Day 16: Strawberries Are Easy Witched

Old_Woman_with_Ducks_tail-piece_in_Bewick_British_Birds_1804“Strawberries Are Easy Witched” an Ozark folk tale from “Who Blowed Up the Church House” by Vance Randolph

“One time old Judge Culpepper set out a big patch of strawberries, and they done fine at first. But the Judge’s wife was mean and hard to get along with, always having trouble with the neighbors. Old Gram French come along the road selling sassafras roots, but Mis’ Culpepper didn’t want no sassafras roots, and she says Gram French don’t know enough to dig sassafras anyhow. One word led to another, and pretty soon both of them women was cussing and blackguarding loud as they could. So Gram went out in the road and drawed a little circle in the dust. Then she marked the circle with a cross, and spit on the cross. Everybody knowed Gram French could talk the Devil’s language, and they figured she was throwing a spell on Judge Culpepper’s berry patch.

“Next morning the Judge got up early to look at his strawberries, and it looked like they was doing alright. The next day he was out early again, but he couldn’t see nothing wrong with the berry patch. Old Mis’ Culpepper says this gabble about witching berries is all foolishness, and Gram French could draw circles in the dust every day if she wants to, and it won’t make no difference. The Judge didn’t say much, but when he went out the third morning he seen that the leaves didn’t look right, and by four o’clock that evening every one of them fine strawberry plants was dead.

“Old Mis’ Culpepper had changed her tune by this time, and she say Gram French is a witch sure enough, and the folks ought to run her plumb out of the country, or maybe shoot her with a silver bullet. But the Judge he says you come with me, and they went out to the patch, and he showed her some little white grains in the dirt. ‘Taste that stuff,’ says he. So Mis’ Culpepper put some on her tongue, and she says it tastes like salt. ‘It is salt,’ says the Judge, ‘and salt is death on strawberries, and the ground won’t grow nothing but sparrowgrass from now on. That’s what comes of cussing Gram French,’ he says.

“So then Mis’ Culpepper begun to holler how she is going to fix Gram, but the Judge says you have done enough fixing already, and from now on you better keep your big mouth shut. And next time Gram French comes along selling sassafras, you just give her the nickel or dime or whatever it is she wants. Fooling with them people is bad luck, he says. Do you want my new barn to catch fire mysterious and burn plumb to the ground? How would you like to see all our chickens poisoned, and the ducks too? Maybe you would rather have a dead snake in the well every few days, or some buckeye juice throwed in to drive us both crazy, he says.

“It was on Wednesday the Judge told Mis’ Culpepper all this, and Saturday morning here come Gram with a little bundle of sassafras roots. They was not red ones neither, but thick white roots that ain’t fit for nothing. But old Mis’ Culpepper she took them just the same, and give Gram ten cents, and says she is mighty glad to get some good sassafras roots. So then Gram just grinned at her and went on down the road. The Judge he grinned too when he heard about it. ‘I ain’t educated like my wife is, but I know better than to cuss Gram French,’ he says, ‘It’s a lot cheaper to buy the goddam sassafras.’ Mis’ Culpepper figured she better do what the Judge told her about things like that, and they all been getting along pretty good ever since.”

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