LOIS HOLT: Separating Superstitions From 'Signs'
My mother (and her whole family) believed in "signs." It wasn't as simple as a common superstition. "Signs" was another matter altogether.
I was at my great-aunt Nottie's (pronounced Note-E's) house in Bahama in northern Durham County when I found out what signs meant. The community was named after the Ball, Hall, and Mangum families.
Big Ma was my maternal grandmother, and Aunt Nottie was her sister. Then, there was Aunt Pearl. It was Nottie, Rena and Pearl in that order. They didn't bear any resemblance to one another and, as far as I ever figured out, didn't share a single family trait. Still, they were Mangums.
Every Sunday, Aunt Pearl and Uncle George would come by to pick upBig Ma for a drive out to Bahama. Aunt Pearl and Big Ma would sit in the back, with Uncle George acting as their chauffeur. Big Ma lived next door to my family. And, when I was about three or four years old, she started taking me along to play with my third cousins while the grown-ups visited. It gave Uncle George someone to sit beside him.
Uncle George was a very proper man and even on the hottest Sundays, he wore a dark suit with a handkerchief in the lapel pocket. His shirt had a thin, high collar, and the knot on his tie was always in line with the buckle on his belt. Aunt Pearl was a prissy, doll-like woman. Uncle George called her Pearlie. Big Ma had an hourglass figure and stood determinedly upright. No one questioned her authority.
Aunt Nottie's husband, Sam, chewed tobacco and was usually scratching himself somewhere. He was a thick, rough-edged man, probably 6' 4" or more. Aunt Nottie weighed about 100 pounds, and when they stood side-by-side, her head came just to the point where his galluses hooked. She dipped snuff. Neither of them had many teeth.
They were always spitting. It wasn't so bad during the summer. Aunt Nottie used a large lard bucket that sat beside her on the porch. Uncle Sam just leaned real far back in his rocker and then pitched forward, bringing both feet down hard. He could spit clean over the railing and shrubs and swore that one day, he'd spit all the way to Ole' Man Biven's place. He was getting close. Dark brown stains dotted the dirt yard halfway to the road.
In the winter, my cousins sat in the kitchen around the wood stove. But Big Ma always wanted me to sit in the parlor, usually in her lap. It was sparsely furnished with a coarse horse-hair settee, Uncle Sam's sagging leather chair and a couple of cane-bottomed rockers. There was only one picture. It was a picture of a large collie dog hovering over a small lamb. It hung on a nail behind Uncle Sam's chair.
It was a dark afternoon and several oil lamps had been placed around the room for light. Uncle Sam had just leaned over to spit into the lard bucket that sat between him and Aunt Nottie when the picture started to slide down the wall. It came to rest upright, with glass unbroken, against the baseboard.
No one moved until Big Ma lifted me to the floor. Aunt Pearl and Uncle George stood up at the same time. Uncle Sam and Aunt Nottie sat motionless as we walked to the car. Aunt Pearl sat up front with Uncle George, while Big Ma held me on her lap in the back seat.
Three weeks later, Uncle Sam was killed when his tractor flipped over in a field that had been tilled and was ready for planting. No one was surprised. It had been just a matter of time.
I don't know what to tell you about "signs." There are numerous definitions in Webster's. One refers to a deity, another suggests a remarkable, unexplained event. You can decide for yourself. But for me, seeing was believing.
Lois Holt is a Southern Pines freelance writer. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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