After college, my little sister planned events at a historic mansion in the state capitol. The house sat at the center of a lush city park in the center of a once-shabby, since-gentrified historic neighborhood blocks from the Governor’s Mansion, the capitol building itself, and the shiny, unmemorable skyscrapers familiar to any city with a banking presence and a hankering to call itself New South. Local preservation groups had, over the years, collected a village worth of historic buildings—an old chapel, a clapboard store front, a cottage that had been the birthplace of the second-worst American president named Andrew–and moved them onto the property
Sometimes I would drive out and meet my sister at event conclusion and walk around with her in the damp, green, while she turned off lights and checked the locks on centuries-old doors. My reward was usually a beer at a nearby pub, or an invite to a fundraising gala held on property, despite not having any funds or any way to raise them. I’d show up in a pink satin dress, drink out of a champagne fountain, and run around barefoot in the grass when the event was upstaged by a thunderstorm, fetching umbrellas for rain-shy dowagers.
The house itself was a more modest version of what you imagine when I say southern mansion which is true of much aptly describes most of the antebellum architecture here in the Vale of Humility. It was also quite haunted, if you believed the stories. My sister ushered paranormalist video crews, of both huckster and credulous persuasions, around the mansion and listened as they recounted their otherworldly encounters.
The haunting came on an otherwise, innocent, sunny afternoon, at another white table-cloth and tiered pastry tray event. As my sister completed her last minute tasks in the parlor, she gave a look to the food the caterers had supplied. The brie room was temperature. The fruit plate, perfectly arranged. But then as she turned to walk away, a single melon ball rose from the plate and levitated across the room. My sister was gobsmacked, and fled the scene before the cursed fruit could find its final rest.
My sister’s best friend at the time was skeptical at the recounting. And after numerous queries, it emerged that the melon ball had perhaps not so much floated as rolled off the tray, a likely victim of gravity and clumsy caterer handling. My sister’s friend gave her a hard time about it, and henceforth shorthanded that variety of good-story-serving hyperbole, common to our family as A Melon Ball.