Death On The Mountain

My mother loved to tell stories about her childhood years on the Cumberland Mountains of East Tennessee. She was born in 1923 and the daughter of Bruce and Ethel Willoughby. She had one sister and five brothers. Their Granny Willoughby also lived in the home. This is the way she would tell her story of the day Granny Willoughby died in 1929 at the age of 82 when mother was six years old.

"I will never forget Granny Willoughby. You see, Granny was bedfast. She was always in the big four poster bed in the corner of the living room. It nearly took up the whole room! She always had on a long flannel granny gown and her bonnet. We knew not to get very close to her bed and make any loud noise. She kept a four foot hickory switch by the head of her bed. If we were making any noise and were in striking distance to her bed she would grab the switch. She would shake the hickory switch at us and tell us she would whip the living daylights out of us. Being six years old, I never knew exactly what that meant, but let me tell you, I sure was afraid of that mean old woman. I always thought she looked like a witch in my story book. My brother Basil, being the first grand baby was her favorite. He was the only one she allowed to sit on her bed and talk to her. The rest of us children knew to keep our distance. The day Granny died, we were all at the one room Black Creek School.

Papa sent Uncle Beecher to the school to bring us children home. We heard him tell our teacher that our Granny had passed away. Walking home Uncle Beecher told us Granny had died ten minutes passed one because Papa had stopped the clock on the mantle at the time Granny took her last breath. When we got home there were neighbors on the front porch and Mama met us in the yard. She told us our Granny had died and she was with the Lord now. We all knew what death was from living on a farm. Mama told us to follow her into the living room and each one of us walk up to the bed and look at Granny and then go into the dining room. Once inside the living room I was shocked to see Granny laying on top of the bedspread fully dressed with her best Sunday to go clothes on including her high top shoes. She had quarters covering her eyelids and old irons at her feet. I also noticed someone had placed a black cloth over the mirror above the fireplace. I know these things seem strange today but that was the way things were done back then in the mountains. It gave me chills to look at her. When it came my time to walk up to the bed and look at Granny there was only one thought on my mind. Well, that old woman won't be hittin' me with that long, hickory switch anymore!"

Dan Gibson,

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