Oklahoma Writers' Project
Age 80 years
"I'se seventy years old."
And I say, "Whut's you telling me for. I ain't got nothing to do with
I knowed I was one year older than she was and it sorta riled me for
her to talk about it. I never would tell folks my age for I knowed
white folks didn't want no old woman working for 'em and I just
wouldn't tell 'em how old I really was. Dat was nine years ago and I
guess I'm seventy five now. I can't work much now.
I was born four years before de War.--"The one what set the cullud
folks free." We lived on a big plantation in Texas. Old Master's name
was John Booker and he was good to us all. My mammy died just at de
close of de War and de young mistress took me and kept me and I growed
up with her chillun. I thought I was quality sure nuff and I never
would go to school 'cause I couldn't go 'long to de same school with
de white chillun. Young mistress taught me how to knit, spin, weave,
crochet, sew and embroider. I couldn't recollect my age and young
Mistress told me to say, "I'se born de second year of de War dat set
de cullud folks free," and the only time she ever git mad at me was
when I forgot to say it jest as she told me to. She take hold of me
and shook me. I recollects all it, all de time.
Young mistress' name was Elizabeth Booker McNew. I'se named after her.
She finally gave me to my aunt when I was a big girl and I never lived
wid white folks any more. I never saw my pappy till I was grown.
In the cullud quarters, we cooked on a fireplace in big iron pots. Our
bread was baked in iron skillets with lids and we would set the
skillet on de fire and put coals of fire on de lid. Bread was mighty
good cooked like dat. We made our own candles. We had a candle mold
and we would put a string in the center of the mold and pour melted
tallow in it and let it harden. We would make eight at one time.
Quality folks had brass lamps.
When we went to cook our vegetables we would put a big piece of hog
jowl in de pot. We'd put in a lot of snap beans and when dey was about
half done we'd put in a mess of cabbage and when it was about half
done we'd put in some squash and when it was about half done we'd put
in some okra. Then when it was done we would take it out a layer at a
time. Go 'way! It makes me hungry to talk about it.
When we cooked possum dat was a feast. We would skin him and dress him
and put him on top de house and let him freeze for two days or nights.
Then we'd boil him with red pepper, and take him out and put him in a
pan and slice sweet 'taters and put round him and roast him. My, dat
was good eating.
It was a long time after de War 'fore all de niggers knowed dey was
really free. My grandpappy was Master Booker's overseer. He wouldn't
have a white man over his niggers. I saw grandpappy whip one man with
a long whip. Master Booker was good and wouldn't whip 'em less'n he
had to. De niggers dassent leave de farm without a pass for fear of de
Ku Kluxers and patrolers.
We would have dances and play parties and have sho' nuff good times.
We had "ring plays." We'd all catch hands and march round, den we'd
drop all hands 'cept our pardners and we'd swing round and sing:
"You steal my pardner, and I steal yours,
Miss Mary Jane.
My true lover's gone away,
Miss Mary Jane!
"Steal all round and don't slight none,
Miss Mary Jane.
He's lost out but I'se got one,
Miss Mary Jane!"
We always played at log rollin's an' cotton pickin's.
Sometimes we would have a wedding and my what a good time we'd have.
Old Master's daughter, Miss Janie, got married and it took us more'n
three weeks to get ready for it. De house was cleaned from top to
bottom and us chillun had to run errands. Seemed like we was allers
under foot, at least dat was what mammy said. I never will fergit all
the good things they cooked up. Rows of pies and cakes, baked chicken
and ham, my, it makes my mouth water jest thinking of it. After de
wedding and de feast de white folks danced all night and us cullud
folks ate all night.
When one of de cullud folks die we would allers hold a "wake." We
would set up with de corpse and sing and pray and at midnight we'd all
eat and den we'd sing and pray some more.
In de evening after work was done we'd sit round and de older folks
would sing songs. One of de favorites was:
"Miss Ca'line gal,
Did you see dem buzzards?
Did you see dem floppin',
How did ye' like 'em?
"Miss Ca'line gal,
Did you see dem buzzards?
Did you see dem sailin',
How did you like 'em?
I've heered folks talk about conjures and hoodoo charms. I have a hoss
shoe over de door dat will bring good luck. I sho' do believe certain
things bring bad luck. I hate to hear a scrinch (screech) owl holler
at night. Whenever a scrinch owl git in dat tree at night and start to
holler I gits me a stick and I say, "Confound you, I'll make yet set
up dar and say 'Umph huh'," so I goes out and time I gits dar he is
gone. If you tie a knot in de corner of de bed sheet he will leave, or
turn your hat wrong side out too. Dey's all good and will make a
scrinch owl leave every time.
I believes in dreams and visions too. I dreamed one night dat I had
tall palings all 'round my house and I went out in de yard and dere
was a big black hoss and I say, "How come you is in my yard? I'll jest
put you out jest lak you got in." I opened de gate but he wouldn't go
out and finally he run in de door and through the house and went
towards de East. Right after dat my son died. I saw dat hoss again de
other night. A black hoss allus means death. Seeing it de other night
might mean I'se gwineter die.
I know one time a woman named May Runnels wanted to go to church about
a mile away and her old man wouldn't go with her. It made her mad and
she say, "I'll be dammed if I don't go." She had to go through a grave
yard and when she was about half way across it a icy hand jest slap
her and her mouth was twisted way 'round fer about three months. Dat
was a lesson to her fer cussing.
One time there was a nigger what belonged on a adjoining farm to
Master John Bookers and dey told us dis story:
"Dis nigger went down to de spring and found a terrapin and he say,
'What brung you here?' Jest imagine how he felt when it say to him,
'Teeth and tongue brung me here, and teeth and tongue will bring you
here.' He run to de house and told his Master dat he found a terrapin
dat could talk. Dey went back and he asked de terrapin what bring him
here and it wouldn't say a word. Old Master didn't like it 'cause he
went down there jest to see a common ordinary terrapin and he told de
nigger he was going to git into trouble fer telling him a lie. Next
day the nigger seen de terrapin and it say de same thing again. Soon
after dat dis nigger was lynched right close to de place he saw de
Master John Booker had two niggers what had a habit of slipping across
de river and killing old Master's hogs and hiding de meat in de loft
of de house. Master had a big blue hog and one day he missed him and
he sent Ned to look fer him. Ned knowed all de time dat he had killed
it and had it hid in his loft. He hunted and called "Pig-ooie, Pig."
Somebody done stole old Master's big blue hog. Dey couldn't find it
but old Master thought Ned knowed something 'bout it. One night he
found out Ned was gonna kill another hog and had asked John to go with
him. He borrowed John's clothes and blacked his face and met Ned at de
river. Soon dey find a nice big one and Ned say, "John, I'll drive him
round and you kill him." So he drove him past old Master but he didn't
want to kill his own hog so he made lak he'd like to kill him but he
missed him. Finally Ned got tired and said. "I'll kill him, you drive
him by me." So Master John drove him by him and Ned knock de hog on de
head and cut his throat and dey load him on de canoe. When dey was
nearly 'cross de river Old Master dip up some water and wash his face
a little, then he look at Ned and he say, "Ned you look sick, I
believe you've got lepersy." Ned row on little more and he jump in de
river and Master had a hard time finding him again. He had the
overseer whip Ned for that.
I think Lincoln was a wonderful man. Everybody was sorry when he died,
but I never heerd of Jeff Davis.
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