[TR: Miss Maude Barragan (interviewer), Mrs. Leila Harris (editor)]


"If I ain't a hunnard," said Nancy, nodding her white-turbaned head, "I

sho' is close to it, 'cause I got a grandson 50 years old."

Nancy's silky white hair showed long and wavy under her headband. Her

gingham dress was clean, and her wrinkled skin was a reddish-yellow

color, showing a large proportion of Indian and white blood. Har eyes

ware a faded blue.

"I speck I is mos' white," acknowledged Nancy, "but I ain't never knowed

who my father was. My mother was a dark color."

The cottage faced the pine grove behind an old church. Pink ramblers

grew everywhere, and the sandy yard was neatly kept. Nancy's paralyzed

granddaughter-in-law hovered in the doorway, her long smooth braids

hanging over Indian-brown shoulders, a loose wrapper of dark blue denim

flowing around her tall unsteady figure. She was eager to taka part in

the conversation but hampered by a thick tongue induced, as Nancy put

it, "by a bad sore throat she ain't got over."

Nancy's recollections of plantation days were colored to a somber hue by

overwork, childbearing, poor food and long working hours.

"Master was a hard taskmaster," said Nancy. "My husband didn't live on

de same plantation where I was, de Jerrell places in Columbia County. He

never did have nuthin' to give me 'cause he never got nuthin'. He had to

come and ask my white folks for me. Dey had to carry passes everywhere

dey went, if dey didn't, dey'd git in trouble.

"I had to work hard, plow and go and split wood jus' like a man.

Sometimes dey whup me. Dey whup me bad, pull de cloes off down to de

wais'--my master did it, our folks didn' have overseer.

"We had to ask 'em to let us go to ohurch. Went to white folks church,

'tell de black folks get one of dere own. No'm I dunno how to read.

Never had no schools at all, didn' 'low us to pick up a piece paper and

look at it."

"Nancy, wasn't your mistress kind to you?"

"Mistis was sorta kin' to me, sometimes. But dey only give me meat and

bread, didn' give me nothin' good--I ain' gwine tell no story. I had a

heap to undergo wid. I had to scour at night at de Big House--two planks

one night, two more de nex'. De women peoples spun at night and reeled,

so many cuts a night. Us had to git up befo' daybreak be ready to go to

de fiel's.

"My master didn' have but three cullud people, dis yuh was what I stayed

wid, my young master, had not been long married and dus' de han's dey

give him when he marry was all he had.

"Didn' have no such house as dis," Nancy looked into the open door of

the comfortable octtage, "sometimes dey have a house built, it would be

daubed. Dus' one family, didn' no two families double up."

"But the children had a good time, didn't they? They played games?"

"Maybe dey did play ring games, I never had no time to see what games my

chillus play, I work so hard. Heap o' little chillun slep' on de flo'.

Never had no frolics neither, no ma'm, and didn' go to none. We would

have prayer meetings on Saturday nights, and one might in de week us had

a chairback preacher, and sometimes a regular preacher would come in."

Nancy did not remember ever having seen the Patterollers.

"I hearn talk of 'em you know, heap o' times dey come out and make out

like dey gwine shoot you at night, dey mus' been Patterollers, dey was

gettin' hold of a heap of 'em."

"What did you do about funerals, Nancy?"

"Dey let us knock off for funerals, I tell de truth. Us stay up all

night, singin' and prayin'. Dey make de coffin outter pine boards."

"Did you suffer during the war?"

"We done de bes' we could, we et what we could get, sometimes didn' have

nothin' to eat but piece of cornbread, but de white folks allus had


"But you had clothes to wear?"

"Us had clothes 'cause we spun de thread and weaved 'em. Dey bought dem

dere great big ole brogans where you couldn' hardly walk in 'em. Not

like dese shoes I got on." Nancy thrust out her foot, easy in "Old

Ladies' Comforts."

"When they told you were free, Nancy, did the master appear to be


"No'm, white folks didn' 'pear to be mad. My master dus' tole us we was

free. Us moved right off, but not so far I couldn' go backwards and

forwards to see 'um." (So it was evident that even if Nancy's life had

been hard, there was a bond between her and her former owners.) "I didn'

do no mo' work for 'um, I work for somebody else. Us rented land and

made what we could, so we could have little somethin' to eat. I scoured

and waited on white people in town, got little piece of money, and was

dus' as proud!"

Nancy savored the recollection of her first earned money a moment,

thinking back to the old days.

"I had a preacher for my second marriage," she continued, "Fo' chillun

died on me--one girl, de yuthers was babies. White doctor tended me."

Asked about midwifery, Nancy smiled.

"I was a midwife myself, to black and white, after freedom. De Thomson

doctors all liked me and tole people to 'git Nancy.' I used 'tansy

tea'--heap o' little root--made black pepper tea, fotch de pains on 'em.

When I would git to de place where I had a hard case, I would send for

de doctor, and he would help me out, yes, doctor help me out of all of


Asked about signs and superstitions, Nancy nodded.

"I have seed things. Day look dus' like a person, walkin' in de woods. I

would look off and look back to see it again and it be gone." Nancy

lowered her voice mysteriously, and looked back into the little room

where Vanna's unsteady figure moved from bed to chair. "I seed a coffin

floatin' in de air in dat room--" she shivered, "and I heard a heap o'

knockings. I dunno what it bees--but de sounds come in de house. I runs

ev'y squeech owl away what comes close, too." Nancy clasped her hands,

right thumb over left thumb, "does dat--and it goes on away--dey quits

hollerin', you chokin' 'em when you does dat."

"Do you plant by the moon, Nancy?"

"Plant when de moon change, my garden, corn, beans. I planted some beans

once on de wrong time of de moon and dey didn' bear nothing--I hated it

so bad, I didn' know what to do, so I been mindful ever since when I

plant. Women peoples come down on de moon, too. I ain't know no signs to

raise chillun. I whup mine when dey didn' do right, I sho' did. I didn'

'low my chillun to take nothin'--no aigs and nothin' 'tall and bring 'em

to my house. I say 'put dem right whar you git 'em."

"Did you sing spirituals, Nancy?"

"I sang regular meetin' songs," she said, "like 'lay dis body down' and

'let yo' joys be known'--but I can't sing now, not any mo'."

Nancy was proud of her quilt-making ability.

"Git 'um, Vanna, let de ladies see 'um," she said; and when Vanna

brought the gay pieces made up in a "double-burst" (sunburst) pattern,

Nancy fingered the squares with loving fingers. "Hit's pooty, ain't it?"

she asked wistfully, "I made one for a white lady two years ago, but dey

hurts my fingers now--makes 'em stiff."

Barney Stone Beatrice Black facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail