors around town. Though, one person did claim to have fired a gun at someone one night to scare the Peeper off. And then the next day, a man showed up at the doctor’s office with a wounded hand.

I always vowed never to be caught in Coalmont after nightfall. The Peeper sounded so creapy. Or actually, his deeds did.

I encountered my own Peeper one night, when I lived in a small town in eastern Indiana. I was brushing my teeth and heard someone’s feet in the gravel outside my apartment window. I shut off the lights and waited, then dared to look outside. Sure enough, there was someone in a hooded jacket sneaking around the alley looking into windows of other houses.

Apparently, someone else saw him, too, because the police drove up and down the alley several times that night.

So why am I writing about creepers so close to bed-time?

Sweet dreams, everyone.