By J. Carlton Smith © 1990
Issue: September, 1990
Since the beginning of time, man has had a thirst for knowledge, sometimes in areas where he shouldn't pry. Not only did he want to know the present, but the future also. In knowing the future, he thought it might be possible to alter the course of events of the present. People such as prophets, witches and fortune tellers were held in high esteem and feared at the same time.
There were many different ways of fortune telling. Some used the signs of the zodiac, others used natural signs, some taro cards, and some read palms or looked into a crystal ball. There were local customs that some people used that were peculiar to their area. Most have used the old daisy test to find if he or she loves me. The one I will tell about was called a "deaf and dumb supper." This is my story.
Mollie was a beautiful girl with dark brown eyes and chestnut red hair. She was a tall slender girl. Although she was twenty-one years old, she had not married. In this time and place, this was almost an old maid. She had promised to marry a young man. He had gone to Ohio to work and was killed in an accident.
This was a terrible tragedy and even though Mollie seemed to be cheerful enough, there was a sad faraway look in her eyes. Some people said that she could look at you with a blank expression on her face and never see you. She was a gentle kind person and children and animals loved her. Older people thought her strange and were uneasy around her. She did not seem to see this or let it worry her. She went about her work singing old folk songs about love. "Who will be my true love. Who will it be. When will he come back to marry me."
Living near Mollie were several teenage cousins named Sallie, Jane and Emma. One day Mollie's parents went to visit some sick relatives. They said they would not get back until bedtime. Mollie's young cousins decided they would go visit Mollie and stay the night. They were a lively group and after visiting and talking and laughing for a while, their talk turned to boys and wondering who their true loves would be.
They decided they would try their fortunes using a very old ritual that their ancestors had brought from the old country. Most fortune telling of this sort was thought to be harmless games or amusements for romantic girls, but this one was frowned upon because some thought it to be witchcraft. The Bible plainly warns against witchcraft they would say.
This was the way the deaf and dumb supper was carried out. A table was set for two or four people. The food was placed upon the table and after being seated, the meal was eaten backwards or reverse, starting with the desert and going backwards. All this had to be done in silence. At the end of the meal, everyone would recite a verse of scripture backwards. They would turn in the opposite direction, each facing a different wall. This was why only two or four people could play as at this point they all must be facing in a different direction.
Prior to starting the fortune telling ritual, all mirrors and windows were covered and there was only a lamp on the table and fire for light. There were supposed to be no reflections and they were supposed to see only their own true love and no other.
After the silent meal had been eaten and the other part of the ritual observed, each girl was supposed to give a description of her self and end by saying, "Come my true love and show yourself to me. Then I will know whose bride I will soon be." Each girl had said this and now it was Mollie's turn. A large black cat came and sat by Mollie, staring at her with unblinking eyes.
Mollie, when she had faced in opposite direction, was facing the door. She started saying her ritual chant, but it was different. She said, "I am Mollie, ever young and fair, dark brown eyes and chestnut hair. The promise I made you know well and it is one that I can never tell. Tell me while I here abide, will I ever be a bride?"
Just as Mollie finished her chant, a strong mighty wind howled and screamed around the house. The doors and windows shook and rattled as if by a mighty hand. The house trembled and shook so hard it seemed it would come tumbling down. The girls were frozen with fear. What was happening?
Suddenly the door flew open with a force that seemed to tear it from its hinges! The black cat with a horrible howl flew through the door as if it had been shot from a cannon. The lamp was blown out and there was only the firelight.
When Sallie, Jane and Emma recovered enough to light the lamp, they found Mollie lying on the floor. She was as cold as ice and had a look of horror on her face. At first they thought she was dead, but she had only fainted. When they revived her, they asked her what she saw to frighten her so badly. Mollie said, "What I saw in the door, ask me not, for I will not say more."
"Oh, Mollie," said Jane who had been facing the wall opposite the fireplace, I saw a horrible shadow on the wall. I could not tell whether it was man or beast. What was it?" Mollie gave no answer.
About this time, Mollie's parents returned home. The girls were surprised to see them and asked how they could get home in such a storm. "Storm?" said the astonished parents, "There is no storm. It is a calm fine night." Now it was the girls turn to be astonished. They agreed that this would be a night they would not talk about.
Time passed and the other girls married and had families. They soon looked middle-aged. The bloom of youth remained upon Mollie's cheeks. Many were smitten by Mollie's beauty and charm, but she would have none of them.
Mollie's parents died and sometimes some of the relatives would live with her and sometimes she lived alone except for the large black cat that always seemed to be watching her with unblinking eyes. People began to whisper and to say she had made a pact with the devil. It was unnatural for one of her years to look so young and fair. They thought her to be foolish to refuse the many fine men that had wanted to marry her. Surely anyone would have been better than being an old maid. It seemed that time had stood still since that awful night of the deaf and dumb supper. The cousins sometimes whispered among themselves and wondered what Mollie had seen in the door that night.
None of this seemed to bother Mollie. She went about day to day duties and chores. She seemed to have a special gift as what she touched and worked with seemed to prosper. Her garden produced bountifully. Her flocks of turkeys, chickens and guineas seemed to increase without effort. Once she had ducks and geese which she kept for the feathers to make feather beds and pillows. When she had all of these she needed, she got rid of the ducks and geese. They were so messy and they messed up her spring which was nearby.
This spring is still known as Mollie's Spring. It is in a lovely little glen. It boldly flows from under a steep bluff. The trees arch overhead and it is such a refreshing place to sit and rest and drink the cold sweet spring water. As it was near the road, a lot of passersby would stop to rest and to drink the water.
Mollie kept a springbox in the spring. The cold water kept her milk from souring. There was a big crock in which she kept the butter she didn't need until she had enough to take to the store. People who had to buy butter always wanted some of Mollie's. It was firm as cheese and sweet to taste. In summer you might also find a watermelon cooling in the spring, which would be shared with friends and neighbors. The spring, though not kept cleaned out, still flows and begins its long journey to the sea. I like to think it tells about lovely Mollie along its way.
Time passed and Mollie had reached three fourths of a century in age. She still looked young in appearance, but her body had grown weak and frail. Soon she had to take to her bed. Some of the kinfolks and neighbors came in to take care of her. Everyone knew the end was near. Mollie was restless and would murmur, "Until my body is released from this curse my soul will never find rest." Knowing the end was near and it was probably Mollie's last night, the neighbors sent for a minister who was traveling through the area holding meetings where he found a place to preach. They hoped that he could calm Mollie and help her find peace and dying grace.
The night grew late and Mollie grew more restless. There were strange noises outside and the door and window shutters rattled as though by an impatient hand. The neighbors who were helping to keep watch were frightened, but none dared to leave to go home.
The noises outside grew louder and sounded like a host of demons. The minister sensed that time was growing short for Mollie. He knew that the time had come for him to try to break the curse so that Mollie's soul and spirit could find rest.
He placed Mollie's Bible upon the table and asked for a container of salt which he placed upon the Bible. He prayed the Lord's Prayer and taking the container of salt, he sprinkled it around the room. While he was doing this, he repeated often the phrase from the Lord's Prayer, "deliver us from evil." He then threw a handful of salt into each corner. He then said in a loud voice, "By the power of the shed blood of our Lord and Savior, I command you servants of the devil, workers of evil to depart and leave this house and those in it in peace."
The door opened slowly with loud reluctant creaks and as it did, a spitting, hissing black cat came out of each corner and with a terrifying screech, they disappeared into the dark.
The minister returned to the bed where Mollie lay with the Bible clutched in her hands. There was a smile of quiet peace on her face. She had grown to look very old. She said, "The curse is broken and I now can go to rest." She closed her eyes and looked so peaceful that no one could doubt she had found the peace she sought.
The minister agreed he would stay for the funeral the next day which was Christmas Day. He asked the women present to let the salt lay on the floor until the next day and then sweep it up and bring it to him.
The rest of the night was quiet as the noises had ceased. Mollie was laid out on her bed. When the ladies were looking for something to dress Mollie for her final journey, they found a box with a dress that had never been worn. Her cousin Emma who was present exclaimed, "Why that's her wedding dress. She never got to wear it as she never was a bride. I think she would like us to put it on her now." when they put it on her, it looked just right even if it was old and out of style.
The funeral was the next afternoon. There was a good attendance even if it was Christmas day. Maybe one of the reasons for people attending was it wasn't always possible to have a funeral preached at a burial because a minister wasn't available. If one wasn't available, then the next one who came that way would preach the funerals of those who had died and were buried without Christian rites.
The minister finished his service and Mollie was lowered into the house of clay. When the grave was filled and carefully mounded up as was the custom, the minister asked for the salt used the night before. He carefully sprinkled it over all the top of the grave. He said he did this to purify the soil of the grave so nothing would disturb it and so nothing would grow on the grave. This way it would be a witness to all who passed by that the chains of evil could be broken and the liberated could rest in peace.
This was the last time I heard the deaf and dumb supper ritual being used. It was too dangerous. But out of this came another fortune telling ritual for young girls. They would go to Mollie's grave at sundown and take a handful of loose dirt from the grave. They would place it in a four cornered handkerchief then they would tie it with a ribbon in the middle of the handkerchief, bringing the corners up to form a pocket. They would tie a love knot in each corner and name it for boys they liked. At bedtime they would place it under their pillows. The four posts of their bed they would name for the apostles and say, "Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Bless this bed I lie on." Then they would add, "May I sleep and dream who my true love is to be. If it be your plan for my life may I soon be his wife."
There are those who say that on a moonlit night a woman in a long dress can be seen in the graveyard and from the gray skeletal remains of a giant chestnut tree killed by blight an owl can be heard calling, "Who - Who - Who's your love. Who? Who?" and from the shadows of the old burying ground as if from Mollie's grave, comes the reply:
"Whippoorwill - Whippoorwill. I will never tell. I will never tell."