Finally, my father came from behind the tree fussing, "Karen, what the hell are you talking about white men with guns ain't nobody out here?" And I said "look daddy," in a whispering voice "him right there." And my father looked out in the field, and shock resounded in his face; my father's jaw dropped. I never saw anyone do that shock of a face before in my life, which puzzled me. I've never seen my father afraid.
I said to my father, "what's wrong, daddy? Do you know that man?" My father shuddered and shouted I ain't seen nothing" before I could say, huh don't you see that man coming towards us from the field - my father scooped me up in one arm, sprinted back to the car, threw me in the back seat, jumped in the driver's seat, and sped away from Dead Man's Corner like a bat out of hell. I got on my knees and looked out of the back of the cars' window. Wherewith I saw the soldier come to the very edge of the field leaning out towards the road while standing on the edge of the autumn yellow grass. I then waved goodbye to him. Wherewith, the British soldier smiled and waved back to me goodbye.
But because he was leaning out towards the road, he then stumbled onto the road looking shocked. As if he could not walk on the street. But when he did, he looked like a regular person. Still wearing soldier clothes but the darkness from his eyes went away, wherewith he turned his back from us and immediately began to walk down the street towards Bingham Bridge. And just like that disappeared into the twilight air.
I turned around and sat down on the back seat, and looked at my father. My father was slightly shaking and sweating all at the same time. I tried to comfort my father by saying, "Daddy, he wasn't a bad man; he even said goodbye to me, I just thought because he had a gun and all," wherein my father abruptly hushed me while still driving and shaking. My father said affirmatively, "You and I didn't see anything at all!" Which puzzled me as a child because, in school, teachers taught children that "they should not have secrets with adults" and that they should "TELL, TELL, TELL!"
As we passed through Highlands, Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach, and ultimately Long Branch on Ocean Ave, police officers waved and stopped dad to greet us and see that we were okay. This took my father's mind off of the occurrence as he ran into police officers and Rock, family members in Sea Bright humorously or flippantly saying, "Ooow Sonny! Dinty is waiting on you. And how you doing, little girl" Or police officers saying, "you know Sonny, we had the whole precinct out looking for this child. All these hippies are living on the beaches; we don't know who most of them are! Or what they could do - anything could happen." My father would be apologetic or chuckle and say, "I know I know, and apologized humbly to each family member and officer he met on the way home."
Finally, we pulled into our driveway, and there, standing stoically on her front porch, was our neighbor Mrs. Warner. Mrs. Warner, the mother of Mrs. Audrey Clark, was standing on her patio looking dissatisfied with us as usual. Officer Sartor across the street was cutting the grass in his yard, saying, "you had us all in for a scare there, Britt!" My father apologized once again & then said to Mr. Sartor, "what are you doing cutting grass this late in the evening?" Mr. Sartor laughed out loud. My father began to laugh, but the laughter drained out of his voice when he turned towards our front porch.
Mother stood on the front porch steps, perched like an eagle focusing on her prey, with tears still in her eyes that focused on me. As I looked up at my mother, I could see Mrs. Warner who's neighboring porch was slightly higher than ours. My father gingerly said, "Good evening Mrs. Warner. Nice weather we have tonight." Where Mrs. Warner slowly turned and went into her house and slammed the door. Now we were alone with mother. At this point, my father and I gasped for a bit of air. Suddenly my mother said, "girrrrl, you get your tail in here this instant!" But before she could turn to swat me, as I darted past, she collapsed in daddy's arms weeping.
We went inside, and my father consoled my mother, and everything was going well until I blurted out the incident of seeing the tall white man. My mother said, "where?" My dad, non-enthusiastically, said, "Dead Mans' Corner.' My mother sat up straight and said, "why the hell did you take her to Dead Mans' Corner!!?" He said, "I went to the little red store for you, but the store was closed, and then I got nervous and had to pee bad, Dinty! I didn't want to go back to dads because they'd probably be mad that I wasn't on the way home, so I pulled over to the field to quickly pee."
My mother said, well, who did you see?" My father didn't say a word just got up. My mother asked me, "what happened?" I said, "I saw a tall, pale, white man with a gun and a red jacket on." After explaining in detail what I saw, my mother said, "it sounds like you saw a British soldier... but how can this be?" mother questioned. My mother stared at me and quietly said to my father, "Sonny is this true?" My father shook his head no and said, "I didn't see anything, and I don't want to talk about it anymore," then went into the kitchen" I asked my mother, "Why is daddy lying for?"
And my mother asked for more details in which I told her. She sat back, stared at me, and said, "are you okay?" I said, "sure; today was a great day!" My father walked out into the dining room with a fresh cold beer in his hand and jokingly said, "See Dinty all that hollering and screaming you were doing to get everybody to go find your lost child even raised the dead." My mother slapped my father jokingly on the leg, laughed, then said, "young lady, you had quite an adventure today, so you best get upstairs and go to bed."
I was happy I thought I was going to get a beating. Years later, I realized that the British soldier was an actual apparition that folks claimed to have seen in the area from time to time. As a child, I rarely repeated the story because when people share ghost stories, most ghosts are spooky, wispy, see-through creatures, which this man was none of that. He looked as real and in the present as you or I, friend. Nothing like you see on TV in the 70's.
One day, many years later, when I was grown. A friend of mine insisted that I must see this movie called "The Patriot," with Mel Gibson in it. We had just got off from working the night shift. So I said "sure." While watching the movie, (that by the way, I didn't feel one way or another about.) I recognized the peculiar hat, with black fur & feather plumes extending from the top. The hat looked like the hat that the man I saw in 1968 wore.
Seeing the hat made me remember the odd occurrence from the past I experienced with my father. I asked my friend Robyn "what kind of hat is that character wearing?" Robyn asked inquisitively, "have you seen one before?" I ignorantly blurted out – "I thought they all wore the same kind of hats. American & British." She said, "no British military hats come in a whole range of styles."
She asked me again, "why is the officer's hat so interesting to you?" In which I shared the story with her from my childhood. Surprisingly she believed me. She said, "gentlemen, if wearing that hat was a high-ranking officer." (Robyn knew about these things. She was French plus an American history buff in college.) Not until I was a grown woman did I realize that I saw a ghost. And not just any spirit. A revolutionary war ghost in plain sight.
(Pictured above Colonel Tye Titus of Neptune 1775 with British Troops in New Jersey.)
In retrospect, I thought the spirit's response was admirable. After all, I was just a little Black girl standing in a field screaming. He's from 1700; why should he care about what happens to me? Our American history reveals a not-so-friendly attitude towards Black people as well as first nation folk in the 1700s. In connection to that experience of the past, I couldn't help but think, "How noble it was to see this weary soldier not only respond to my cries but also push out a smile as if to say it's going to be alright.
With that epiphany, I said a silent prayer of gratefulness to God that peace may come to the lost soldier so that he may find his family and have a home in heaven one day. Oh yeah, there's one more thing I learned… don't pee on people's graves…they might wake up!