We were all born mad as loons. Every last one of us. It’s in the blood, in our roots, in the very family portrait. You, too, whether you admit it or not. You’re as crazy as I am. All of our Mamas, yours and mine, related by blood or not, all as crazy as the last. You get it from her. From your Daddy, too. Crazy runs as deep as your coal black water and my granny’s red hair.
Our Appalachian ancestors were Western Europeans, for the most part, from Ireland and England and Scotland and Wales. These mountains called to them, same as they do you and me. And they brought their crazy with them, and passed it on down to us. We’re as mad as they were, and most of us likely don’t know it.
I was a child at Hythern Murphy’s funeral. Now ol’ Hythern had lived up in the side of Clinch Mountain all her life, never worked a proper job in all her born days, but she survived off the Mother Mountain just the same. She drank corn liquor in the evening and toted a pistol one of her boys gave her in her brassiere, and she died sitting there in her porch rocking chair one October evening as the crickets sang. She didn’t even know she was gone; that’s how fast the Hereafter came upon her. She was ninety-two years old.
At Hythern’s funeral, her daughters, who were old women themselves, placed their hands upon hers as she laid there in earthly repose at the funeral home. Kin folk came from neighboring hills and towns to pay their respects to ol’ Hythern and touch her cold hands. Other people showed up, too. Nobody in particular.
My granny was one of the nobodies. She’d heard tale of Hythern Murphy for years, even though she’d never laid eyes on her, and she said they were cousins somehow, from her Mama’s dead half sister’s side, and I watched as she went up there to the casket and took hold of Hythern’s dead hands.
It was old Irish, like Granny was. It was something she believed and knew, something in her blood, as stone crazy as the cold of Hythern Murphy’s hands. Those women, my granny too, believed the touch of the dead could cure their own afflictions. Their arthritis, their sour stomachs, their mind pains, their cancers, like the one Granny was told she had. Holding hands with a dead woman would bring a healing unto their bodies and undo the hastening of their own brands of demise.
The dead has already been blessed, Granny explained. And that night, she went home and read from her Bible and praised the Lord for her healing in advance.
Old Wives Tales… That’s what such things are called by the those who don’t believe, by those who don’t have them in their blood. Don’t open an umbrella in the house or you’ll have seven years’ bad luck. Step on a crack, break your Mama’s back. Four-leaf clovers bring good luck. Only pick up a coin if it’s heads side up. If a broken clock starts ticking again, the reaper is at the door…
Granny lived to be ninety-seven. Five years longer than Hythern Murphy.
I watched on as the elders laid hands on hers at her last gathering. The dead has already been blessed. I heard the old words echo in my mind. The Southern Baptists wailed and prayed up a storm and sang until the last Amen, and it was then that I realized it. We don’t have to touch dead hands to receive our healing. Her blood flows through my veins already. Always has. Always will. The healing, the believing, the crazy, is in the blood.
I know who and what flows through my veins. So did Hythern Murphy. And so do you. And we are all still mad as loons, whether we admit it or not. And because they have already been blessed, so have we.
And sometimes, things become true simply because we know and believe they are.