Southern Legitimacy Statement: Born in Texas and raised in Mississippi, I spent my childhood hunting lotus and chasing fireflies. Though I moved around in my twenties, the South is in my blood and where I belong.
They say the women in my family are cursed. It’s what they’re whispering at Mama’s funeral as we lower her coffin into the ground. That Abernathy women spat in the face of God, and death was their final punishment. We were the healers of the community and had been for generations. We were God-fearing and church-going folk that dabbled in the conjure to help those in need. It made us outcasts. Only to be called upon in dire times of need.
“Well if they had left well enough alone and turned to God.” Ms. Mayberry trails off as her eyes lock with mine. The irony in the statement is that she came once a week for her arthritic herbals. Proud enough to know she needed help, but not proud enough to admit she used our services. I plastered a smile on my face as I wandered around the reception. So many people turned out to pay their respects to Mama. She had healed nearly half of this town and helped birth the other half. However, only a few call her a friend. It was just the way things were.
The herbs in our back garden were good enough to heal this town. They were bad enough to keep them coming only in times of desperate need. Most of the time, well after the time they should have come. The flu had taken out a good chunk of our elderly last year; all due to their own stubbornness. These people couldn’t afford a doctor, but they were afraid of the witch doctor. Yet here they all were. Smiling and making nice at Mama’s funeral like they had any right to be here.
“I take it you’re taking over the family business?” My cousin Ree dabbled here and there, but only when Mama had the time to teach her. I was the one that had grown up knee-deep in the stuff.
“Don’t reckon I have much of a choice now.” I glanced around at the townsfolk before me. We were the same, yet oh so different. We lived just far enough in the country that some of them didn’t consider us a part of the town. Every drought, cold, and cough was blamed on us if it went on long enough. Yet they turned to us to cure their ills. The irony of that wasn’t lost on me.
“Just be careful now. You know how they strung up your Auntie.” I swallowed down a lump at the mere thought. Auntie Bonnie had just been trying to help, when a flu epidemic had wiped out half the town. They had killed her for her troubles. A mob of folks showed up at the old house and dragged her from her bed. They didn’t find her body until the following morning. She was hanging from the old oak tree.
“I know.” I did know how they could be. I’d lived here all my life. That was why I had to stay. These were my people. If I didn’t look after this town, no one would.