Uncle Albutt Part 5

Quite often, our family and friends would gather for a late evening meal.  While the kids ran wild in the dusk and on into the darkness, the women prepared a filling meal of beef stew or chili and cornbread.  It would be near bedtime by the time they called us in, hysterical  with chasing each other in and out of the darkness.  Of course we’d been warned against running in the dark, but staying in range of the lights was for sissies.  I’d be in a delicious frenzy of terror till I stepped back into the light, where all horrors vanished.   They would be so many kids we’d be settled on the floor with our supper in a pie or cake pan.  This was before budgets stretched to include paper plates.  It was an honor to sit on the floor with the big kids.  Babies and toddlers sat at the tables where their mamas could keep a grip on them.  Two or three dinners were always dumped on the floor and there was squalling a’plenty as mamas cleaned up the mess and resettled the messy kids.  The kids finished in short order and tore back outdoors while the adults took their turn at the

After the meal, it wasn’t unusual for the men to load up their guns, flashlights, thermoses of coffee, and the dogs for a night of hunting, leaving the women and children to visit.  Mamas gave their kids a cursory wipedown with a washcloth before bed, since it wouldn’t have been possible to bathe that many children and settled them on pallets on the floor, sometimes as many as six to the bed.  Mamas rocked the knee babies and lap babies to sleep before putting them on a bed flanked by pillows once the settling down started, the women started their stories.  I loved these nights, especially if Mawmaw was there.  She believed in ghosts and could make our blood run cold.  Mother worried about nightmares, but lacked the courage to shush her mother-in-law, for which I was grateful.  I NEEDED those stories. Mawmaw thrilled us with tales of babies buried alive, girls who died of broken hearts when their dead sweethearts appeared to them, and big black ghost dog, and ball lightning rolling through the house. The kids didn’t dare move off the pallet, they were so terrified. Fatigued by their play, finally they drifted off to sleep, one by one.

As the women talked, they thought they heard an intruder trying to get in the front door. Someone else scurried to check the back door, unsure if it was locked.  .  Had there been an intruder, he’d have had a horrible shock breaking in on half a dozen  terrified women and a gaggle of children.  Meanwhile Mother hurried to the door.  Thinking she’d scare him away with a bluff, she called out.  “I’ve got a gun.  I’m gonna shoot through the door!”

Aunt Jewel stood right behind her.  Obviously terrified, she shouted out.  “Well, don’t just stand there!  Go git your gun.  You ain’t got no gun!”  Fortunately, there was no intruder, or he thought he’d better not break in, since nothing happened.

 

Aunt Ader’s Place Part 4

 

dog-trotScary 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.

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