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Summer weather has settled down upon our hills with resulting heat and humidity, while hound dogs seek out a shady spot and the youngsters head for the nearest swimming pool. The early garden crops are flourishing in the warm weather and we are beginning to enjoy the first fresh vegetables. Raspberries are starting to ripen; black, velvety caps of sweetness. Soon the blackberries will be in season and we are ready to gather the hill’s bountiful goodness.

There is a price to pay however, from hoeing and weeding the garden to fighting off sweat bees and scratching chiggers as we pick the blackberries and raspberries. It is worth the battle to enjoy a hunk of blackberry cobbler warm from the oven, or sit down to a plate of new potatoes, fried squash and leaf lettuce with chopped green onions—in a bacon grease and vinegar dressing. It makes the hot weather worthwhile.

This morning there was a garden hoe propped up in the living room, and it immediately made me think of Mom. She always told us that bringing a hoe in the house was bad luck, along with raising an umbrella in the house. I don’t think she was really superstitious, yet it was ingrained in her from childhood. I did read in an article on folk lore that it was believed if a hoe was carried through the house, a death in the family would occur soon. To guard against this, the hoe has to be immediately carried back out with the handle pointed toward sunrise. (I think I’d better take the hoe out.)

Mom’s family was pretty superstitious, and she would quote some of these old sayings with her tongue in cheek, although I wonder if she didn’t half-believe some of them. I’ve heard her say that if a baby sees its reflection in a mirror, it will die before it’s a year old. If that were true, all the babies in the family would be in the cemetery.

“To drop a dish cloth meant company was coming”—I’ve heard Mom say, when she dropped a dish rag that “Somebody’s coming, all spraddled out!” That was a pretty sure prediction, as we had lots of company. If you were a dirty-faced child and company stepped up on the porch, you were sure to get your face washed with a wet dish rag—and that’s not a superstition!

A lot of folks think that planting crops by the signs of the moon is superstition. It is not—it works. We planted cucumbers once when the signs were in the flowers—they bloomed profusely, but didn’t produce hardly anything. On the other hand, if planted in the sign of the twins, you will have a double crop. It really pays to consult an almanac when planning your garden.

This is not superstition, but is verified by the Bible. Psalms 104-19 says, “He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth his going down.” Planting by the moon signs assure you of successful crops. I know by experience that making pickled goods (sauerkraut, pickled corn, etc.) in the wrong signs is a failure. I once made sauerkraut when the signs were in the “secrets” and it turned black and slimy. Mom said I had made a secret weapon. It was no secret what it smelled like.

Many of the old home remedies were pure superstition, although most of the herbal medicines had merit. We still use yellow root for sore throats, mouth sores and other ailments. Coltsfoot is good for coughs and fevers, and catnip makes a soothing tea for baby’s colic. The juice from the touch-me-not weed will dry up poison ivy, and makes a good dandruff rinse.

Some of these other things are really superstitions. “Placing a pan of water under the bed stops night sweats”—if this would work, I’d sure use it. “Wrapping a warm red woolen sock around the neck cures sore throat.” I had a niece tell me once that wrapping her grandmother’s sock around your neck would cure leprosy!”

Another good one is “To cure asthma, place the patient’s back against a tree. Peg a lock of hair into a hole bored in the tree, and snip it off. When the bark grows over the hair, the asthma will be gone.” Kermit McKown told me a remedy once to cure warts. He said to secretly steal a dishrag from your mother’s kitchen and bury it. The wart will go away.

It seems that old folks had a remedy for everything. “If you get a new kitten and want to keep it home, rub butter on its paws. By the time it sits down and licks the butter off, it will feel at home.” That sorta makes sense. An old gentleman once told daughter Patty the way to keep a new dog at home is to rub a biscuit under your arm and feed it to him. I guess it will either stay home or take off for the wild blue yonder.

Mom’s family really believed in omens or portents of an impending death. “If a rooster crows in the middle of the night, it is a sign of death in the family.” It’s not that I believe in tokens, but a strange dog howled under Mom’s bedroom window for three nights in a row, and the next night she got word that her Dad had passed away. Mom did have ESP, and experienced a lot of things for which there was no explanation. (Maybe I do have a little bit of superstition!)

Here is a letter I received from David Luzader of Sutton—you can form your own opinion.

“My wife and I have been married almost 15 years. She and my mom were both flower nuts. Six or seven years ago, Mother bought a rose bush, and bought my wife one too. She planted hers in her yard and planted mine in our yard. Ours always had big blooms on it right up ’til winter. Last November it bloomed in the snow.

“Mother died last August 17. This spring I noticed our rose didn’t leaf out—it’s hammer dead. I went by Mom’s old place and hers is dead also—just a dead, brown bunch of thorny sticks. Nothing was done any differently than any other year, such as trimming, etc. You reckon Mother took her roses with her? I ain’t superstitious, but this is a little weird, even for me and nothing really surprises me—”
You can draw your own conclusion.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer