Aunt Mollie Moss
# 88- Auburn Street,
There is no street sign or a number on any of the ramshackled frame
cottages that seemingly lean with the breezes, first one direction,
then another, along the alley that wind's through the city's
northernmost boundary and stops its meanderings at the doorstep of
"Uncle Andrew Moss" and his wife, "Aunt Mollie."
The City Directory of Knoxville, Tennessee officially lists the Moss
residence as # 88 Auburn Street. It rests upon its foundations more
substantially, and is in better kept condition than its neighbors. In
lieu of a "reg'lar" house number, the aged negro couple have placed a
rusty automobile lisence tag of ancient vintage conspicuously over
their door. It is their jesture of contempt for their nearest white
neighbors who "dont seem to care whedder folkses know whar dey lib an
maybe don wants em to."
As for Aunt Mollie, she holds herself superior to all of her
neighbors. She "Ain got no time for po white trash noway." She shoo'ed
two little tow-headed white girls from her doorstep with her broom as
she stood in her door and watched a visitor approach. "G'wan way frum
here now, can be bodder wid you chillun messin ups my front yard. Take
yo tings an go on back to yo own place!"
"Dats way dey do," she mummled as she lead the visitor inside the
cottage, through the dining-room and kitchen into the living-room and
bedroom. "Don know what I gwine do when come summer time. Keeps me all
time lookin out for dem chilluns. Dey's dat troublesome. Brings trash
in on my flo what I jes scoured, an musses 'roun, maybe tryin to steal
sumpin an me watchin em too. Dey wasnt teached manners and 'havior in
odder folkses houses like what I war."
When Aunt Mollie learned that it was to hear her story of how she was
trained in manners end behaviorism, that the visitor had come, and to
hear something of her recollections of slave days, her belligerent
mood vanished. The satisfied manner in which she drew up chairs before
the fire, took a pinch of snuff and settled her skirts, indicated that
was going to be quite a session. She leaned her elbows on her knees,
held her head between the palms of her hands and fumbled in her cloudy
memory to gather a few facts to relate.
Uncle Andrew, the more intelligent of the two, and quick to seize upon
his opportunity, began his reminiscences immediately, saying "Honey,
wait now," when his wife thought herself well organized to talk, and
frequently broke into his narrative. "Wait untell I gits through. Den
you can talk." Aunt Mollie would frown and grunt, mumble to herself as
she rocked back and forth in her chair. She pulled the two long braids
of brown silky hair, streaked with white, and tied at the ends with
cotton strings. She spat vigorously into the fire, kept muttering and
shuffling her feet, which were encased in men's shoes.
At last it came Aunt Mollie's turn to talk war-times. Uncle Andrew,
well pleased with his recital, retired to his corner by the hearth and
listened "mannerdly"--after first warning the visitor in a gentle
undertone, that "My wife she ain got much mem'ry an she don hear
good." Aunt Mollie's rambling reminiscences backed up his statement.
"Reckon I mus be 'bout eighty-two, three year old. I dunno exactly. Ef
I knowed whar to find em, deys some my white folkes lib in dis town.
Seem like I can 'member dey names. I b'longed to Marster Billy Cain,
and was raised on his farm in Campbell county, Tennessee. Oh, 'bout
six, seven mile from Jacksboro. Wish I could go back dar some time.
Ain been dar sence me an Moss married an live eight, ten or some more
years in a log cabin he built for us. We was married March 7, de day
atter Cleveland was 'lected presi-dent. In 1885 did you say? Well,
reckon you're right. I ain had no schoolin an I can 'member lots o
tings I used to know."
"Billy Cain worked me in de fields. An his wife Miss Nancy say she
gwine stop it, 'cause I was so pretty she fraid somebody come steal
me." Aunt Mollie buried her face in her apron and had a good laugh.
"Dey said I was de pretties' girl anywhars about. Had teeth jes like
pearls. Whoops! Look at em now. Ain got 'nuff left to chaw wid. You
notices how light-complected I is? My own father was a full-blooded
Cherokee Indian. De Yanks captured him an killed him."
"I was hoein in de field dat time Moss com 'long and see me and say he
gwine marry me. An, jes like he tell you, we was married in less dan
six months. We been livin togedder evy since and we gits along good.
We have had blessins' and got a lot to be thankful for. Could have
more to eat sometimes, but we gits along someways. I am a good cook.
Miss Nancy she teached me all kinds o cookin, puttin up berries, makin
pickles and bakin bread and cake an evy'ting. Her ole man Cain give us
good grub dem days. Monday mornins' we go to de Cains to git rations
for de week. Dey gib us three pounds wheat, a peck o meal, a galon o
molasses, two pound o lard, two pound o brown sugar, rice an evy'ting.
I use to have plates an china white folks gib me. White woman come one
day, say she wan buy 'em. Took plum nigh all I had. Did'n pay me much
o nothin' either."
"Yes, Lord. I does 'member 'bout de war. I've see'd de blue an I've
see'd de grey. In 1862 I see'd de soldiers formin' in line. I was a
great big girl. Dem swords glisen' like stars. Can' member whar dey
was goin dat time. But I ain forgit de times soldiers come foragin.
Dey got all dey wanted, too. Hep' dey sef's an dont pay for it, never.
Soldier see a chicken go under de house, he plop down and shoot, and
den call me to crawl under de house and fetch it out." Aunt Mollie
buried her head in her apron again and laughed like a child. "Lordy
how scared I was of de old gander dat blowed at me, whilst I was
tryin' to drag 'em out alive, when I see'd de soldiers comin'."
"Billy Cain, he was brudder-in-law to Old Townslee, who lived on a
plantation in Alabama. How come my mother was give to Cain an come to
Tennessee, was one mornin' Old Townslee rode his horse out under a
tree to blow up de slaves. Blow de horn you know, to call 'em to work.
Somebody shot 'im. Right off his horse. It was so dark, 'fore
daylight, an' couldnt see and dey never did find out who shot 'im.
Heap o white folks had enemies dem days. So de slaves he owned was
divided munxt his chilluns. My mother was one of nine dat come to
Billy Cain dat way."
"Talk 'bout your shootin jest for devilment. Lemme tell you 'bout old
men John Wynn. He live down dar 'bout ten mile from whar Moss lived
when he was a boy. I've heard em tell it many a time. Dey say John
Wynn had 185 slaves. Evy time it come George Washington's birthday,
Old Wynn he had a feast and invite all de slaves! He celebratin! he
say. He seta a long table wid all kind good tings to eat. An he count
de slaves, so's to be sure dey all come. An' den he'd take an pick out
one and shoot him! Den he say, "Now youse all can go 'head an eat.
Throw dat nigger 'side an we bury im in mornin'." And he walks off to
de big house. No! He wasn't drunk. Jes de debil in 'im. Well, he shot
ten, twelve, maybe thirty dat way. An den de white folks hanged 'im to
a tree. Hanged im t'well he was good and dead, dey did."
"Now folkes can 'joy dey victuals wid sech goin's on. De slaves git
so's dey scared to hear de bell ring. Don' know what it mean. Maybe
death, maybe fire, maybe nudder sale o some body. Gwine take 'em way.
But when de bell ring dey had to come. Let dat ole bell ring and de
woods was full o negroes. Maybe 500 hundred come from all over date
Aunt Mollie was beginning to ramble and babble incoherently, her
memories of her own and the experiences of others all confused in her
mind. When she had about finished a story about how one of the slave
women, "bust de skull" of the head of her marster,'" 'cause she was
nussin a sick baby an' he tell her she got to git out in dat field an
hoe" and the gory details of what the shovel did to the white
marster's head, it was time for the visitors to close the interview.
Both Uncle Andrew and Aunt Mollie followed the visitor to the front
door, and wished her "All de luck in de world. An thank you for
comin'. An come see us agin, nudder time."
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