By: Garland Davis
My Granny was born and grew up in the Valley of the Yadkin River in the 1870’s. North Carolina was in the throes of Reconstruction. She used stories of the Klu Klux Klan (her pronunciation) to scare young boys into good behavior. Life in the Yadkin Valley was primitive, not very removed from that of the pioneer Daniel Boone who moved from Yadkin to Kentucky a century before because it was getting too crowded. Someone built a cabin about a half mile from his. My Granny was a strong woman who bore six girls and three boys between 1892 and 1910. Most of her life was lived in log houses, some with dirt floors. Families lived on that which they could grow, hunt or trade for. My Granny was a resilient woman who knew how to make do with whatever was available.
Her father and mother (my great grandfather and grandmother) never married. They lived their lives in two log cabins across a wagon road from each other. My great grandfather was half Cherokee Indian and my great-great-grandmother forbade my great grandmother form marrying an Indian. I learned, many years later, that she considered illegitimacy a stigma. (I can hear her now telling me, “Go to the woods and get me a switch to stripe your butt with for telling the world you’re a bastard. It ain’t nobody else’s business.”) I always knew that I was her favorite grandchild. She always favored me, but I never knew why. I was her only illegitimate grandchild and I think she tried to protect me.
She learned plants and their uses as food and medicines from her pioneer mother and her Indian father. She often came in from the woods with plants and roots that she hung around the porch eaves to dry. My aunts often brought her things they collected in the woods. Relatives and friends came to her for potions and poultices to treat real or imagined ills.
She dipped snuff and before she lost her teeth chewed Virginia Twist tobacco. Raw tobacco was twisted into a curl and cut off to smoke or chew. I remember finding a burlap bag of twists after her death. Some of them were probably thirty years old. Aged perfectly and naturally, without chemicals. We shaved it off and rolled it into cigarettes. My friends and I smoked for almost a year on that tobacco.
She always had advice to give, which she did freely whether you wanted it or not especially if you were a young boy. She also bossed everyone who would listen around. As a boy, I considered her to be a fount of wisdom. She was forever telling us items of folk lore. I call these Grannyisms. I unbelieving of many things she told us and tested many of them.
Toads: My brother and I were tormenting a toad by poking its butt to make it hop. Granny, upon seeing this, said, “You young’uns be keerful, if you kill that hop toad, it will cause the cows to go dry.” We had to milk the two cows. This piece of wisdom didn’t work! We murdered hop toads for weeks trying to dry those damn cows.
Snakes: She always told us, “If you kill a snake, hang it on the limb of a tree or on a fence rail and it will rain in the next ten days. This one always seemed to work. I was an adult before I realized that North Carolina had a temperate climate. It usually rained within ten days anyway. She also told us that if you kill a snake, its mate is nearby. I spent many hours searching for “that other” snake. It was years later before I realized that snakes do not run in pairs.
Phase of the Moon: She swore on planting by the “moon.” She would rave at my mom and dad about planting the garden at the wrong time of the moon. I deliberately planted seeds at the “wrong” time and would show her my crops and say, “see it doesn’t matter.” She always replied, “If you had planted at the right time of the moon, them ‘maters would have been better.” You couldn’t win this argument.
Painters: As a little boy, she scared the crap out of me by telling me to stay in at night because a “black painter” would get and eat me. My mom also used the term “painter.” I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I was wary of the night. We had a neighbor who was a house painter. I imagined a mean black man with a bucket of paint and a brush who ate little boys. Again it was years later that I realized she was saying panther. For many years, there have been rumors of Black “Painters” (Panthers) in North Carolina, although none have been killed or captured.
Laxatives: She believed that to maintain good health a person needed to take a laxative periodically. She also believed that when little boys got into mischief, a laxative was needed to, in her words, “Work the meanness out of them.” Laxatives were applied to me frequently. It actually worked! After a purging, one didn’t have the strength left to get into any mischief or anything else.
Witchcraft: I cannot explain this one. As a young boy, I had numerous warts on my hands and fingers. My mom had taken me to the doctor but his solutions didn’t work. My Granny told her, “The next time we go to Yadkin, I am going to take him to a woman I know who can witch warts and get her to witch them warts off.” I think I was about four, I remember her taking me by the hand and leading me on a footpath through the woods to a dreary old log cabin. It seemed we went a long distance, but then again maybe not so far, I was just a little boy. There was an old lady there. My Granny told her she wanted to get the warts took off my hands. She gave the woman a burlap sack that she had brought with her. Payment for her services, I surmise. The woman took a string from a mop that was leaning upside down against the cabin. She sat me on the stoop of the house and hung the mop string around my neck. She then took my hands and touched each wart. She removed the string and tied a knot in it for each wart and hung it back around my neck. She took the string and carried it into the woods. A short time later she came back and told me that the spirit of the warts was in that string and soon the warts would leave to go look for their spirits. She said if I ever looked for or found the string, all the warts would return. Soon afterward all my warts disappeared, except for one on the second knuckle of my ring finger. I guess she miscounted and missed that one. I have had it all my life.
I don’t know how old I was when Granny caught me giving a lot of attention to my private parts. She called me a dirty little boy and I got a switching. She also told me that if I continued to do that, it would stunt my growth. I thought about that for a couple of days and that was when I decided to forgo a basketball career.
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.