The Swamp Road Chronicles®


"Silver Dollars"



There once was an old lady who lived alone deep in the back part of Pigeon Swamp, she became ill. She had a few friends who lived nearby that tried to help her through her illness.  They fed her chickens for her and watered the pigs; they cooked chicken broth for her and cooled her fevered brow with damp cloths. Despite their efforts the old lady died. Her friends washed her body, combed her hair and dressed her in her best Sunday goin’ to meetin’ dress. They laid her out nice and straight and proper for the gravedigger.


The old lady died like she had done everything else during her life- with her eyes wide open.  All the while her friends washed and dressed her, she stared out into eternity; seeing nothing of this world or what her friends were doing for her. Her friends had tried to close her eyes, but they would not stay shut. One of the old women tending to her found two silver dollars in an old Mason jar above the hearth and placed them over the old lady’s eyes. Silver dollars are heavy and cold; the weight of those coins kept her eyes closed, to the relief of her friends. Attending to a corpse is unsettling enough without the eyes of the deceased staring intently over your shoulder. The ladies lighted candles at the head and feet of their dead friend, as was the custom back then. The warm glow of the candles softened the shadows around the small room and softened the features of their friend as well. All of them felt a little less lonesome then, perhaps even the old lady as well.


The women sat around their dead friend and talked quietly and respectfully among themselves. They were “keeping watch” over their friend until Mr. Melan’s man could arrive: Mr. Melan was the undertaker in those parts back then and his man Digby was the gravedigger. 'Digby' wasn't his real name, but that was what people called him and he seemed to like it. Long, long past midnight the gravedigger drove his wagon into the yard of the little cabin and, tipping his hat to the ladies who had come out onto the porch, he hoisted a small wooden coffin from the back of his rig onto his shoulders and carried it into the cabin where the old lady waited. They gently placed the corpse into the coffin and the undertaker’s man placed the lid over her. “You ladies can go on home now,” the gravedigger said. “I’ll keep watch ‘til mornin’ and when Mr. Melan arrives we’ll take your friend to the church for the funeral.” The ladies went home to their beds, quite willing to be relieved of their somber duty.


Digby had not failed to notice the large silver dollars on the old lady’s eyes and he thought about how they had gleamed and glinted in the warm glow of the flickering candlelight.  He thought about what a waste it was to put good solid silver into the ground where nobody could use it.  He lifted the coffin lid and looked again upon the coins and lifting one in his hand, he thought about how smooth and warm it felt and, he thought it was awful pretty.  He took both silver dollars from the old woman’s eyes and put them in his pocket. “I need these more than you do,” he whispered to the old lady as he gazed into her face. Just then the old lady’s eyes slowly opened. It made him feel awfully uneasy, being looked at by those old dead eyes and he began to regret taking the silver dollars. He took the coins from his pocket and replaced them on her eyes. Once her eyes were closed again Digby began to feel more comfortable and began to regret his momentary guilt. He quickly snatched the coins back off of the old lady’s eyes and slammed the coffin lid shut. Fast as he could, he nailed the lid in place and said, “You can’t see me now, can you sister?” and he laughed. But it was an uneasy laugh just the same.


After nailing the coffin shut, Digby the gravedigger had nothing left to do until morning when Mr. Melan would arrive. After a couple of hours of sitting and waiting, he became drowsy, folding his arms on the kitchen table for a pillow, he rested his head and fell into a troubled sleep.


Morning came, the undertaker and his man took the old lady’s remains to the little country church and the preacher preached the funeral. The old lady was buried in the little church cemetery on the top of the hill where her husband had been laid so many years before and everyone returned to their homes and lives because they weren’t the ones dead.


Late in the evening after the funeral a terrible thunderstorm flashed and crashed its way across the mountains and Digby was awakened by the fury of the storm. The lightning was terrible but the thunder was worse. BOOOOM! BOOOOOM! BOOOOOM! The little cabin shook violently from the sheer force of the thunderclaps. The wind whistled through the rafters and the doors and windows rattled furiously. Somehow, even the two silver dollars Digby had placed in an old coffee can under his bed rattled loudly.


Confused by the sounds of the storm and only half awake, Digby heard the coins rattling about in the can and thought that someone had snuck into his cabin and was stealing his silver dollars. He sat straight up in his bed and shouted “Who’s stealing my money?” No one answered; he realized, then, that it had only been the wind and the thunder shaking the silver dollars in the old tin can and not a thief. "I cannot not abide a thief," he said to no one.


The storm subsided and Digby went back to sleep only to be awakened by a fierce rattling of the coins in the can. He looked under the bed and saw that can "just a dancin'.  He knew what was wrong, that old lady was mad as a wet cat over losing her silver dollars and Digby knew he would never get any peace until he did what was right. He couldn't place them back on her eyes without digging her up, he didn't think she would like that. He had an idea, he went to the Methodist church where he was the sexton and he placed the two silver dollars in the offering box just inside the church door which was locked and only opened by the minister.


Digby wasn't bothered by the old lady any more after that and Digby learned a lesson about stealing from an old woman, even if she is dead. And the preacher was delighted to discover that money left by a generous Good Samaritan.


(As related at the Spooky Old Barn by Randal Hall Oct. 3, 1999 Pataskala, Ohio)


© Copyright 1992-2023, Randal Lenn Hall, All Rights Reserved.