Throwback Thursday – a few memorable headlines

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My father was a journalist. So was I (briefly). That means I’m conscious of headlines, the good, the absurd and the comical.

Years ago, the New York Times ran a weekly piece for its staff called “Winners and Sinners” in which it commented on the stories and headlines that hit gold and those that hit fool’s gold. It was enjoyable reading for me and a learning experience.

stixnixMy favorite headline of the past comes from Variety. It’s been copied and referred to so many times, that a fair number of places of the web explain what it means. This one appeared in July 1935 over an article claiming rural audiences didn’t care for movies about rural life.

A lot of people think this headline was STIX NIX HIX PIX. That would have been funnier, but in four words, the editors still said it all.

deweyOn November 3, 1948, the one-star edition (which means that it was an early one of many for that day) called the Presidential election a bit early based on its polling. The fact that the paper and the candidate both had low opinions of each other might have played into  the error.

The photograph of Truman holding up the paper has probably become more famous than the headline itself.

titannicsafeIn April of 1912, the New York Times reported that the Titanic sank, much to the dismay of other papers who were relying on wishful thinking and White Star Line assurances. The fact that one paper reported everyone was safe seems to have occurred when Marconigrams were intercepted and mixed up by amateurs.

One of the wires that apparently helped create the confusion was the one that asked ARE TITANIC PASSENGERS SAFE? Somebody read the question as a fact.

This gaffe, however, remained one of the largest until the Dewey Defeats Truman headline.

dianadeadThe stark, sobering headlines about Princess Diana’s death in August 1997 contrasted so greatly with the love many felt for her, they immediately captured the grim event.

The fact that she died in a car crash seemed to so many such a mundane and tragic fluke, leading to conspiracy theories, that her last moments stayed in the news seemingly forever.

dianaaliveHere’s a headline that definitely would have found its way into the New York Times list of sinners. Headlines are often written quickly, leading to inadvertent meanings the editors don’t intend. Headlines like this frequently made their way into comedy bits on the Letterman and Leno shows.

Today, Facebook, YouTube and other social media are quick to capitalize on similar mistakes for places that didn’t really want to become famous due to a humorous typo.

mississippiheadlineIn grade school, various little rhymes helped us remember how to spell the names of the states. Mississippi was a problem state, spelling-wise, though it also was very easy to spell once you learn the little spelling ditty.

Whoever wrote this headline was obviously out sick on the day of that lesson. These days, a quick Google search will turn up hundred of examples of church signs, advertisements, posters in store windows and road signs with hideous examples of misspelled words of words with double meanings.

Yes, unfortunately some of these get into the newspapers.

onionholyshitOn the flip side, sometimes a satirical publication specializing in fake news stories helps capture the country’s mood about a major tragedy in a way that mainstream newspapers can’t so for sake of propriety. Here is, perhaps, the best such headline that came after 9/11.

firstfootstepEditors are said to like gaining readers now only with sensational headlines (correctly written or skewed), but with puppies, babies, aw shucks moments and the minimalistic few words that say things just right as this paper did April 5th, 1968.

In the “old days” headlines were more difficult to write because editors weren’t looking at them on the screen like they do today to make the they really fit in the space provided by the layouts. Each typeface had different spacing and checking to see what headline fit and what didn’t involved knowing which letters were thick, thin and normal. If you’ve been around for a long time in the business, then you’ll remember “flitj,” the list of thin letters, and you’ll also remember the “W” was a wide letter and took up more space. Now, the screen tells us what fits and what doesn’t. Yet, the year’s news still provides us with plenty of sinners to go along with the winners.

I see winners and sinners every week. So do a lot of people. For better or worse, some of those seem to last forever, even ending up in memory lane posts like this one.

–Malcolm

Carrying Snakes Into Eden

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tateshellforestWhen I lived in north Florida, Tate’s Hell–fifty miles west of Tallahassee–was one of my favorite places. Much of it is swamp. Much of it is forest. Other than the logging companies who just about ruined it, few people went there in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, it’s being restored.

The entrance as it looked in the 11950s - Florida Memory photo

The entrance as it looked in the 1950s – Florida Memory photo

I’ve featured Tate’s Hell in several of my books and stories, including my recently released novella Conjure Woman’s Cat. An easy drive from Tate’s Hell is Florida’s Garden of Eden. That was once a well-promoted tourist attraction. Now, most of the old signs are gone; however you can still enjoy the heavenly habitats on the Garden of Eden Trail in the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. After just a short hike, you’ll find a wonderful view of the Apalachicola River.

The founders of the Garden of Eden based their attraction on the work of the reverend E. E. Callaway who documented a fair number of features in this area that matched the Biblical story, including the Apalachicola River which split into four rivers. Callaway also thought that Florida’s imperiled Torreya tree was the Biblical Gopherwood from which the ark was built.

In those days, our local paper had an active letters to the editor section that often functioned the way blog comments and Facebook threads do now. Callaway constantly posted short letters talking about the sacredness of the site, hoping, I guess, that more ministers would support his findings. The reverend and I sparred politely on more than one occasion about whether Adam and Eve were native Floridians. I said they weren’t.

sumatraTObristolHowever, I have always been fascinated–possibly in a twisted and cynical fashion–about the proximity on several state and county roads–of Hell and the Garden. My dark “Garden of Heaven” trilogy played out multiple scenes along this theme. Conjure Woman’s Cat is set near Torreya State Forest and has numerous references to Tate’s Hell.

According to local legend (around Sumatra and Carrabelle, Florida), Tate’s Hell is named after Cebe Tate who was bitten by a rattlesnake there while hunting a panther that had been raiding his livestock. Just before he died, he told those who found him, “My name’s Cebe Tate and I just came from Hell.” That happened in 1875 and the name stuck.

Needless to say, I couldn’t help but write a short story about taking snakes from Hell and transporting them to Eden. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have done that, but for better or worse that’s just the way my mind works.

The result of this madness is my new Kindle short story “Carrying Snakes Into Eden.” It’s set in the 1960s. Had I published it then, I’m sure the reverend Callaway would have complained about it on the letters to the editor page, and I probably would have responded that Cebe Tate might just be related to Adam, if not Lilith.

–Malcolm

snakesamazonMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of Emily’s Stories, Conjure Woman’s Cat and “Carrying Snakes Into Eden.”

I invite you to visit my Conjure Woman’s Cat website.

 

 

 

 

On Location: The Florida Panhandle, AKA ‘The Other Florida,’ in another era

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“The Other Florida’s pines will survive too, I think. Often among them I remember the person I was before I came to them and what I thought was important then, and the landscapes I have since known, and the history I have since learned, and the friends I have since made. Whatever the fates may take me in the years to come, I shall not be the same again.” – Glorida Jahoda in “The Other Florida” (1967)

ConjureLandThe Other Florida, as viewed by anthropologist Gloria Jahoda, was raw and wild and distinctly different than the peninsular part of the state which was being taken over by developers and snow birds and the others who indulged in the kinds of vandalism that destroyed the natural beauty of the state in order to present a man-made, safe and sanitized version of sunshine, flowers and paradise.

In folklore, fantasy and magical realism, other denotes that which is not only different from ourselves and our kin, but is also dangerous, potentially malevolent and probably beyond our comprehension. In the hero’s journey motif made famous by Joseph Campbell, other is the unknown world outside the city gates. Other, in the Harry Potter books and movies, was the forbidden forest next to the school. In psychology, other is the part of ourselves–often called the shadow–that we do not know and do not want to know. Other can also be used to dismiss and/or subjugate peoples, places and ideas that we see as inferior to our comfortable way of thinking.

The Apalachicola River Watershed

I chose Liberty County and the world adjoining the Apalachicola River in Florida for the setting of my novella Conjure Woman’s Cat because historically–and psychologically–it was highly other to everyone, including most of the population of Tallahassee fifty miles away, but more so to those who lived outside the state and/or in the peninsula.

This world felt other to me when I first saw it, the family having moved to north Florida from Oregon when I started the first grade. I was used to mountains and the Pacific coast, all of which formed what I knew of the world. The pine forests, blackwater rivers, basin swamps, savannahs, sheepshead ravines, cypress trees and sweetbay magnolias, Spanish moss and saw palmetto, and white sand beaches seemed fictional. I grew to love them though it’s taken me a lifetime to wrap my consciousness around a place where Southern Gothic was a way of life.

The Other Florida

Apalachicola River at Torreya State Park, one of the most diverse habitats in the world.

Apalachicola River at Torreya State Park, one of the most diverse habitats in the world.

My bible was a book written by family friend Gloria Jahoda, another outsider who described in detail the world between Jacksonville and Pensacola with the detailed and poetic accuracy alien eyes often bring to new experiences. She called this world the “Deep South with a difference, worlds from homogeneous Alabama and Mississippi and even rural Georgia. Though you can never realize it as you speed through the pinewoods to get somewhere else, 20 miles in any direction may bring changes in the country’s life and essence that are dazzling in their variety. Oystermen, cotton planters, millionaire quail hunters, moonshine-makers, vocal conservatives, doctrinaire liberals, scientists, game wardens, fortune tellers and hermits inhabit a land that is above all things deceptive because it looks as if it offered hardly any variety at all.”

En route from Tallahassee to the “forgotten coast” we drove through, economically speaking, the poorest county in the country with miles of pines tapped for turpentine, miles of unpaved sandy roads through scrub oak, sink holes with seemingly no bottom beneath the cold clear water, and that sign that said it all: “Impeach Earl Warren.” I don’t remember who coined the phrase or when, but Southerners were said in those days to like individual Negroes (the terms Blacks and African Americans hadn’t yet been invented) but dislike them as a group while Northerners were said to dislike them as individuals but like them as a group.

Segregation

Wildflowers in the flatwoods section of Tate's Hell Forest.

Wildflowers in the flatwoods section of Tate’s Hell Forest.

Suffice it to say, Sunshine State tourism brochures did not highlight the active and volatile KKK presence nor the fact that Florida had more lynchings, torture, fires and explosions than just about anywhere else.  Proper people knew better than to talk about the Klan even though the group was as integral to the state’s politics and culture as Tupelo honey and grits were to meals cooked and served by Negro maids. The brochures also didn’t say that turpentine camps and orange groves used Negro convict labor, conscripted under false and fanciful charges, to bring us paint thinner and orange juice.

The maids who–as we said–“pert near” raised white children weren’t allowed to eat in our restaurants, attend our churches, use our restrooms or drink out of our water fountains. Negroes were in every possible way, other. Since I wasn’t born in the South and didn’t have a Southern accent, I was called a Yankee and a “N”-lover.

One heard the blues and did a dance or two at the local jook - Florida Memory Photo.

One heard the blues and did a dance or two at the local jook – Florida Memory Photo.

Hell, as a six year old from Oregon, I had never heard of the Civil War and then when my parents told me it happened one hundred before, I didn’t know why folks talked about it as thought it were yesterday. Seeing the war as yesterday was a way of life and the KKK made sure nobody forgot that segregation as by no means gone with the wind. My parents were very liberal and we went to a liberal church, one of the first in town to allow Negroes to attend. The pastor had a cross burnt on his front yard for opening our sacred place to the others and a fair part of our congregation left in a snit and started their own church which was kept Ivory Snow white. My best friend was among those who left. So were my grandparents. I still haven’t forgiven them for that.

I tell you all of this because it’s the impetus behind Conjure Woman’s Cat, a novella set in a Jim Crow era in a violent state that tells the story of a granny and her kitty using folk magic to fight the Klan. Hoodoo was, of course, about as other as you could get and the bond between it and the congregations of Negro churches (praise churches, the were often called) could not be comprehended. The blues told the stories because the blues and Negroes and hoodoo and praise churches and troubles were all wrapped up together. Perhaps I loved the blues because I was an outsider, that is to say, other.

I was other watching other.  My childhood had little innocence in it. Eulalie, my ancient conjure woman in the novella is modeled after the maid who worked for years at my best friend’s house, and I expect I learned more from her than my grade school teachers. Eulalie’s friend Willie Tate is modeled after an elderly Black gentleman who (like many) used a mule-drawn farm wagon for transportation. His family brought their produce to our door every week. Stopped by my best friend’s house around the corner as well. They didn’t come to the front door because that just wasn’t done. Lena, the cat in the novella who travels between words is, of course, me.

Magical realism thrives on people, places and things considered other. Readers believe magic is possible wherever the other is and less likely in the worlds they know. Perhaps so. Perhaps I found magic in the other Florida because I went there as an outsider like the writer of my bible. Like her, I was changed by the pines, landscapes, experiences and friends. Inevitably, writers write about what changes them, what impacts them–what they find, so to speak, on location.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Cora’s Crossing,” set in Marianna, Florida, “Moonlight and Ghosts,” set in Tallahassee, the “Garden of Heaven” trilogy set, in part, in Tallahassee, Carrabelle, Tate’s Hell and Florida’s “Garden of Eden” near Bristol, “Emily’s Stories,” set in Tallahassee and St. Marks, and “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” set in Liberty County, Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

Briefly Noted: ‘The Storyteller’s Bracelet’ by Smoky Zeidel

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Thomas-Jacob Publishing released a new edition of Smoky Zeidel’s The Storyteller’s Bracelet today, bringing the novel back into print after a twenty-two month absence. The book is available in e-book and Kindle editions. You can watch the novel’s trailer here.

From the Publisher

STBcover“It is the late 1800s, and the U.S. Government has mandated native tribes send their youth to Indian schools where they are stripped of their native heritage by the people they think of as The Others. Otter and Sun Song are deeply in love, but when they are sent East to school, Otter, renamed Gideon, tries to adapt, where Sun Song does not, enduring brutal attacks from the school headmaster because of her refusal to so much as speak. Gideon, thinking Sun Song has spurned him, turns for comfort to Wendy Thatcher, the daughter of a wealthy school patron, beginning a forbidden affair of the heart.

“But the Spirits have different plans for Gideon and Sun Song. They speak to Gideon through his magical storyteller’s bracelet, showing him both his past and his future. You are both child and mother of The Original People, Sun Song is told. When it is right, you will be safe once more. Will Gideon become Otter once again and return to Sun Song and his tribal roots, or attempt to remain with Wendy, with whom he can have no future?”

Smoky’s Description of the Cover’s Symbolism

“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the meaning behind the symbols on the new edition of The Storyteller’s Bracelet. The wavy lines at the bottom represent water, which plays a life-changing role for my male protagonist, Otter/Gideon. The stairway through the clouds represents the gateway to the 5th World in Hopi mythology. The arrows point to the four cardinal directions and their colors represent the direction people of color scattered at creation. (These colors can vary from one tradition to another; these are the colors the Hopi use.) Finally, the rattlesnake is a symbol of new life, of transformation. Rattlesnake sheds her skin and begins life anew.”

You May Also Like

Smoky also released a companion short story on Kindle called Why the Hummingbird is So Small, “the enchanting story of Sun Song, a storyteller for her tribe, as she visits Fuss, her hummingbird friend, on the day before she is to leave for Indian School in the East.” You can visit Smoky’s website here.

–Malcolm

 

You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?”

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A few days ago, an article zipped through my Facebook timeline in which the author claimed that lucky people tend to have more good luck and unlucky people tend to have more bad luck.

AcesNow that I want to link to it, I can’t find it. So, you’ve gotta trust me on this. Apparently–at cards anyway–people with a lucky night in progress tend to start playing a bit more conservatively. This increases the chances they won’t lose all  their dough.

People with bad luck get desperate and want to turn things around, so they start taking more risks, This increases the chance they will lost all their dough.

I’m not sure what was supposed to happen if the person didn’t think about luck one way or the other and just kept doing what they were doing. But I have this sneaking feeling that if a person has to ask himself “Do I feel lucky?” his luck–such as it may be–will get worse.

I say that because I’m very superstitious. If I were playing for a major league team and had hitting streak going, I’d never change my socks. I’m the kind of guy who thinks a pitcher’s no hitter will go in the toilet if one of the announcers says, “this guy almost has a no hitter.”

A far as I know, the article had no answer for the bad luck that happens if you change your socks or mention a no hitter in progress. It also didn’t say what would happen if a guy asked himself whether or not he felt lucky.

So, I’m wondering how the readers of this blog feel about good mojo vs. bad mojo and whether you’ve ever been rash enough to ask yourself if you feel lucky.

 

 

 

— Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novella with a lot of mojo in it. If you’re feeling lucky, you might win a free copy of it in the current GoodReads giveaway.

The Power of Obscure Events in Fiction

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“Claude Neal was an African American farmhand living in Jackson County, Florida who was accused of raping and murdering Lola Cannady, a nineteen year old white female, just outside the town of Greenwood on October 18, 1934.” — Wikipedia

Outside of Jackson County in the Florida Panhandle, I doubt many current Florida residents are aware of the lynching of Claude Neal by a mob after he was accused of raping and killing Lola Cannady.

Find a local historian, and you're well on your way to uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly about the location where you're setting your short story or novel.

Find a local historian, and you’re on your way to finding the good, the bad and the ugly of the place where your short story or novel is set.

It was a brutal incident and became a yet another notorious example of why the country needed anti-lynching laws.

I grew up in Florida during a time when local history was taught in the schools, so I’m aware of many of the panhandle’s legends, crimes, folklore, things to do and places to see.

The old story came to light again in 2011 when the FBI said it couldn’t close the case. (There’s a link in the graphic below.) So people knew or  re-remembered the case for a while. But time passes and that knowledge fades quickly.

Needless to say, I hope my recently published novella Conjure Woman’s Cat will have a wider appeal than readers who live between Tallahassee and Pensacola. So why did I mention–just in passing–an obscure event when I could have just as easily made something up?

For better or worse, here’s how a writer’s mind works when it comes to creating a fictional town in the real world:

  1. The description of historian Dale Cox’s book notes that this event has been called the “last public spectacle” lynching in U.S. history.  Consequently, the African American characters in my 1950s-era story set in a town a few miles from where the lynching occurred would certainly know about it even though it happened 20 years earlier. To my characters, there’s not only a precedent for such violence but a chance it could happen again since the “climate” and the attitudes haven’t changed much.*
  2. Picture and cutline from Explore Southern History.

    Picture and cutline from Explore Southern History.

    Places are understood by many as not only their geography but as defined in part by what has happened there. It’s hard to mention Gettysburg without thinking about the Civil War battle there. Gettysburg is shaped partly by that battle, the intervening response to that battle, and–if you like magical realism and/or the paranormal–by the psychic strength of that event. Jackson County and nearby Liberty County, Florida were what they were in the Jim Crow 1950s partly because of the violence created an nurtured by a lot of KKK activity.

  3. Sometimes those obscure events come back into our consciousness again.

    Sometimes those obscure events come back into our consciousness again.

    When the characters in my fictional town fear mob violence after the rape of a local black girl by whites, it’s natural for them to think of what’s happened before. I strongly believe that authors who write about places should try to preserve the real stories–myths, legends, real events–of those places in their fiction. Even the casual mention of a real event, as opposed to a fictional event I could have easily made up, not only keeps history alive, but offers stories stronger foundations than one can get out of fabricated folklore and history.

  4. Mention a real event–or an existing myth–and you can enlarge your story’s impact by keying off of things readers believe–as they read your fiction–they might have heard about before; or perhaps they’ll wonder about it and Google it or otherwise read further. If you dumped all this history into your story, your research “would show,” as people say. In my case, I wasn’t writing historical fiction, much less a dramatization of the Claude Neal lynching. But, if I can tempt you to consider the very real environment in which my story was set, then the story potentially has a larger meaning than its fictional plot, theme and characters can convey.

Basically, the power of obscure events in fiction is context. The story doesn’t unfold in a vacuum but in a real place with real rivers (the Apalachicola), real foods (catfish and hush puppies), real forests (longleaf pines), real industries (turpentine) and real history.

All of those things fit hand-in-glove with the stuff the author is making up. As far as I know, the town I created (Torreya) never existed. Neither did a hoodoo woman (Eulalie), her cat (Lena) or her good friend (Willie Tate). But they are who they are in the story because of the kinds of things that happen in the place where they live.

Storytelling advice often focuses on plots and characters, and that’s not a bad part of the craft from which to begin. Writers have learned over time than modern readers won’t tolerate pages and pages of description. But readers find resonance in fully developed context: that is to say, the real in the story makes the fictional in the story seem real.

–Malcolm

* The reality of a lynching in Florida in the early 1950s was punctuated by the fact that when Ruby McCollum was accused of killing a white doctor in Live Oak, Florida in 1952, she was held in a state prison to protect her from a potential lynching had she been confined prior to trial in a local jail.

The “Conjure Woman’s Cat” giveaway continues on GoodReads until April 15th. Enter for a chance to win one of three paperback copies.

First chapter of ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

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cwcgiveaway3There’s currently a GoodReads giveaway for my new novella Conjure Woman’s Cat that lasts until April 15. If you like this excerpt from the book, why not head out to GoodReads and sign-up for a chance to win one of the three paperback copies to be given away?

Chapter 1

So Eulalie slept.

The mid-summer afternoon was hot and clear. We lay on the back porch beneath the bright sky because we needed clouds for our work. The sleeping sign hung on a rusty nail over the front door. Everyone who knew what was what hurried past our front gate and brick walk when the black scrap of wood, scrawled with the blood-red word “sleeping,” hung above the threshold.

After we hung the sign, Eulalie curled up on the back porch between baskets overflowing with pot marigolds and fell asleep before I settled down low on my sleeping spot beneath the old sofa where folks sit and speak of sorrows, troubles, and the blues. The marigolds’ sunshine-yellow flowers drooped into sweet dreams, because they can’t steal a fever or find lucky numbers without a dab of wind or rain.

While the porch planking was grey, worn soft by the calloused soles of many feet and easy on sleepers, I did not sleep. I watched, because I knew fire was coming. The creek separating the well-kept yard of longleaf pines from the overgrown piney woods of trees faced by turpentiners, and half-strangled by trespassing shrubs, did not sleep.

There was the Coowahchobee River, fierce and swift like her namesake, the panther. She licked the forest clean, protected the house and yard from spirits, and carried away the remains of spent spells westward across sanctified Florida soil into the Apalachicola River. Low fire she could stop; a forest canopy fire borne on the wind was out of Coowahchobee’s reach.

Joe Moore lived in the forest. I couldn’t see him through the saw-palmetto, gallberry, and deep Sunday afternoon shadows, though if he were looking he could see me. Eulalie and I trusted devils, gods, and the Holy Ghost from the Sanctified Church; Joe Moore trusted what he could see. With my second sight, I knew Joe Moore’s eyes were open. His ears were attentive, too. Though not as sensitive as my ears, they knew friends pronounced his name Jomo and foes pronounced his name Jomoowur.

That morning while the last scattered clouds moved eastward toward the Ochlockonee River, we threw possum bones into a hastily drawn circle. They saw fire, but not today. No friend of possums, dead or alive, Joe Moore trusted his living bones above all else. He watched with the indigo snake, red-cockaded woodpecker, and gopher tortoise from the woods. I watched from the back porch where the pot marigolds and Eulalie slept.

If fire jumped the creek and the bones while Eulalie slept, I would hear Joe Moore calling my name, “Lena! Lena!” long before the flames reached the three-plank bridge.

The warm afternoon drew me away from my concerns, drew me toward sleep and dreamtime travels. My spirit-self could go anywhere; that’s the one talent I had that Eulalie didn’t. One time, when the possum bones were blind, I found a lost child on Alum Bluff overlooking the river close by the woods where that white preacher said Adam and Eve once lived. I’ve been south to Tate’s Hell where legends say a rattlesnake killed old man Tate while he was hunting Coowahchobee with a shotgun and a Barlow knife. I knew where rivers came up out of the ground, where the Bogot people danced with ribbons, where the gopher tortoise shared her burrow with snakes, and where Deacon Smith lost his Bible.

I had a mind to visit “Stiff and Ugly,” where the river writhed like a snake, and find that haint-infested field where folks said Jimmy Ivy and his brothers, “Little Poison” and “English,” burnt crosses in all seasons, but a wisp of smoke from our dinner’s dying cook fire tickled my nose, and sleep fled like a frightened rabbit. My nose always twitched in the presence of a trick, just as surely as Eulalie felt a cold shiver near crossed paths and other goofered places.
I watched the smoke for signs while Eulalie slept.

Eulalie said she needed her beauty sleep because she was old. When Eulalie told me she was older than dirt, I thought there was always dirt so there was always Eulalie, who remembered all her years. She remembered when the good Lord twitched His nose as though the wind blew pepper into it and created dirt. She remembered when the Bogot people—beloved family—hid from the U. S. soldiers, when that writer Zora asked her to share rootwork and other secret things, when the original old man Tate was still a child in Sumatra, when Moses wrote his secret hoodoo books, when Coowahchobee stepped out of the Creator’s birthing shell and first saw the wonders of the world.

She deserved her sleep.

Even though I saw no sign the smoke that stole out from beneath the cook pot was calling its own, I kept my eyes open and only half slept. I half saw folks passing the gate, sometimes more than once, hoping we’d take down the sleeping sign. Some brought money; most brought overflowing baskets to trade for herbs, oils, and hands. The pot marigolds woke up moments ago, so Eulalie would wake soon to those needing our skills.

Her hair turned grey sometime between the arrival of the Bogot people and the departure of the last panther from Tate’s Hell Forest. More recently, her once-vibrant orange dress paled into peach. Even now, her skin was coffee colored, though some have called her chocolate to the bone. As I watched her sleep, skewed at a clumsy angle up against the grey siding, I thought she looked like a bear cub. The color of roots, she always said.

A woman trading okra at Walker’s Mercantile when we were trading eggs looked at me when I was young and said, “Lena, I do believe you are blacker than the ace of spades.” I didn’t know what she meant, so I ran outside until the trading was done. On the way home, Eulalie told me the ace of spades was a powerful gambling card. Spades meant other things, too, some good and some bad, so I preferred being the color of coal, night, and the coral snake’s eyes.

My eyes were the color of pot marigolds and Eulalie’s were the color of forget-me-nots. When we communicated eye-to-eye our looks were knowing looks, because the light flowed white between us, from blue to yellow and from yellow to blue mixing our pure words together in a manner that was silent, invisible and well outside the imagination of other eyes and hearts.

So Eulalie slept that afternoon that was hot and clear. Eulalie slept because a sign that looked like a dead crow dressed the front door. Eulalie slept because she had worked hard and was older than dirt. I kept watch beneath the sofa because it was in my nature to keep watch as the Conjure Woman’s cat.

 

KIndle cover 200x300(1)from Chapter One
“Conjure Woman’s Cat”
Copyright (c) 2015
by Malcolm R. Campbell

Thomas-Jacob Publishing