More about Gram Ferrin. There’s also a discreet but rather embarrassing reference to me.
The other story concerned “cabbages.” Not “kings and cabbages” just plain ole cabbages. In those days we grew most everything we ate, or picked the berries, salted down fish, made preserves and jelly, killed a “beef” or hog. We perhaps did not have much variety BUT it was “good eatin’.” Liver was thrown away. Soup bones were for the dogs. Today liver is worth its weight in gold and just plain ole bones are 0.45 to 0.50 cents a lb. And that’s for a 0.39 or 0.29 cent or what have you dollar. Preserves on the shelf—blackberries, blueberries, wild strawberries, cranberries, raspberries—jellies of all kinds, crabapples, salt pork, salted dandelion greens (a little dandelion wine, also, and if you want to see snakes try THAT), salted mackerel, turnips, squash, carrots, apples, potatoes, and of course cabbages, which is where I started isn’t it?
Well, Gram absolutely would NOT help us pick or cut the cabbages and here’s why!
She said “Laura, you remember that Russian Jew peddler that was through here last year?” And mother said “Yes.” And Gram said “Wal he was tellin’ me about a woman in Tennessee who was out cuttin’ her cabbages, which she had planted next to her squash, etc., and something SEEMED wound around one of the cabbages and she THOUGHT it was a squash vine and she started to untangle it AND it was a 30 foot snake, as big around as your ARM!” Well needless to say Gram did not pick any blueberries on Cadillac Mt. (and neither did I) and she took a very dim view of cabbages. I love ‘em, but I can’t say I want to pick ‘em or cut ‘em or whatever the term for harvesting them is, either!
Anyway, after being duly enlightened on snakes, Gram straightened up (at 82) and said “Laura I smell a ‘bar’.” And THIS my readers, whatever you may think of the snake stories is NOT fiction. You CAN smell a bear, and if she has small or half grown cubs with her, you “better get the hell out in a hurry.” They can talk about TAME bears. There is no such thing. And in Maine (my home state) there are STILL plenty of “bars”. If you live in New England, you probably quite often see a bear being brought back from Maine on a car with a deer. Anyway Walt Disney will tell you as he has if you watch his programs (and I can’t imagine ANYONE, adult OR child, NOT watching them) that “mama bear” like all mama’s will battle the world for her children, and THAT’S as it should be! Anyway when Gram “smelled a bar” WE moved.
As for the “injun devils,” she also had another name for them (that sounded like “lincumsluice” to me). They also existed in the early days and probably today. You and I know them as mountain lions, cougars, pumas, lynx or what have you, but as aforesaid everything (even the Bible) with Gram was associated with the devil. Thus, of course, with her these “injun devils” were ALWAYS black, and therein is another story of terror.
Let the name here not be the true one. I grew up with this kid. I don’t think he would resent it if I did use his name, as I saw him in later years and he had changed (a little that is). So let’s call him Johnny! Johnny was one of those slow moving, and VERY slow thinking boys. His hair always stuck out and up like a porcupine’s when in war regalia. His fly was always unzipped (excuse me they had no zippers in those days). His shirt was always one button too high or too low. His shoes were never tied or laced. His nose was always runny, and his teeth were always dirty. Hell! I don’t have to tell YOU. Johnny goes to school today! (For all the electric toothbrushes, hair tonic, zippers, etc.) YOU know him. In fact I suspect I have one in my own family. Except of course he is a potential genius and therefore to be excused.
Now, back to my boyhood friend Johnny, and the “injun devil” and please excuse me if I am still “afraid of my shadow”. What the hell—snakes, bars, injun devils—WHO wouldn’t be! So anyway, Johnny and I went mayflowering. You don’t know what that is—huh? Well in those days, I guess you would compare it with—heck you just don’t have anything to compare it with today. It was MAY, things were in bloom, you loved the wild things in those days (I have seen some wild ones since that were not too bad either). SO we went hunting for mayflowers (trailing arbutus to you educated people).
To get to the point (which is hard for ME to do), Johnny and I picked some mayflowers, wandered through the woods, lied on our stomachs and watched a pool full of brook trout, etc., etc., until the shadows began to fall. THEN suddenly remembering Gram’s stories about the “injun devils” and knowing we had to go home by the way of the “pine tree road,” dark and gloomy, needless to say we hastened our way. After we had (presumably) made it out into the field we stopped in the fast coming darkness to look BACK (something it does not pay to do).
There! Slinking across the road WAS an “injun devil.” Whether the shadows of the pines, or the sinking sun or WHAT made him black—black to me he was, and about 4 feet long. I said “Johnny, look an ‘injun devil.” Well that is where my mother’s training paid off. MY shoelaces were tied. Johnny’s were not. We both “took off” at the same time, but he landed home (a distance of 2 miles) minus one shoe, and several minutes behind ME. I have a son who was a track star in high school (in the mile race) and I have always wondered if perhaps Gram, her “injun devils” and I did not perhaps give him that little extra push? Perhaps he thought an “injun devil” was at his heels! So as I say, I don’t know just WHAT Gram inspired me to do. Even her Bible was a source of terror to ME. All she ever seemed to quote was “the devil’s works.”
I used to dream about swimming in boiling pitch, being burned alive, chased all over Hell by snakes, etc. AND the minister didn’t help any. He preached hellfire and brimstone also!
I know the first girl I kissed, I thought that I was doomed to Hell for sure, and that SHE would either wither with disease or have a dozen babies all to once. Fun in the old day, huh? Anyway—to this day, I can’t decide whether I loved Gram Ferrin or not! Should I?
I almost forgot the superstitions! They included black cats, ladders, umbrellas opened in the house, and birds flying against the windows and killing themselves. The black cats and ladders I have cured myself of (almost), the last two STILL give me the shudders! Grandmothers? They are wonderful people, my mother became one, and my wife is one—but honestly—when people start to tell me about their great grandmothers I look at them with a jaundiced eye. However, they rode in “the wagon trains west” didn’t they, and I have had a grandmother (died before I was born). Wish I did though!
My grandfather comes next and he (next to my mother) was the most dearly beloved person in the wide, wide world to me.
Note: This is where Pop’s “Family Tree” ends.
Tags: Pop's Letters