By Jerry A.G. Ericsson
© Jerry A.G. Ericsson 8/23/2000
Agnes McClain was probably; no she was definitely the most stubborn woman in all these Tennessee Hills. I should know, because she was my grandmother, and after mother passed on to the great beyond grandma Agnes took me and my sister Ruth in and cared for us the best she could in her little three-room cabin. She even took the loft for her bed, said she was more comfortable and wanted us kids to have some privacy.
Well things went on real good for a few years, then granny took sick. She lay up in her bed in the loft for three days till she let us call the Doc. Now any other person so sick would have been begging us to call Doc Wilson, but not Granny, no she was to stubborn to admit that she was sick.
Doc Wilson came right over, as fast as he could make his old horse Betty pull his carriage. He knew that if Granny Agnes admitted she needed his services, it had to be something serious. And serious it was. Doc Wilson was here only ten minuets when he came back down from the loft and broke the news to us. Granny had passed on. Ruth went right up there, and she dressed Granny in her finest Sunday-go-to-meeting dress, combed her hair, and smeared a little lipstick on her pale lips. Then she applied just a little rouge to her cheeks so as to make her look a little less pale. Doc Wilson said he would call Digger Olson and have him come up in the morning and pick Granny up to get her ready for the funeral.
Ruth and I we just sat there at the table, we must have been in shock or something, because for a long time, neither of us said anything. Then after about an hour, Ruth said we should go to bed, as we would need our rest for the happenings tomorrow, what with getting the funeral arrangements and all, so we went off to bed.
The next morning, we were up at dawn, Ruth made us some bacon and eggs, while I prepared some toast on one of the flat burners of the old wood cook stove that stood in the corner of the cabin. Then we sat down to eat breakfast, neither of us had a lot to say, but when we were duly seated, I bowed my head for grace. “Lord,” I began, “please bless this food, and Lord, we are sending up Granny Agnes to be with you, I know she is kind of cantankerous Lord but please accept her into your arms, as she is a good person down deep, and I guess you know this Lord, just thought I would let you know.” “Amen”
Well we commenced to eating our breakfast when there was a noise up in the loft. I looked at Ruth, and she looked at me, her eyes were getting bigger then the dinner plates that sat before us with our eggs and bacon on them. Then we heard footsteps walk over to the steps, and come down from the loft to the kitchen.
I almost fell from my chair when Granny came to the head of the table, and sat in her chair. “Where’s my plate!” She demanded.
Well we didn’t know exactly what to do, so I gives granny mine, “Here, Granny, take mine!” I said Ruth was sitting there shaking like a leaf in a gale storm. Then she takes her plate and hands it to Granny too, but she couldn’t get a word out.
“Cat got your tongue girl!” Granny shouted, “Speak up I say!”
Ruth stuttered, “G – G – Granny, how can you be here, you died last night!”
“Nonsense, if I died then how could I be down here eating these delicious eggs and bacon!”
“Really Granny,” I said, “Doc Wilson was here but he said you were dead, and you sure don’t look all that good, you are so pale, and sickly!”
“Dag Nabbit, I would surely know if I was dead!”
“Ruth, run get Doc Wilson!” I said.
Ruth left like she had the devil himself on her tail, she ran as fast as she could to Doc Wilson’s house down in the hollow.
Granny and me, we went out and sat in the rockers on the front porch, just to enjoy the fine summer day. Granny was starting to smell a little, and that smell was attracting flies and other bugs.
“Get me the swatter, and be quick about it! My I surely have never seen the bugs so thick this early in the summer!” She said, as I went into the house to retrieve the swatter for her.
Doc Wilson and Ruth came back, and Doc’s eyes got real big, I think I even saw what little hair he had on the top of his head stand up, just a little.
“Agnes, let me examine you.” Doc said, kneeling beside her rocking chair.” He shook his head and backed off a little, as the smell got to his nose. Doc took his stethoscope and held it to Granny’s chest, and then he took it away and tapped lightly on the end. “Well this thing is working fine, and I can tell you Agnes that you are as dead as a doornail, now why don’t you go back to your bed and lay down.”
“I ain’t no such thing!” Granny replied.
Doc took a mirror from his vest pocket and held it under Granny’s nose, then took it away. He looked at and shook his head. “No fog, Agnes dang it, you just gotta go lay down, you are surely dead!”
“Nonsense!” Granny said “You breath on that dang mirror, I know I am alive, wouldn’t be sitting here enjoying this sunny day if I were dead now would I?”
Well Doc Wilson, he just gave up, and left shaking his head. I told Ruth to go and get the Reverend Hughes; he would know what to do.
Granny and I sat out there on the porch until Ruth and the Reverend got here, and the Reverend he just stood there with his wide brimmed hat, and his collar on backwards, and looked at Granny.
Then the Reverend began, “Agnes, the Doc tells me that you are dead and you refuse to admit it, is that true?
“Nonsense!” Granny said, “If I were dead I wouldn’t be sitting out here discussing things with you now would I?
“Think of what is ahead for you Agnes, the Glory of Heaven, being with our Lord, seeing all you friends who have gone before you!”
“You think it is so great, Reverend, why don’t you go ahead and die, I have things I gotta get done round here, got these two kids to raise up, got this farm to care for, don’t have time for this dieing nonsense, now go away!”
Reverend shook his head, and walked away, I could tell that he was happy to get away from Granny, the hot sun was getting to her, and she was getting right ripe. The flies were getting thicker and I saw some vultures circling the cabin.
Granny went in the house to make us dinner, and I sent Ruth with her. I had to do something to get Granny to realize she was dead, and all I could think of was the old witch who lived down by Andersons Swamp, maybe she would know what to do, folks round here say she knows the voodoo.
Well it didn’t take me long to get to the witches cabin. She was not real happy to be disturbed, I don’t think she likes people much, probably hasn’t seen to many lately, as most folks would walk a mile to avoid her cabin.
She let me come in and sit at her table, as she stirred some concoction that she was brewing over her fire in the fireplace. I explained our problem, and she chuckled a little.
“I know your Granny, and she is about the most stubborn person in these parts, if she says she ain’t dead then it will take quit a lot to convince her. Let me look round here and see what I have that might work.”
It didn’t take her long till she came up with a black pouch, and explained how to use the contents. I took the pouch and ran all the way home to our cabin. When I got there, Ruth had set the table, and Granny brought the kettle of food from the cook stove to our table. We all sat down.
I was amazed at how much Granny had decomposed, must be from the heat, why the skin on her face was turning an odd shade of blue, and the blue even showed through the lipstick that Ruth had put on her. When she turned to the stove to get another kettle of food, I showed the pouch to Ruth, she opened it and closed it again, shaking her head.
“Why there ain’t nothing in there but black pepper!” She whispered, so Granny wouldn’t hear, her hearing still seemed to be working fine despite her decrepit condition.
Granny brought the kettle and sat it down, then went to the icebox and got a pint of milk out for us to drink. While her back was turned, I opened the pouch and sprinkled the contents on the inside of Granny’s napkin then refolded it like it was before.
Granny sat at the head of the table and asked me to say the grace. I did quickly and we began eating. Granny spilled a little grease from the side pork on her chin and picked up the napkin to wipe it off. When she did, the pepper took hold, and she sneezed.
She looked at the napkin, then stood up and walked stiffly back to the stairs and climbed up to the loft. “Gotta go lay down now, you’ve convinced me, I am dead. Bring some lilies and put on my chest when I get laid down, and Ruth you call the undertaker and have him come right away, wouldn’t want you kids arrested for harboring a corpse or something.”
I was surprised until I lifted up the napkin and Granny’s nose fell onto the table.