I know everyone has heard the word Spell before, but it can have several different definitions. Example, she sure can spell them words good, or she came and sit with us for a spell today and the one I like the most, she’s having one of her spells..
I’m gonna use the last one to describe three special ladies that were very dear to me. My mama was sweet as they come and had a mild disposition and easy going. I was blessed to know both my grandmas and we called one big ma and the other little ma. Big ma had a little more skin on her bones than little ma, so that’s how we came up with big ma and little ma.
Now the only kind of spells I ever remember my mama having was when us kids or daddy got her dander up. She’d tell daddy what she thought about the situation and walk off. And with us kids it was a different story. She always kept plenty of hedge limbs hidden so she could grab one when she needed it. When my brothers would find one and they’d slip it outside and break it into. I’d tell on em every time I saw em do it. She’d walk back outside and break another and shake it at em. She stripped our legs every time we needed it and we probably needed a whole lot more than we got if the truth be told.
Big Ma was good as gold and never said a harsh word about anybody or said much of anything till it came down to the wire, kinda like mama. She’d tell ya about it and walk away. But that usually came from grandpa. He always wanted three meals a day cooked and he wouldn’t eat enough to fill the palm of his hand. He called her “Chief” cause he always said she had a little Indian in her. It’d come his dinner time (lunch) and he’d say, don’t ya think it’s time to stir up a bite of dinner Chief. She’d stop her quilting or whatever else she was doing and go build a fire in the wood cook stove and cook up a fine meal. I know cause I eat there enough times. But what made her have one of her spells the most was when pa got up from the table and she’d look over at his plate and say, lookie there at your plate. Ya didn’t eat enough to stick in a cat’s mouth and ya want a hot meal three times a day. He’d say, I eat all I wanted Chief, you and this gal can finish it off. Big ma’s face would turn blood red at his remarks but that’s about as far as she’d go. The next day it was the same. That’s the only kind of spells I remember her having except when one of her boys got her riled up when she was cooking or canning and standing over the wood cook stove and the sweat was drippin off of her brow in the middle of the summer. One of her grown and married sons walked in the kitchen one day and started telling her she was doing it all wrong and she slapped his jaws till they rung. He moved on in a hurry.
Now my little ma was a very different story indeed. She could take some of the most strange spells I've ever seen or heard of before in my life.
Many a time I heard her upon the mountain praying so earnestly and it brought tears to my eyes. I could never understand how come she had such strange spells occasionally. I asked mama one time since she took the brunt of em, why little ma had spells like she did and mama said it was in her blood and she was just contrary. Now I didn’t know much at the time about such things till my daddy had a few of his own. Mama said they were both alike when it came to having their spells.
One day my mama wanted to go visit her own daddy and mama and all of us kids were going with her. We had to walk back then everywhere we went and they just lived upon the hill as we called it. Little ma didn’t want her to go, she was afraid she’d get back late and she wanted her supper cooked on time.
While we were all gone she took mama’s snuff that she dipped and emptied the whole glass in the little branch that ran down the side of the yard. When we came back she was acting like nothing ever happened. She said, it’s about time ya got back. Don’t ya think it’s time to fix a little supper. Mama never said a word, she just turned and walked into the kitchen and started cooking supper. After we all eat and got up from the table mama went to get her a big dip of snuff and it was gone. Mama looked everywhere and settled on the fact that she wasn’t gonna find it. Little ma spoke up and said, here ya can have some of mine till ya get ya some. Little ma always kept a small box of snuff in her apron pocket. Mama took her up on it probably knowing fully well what happened to her own. The next morning little ma grabbed that little pocketbook that she always carried on her arm and took off out the road just a hoofin it. She hollered, “I’ll Be Back After While, I’m Going To The Store“. When she came back she handed mama a box of snuff and said, now here’s ya some snuff, I hate to see ya go without. Mama said it was the funniest thing in the world but she didn’t dare laugh.
There was another time that she took one of her spells cause mama didn’t have dinner (lunch) on the table when she came in from working in the garden. She went outside and filled a little pie pan full of sand and walked in the living room and poured it out all over the living room floor. Then she carried the little pie pan outside in the yard and jumped up and down on it till it was flat as a flitter.
Mama never said a word and let the sand lay there. Our neighbor who happened to be little ma’s nephew and daddy’s first cousin came by and stopped in fer a spell. He stopped when he looked in the front door and saw all the sand laying there. He sit down in a chair on the front porch and ma sit down beside him and said, just look at that floor in there, now ain’t she some housekeeper. Mama never said a word, she looked at him and grinned. When he got ready to leave, ma went back inside and before mama could say a word he spoke up and said, she had another one of her spells. I know all about em and you don’t need to say a word. She can be a little wildcat when she wants to be. I don’t see how ya stand it sometimes and mama replied, I just go on about my business and pay her no mind. She thinks she’s spitin me but she ain’t.
I think that hurt little ma worse than anything when she seen she couldn’t get anywhere with mama. Mama never did sweep or pick up that sand, little ma did it after she got over her spell.
Before mama married daddy my little ma and daddy lived by themselves. Little ma did her own cooking back then but when mama moved in she turned it all over to her. Little ma drawed a small pension each month and she’d give mama most of it to help feed us. She’d keep a little for herself to buy her snuff and the few things she bought at the Dime Store when we got a chance to go to town. Even though daddy worked all the time, he only brought home so much. He had to pay fer his room and board, as he called it. He was just happy to have a job. Since he was gone a lot he didn’t know the half of it, as mama used to say.
I’m sure mama told him a lot that went on and he’d have one of his talks with little ma but she paid him no mind and did what she chose.
Now don’t get me wrong, little ma was a kind hearted and sweet person. Everyone that knew her loved her and she’d give anyone her last old sittin hen knowing she’d be tough as a pine knot after she was cooked. She’d even wring it’s neck and take it to em if need be. She always said she couldn’t stand to see anyone go hungry. But everyone knew she could have her spells when she didn’t get her way.
Then one cold February morning my little ma passed away. Mama was by her bedside holding her hand and watched her draw her last breath. Mama, daddy and his brother had been by her bedside all night and was expecting it. Mama had broke away long enough that morning to cook em some breakfast and they were sitting at the eatin table when mama walked in the kitchen and told them she was gone. Us kids had slept like a log and didn’t know anything till morning. We sure did cry when that black hearse backed up to the steps. That was the first time I ever saw my daddy cry. The doctor had told them some months earlier that he thought she had cancer.
My mama always said she had no regrets and would do it all over again if she had to. She said she could never be mean to her. Her conscious would never have let her.
Now don’t get me wrong , my little ma may have had her spells but she loved my mama and would do anything in the world fer her, even though she had a funny way of showing it. And she could pray the sweetest prayers I’ve ever heard and shout the loudest to be nothing but a fence rail.
My mama never said a harsh word to her and I admired her so much, especially after I grew up and came to understand it more.
God Bless my sweet mama, my big ma and my little ma. I love them all so dearly and miss them so much in spite of their spells.
I guess we’ve all had our spells at sometime or another. But I wouldn't know anything about that, you’ll have to ask my husband about it.
© Susie Swanson, 2014