By John Thomas Tuft
Carolina Chloe always left a bowl of cream on the back step, tossed a piece of cornbread out the window before serving it to her family, and kept the front door painted a ‘Haint Blue with a touch of periwinkle to keep the spirits of the dead out of her home. She sang Auld Lang Syne for Samhain and funerals, as well as New Years, was famous all through the mountains for her clogging, and sang her way through annual planting and harvesting seasons in the original Cherokee version of the Earth Blessing. She stomped through the hills, famous for the dogwood rod she carried, used in divinations of course, and when a cauldron sat in a prominent place in her front yard, you could rest assured she was open for business. Such are the ways of an Appalachian Granny Witch.
“Tis for healin’,” Chloe always admonished those who dared question the ramifications of being a Granny Witch. “These hills and hollers are alive, you know. My people come here generations ago. Many generations. Mountains are more than just big rocks, you know. They’re alive. You can take your fancy phones and computers and all you want, but they ain’t got no spirit to ‘em. And if there’s no spirit to a thing, it’s just a thing.” She fixes her one clear eye on a visitor: “If there ain’t no spirit, there ain’t no music. That’s what you gotta understand.” She stares out the widow for a spell. “You can go into Ashvull’ all you want, but the closer to a city you get, the fainter grows the music. I’m just tellin’ ya.”
Carolina Chloe was known far and wide in these here parts for her aforementioned corn bread and her big heart. In fact, it’s nigh on impossible to be tuned into the ebbs and flows of the rhythms of the very ground under your feet, the melodies of water and trees, the ever rehearsed scales of birds and beasts, and not end up with a big heart. An Appalachian Granny Witch is nothing if not tuned in. And she didn’t ask to be tuned into the spirits of the deceased of neighbors and the different clans that filled the hollers, and their ancestors’ spirits. It was just part of the deal. No good Granny Witch turned her back on anyone in need. Anyone.
Carolina Chloe had a daughter name of Summer Rose whom she loved more than her own life. “My man died up in Ashvull’ nigh on five years ago. Summer Rose is only family I got nowadays. We don’t have much, but we’re happy. No, all the healin’ in the world couldn’t help my Charles. He was a good man. Summer Rose favors him a bit. She’s eight now. All she wanted for Christmas this past year was a baby doll. So, I got Johnny Sayers to take me to the store in Ashvull’!” Carolina Chloe cackles with glee at the memory. “I’ve been saving up my herbs and potion money because a girl needs to have at least one special friend in her life when she’s young. That’s what a doll is, you know.” Carolina Chloe nods sagely, and stops for a moment. “Whisper her secrets to her, share the good times, comfort in the bad. I’m just tellin’ ya. They can be healing.”
She sighs, then gathers herself. “Anyway, I was sayin’, Johnny takes me into the city and we’re cuttin’ up laughing at all the so serious folks walking around with them little things in their ears, staring at their phones like they’s expecting magic all the time!” She laughs till tears trickle down. “You couldn’t give them the evil eye, says Johnny, cuz they never look up!” More laughter till Carolina Chloe is coughing. Then she grows quiet. “I made a special dress for Summer Rose’s doll. Yes I did. I had a piece of my great grandmama’s wedding dress. Almost blue as the sky. With gold trim and pearl buttons.” She gets up and goes to the kitchen. Sets a bowl of cream on the back step before returning with steaming coffee. “It’s a beautiful dress. Summer Rose ‘bout had a conniption when she saw it. Dressed her new doll up all pretty. Took her down the mountain to show her friends. Puts her to bed real careful. Has her sittin’ at the table every meal.”
Carolina Chloe bows her head for a moment. “Bout kills me. Seein’ Summer Rose so happy, what with her Daddy and all.” Then lifts her head, mountain strong. “But I was up all night over at the Barkley’s place. She was pregnant. I couldn’t stop the labor, you know. Sometimes there’s nothin’ a body can do.” She sips at her coffee then stares out the window. “Child was stillborn. They’re agrievin’ somethin’ fierce. They want to bury her proper and all. With a viewing and everything.” Carolina Chloe struggles to keep her lower lip from trembling. “I’ve gotta ask Summer Rose for that dress back. From her doll. For the baby. So it will settle her spirit.” She stands, the weight almost more than she can bare. Reaches out and touches me on the cheek.
“But what’s a mother to do? Tis for healin’. I’m just tellin’ ya.”
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.