Thursday, June 17, 2010
Pies, witches and religion
This is the chicken pot pie I made for dinner last night using my sister Charlotte's recipe. Charlotte is the oldest of the 14 of us kids, and she. can. bake. She recently stopped dying her hair and let it go all white (I love it and hope mine does that one day) so now she has even more in common with Paula Dean- what with the baking with butter and thick white hair now. When I was a kid I babysat for her. She paid me money but I was equally thrilled to get to eat whatever she'd baked up that day. I probably would've worked just for the cupcakes. I never was much for pies but over the years I've taken a liking to a few... so I finally decided to try making my own crust and got the basic recipe from Charlotte.
Charlotte is somewhere in her fifties (goodness knows I can never keep track of everyone's ages) and happens to know quite a bit more about the extended family than a lot of us because she was old enough to be around before a lot of them passed on. The last time I had a nice long visit with her - 2 or 3 years ago- Charlotte told me that Pappy (my grandfather on my dad's side) taught her how to make pie crust. "WHAT?!" I said. I never really knew much about Pappy except that he was very thin, wore his clothes til they were even thinner, and kept all his cash in two stuffed wallets... oh, and that everyone thought he could put spells on people. I almost forgot to mention that little old thing.
You see, the area in southern Pennsylvania I am from was known, way back when, for its superstition or witchcraft, depending on how you view it. My mom grew up a believing Christian because her grandma, Grandma Brown, was a believer. When she married dad she really didn't know what his family's beliefs were. But when one of my brothers was just a baby, my Aunt Irene visited. After her visit, the baby would not stop crying; and finally Pappy (dad's dad) made the observation that his crying started when Irene held him. He explained that Irene may have hexed him and suggested the steps to undo what Irene did- which involved pinching his diaper in the door, stabbing the diaper, and cursing Irene. Wala. It worked.
I thought I should stop here and give you a little history of where we lived: Rehmeyer's Hollow, the area where the famous Hex murder occured in the 1920s. I typed that into Google and found more than I ever knew at this site just today:
and here in Wikipedia is historical information about the occultism of that area:
The first link actually has pictures of Rehmeyer's house (exactly like I remember it), which was just down and around the curve from the farmhouse we rented when I was in elementary school. That farmhouse that we lived in, by the way, was very much believed to be haunted by most of my family due to a series of bizarre happenings that would take a whole separate post just to recount. Needless to say, you could often find one or more pairs of underwear pinched in drawers or doors around my house growing up.
Everyone, after the diaper incident, assumed that if Pappy could take off a curse, he could put one on.... so he has literally gone down in history for many of us as Pappy, the warlock (male witch). But when Charlotte told me the stories of sweet Pappy helping in the kitchen and teaching her to bake pies, I thought maybe...just maybe... we had him all wrong.
Mom mentioned recently that Grandma Ruby (Pappy's wife) could heal sometimes. So then I thought maybe Ruby was grossly misunderstood too, and just an old-fashioned herbalist; because I had read in the book Sugar Blues that many herbalists were inappropriately labeled witches during the time that the formal practice of medicine was replacing them in Europe. But, alas, apparently Ruby was a "Pow-wow," as Mom called her (she had recalled hearing the term in passing said about Ruby), because they took my sister to her when she was badly burned once. She performed something to "take the fire out" of the burn. This happens to be described on Wikipedia as coming directly from the book of Pow-Wows (aka The Long Lost Friend)- the very book Rehmeyer's murderers went to get from him the night they killed him.
I guess Grandpa and Grandma weren't really just misunderstood pie-bakers and herbal healers after all. They did, in fact, practice some type of spiritual art. This isn't something our family was ever proud of and, as many of us are now Christians, we reject completely. The one good thing that has resulted from my research was that I have begun to see my grandparents through more grace-filled eyes. The few quotes from the Pow-Wow book on wikipedia included christian references. This was mind blowing to me- that they would use the name of Jesus and portions of the bible in this practice. But then I realized that, though I would probably be burned at the stake if I labeled many of the activities, rituals, practices, or formulas, so prevalent in today's church as witchcraft; it really is not so different from anything my grandparents did. It is all really just people putting together formulas to accomplish what we want without any need of Him (God).
May God have mercy on all of us as we shed those things, until there is nothing left but us in love with Him.