Archive for June 8th, 2009

Mrs. Witch-Webb


My grandparents had known the Webb’s since heck was a pup. They had shared stories of good crops, draughts, floods, the Depression. They had a kinship enjoyed by farmers in Wayne and Reynolds counties.

Grandma, several years widowed, and the widowed Mrs. Webb became reacquainted when Grandma moved into the town apartment. During a conversation, Mrs. Webb must have asked Grandma if she knew of a reliable girl to “live in” and help her about the house.

Rosie was approached by Grandma and soon was staying with Mrs. Webb in her small house on a street at the foot of College Hill. Her house was near the school and would save Rosie the long walk to and from the holler and grandma was sure Rosie could use the money Mrs. Webb would pay her.

Rosie only stayed for a little while. She had found something better, or so she said. I jumped in to fill the vacancy.

Grandma’s friend, Mrs. Webb was part witch. I knew it. I was perceptive. I had been perceptive since third grade. Maybe I was born perceptive. She looked like a cross between a crow and the Wizard of Oz witch. Her black hair was slicked back so tightly over her forehead, her beady eyes bulged. Her voice was raspy. I didn’t like her one little whit but I did need money and the close walk to school meant I wouldn’t have to get up before daylight to beat the tardy bell.

Mrs. Webb said, “You come straight home from school, you hear?” “Don’t play around, you hear?” I hurried straight “home.” She immediately sat me down in a chair, gave me a pan of apples to peel. In a whiny voice, she said, “Don’t waste my good apples, peel real thin, and do be careful with my good paring knife, understand?” Then: “Dump the peelings. Rinse the pan real good. Don’t chip my pan.”

I was ever so careful not to scorch the apples. I didn’t waste her sugar. The apple sauce was made just right. She licked her lips as she ate the warm sauce. “Oh, mercy no! You can’t have any apple sauce! They are my apples, aren’t they?!”

She rooted me out of bed before daylight. She and Mr. Webb had always eaten an early breakfast. She should not break their good habits, should she? Now, if I hurried real fast and tidied up the kitchen, I’d have plenty of time to help her with her enema. As she sat on the chamber pot, I was to hold the water bottle up high. “Real high,” she said, so the water would run just right. Now I must hurry and empty the pot and rinse it very clean. We should not smell up the house, should we?

She couldn’t find her good paring knife. Why, Mr. Webb had bought her that knife. I’d have to find it somehow. No. She just couldn’t pay me wages until I found the knife. She couldn’t pay my sister either. Why, did I know that Rosalee stole her good glue pot?

Mama and I sat in Mrs. Webb’s front room. Mama said we’d be staying over night if Mrs. Webb didn’t pay up. The old witch said, “I’m a sick widow you know?! I don’t have much money. Besides, your man, still owes me for a bushel of potatoes he got when you lived on Webb Creek. Urie knows about the potatoes and I just might tell him you’re threatening me. I’m not well, you know?”

Mama sat, composed, her hands folded in her lap. Her dander was up but in a quiet voice she said, “Mrs. Webb, my kids are not responsible for Louie Hackworth’s debts. You are a poor excuse for a woman to expect so much from kids, then hold their dad’s debt over their heads. You will pay Jane. You will pay Rosalee.

The amount? I do not remember. She paid.

(Mrs. Webb, by the way, was not a poor widow. After Mr. Webb’s death she sold acres of rich river bottom land.)


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