For the month of October, It Still Lives is bringing you spooky tales of the supernatural from right here in Rabun County, Georgia. Join us for tales about witches, haints, and jack-o-lanterns! Our final week features an excerpt from storyteller Mary Carpenter from Scaly Mountain, North Carolina.
Foxfire: Uh, Mary, you know, to change the subject, we thought maybe we could get you to tell about that witch tale? You know, that you churned on a dime and it really happened to you?
MC: Oh I told that lots of times. You ain’t got that yet?
Foxfire: Well we got it but these kids hadn’t heard it. You know, it’s a really neat story and I think it’s one that they might find interesting.
MC: It ain’t a story, it’s the truth! It’s really the truth, as if I’m sittin’ in this chair–and I am! We lived on White Creek. Have you all been over to see it?
Foxfire: Not yet. I’ve heard about it.
MC: Well we lived down the creek and we had a jersey cow and she gave real rich milk. Well, I milked and I had a big churn and every day I churned. So, I went to churn one day and there wasn’t nothin’ in the churn but bluish-looking water, like whey on buttermilk. Have you all seen whey right? Well it looked like that. And, well, I don’t know. I know you know what cottage cheese–it looks like ol’ threads and curdled up stuff in that milk. Well I couldn’t imagine what had happened to my churn. So I just went and poured it out in the branch. I didn’t use it at all, afraid it might hurt the family. So I poured it out the next day. Then there wasn’t refrigerators. Well, there might have been for some people, but we was poor people, we didn’t have one. We didn’t even have electricity then, here. So, I went to the spring box that night to get my milk–we had a big wooden box made in the spring, you know where the water runs through it at one end and out the other. I went and picked up a jug and it looked the same way. When John got home from work, I said to him, “John, there’s something wrong with our cow’s milk.” I said, “Won’t you look at this before churnin’ it out the same?” He said “I wouldn’t use that.” I said I wasn’t going to and went and poured it out. Well, the next day, it was the same way. Well, Edgar McCall come out to the house, he was a’workin’ for Don Brooks–he had a bunch of work to hand out, he run the sawmill. They come to my house and stopped in to get some water, and I was talkin’ to Edgar. “Oh,” he said. “At about this time of year,” he said, “when the elders are blooming, old people says milk is harder to churn.” “Oh,” I said, “I heerd that. But it’s got nothin’ to do with it, the way you fix your churn will make it harder. I can churn a churn in ten minutes.” And I said, “it ain’t that. I want you to look at it.” I took the cloth off my churn, leaned it over, and it looked just like whey with them curdled up things. He said “I don’t know what could be the matter.” I said to Eileen “Run to that spring and get that jug of milk I put out there and let’s see what it looks like.” And she runs out and comes back, it looked the same way. He said “I don’t know what could be the matter.” Well that was over about the middle of the week, and I just kept strainin’ it up to see if it would get better, and pourin’ it out. Well I went down to John’s people–his mother and daddy. And she was over with me and I thought maybe she’d know something about it, you know.
So we was cookin’ supper and grandaddy was sittin’ in the front room, and I said “Grandma, I want to tell you somethin’.” She said, “What?” And I said “There’s somethin’ wrong with my cow’s milk.” I said, “I can strain it up and it’s just blue-looking water and it looks like curdeld up doe-twiddles or cottage cheese or somethin’ and the churn is the same way.” She said “How long has it been that way?” “Oh,” I said, “for three or four days or a week we ain’t had no milk, I’ve been pourin’ it out.” Well, grandad was listenin’ to me and he spoke up. He said “Mary, maybe your cow is bewitched.” And I went between the door of the kitchen and the living room, and I said “What’d you say grandad?” He said, “Maybe somebody bewitched your cow.” I said “What’s that?” Well he said “There is witches.” I said “There are?” And he said “Yes.” And grandma, she said “It might be your next door neighbor.” I said “Well, what’ll I do?” Well grandaddy said “You put your milk in the churn, and put you a dime in it and churn on it. And the witch will come.” I said “What’ll I do when it comes?” He said “Just churn on.” He said “They’ll want to borrow you three things. I don’t know what they’ll be, but they’ll be three things they’ll ask for. And if you don’t let them have nothin’, then that’ll break the bewitchin’ on your cow.” I said, “Well, I’ll try it.” And grandma said to me, she said “If you put a broom under the door and they step over the broom, that’ll break their witchery ‘til they can’t never bewitch nothin’ else.” I says “I will.”
Now this is the truth if I ever did tell it, and this is the truth. I come on back home. My sister lived over on White Creek. And I went down there and told her “Come up tomorrow, I’m goin’ to churn on a dime to see if the witch is comin’.” She said “Mary you better not.” I said “I will too.” She said “What will you do if the witch is to come?” “Well,” I said, “she’ll want to borrow somethin’ and ain’t goin’ to let her have it.” I said, “I’ve got to have my cow back to normal again.” But she said, “What if she jumps on ya?” I said, “I’ll bash her head in with my churn dash.” I would have, if she’d have come at me, I would have took that dash and let her have it. She said, “Mary, did you know you can’t kill a witch unless you got a silver bullet?” Well, I said “I don’t have a silver bullet, and I reckon the Lone Ranger does. I don’t know where he is…(laughter). I’m a-goin’ to churn on a dime. She said, “Well, I’m not comin’.” I said, “You better come on up there. You’re goin’ to see a witch.” She said, “What if she don’t come?” I said, “I’ll churn on a dime until she does come.” She said, “What if you churn all evenin’?” I said “I’ll churn all evenin’.”
So over about one o’clock, she come. She had three children: Marvin and Jesse and Duck. Charles is his name but they call him Duck. So her three and my three was out in the yard playin’ and they got–I had a porch, steps was a little high. I had a little old porch and I had balanced it up with two strips down the end and across the side. And where the step was, Marvin and Eileen had crawled under the floor. Marvin had a broom and he crawled up under there and put a broom across the doorway where the witch’d have to step over to come in on the porch. Well, I went to churnin’. Marvin, he comes runnin’ to the door and he says “The witch is a’comin’!” She said, “Marvin!” and he said, “It’s the truth.” And so they quit playin’ their ball to watch and see her come over the broom.
Well she didn’t come over the broom. She knowed that broom was there. Them steps, there was one about this high and one over here. Well she come right around the edge of that porch. I had a chimney and an old time fireplace. She come right up next to the wall and pick up that big skirt and step right over that banister around my porch you’ve seen. Stepped right over it, walked right close up to the edge of the wall and in the door. They seen she didn’t cross the broom, so they run and got another one and put up under the house here. If she went back out the door, she had to go over it. So they put one under the door there. She thought they was playin’ ball. Or we did. She noticed them puttin’ the broom. Well, the kitchen porch, you had to go out a door here, on the kitchen porch, and down a set of steps there. Well, they put another broom under it, crossways. An old straw broom. You’ve seen the broomstraw around, well that’s what it’s made with, a good broom. So they got it and put it by the kitchen door. She’d have to go back out the door on the front porch or down them steps. My porch was this high, or higher. And she was an old woman. Well, she sit there and I’d already hid everything I had. I thought maybe they’d want to borrow it. I carried it in the back room, stashed it on the bed, and covered it up. She couldn’t see that I didn’t have it.
Well, she wanted to borrow some salt, and I said “I don’t have a bit.” Oh she give me what I got for now. Sat there a bit, and said she wanted to borrow some coffee. I said we ain’t got a bit of coffee. I said when they quit at the sawmill, John’s goin’ to the store to get some. She sit there and talked on a while, then she wanted some cornmeal. I said I’m sorry, I had to cook biscuits for dinner, I ain’t got a bit of cornmeal. He’s goin’ to go to the store this evenin’ and get some. Well she said were goin’ this evening to get some for supper. And she sit there, and she sit there, and then she said, “Well, I guess I better go.” I said there’s no need for you to hurry. I just kept a churnin’, you know. And folks, she set there like she’s scared to death. Now I was lookin’ at my sister to see if I needed to bash her with the churn, but she didn’t say a thing. Now I would have. I just kept a churnin’ right on. You know what a churn is, how you churn with a wooden churn. Well, she got up and she walked out on the porch. And instead of goin’ out to the end and goin’ down the steps at the end of the porch, she caught a hold of the porch post and swung her way off of the side of the porch. And on up the road she went.
And never before had she ever been to my house. I know her! She’s dead now. Never before has she ever been to my house or anybody else’s. But what she said, she was raised to go out the same door she come in. But she knowed that broom had been put up under the house. She’d have to cross it. Or go out the other way, so she went out that way. Well the next day, I strained my milk and it was as good as ever. I wrote my grandma a letter and told her my cow was good, I churned on the dime, the witch had come, and I didn’t let her have anything. The milk was good. Now that’s the truth.
Foxfire: Now, if she’d crossed that broom, what would’ve happened?
MC: Well if she’d have crossed that broom, she wouldn’t have been able to bewitch anything else. That’d have broke her witchery.
Foxfire: That’s really strange, isn’t it? ‘Cause you don’t think about witches.
MC: I’ve read about them, but somehow or another I never did think anything of it. Like goin’ to the moon. I may be wrong about the moon goin’, they may go to the moon. I don’t know. But I wouldn’t believe it if I was there. Because I don’t think they can make it. But anyhow, that don’t differ if they go or they don’t. But I never did think anything about it. But I do know that there was something wrong with that milk. And after I churned on that dime, it was alright. So that does prove there’s something to it.
Spooky Ride by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/); Source: http://www.twinmusicom.org/song/250/spooky-ride; Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org