The informant, JB, is my older brother who is twenty-four and currently lives in New York City. We both grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by our close family. The story I interviewed him about is very well known throughout our family and is centered around our grandfather and his supernatural experience in rural Kentucky.
JB’s summary of the story- Papaw was at a little store/restaurant in Kentucky, and he sat on a stool and ordered a Pepsi at the counter. While the lady was opening his drink an old, straggly looking man with long white hair and a long white beard sat down beside him. He asked papaw to order him a class of water, which he did. The man drank the water and then got up and walked towards the door. As he reached for the door, he looked back at papaw and said something he couldn’t understand. He got to go after the man and see what he said but the mysterious man had disappeared, and no one outside seen him. Three or four years later, in the middle of the night, Papaw was woken up by someone pulling him out of his bed, and I think the first few times he assumed it was Mamaw or mom messing with him. The last time was really aggressive, so he was wide awake and at the foot of his bed was man from that little restaurant with a long white beard and hair. He looked at papaw and said, “I’ll come back one more time, just one more time” then he disappeared; at the time, Mamaw was wake in the living room and didn’t hear or see anything.
Interviewer- Who told you this story for the first time?
JB- Papaw told me when I was younger, but Mamaw and mom referenced the story all the time. Mamaw always that she believed it was true because of how scared papaw was after it happened. She always said it was some kind of angel.
Interviewer- So what was your interpretation of it?
JB- It sounds like some kind of omen, but the time difference is weird since the man came back just a few years later but it’s been at least forty years since it happened. Maybe the 3rd time will be before he dies.
My grandpa’s supernatural encounter can be categorized as a folk legend since he, and the rest of our family considers it to be true. This is my family’s most passed around piece of folklore, so we all develop different interpretations of what this meant. The way that I interpreted the legend was that of warning, and moral upkeep. Although the story is unique to my grandpa, it contains common motifs of folklore like a figure with a long white beard, the significant group of 3s, and proverbial warnings. Folklorists have consistently found that supernatural legends often develop during times of stress or change as a way to cope. Given my grandfather’s religious background, the man could have represented a pure figure, like an angel, coming to check on the state of his soul. Along with that, the threat of the man coming back at random could act as a deterrent of immoral acts. Although I don’t know if my grandpa was engaging in bad behaviors, it is common for spirits to function as a way to externalize negative feelings, perhaps guilt in this case.