Saturday, October 31, 2015

Miss Birdie in the Graveyard -- The Man with Two Graves


Why, look who's here! How good it is to see you! I heared that vehicle coming up the road to the grave yard and I said to myself, if that ain't Lizzie Beth, I'm a hoot owl. And here you are!

Well, I did start out a little early -- I travel some slower these days and it's a fair piece to go. Oh, I knew you'd of ridden me up in your Jeep but I do like to make the walk, long as I'm able.  But I'll not say no to a ride back home. Dor'thy is coming over for supper and I need to get back and make us some cornbread. I should of fixed it when I baked my ginger cake at noon but I always think cornbread's the best when it's all hot just out of the oven, don't you?

Another story about these folks? Why I'd be proud to tell you everwhat I can. You know, when folks is gone from this earth the onliest thing we can do for them is to remember. Every time we speak their names and tell their stories, don't you see, we bring them back if only for a little while.

I reckon that's how it come to be that some of the old folks had the notion of visiting the graves on the last day of October. It's fitting, ain't it? Just when the leaves has blazed up in glory for one last time, just before everything goes to sleep for the winter, it seems good to walk about, to leave a bit of ginger cake on each headstone, and to speak their names, letting them know someone still remembers. And on this day of Halloween, they're right close, those Quiet Ones, those Ancestors just the other side of  Forever . . .

The other side of forever was what my Granny Beck called it. She said there was like a curtain or a veil between this world and the other and that at this time of the year the veil gets so thin that those who look hard can see right through it.

You ain't taking a chill, are you? No? Was it my talk of that other side? Dor'thy purely despises it when I talk about such things -- but you ain't one to fear something so natural.

 Granny Beck?  Yes, she's the one who was part Cherokee. Her stone is over here, up near the woods -- Rebecca Godwin Thomas ~ 1863 - 1938 . . .

No, I reckon I don't talk much about her. It's been so long. . . But she is as alive in my heart as ever she was on earth. It's queer to think that I'm older now than she was when she passed . . .

And I wonder . . . when it comes my time to pass through to the other side . . . will I be the age I am when I die? Will me and Granny Beck be two old women together? Or might we both be girls again and best friends. I do wonder what will be the way of it.

Law, listen to me run on. You wanted to know about Granny Beck. No, she didn't come from the reservation over in Cherokee -- she was raised up right over yonder on Bear Tree Creek. I'll tell you what she told me.

Back in 18 and 38 when the government sent soldiers to run the Cherokees out of the mountains and send them all the way out west, the soldiers was driving the Indians like cattle through these parts and the whole gang of 'em, soldiers and Indians alike, camped out down by the river one night -- right there nigh the bridge where the old stand was.  

Now amongst all that crowd of Indians was a man named John Goingsnake and his wife Nancy and their little baby Rebekah. Well, Nancy had taken sick when the babe was birthed and the cruel journey had been so hard on her that she had been getting weaker and weaker day by day till on that night by the river she died. 

Poor John Goingsnake was just about crazy already over being taken away from his home and from these mountains and now he was losing his wife, Oh, it was a hard thing and when he seen she was truly gone, he grabbed up the baby and slipped away from the camp, made it across the river, and into the woods along Bear Tree Creek . . .

Now, as Granny Beck told the story, John and the baby hid out in the woods for a long, long time -- seven years, Granny said.  At last, though,  they went to a farm and asked for help. It was the Godwin's place and they was good somebodies who took in the poor wanderers and gave them a home. 

And  the baby Rebekah grew up and married the Godwin's oldest son and she had a little girl they called Little Beck and that Little Beck was my Granny -- my mother's mother and the best friend I ever did have . . .

Naw, I ain't crying. The wind blew some dust in my eye is all. What? Oh, there's a sight more to Granny Beck's story but I believe I'll save it for another time, iffen you don't care.

 Look over here at this old stone. Now that's where Plutus James lies. And talk of lying, Plutus was the biggest liar you ever did see. If someone caught a big catfish, why Plutus was sure to have caught a bigger one, but, did you want to see it, he'd already et it; if someone had a cow who'd had twins, Plutus was sure to have had a cow that had a two-headed calf -- but a bear had carried it off.  

Course, lying could only take him so far -- when one feller at a play party had took a little too much 'shine and climbed up on the house to walk the ridge pole, danged if Plutus didn't climb atop the barn, which it was three times as tall, and sashay along its ridgepole. And him not even drunk.

There weren't no harm in old Plutus; it was just his way. He was such a likable somebody, couldn't no one get mad at him. Some folks took a pleasure in telling him whoppers of their own or doing wild stunts, so's to see if he could best them. And he always did for he couldn't bear to be outdone.  Why he's the only feller I know of to have two graves --  the other one's over near Hot Springs.

Oh, Plutus is in the both of them. I can almost hear him laughing now to think of it.

No, I'm not funning you -- this is how it happened. Plutus was a railroad man on the run that went between Marshall and Hot Springs. Him and his wife Leonie had a little place down near the bridge and raised a gang of young 'uns there. Plutus was away a good deal of the time but Leonie never complained. I heard it said she found it a good bit more restful when he was gone but a lot more fun when he was to home. 

Come the day though, Plutus's bragging got the best of him. Him and a friend had been talking about how hobos hopped the freights and the friend said he was going to try to see could he do it. So they set up a time and waited by the crossing where the trains slowed some till a freight train come through and the friend jumped for the first boxcar that come along and, not to be outdone, Plutus jumped for the second. 

And they both hung on for a few seconds and then dropped back off with no harm done. But Plutus, being Plutus, stands there watching the cars start to pick up speed and he begins to feel dissatisfied.

 So he turns to his friend. "Shitfire, if I'm not gonna do it again," he says. "Watch this!"

But this time the train was moving too fast. Plutus, he jumped for a boxcar, missed his grip, and fell between the cars where the cruel steel wheels cut him slap in two. Kilt him outright.

Well, the railroad sent  two fellers to tell Leonie the news. She took it right hard but when she had calmed down some, they told her she'd have to come to the depot and talk to the boss man for there was a problem to be settled.

Poor Leonie grabbed up the least un and hollered at her oldest girl to watch the others. Then she got in the car with the fellers who'd brought the news and they set off. I heared that she told them she had expected something like this all along, the way Plutus was, and in some ways it was a relief to have it over with. 

When they got to the depot, there was another car just pulling in and two more fellers and another woman with a baby got out of that car and all of them headed for the boss man's office.

I see by the look on your face that you're about to figger out what had happened.  Yeah, boy, that old Plutus had him another family at the Hot Springs end of the run. It was weeks before the railroad folks could decide which was the rightful widow but Plutus had to be put in the ground right quick. And both Leonie and Oralee, for that was the name of the other wife, wanted his mortal remains in their own family graveyards. 

Several folks was surprised that Leonie and Oralee didn't go to fighting over the body but somehow, during the time at the depot they had kindly made friends in grieving and in talking about Plutus and his ways -- he was a likeable somebody and Leonie said later she couldn't hardly fault Oralee for loving him too.  So, being as the remains was in two pieces anyhow, they agreed that Oralee would bury half in Hot Springs and Leonie would bury the other half here. So here lays half of Plutus.

Which half?  No one rightly knew but for Leonie and Oralee. Course they didn't have no visitation nor open casket, what with the condition Plutus was in. And Leonie wouldn't never tell. She said there was good things about both halves and her and Oralee had studied on how to decide who got what and vowed not to tell which was which. 

How did they decide? Honey, they done it the best way they could --- one of them tossed a coin for heads or tails.

Now, don't you feel bad for laughing. Plutus would enjoy the joke as much as anyone. And iffen he could, he'd tell another.

Granny's Beck's story is told in much more detail in THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS-- along with quite a few things Miss Birdie has never told Lizzie Beth

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Elusive Clouded Sulphur

At last! I've been trying for weeks to get a shot of this lone yellow butter fly that has been hanging out in our entryway. 

Every time I approached it, it fluttered up into the trees and

A few days ago I looked out the kitchen window and saw Ol' Yeller sitting on a snapdragon by the greenhouse door. I grabbed my camera and dashed out -- no butterfly. But I checked out the Pineapple Sage, where I've seen him (or her) before. 

I didn't see it at first. These butterflies keep their wings folded when they land and, as the Pineapple Sage's leaves are almost the same yellow, my quarry was well camouflaged.


But at long last, I got the picture!

Several of them.

Small victories....

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Asfidity and Mad-Stones

My friend Byron the Village Witch, who has been a valuable source of information as I write of mountain ways, has a second hillfolk's hoodoo book out (I wrote about her first HERE)  -- a further exploration of  mountain charms and folk wisdom. 

I can't do better than to quote my own foreword:

On a hot July evening with a Blue Moon on the rise and crickets making mad music outside my window, I settled in to read an early copy of Byron’s latest -- Asfidity and Mad-Stones. And oh! what a pleasure it was. Her voice comes through with such clarity that I find myself feeling that she’s sitting at my side – a friendly witch come to visit. When she begins to speak of the necessity of familiarizing ourselves with the particular bit of ‘hallowed ground” we inhabit, I grin in recognition, remembering my total immersion into learning the flora, fauna, and folkways of this adopted home of mine. Books and neighbors and keeping my eyes open helped a lot but, forty years on, I’m still learning and Byron is one of my most honored teachers. When I dare to incorporate Appalachian magic into my novels, I look to Byron to help me get it right.

This magical place we call Western North Carolina cast its spell on me from the beginning. I learned from my neighbors about scheduling not only gardening but almost any activity on the farm according to the moon signs and The Old Farmers Almanac. 

Louise, down the mountain, made me soon aware of the importance of staying out of the cucumbers and not making kraut when my period was ‘on me.’ She showed me how to make a powder from a dirt dauber’s nest, a powder that cleared up my son’s stubborn diaper rash overnight. And another neighbor left me momentarily dumbfounded when she called in great agitation, telling me to come quick and read the verses from the Bible that would stop her husband’s nosebleed.

I went, I read, and the bleeding stopped. If I’d had this book back then, I wouldn’t have been so puzzled.

And what a glorious mélange of folk wisdom, nature lore, mother-
wit, and just plain good story telling this little book is! It really is like sitting on the front porch with a friendly witch, sipping iced tea and learning what it means when your left ear itches or how to use dirty dishwater for a hex.

If you seem hesitant about all this talk of magic, the witch leans
back in her rocker and reminds you that “children grow up with a
belief in magic that is fueled by a certainty that the world is
more than it seems” and, shooting you a long, knowing look, she
promises “practicing these simple magics affords you a chance to
return to this place of wonder, where mystery is an always-sweet
puzzle and there is adventure and delight.”

You trust this friendly witch and as you hear more of her family’s
handed-down teachings and the accumulation of years of practice,
you lean back, relax, and listen, led into that place of wonder. She
tells you of candle magic and the use of various dusts, of chicken
feet and Reeses cups, and she delves into the glorious
pharmacopeia of our mountain plants. Witch hazel, elderberry,
chickweed and dandelion, plantain and mugwort, mint and ‘sang – 

even the names are a healing song.

You are surprised to realize that evening is drawing on – how long have you been sitting here listening to these wonderful tellings? You excuse yourself and go into the house, returning with little glasses, a plate of shortbread, and a ‘drop of the creature.’ Anything to keep the flood of wisdom flowing.

Accepting your offering, the friendly witch moves on to practical magic – from dealing with burns to politely clearing a house of lingering haints. The tinctures and hexes, omens and admonitions she shares are drawn mainly from Appalachian tradition but with a sprinkling of items ’borried’ from other cultures. And in the liminal time between day and night, as the full moon rises over the mountain, the friendly witch has stories to tell of hauntings and cleansings and she talks with reverence and affection of the Little People who share the land.

She’s right good company, this friendly witch and when at last you must say goodbye to her, your head is spinning, filled to the brim with receipts and charms, hexes, hoodoos, and workings of all sorts– a veritable cornucopia of folk wisdom.

You’ll be glad you have this little book to consult, should you forget the words of the burn charm or should the exact sequence of belling and anointing the house slip your memory. And with the book, you can summon Byron to come sit at your side again and once more delight you with the wisdom of The Ancestors.

Vicki Lane
Wool Branch Farm

July 31, 2015

Available at Malaprops -- our wonderful local independent bookstore -- or from the Witch herself on her WEBSITE.