"If I ain't a hunnerd, said Nancy, nodding her white-turbaned head, "I she' is close to it, 'cause I got a grandson 50 years old."
Nancy's silky white hair showed long and wavy under her headband. Her gingham dress was clean, and her wrinkled skin was a reddish yellow color, showing a large proportion of Indian and white blood, Her eyes were a faded blue.
"I speck I is mos' white," acknowledged Nancy, "but I ain't never knowed who my father was. My mother was a dark color."
The cottage faced the pine grove behind an old church. Pink ramblers grew everywhere, and the sandy yard was neatly kept. Nancy's paralyzed granddaughter-in-law hovered in the doorway, her long smooth braids hanging over Indian-brown shoulders, a loose wrapper of dark blue denim flowing around her tall unsteady figure, She was eager to take part in the conversation but hampered by a thick tongue induced, as Nancy put it, "by a had sore threat she ain't got over."
Nancy's recollections of plantation days were colored to a somber hue by overwork, childbearing, poor food and long working hours.
"Master was a hard taskmaster,"said Nancy. "My husband didn' live on de same plantation where I was, de Jerrell place in Columbia County. He never did have nuthin' to give me 'cause he never got nuthin'. He had to come and ask my white folks for me. Dey had to carry passes everywhar dey went, if dey didn't, day'd git in trouble.
"I had to work hard, plow and ge and split wood jus' like a man. Sometimes dey whup me. Dey whup me bad, pull de close off down to de mis' - my master did it, our folks didn' have overseer.
"We had to ask 'em to let us go to church. Went to white folks church, 'tell de black folks got one of dars own. Mo'm, I dunno how to read. Never had no schools at all, didn't 'low us to pick up a piece of paper and look at it."
"Nancy, wasn't your mistress kind to you?"
"Mistis was sorta kin' to me, sometimes. But dey only give me meat and bread, didn' give me nothin' good - I ain' gwine tell no story. I had a heap to undergo wid. I had to scour at night at de Big House - two planks one night, two more de nex'. De women peoples spun at night and reeled, so many cuts a night. Us had to git up befo' daybreak be ready to go to de fiel's.
"My master didn' have but three cullud people, dis yuh mas what I stayed wid, my young master, had not been long married and dus' de han's dey give him when he marry was all he had.
"Didn' have no such house as dis," Nancy looked into the open door of the comfortable cottage, "sometimes dey have a house built, it would be daubed. Dus' one family, didn' no two families double up."
"But the children had a good time, didn't they? They played games?"
"Maybe dey did play ring games, I never had no time to see what games my chillun play, I work se hard. Heap o' little chillun slep' on de flo'. Never had no frolics neither, no ma'm, and didn' go to none. We would have prayer meetings on Saturday nights, and one night in de week us had a chairback preacher, and sometimes a regular preacher would come in."
Nancy did not remember ever having seen the Patterollers.
"I hearn talk of 'em you know, heap o' times dey come out and make out like dey gwine shoot you at night, dey mus' been Patterollers, dey was gettin' hold of a heap of 'em."
"What did you do about funerals, Nancy?"
"Dey let us knock off for funerals, I tell de truth. Us stay up all night, singin' and prayin'. Dey make de coffin outter pine boards."
"Did you suffer during the war?"
"We done de bes' we could, we et what we could get, sometimes didn' have nothin' to gat but piece of cornbread, but de white folks allus had chicken."
"But you had clothes to wear?"
"Us had clothes 'cause we spun de thread and weaved 'em. Dey bought dem dere great big ole brogans where you couldn' hardly walk in 'em. Not like dese shoes I got on." Nancy thrust out her foot, easy in "Old Ladies' Comforts."
"When they told you were free, Nancy, did the master appear to be angry?"
"No'm, white folks didn' 'pear to be mad. My master dus' tols us we was free. Us moved right off, but not so far I couldn' go backwards and forwards to see 'us." (So it was evident that even if Nancy's life had been hard, there was a bond between her and her former owners.) "I didn' do no mo' work for 'um, I work for somebody else. Us rented land and made what we could, so we could have little somethin' to eat. I scoured and waited on white people in town, got little piece of money, and was dus' as pround!"
Nancy savored the recollection of her first earned money a moment, thinking back to the old days.
"I had a preacher for my second marriage," she continued. "Fo" chillun died on me - one girl, de yuthers was babies, White doctor tended me."
Asked about midwifery, Nancy smiled.
"I was a midwife myself, to black and white, after freedom. De Thomson doctors all liked ma and tole people to 'git Nancy.' I used 'tansy tea' - heap o' little root - made black pepper tea, fotch de pains on 'em. When I would git to de place where I had a hard case, I would send for de doctor, and he would help me out, yes, doctor holp me out of all of 'em."
Asked about signs and superstitions, Nancy nodded.
"I have seed things. Dey look dus' like a person, walkin' in de woods. I would look off and look back to see it again and it be gone." Nancy lowered her voice mysteriously, and looked oaok into the little room where Vanna's unsteady figure moved from bed to chair. "I seed a coffin floatin' in de air in dat room ---" she shivered, "and I heard a heap o' knockings. I dunno what it been - but de sounds come in de house. I runs ev'y squasch owl away what comes close, too." Nancy clasped her hands, right thumb over left thumb, "does dat - and it goes on away - day quits hollerin', you chokin' 'em when you does dat."
"De you plant by the moon, Mancy?"
"Plant when de moon change, my garden, corn, beans. I planted some beans once on de wrong time of de moon and dey didn' bear nothin' - I hated it so bad, I didn' know what to do, so I been mindful ever since when I plant. Women peoples come down on de moon, too. I ain't know no signs to raise chillun. I whup mine when day didn' do right, I sho' did. I didn' 'low my chillun to take nothin' - no aigs and nothin' 'tall and bring 'em to my house. I say 'put dem right whar you git 'em.'"
"Did you sing spirituals, Nancy?"
"I sang regular meetin' songs," she said, "like 'lay dis body down' and 'let yo' joys be known' - but I can't sing now, not any me'."
Hancy was proud of her quilt-making ability.
"Git 'um, Vanna, let de ladies see 'um," she said; and when Vanna brought the gay pieces made up in a "double-burst" (sunburst) pattern, Nancy fingered the squares with loving fingers. "Hit'n pooty, ain't it?" she asked wistfully, "I made one for a white lady two years ago, but dey hurts my fingers now - makes 'em stiff."