Mrs. Pinkney's Spring Spell
Old Mrs. Pinkney was taken suddenly with one of her "spring spells."
"Whenever you'uns sees the fus' peach blossom," said Mrs. Strong, "you may lis'en to hear that Sister Pinkney has got one o' her spring spells. She has them spells ever' year when the sap rises, but she was so bad off here a while 'fore Christmas I 'lowed she wouldn't las' till the sap riz this year, but the sap's done riz now, an' she's here yit."
Mrs. Pinkney lives on the Briar Patch road across the branch as you go toward the Piney Grove Meetin' House; there is a great deal of passing along the road, and almost everyone stops to see how Sister Pinkney comes on.
Mrs. Green is the herb doctor of the Settlement. They sent for her that day to come quick and do something for Sister Pinkney. The news of her illness flew fast, and by the time Mrs. Green arrived the little log cabin was crowded with women from all over the Settlement.
"Ther hain't no better folks in the world," said Squire Hamilton, "than some o' the women folks in our neighborhood. Let a body git sick an' some how er other they all hear hit, an' 'fore yo' can say Jack Roberson them women folks is all aroun' yo' rubbin' yo' an' workin' with yo' an' dosin' yo'. They'll set up all night long an' wait on yo' 'thout battin' ther eyes to sleep. An' they don't ax town doctors er drug stores no odds; they poultice yo', put plasters on yo', rub yo' with home-made yarb teas, an' bark bitters, an' I don't know what all. Ever' one o' them women
has got a remedy of her own fer ever' ailment under the shinin' sun from the yaller janders to the toe ache; an' yo' may take my affidavy on hit, ef they don't kill yo', they air sho' to cure yo'; ef they don't, 'twon't be they fault."
Mrs. Green doesn't like for anyone to meddle with her practice, but some of the women don't care—they will try their own remedies in spite of her.
Mrs. Strong's remedy for everything is "sperits o' cam-fire."
"I tell 'em all," said she, "when sperits o' cam-fire fails nothin' else hain't a-gwine to do no good. I keeps a bottle handy a-settin' on the fireboard, ready to grab an' go a-tiltin' when I hears a neighbor is sick."
She quickly jerked the brown paper and vinegar from Mrs. Pinkney's head and began rubbing it with some of her camphor, which was made of the meanest of corn whiskey. Caledony said you could smell the shucks and cobs in it clear to the front gate.
The first thing Aunt Nancy did was to throw open the window shutters and let in fresh air. The room was blue to the joist logs with smoke from old Mrs. Freshour's pipe.
The smoke, together with the scent of turpentine, peppermint and other things they rubbed her with, and the sage tea old Mrs. Green was boiling on the hearth, seemed enough to kill her, if she hadn't already been sick.
Four or five women sat on the side of the bed and rubbed her hands, head and feet, and talked in loud whispers right over her head. Her eyes were about half shut, but she heard every word that was said.
"I tole 'em all," said old Mrs. Strong, as she rubbed
more camphor on Mrs. Pinkney's head, "I tole 'em all, I knowed in reason ef Siter Pinkney had airy nuther one o' them spring spells hit would take her off, an' hit's all come o' her a-gittin' over het a-workin' in the gyarden, I says, t'other day, I says: 'Sister Pinkney, put down that ar hoe an' let the men folks work that ar gyarden.' Pass me yo' snuff, Sister Simmons—that's a plenty—I like your'n better'n mine; your'n is the Mackaboy; mine is the Scotch. 'Yes," I says, 'you jist let the men folks do hit; fus' thing you know,' I says—han' me the cam-fire, Sister Baker—I says, 'you'll be down with one o' them ar apring spells'—that's right, Sister Baker, pour some on the rag—'one o' them spring spells,' says I. 'You know yo' air subjec' of 'em ever' year when the sap rises, an' the sap's done riz now.'
"Yes, Sister Goodin, I reckon we better put her feet in hot water—water that's been het with hot rocks, they say hit's the bes'. Put in that biggest size rock thar on the haith. An' her temples better be blistered, too. 'An' the sap's riz'," says I, 'an' ef you has another one o' them spells like you had las' year hit'll kill you as sho' as your name is Emaline Pinkney,' I says. Yes, Sister Green, yo' better gin her a doast o' that yarb mixtry now; let hit come to a strong bile. Yo' better put some hick'ry ashes in that foot water, too; an' fling in a han'ful o' salt, an' a few pods o' red pepper, an' some mustard. How's yo' gyarden a-comin' on, Sister Green?"
"I been so busy I hain't tuck no time to plant nothin'; I'm 'pendin' on beggin' my gyarden truck," answered Mrs. Green.
"My gyarden," said old Mrs. Freshours, "hain't much. I hain't got nothin' but a few ingons an' a little
collards. My red pepper never did come up, an' hit wasn't kase I wasn't mad when I planted hit, fer I was mad as fire all that week; 'pear'd like ever' time I turnt my back Johnson's ole houn' dog would suck er aig an' break up a settin' hen. I wore a sage grass broom bardaciously out on him, an' went right straight an' planted my peppers while I was mad as blazes.
"I never had no luck with nothin' I planted, an' I know in reason 'twan't kase my truck wasn't planted right, fer I walked back'ards ever' bean I drapt, an' I planted 'em when the sign was in the arm too, an' I never seed a bean atter I drapt 'em. But, I dremp o' crossin' muddy water the night afore I planted 'em, an' hit's a sho' sign o' bad luck. Pass me yo' snuff, Sister Simmons."
"An' Sister Pinkney says her gyarden's been powerful poly, too," continued Mrs. Strong, "an' that's why she was a-choppin' that day she got so over-het. She wanted to git her 'taters in while the moon was on the decrease. I says to her, says I, 'You drap that ar hoe,' but she kep' on a-choppin', so hit's fetched on this here spell. She is sorter consumptified anyhow, an' scrofferloed, too; an' she's weakly in the head, an' her pulse is powerful sneakin'. She has the influ-anzy in her chist ever' cold spell that comes—have the water hot as you can bar your han' in hit—don't burn her!
"Yes, she kep' on a-choppin' an' over-het herse'f, an' ef she lives till daylight in the mornin' hit'll s'prise me—hit'll be a miracle. But she's ready to go any time; she per-fessed at Piney Grove meetin' years an' years ago."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Hasher, "that she is so mighty ready to go. Yo' know hit was the talk at
camp-meetin' here las' year that she was turnt out'n the church over thar in Georgy whar she come from fer dancin'; but I do hope she is ready to go, kase it sholy don't look like she can las' much longer."
"Yes," said Mrs. Gooden, "they did turn her outn' the church fer dancin'; but they said she 'fessed an' stayed in. One thing sho' an' certain, she's as good as them that talks about her, an' them that talks agin' her is a-talkin' agin' they betters, an' had oughter pick the gnats out'n they own eyes 'fore they sees 'em in they neighbor's. To be sho' she is powerful bad off, an' hit don't look like she can live to git over this spell, but I never gives no body up till the breath leaves 'em. Ef she had er done what I tole her to do here a while 'fore Christmas, she wouldn't er had this here spell. I tired my bes' to git her to drink stong sasafac tea 'fore the sap riz, but she wouldn't do hit. Hit would er clarrified her blood an' er kep' off this here spell. But, as I say, I never gives nobody up. We oughter keep a-workin' with her. Mebbe we better gin her a little weak toddy now, an' rub the spine o' her bck with red pepper an' mutton suet, an' not talk so much 'round her."
"Yes," answered Mrs. Strong, "I'm plum willin' to work with her to the las'. I knowed in reason ef she dies Mandy Jane an' them would want me here to close her eyes—pass me yo' snuff ag'in, Sister Simmons—I come off an' forgotten mine; lef' hit a-settin' on the back entry shelf. When I hearn Sister Pinkney was tuck with a spell, 'peared like I never had no mind fer nothin' else. I grabbed the cam-fire an' pitched out an' come on over here fas' as I could foot hit, feared she mought die 'fore I got here—that's enough, Sister
Simmons—I like your'n so much better'n mine. I says to the chil'en: 'You'uns needn't look for me home tonight.' I knowed Mandy Jane wouldn't want nobody but me to make the shroud—better put her feet in the hot wanter now, Sister Green, then give her the yarb tea while hit's hot, an' put a horse raddish leaf on the back o' her neck, an' rub her wrists with red pepper an' mustard, an' see ef she can't git a little sleep. Yes, I've holp cut an' make many a shroud—set down, Sister Baker; I know in reason you air tired—many a shroud, an' holp dress the corpse, too. Sister Green, don't yo' think the bottoms o' her feet ought to be blistered to draw the mizry from the top o' her head? An' I 'spect too many of us is a settin' on the side o' the bed; I never likes fer nobody to set on my bed when I'm sick, an' I can't stan' fer em' to whisper 'round me."
They left the bed and moved up around the fire place; Mrs. Strong's loud whispering ceased, and they talked in low, whining, monotonous tones, just loud enough to have a soporific effect on the patient.
"Sh-sh-sh-ee-ee—!" exclaimed Mrs. Green, holding up both hands. "You women folks all hush a-talkin." Sister Pinkney 'pears to be a-drappin' off to sleep."
"Thank the goodness," said Mrs. Strong, louder than ever. "She do 'pear to be easy. Now, ef she takes a turn fer the better 'long about midnight, an' don't have no back set tomorrow, she'll more'n likely pull thu."
Source: Hamilton, Betsy Ward. Southern Character Sketches. Richmond: Dietz, 1937. 36-41.
Colin Tate prepared and Nicola Hart proofread this typescript.
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