When me an’ my brother Jim was boys, we heard they was gonna be having a camp-meeting at one of them snake-handlin’ churches up in the hills. Now we didn’ want nothin’ to do with snakes, but we thought it might be interestin’ to stir them church folks up a little. We slipped out with the Rascoe boys an’ caught us up some cats an’ a dog or two an’ had’em in tow sacks. We slipped up on the back side of the church an’ climbed up, pullin’ them bags behind us. With all that singin’ and testafyin’, and speakin’ in tongues, them church folks couldna’ heard the devil comin’ up the river in a sawmill, so we didn’ have a bit o’trouble once they got started. Them folks was naturally doin’ some carryin’ on!
Well, we give’em time enough to get to really git serious about their religion before we turned them dogs and cats loose on ‘em. Them cats tore outa’ them sacks, like their tails was on fire, screechin’ and spittin’, with them dogs right behind ‘em. Some of ‘em ended up bustin’ right up in the middle of them snake-handlers. I mean to tell you, they threw them snakes down an’ they all run outside screamin’ an’ carryin’ on about the rapture. You wouldn’a thought anybody that messed with snakes would’a got so stirred up about a few dogs and cats!
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Like most of the people we knew, we didn’t have a car, so we never went anywhere at night we couldn’t walk, except for once. Mama got the news that there was to be a brush arbor revival in Cuthand, hosting a guest evangelist! To my everlasting amazement, we were going! We put quilts in the back of the wagon, since we’d be getting home long after dark. We hopped up in the wagon dressed in our best, headed for the revival, in a holiday spirit long before dark. I had no idea what a revival was, but couldn’t have been more excited than a kid headed for the fair!
We pulled up to find dozens of wagons parked next to a brush-arbor in a clearing, a simple roof of branches on a make-do support sheltering rough benches. Though it was summer, a few small fires were smoldering, their smoke intended to discourage mosquitoes. Before long, the song leader got us fired up with a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The singing was wonderful, but eventually gave way to the Hell-fire and brimstone sermon, something that didn’t thrill me nearly so much.
It was late by the time the preacher concluded the altar call, releasing us. After visiting a bit with our neighbors, we headed for home, long after the time I was usually in bed. I lay in the back of the wagon with Annie and John on the quilts, looking at the magical night sky. Travelling under its full moon and sparkling stars was a gift. A slight breeze cooled us, keeping the mosquitoes at bay. As the horse clomped along, Mama and Daddy told stories and talked amiably. With all those I loved around me, I never wanted this night to end.
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to be continued
Scary stories are best when told by a believer. On a cold, dark night, the women and children clustered cozily around the fireplace at Aunt Ader’s old house while the men were out hunting. By the firelight, mothers in straight back wooden chairs bumped rhythmically back and forth to lull their little ones off to sleep, as their older kids stretched out pallets in the front room enticed by oft-repeated family tales, some funny, some sad, some terrifying.
I recall this sad story as deliciously heartbreaking, though I never knew any of these distant relatives of relatives. My Great-Aunt Jo told of her pregnant Cousin Lou on her daddy’s side from way over in Alabama. Back before Aunt Jo was born, Cousin Lou left her baby Jessie Mae on a pallet under the shade of an oak while picking beans with her family nearby. Lou looked back often to check her sleeping baby. It was resting so well, she picked on a bit longer, hoping to get enough beans to can a few jars. Little Jessie never made a peep. When Lou’s basket was filled, she came back to retrieve the baby and was horrified to find the shade had shifted and the baby burned beet-red in the sun. Lou and her mother, Ruth, rushed to sponge the baby with cool spring water. For three days, Little Jessie lingered between life and death, before dying. The family had to restrain poor grief-stricken Lou from pulling the baby from the coffin at the burial. She gave birth to a seven-month baby a few days later that only lived a few hours. Though she went home to live with her husband, all she did was pine for her lost babies. She became catatonic, unable to eat, dress herself, or leave the chair where she rocked her dead child’s rag doll. A few months after her grieving young husband took her home to her mama, Ruth, it became obvious she was pregnant again. It was hoped the new baby would bring her back to life though she never responded to the new baby Sally, just kept rocking Baby Jessie’s doll. Ruth was left to raise little Sally and manage her sick daughter. On good days, Lou was like a docile child, sitting quietly or doing simple tasks. On rough days, she cried and rocked her rag doll. On her worst days, she wailed and tried find her baby or throw herself in the well. When she finally roused enough to try to hang herself, Ruth had to put her in the asylum where poor, deranged Lou managed to hang herself after a couple of months. Because she’d killed herself, she was hastily buried at the asylum and couldn’t have a Christian burial with her lost babies. Afterwards, people swore they could hear Lou crying, trying to get to her babies’ graves in the church cemetery dark, moonless nights. I still get tingles thinking of it.
In response to The Daily Post writing prompt “Our House”
Our house, was a very, very, fine house, I thought. The center of my world….a small, white frame house surrounded by a picket fence sitting under a huge shade tree. For many years it was a three-room house till Daddy added two bedrooms and a screened-in back porch to accommodate his growing family. I played in the deep, soft sand with my brother and sister on hot summer days. Honey-colored pine floors warmed the rooms, walls covered in cedar paneling. Yellow and green tiles in an alternating pattern covered the kitchen floor. The stove, with a pan of left-over biscuits for snacks, its door propped up with a stick, stood at one end of the kitchen, the refrigerator at the other, while cabinets ran along the outside wall. We all crowded around a red dinette set with a high chair pulled alongside. Mother’s wringer washer and the big deep freeze were housed on the screened-in back porch that had been pressed into service as a makeshift utility room. She suffered terribly doing her wash in the cold till the screens were covered with heavy plastic coated hardware wire and a space heater was installed. Clothes hung on lines strung across that room on rainy days. Our house was noisy with the shrieks of children at play, my mother’s laughter, and the joy of rowdy children. It was unusually scattered and looked like a tornado had ripped through not ten minutes after Mother finished cleaning.
The house was cold in winter, hot in summer, though the big attic fan lulled us to sleep on hot summer nights. On sunny days, leafy shadows danced on my bedroom walls and floor. Sometimes on hot days, I napped stretched out on the cool pine floors. Other times, I slept on a pallet of quilts with my cousin when company stayed nights.
Mother got up before we did to light the space-heaters that inadequately heated the house. We’d back up to the heaters and roast our behinds while our fronts chilled till the house finally warmed up.
A wonderful two-story barn filled with hay stood in the barnyard behind the house. On rainy days, we raced out to play in the barn, never to be held captive indoors. It was heaven to play in the stalls and climb in the loft to build forts in the hay. On fine days, we were free to roam the pastures and woods. We climbed trees and dropped off on the backs of cows dozing in the shade, for short but exciting rides. Sometimes we were lucky enough to lure a horse close enough to a fence to get on his back and get a bareback ride till he tired of us. My brother still has a grudge in at me for jumping off as the horse headed into a stall, leaving him to be scraped off by the low roof. It was a perfect way to grow up.
It pains me that today that house is about to fall down.
(Excerpt from my mother’s memoirs which I will be publishing soon. This is from my mother’s childhood, during The Great Depression) The woman in the picture is my Great Grandmother Elvira Perkins Holdaway. She is picture in her wedding dress, photographed just a few days before her death in 1903. She had given birth to 12 children and was survived by only 4 Continue reading