Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Wake of Johnny Davis

The Wake of Johnny Davis

It wuz the Sprang before my eighth birthday that Jack came to live with us. During those days there war’ many Jacks trav'lin the southern route of Highway 80 through Meridian. It was the time of the Great Depression and nobody seemed to thank much of a stranger show'in up at our place thar’ along the Sowashee Creek.

Now Pap didn't thank anything just happened. He believed the Almighty wuz working things out to benefit those what b'longed to Him. So, since him and Uncle Will wuz figuring on clearing that new ground south of the creek and Jack was willing to work fer feed and found, it seemed to him that this was the Almighty's way of saying to git started..

I‘as always jest a little scart’ of Jack. I thank maybe it was cause of the scar that started at the corner of his left eye, curved back in front of his ear and ended right on his adam's apple. He said once that he'd got it from a gator down in Lou’siana. Pap said the gator was mor'n likely a Cajun frog sticker.

But, in spite of my fear, I’as drawn to him like a tack to a lodestone. He had a queer way of looking at ya, almost like he’as pulling your leg. And that twinkle in his eyes, devilment Pap called it, seemed to say, "Sump’um's ‘bout to happen." Well I just couldn't get enough of him, er his stories either fer that matter.

He told stories about every kind of thang imaginable, but most of them wuz about practical jokes. Like the time he found a bunch of boys and girls skinny dipping in the creek over near Montgomery. He took all their clothes and left town. You found yourself wondering if such thangs really could happen. Yet, there always seemed to be ‘nough truth in’em to whur they just might have. But nuthun he ever told topped what actually happened one August Night.

Johnny Davis had been coon hunting down on the Valley Road and he died when he fell out of a tree and broke his neck. Well, Pap took all us over to the Davis house whur the body was laid out in the parlor. In them days people would come to the home whur the body was laid out and set up with the body all night, ever’ night until the funeral.

As the evening wore on, the sweltering August heat influenced nearly everyone to work his way out to the front porch and into the front yard with the hope of catching a good breeze. Jack said that he'd stay in the house with the body while er’body cooled off.

The mosquitoes began to find the range as the evening wore on and people started to head back inside. Somebody asked where Jack had got off to, but nobody thought much about it until one of the wimmin went back into the kitchen to fix some coffee. After a few minutes a bunch of high pitched, hysterical screams seemed to rattle back and forth off the walls and throughout the rooms. Er’body was tripping over er’body else as we all tried to crowd through the door to get to the kitchen. By the time we finally reached her, the screams had trailed off to a kind of pathetic wail.

She was whiter‘n a ghost and she jest kept a’wailing and a’pointing. Soon’s we all turned towards the source o’ her distress, I felt my blood run cold, for thar’, propped up in the corner behind the door, with a fresh rolled cigarette stuck in his mouth, and his arms crossed just like the funeral home director had left him, was ol' Johnny Davis.

I don’t think I’m the only one who was scart’ nearly to death, cause someone ran back to the parlor to see if the casket was really empty. To this day, I’ve not heard such screaming and carrying on.

By the time Pap and the others finally got poor ol' Johnny back in his casket again and everybody settled down, it was pretty late for us young'uns. Pap said they hunted for Jack most of the night but didn't see hide nor hair of him. He said it was just as well cause lynching fever’d already hit some of the men and they had plenty of ropes.

It seemed to me like most of Meridian was at the funeral. Pap said that folks are just naturally curious about such strange happenings. Uncle Will said that ol' Johnny'd probably thank Jack for causing such a turn out for his burying, if he could. Everybody kinda laughed and it seemed like the anger just disappeared.

After a while people stopped talking about Johnny's wake. Everybody seemed to forget Jack ‘cept me and Pap. But now and again something would happen to cause folks to think about ‘ol Johnny standing there in that corner with a cigarette in his mouth, and er’body'd laugh.

We didn't hear from Jack for a long time, but I knew we'd see him again. And I knew I'd ner’ fergit the wake of Johnny Davis.

"The Wake of Johnny Davis" Copyright by Mike Rasberry, 1996. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

me-at-gmail said...

That was a great experience for any young man but especially one who can think just far enough ahead to enjoy the whole event.

The tale brought up a memory of a family member's wake I attended. We looked forward to seeing the neighbor children and the many cousins who 'had' to be there too.

The activities outside icluding chasing and squealing, climbing trees and sneaking under the sitting room window to hear what we thought were such big secrets but turned out to be boring as following ant trails and drawing a wide line in their path to confuse them.

OK, so every person has to lay their own memory down before you.

This happened at a great-grandmother's home whom we loved and knew we were loved in return.

At this particular evening Grandma Foy was the center of attention, lying in a beautiful burial box that had been fashioned by the neighborhood men who always seemed to have one in waiting when someone past.

The burial dress was carefully made by 'others' so as not to jinx one into an early death by seeing and touching it.

Everything was like I expected it to be. We kids came in and sat in the back on the stairs lowest to the bottom so we could whisper 'things' without adults shaking their fingers and mouthing "I'm going to get you if you don't hush."

Now here comes the surprise for me. This happened in July. (You know where I'm going with this, right?)

While walking with the most respect, beside my dad, to the casket, I wanted to see Grandma Foy better. No harm in that. (Not that I wanted to touch because I didn't know a kid could.)

The veil covered from above her head, attached to the lid and draped onto her waist area then was tucked in the direction of where her legs went.

I lifted the veil, my Father reached to place his hand on mine, but I was to quick. Let's just say that I didn't know if the veil was to keep things in or out, but I saw a little of both. My mouth was wide open, but I dare not make a sound. Where had all my buddies gone?

I had plenty to tell them after I recovered from those stripes of love.