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Person Interviewed: Lizzie Farmer
Location: McAlester, Oklahoma
“I’se seventy years old.”
And I say, “Whut’s you telling me for.” I ain’t got nothing to do with your age!”
I knowed I was one year older than she was and it sorta riled me for her to talk about it. I never would tell folks my age for I knowed white folks didn’t want no old woman working for ‘em and I just wouldn’t tell ‘em how old I really was. Dat was nine years ago and I guess I’m seventy five now. I can’t work much now.
I was born four years before de war. “The one what set the cullud folks free.” We lived on a big plantation in Texas. Old Master’s name was John Booker and he was good to us all. My mammy died just at de close of de war and de young mistress took me and kept me and I growed up with her chillun I thought I was quality sure nuff and I never would go to school ’cause I couldn’t go ‘long to de same school with de white chillun. Young mistress taught me how to knit, spin, weave, crochet, sew and embroider. I couldn’t recollect my age and young Mistress told me to say, “I’se born de second year of de war dat set de cullud folks free,” and the only time she ever git mad at me was when I forget to say it jest as she told me to. She take hold of me and shook me. I recollects all it, all de time.
Young mistress’ name was Elizabeth Booker McHew. I’se named after her. She finally gave me to my aunt when I was a big girl and I never lived wid white folks any more. I never saw my pappy till I was groun.
In the cullud quarters, we cocked on a fireplace in big iron pots. Cur bread was baked in iron skillets with lids and we would set the skillet on de fire and put coals of fire on de lid. Bread was mighty good cooked like dat. We made our own candles. We had a candle mold and we would put a string in the center of the mold and pour melted tallow in it and let it harden. We would make eight at one time. Quality folks had brass lamps.
When we went to cook our vegetables we would put a big piece of hog jowl in de pot. We’d put in a lot of snap beans and when dey was about half done we’d put in a mess of cabbage and when it was about half done we’d yet in some squash and when it was about half done we’d put in some okra. When it was done we would take it out a layer at a time. Go ‘way! It makes me hungry to talk about it.
When we cooked possum dat was a feast. We would skin him and dress him and put him on top de house and let him freeze for two days or nights. When we’d boil him with rod pepper, and take him out and put him in a pan and slice sweet ‘taters and put round him and roast him. My, dat was good eating.
It was a long time after de war ‘fore all de niggers knowed dey was really free. My grandpappy was Master Booker’s overseer. He wouldn’t have a white man over his niggers. I saw grandpappy whip one man with a long whip. Master Booker was good and wouldn’t whip ‘em less’n he had to. De niggers dassent leave de farm without a pass for fear of de Ku Kluxers and patrolers.
We would have dances and play parties and have sho’ nuff good times. We had “ring plays.” We’d all catch hands and march round, den we’d drop all hands ‘cept our pardners and we’d swing round and sing:
“You steal my pardner, and I steal yours,
Miss Mary Jane.
My true lovers gone away,
Miss Mary Jane!
“Steal all round and don’t slight none,
Miss Mary Jane.
He’s lost out but I’se got one,
Miss Mary Jane!”
We always played at log rollin’s an’ cotton pickin’s.
Sometimes we would have a wedding and my what a good time we’d have. Old Master’s daughter, Miss Janie, got married and it took us more’n three weeks to get ready for it. De house was cleaned from top to bottom and us chillun had to run errands. Seemed like we was allers under foot, at least dat was what mammy said. I never will fergit all the good things they cooked up. Rows of pies and cakes, baked chicken and ham, my, it makes my mouth water jest thinking of it. After de wedding and de feast de white folks danced all night and us cullud folks ate all night.
When one of de cullud folks die we would allers hold a “wake.” We would set up with de corpse and sing and pray and at midnight we’d all eat and den we’d sing and pray some more.
In de evening after work was done we’d sit round and de older folks would sing songs. One of de favorites was:
“Miss Ca’line gal,
Did you see dem buzzards?
Did you see dem floppin’,
How did ye’ like ‘em?
“Miss Ca’line gal,
Did you see dem buzzards
Did you see dem sailin’,
How did you like ‘em?
I’ve heered folks talk about conjures and hoodoo charms. I have a hoss shoe over de door dat will bring good luck. I sho’ do believe certain things bring bad luck. I hate to hear a scrinch (screech) owl holler at night. Whenever a scrinch owl git in dat tree at night and start to holler I gits me a stick and I say, “Confound you, I’ll make yet set up dar and say ‘Umph huh’.” so I goes out and time I gits dar he is gone. If you tie a knot in de corner of de bed sheet he will leave, or turn your hat wrong side out too. Dey’s all good and will make a scrinch owl leave every time.
I believes in dreams and visions too. I dreamed one night dat I had tall palings all ’round my house and I went out in de yard and dere was a big black hoss and I say, “How come you is in my yard? I’ll jest put you out jest lak you got in.” I opened de gate but he wouldn’t go out and finally he run in de door and through the house and went towards de East. Right after dat my son died. I saw dat hoss again de other night. A black hoss allus means death. Seeing it de other night might mean I’se gwineter die.
I know one time a woman named May Runnels wanted to go to church about a mile away and her old man wouldn’t go with her. It made her mad and she say. “I’ll be dammed if I don’t go.” She had to go through a grave yard and when she was about half way across it a icy hand jest slap her and her mouth was twisted way ’round fer about three months. Dat was a lesson to her fer cussing.
One time there was a nigger what belonged on a adjoining farm to Master John Bookers and dey told us dis story:
“Dis nigger went down to de spring and found a terrapin and he say, “What brung you here?” Jest imagine how he felt when it say to him, “Teeth and tongue brung me here, and teeth and tongue will bring you here.” He run to de house and told his Master dat he found a terrapin dat could talk. Dey went back and he asked de terrapin what bring him here and it wouldn’t say a word. Old Master didn’t like it ’cause he went down there jest to see a common ordinary terrapin and he told de nigger he was going to git into trouble fer telling him a lie. Next day the nigger seen de terrapin and it say de same thing again. Soon after dat dis nigger was lynched right close to de place he saw de terrapin.”
Master John Booker had two niggers what had a habit of slipping across de river and killing old Master’s hogs and hiding de meat in de loft of de house. Master had a big blue hog and one day he missed him and he sent Ned to look fer him. Ned knowed all de time dat he had killed it and had it hid in his loft. He hunted and called “Pig-ooie, Pig.” Somebody done stole old Master’s big blue hog. Dey couldn’t find it but old Master thought Ned knowed something ’bout it. One night he found out Ned was gonna kill another hog and had asked John to go with him. He borrowed John’s clothes and blacked his face and met Ned at de river. Soon dey find a nice big one and Ned say, “John, I’ll drive him round and you kill him.” So he drove him past old Master but he didn’t went to kill his own hog so he made lak he’d like to kill him but he missed him. Finally Ned got tired and said. “I’ll kill him, you drive him by me.” So Master John drove him by him and Ned knock de hog on de head and cut his throat and dey load him on de canoe. When dey was nearly ‘cross de river Old Master dip up some water and wash his face a little, then he look at Ned and he say, “Ned you look sick, I believe you’ve got lepersy.” Ned row on little more and he jump in de river and Master had a hard time finding him again. He had the overseer whip Ned for that.
I think Lincoln was a wonderful man. Everybody was sorry when he died, but I never heerd of Jeff Davis.