My Gramma Portwood came from the Dustbowl of Oklahoma. She left this world in 1993, which was some time ago, but I vividly remember her talking to me about how we were descended from a distant Scottish grandmother who had the Second Sight and was “fey”. “Fey” is actually a word based in several origins. While its etymology in Dutch and German meant “timid” or “cowardly”, and in English, it meant “doomed to die”, the word in Scottish meant “displaying unearthly qualities”.
Although I am a hobby genealogist, I have no idea which grandmother she meant. (This is the same woman who told me we were descended from pirates! Don’t ask, I haven’t a clue, and I haven’t found any evidence of that, either!) However, because Gramma passed this information about the distant, fey grandmother from Scotland to me, it should come as no surprise that Gramma Portwood also interpreted dreams. This, I don’t remember so much, but I do remember, once when I was troubled, Gramma telling me, “Tell me what you’ve been dreaming, and I will tell you what your dreams mean.” I don’t remember if she was accurate or insightful, but I do remember feeling better after speaking with her.
And this is evidence of women in the South, in the Ozarks, and in the Appalachians of being healers in their various forms. Women who knew herbs and charms and hexes. Women who have dreams and interpret them. Women who have visions. Women who have power.
Kay McDowell recently told me stories of such women in her family. Her mother, who was from Texas, had dreams that revealed situations she could not otherwise know. Her great grandma had visions.
Now, before you think about these women as being uncanny, remember the granny witches of the Appalachians, the conjure women of the Ozarks, and note that these women were church-going Christians. They believed that their gifts came from God. And so it was in Kay’s family. They attributed their dreams and visions to God.
Kay related to me how she herself had been ornery when she was a high school girl, but unfortunately for her, Mama was gifted in the realm of dreams.
One day, Kay had been up to a particular kind of mischief. The next day, Mama asked her, “What kind of trouble have you been up to?”
“I haven’t been up to anything, Mama,” Kay responded meekly.
“Oh, yes you have!” Mama said in a sure tone. “I dreamed last night that you and I were standing by the crick, and it was roilin’ with troubled water. A tall, lanky man with dark hair was standin’ at the other side of the crick. Do you know who that man would be?”
Kay insisted that she didn’t know anything about it.
The next day Kay was summoned to the principal’s office, where she was met by the principal, Mama, and her chemistry teacher. Someone had seen Kay surreptitiously creeping to her chemistry teacher’s car, where she had placed a potato up the tailpipe. Kay’s teacher was the tall, lanky man with dark hair from Mama’s dream.
“I couldn’t get away with anything!” Kay laughed in frustration as she told me the story.
Her great grandmother, who immigrated from Ireland, was gifted with visions.
During World War 2, Kay’s Uncle Roy had been a United States pilot in the European Theater. Roy was shot down behind enemy lines, and although wounded, he tried to get away. He knew if he was captured, they would hold him as a POW, and he would probably die. He crawled as far as he could before falling unconscious.
When Roy came to, he saw a surgeon hovering near him. Pain. Terrible pain. Roy begged the surgeon for something for the pain that racked his body.
“We are out of morphine,” answered the surgeon with sincere apology in his voice. “I have nothing to give you.”
Uncle Roy noticed that the surgeon spoke with an American accent, tinged with something else.
“Are you American?” he asked hopefully.
The surgeon replied, “I went to school in America, but I went back to Germany when the war broke out.”
This side of the Pond, Kay’s grandma was worried. She hadn’t heard from her son Roy in some time. She just knew in her gut that something was wrong. Grandma went to Great Grandma with her concerns. Great Grandma prayed, and after a while, she said to Grandma, “Roy is okay. His plane was shot down, but he was operated on by a German doctor, who had no morphine to give him for his pain. But the doctor went to school in here in America. When the war broke out, the doctor went back to Germany, but he is merciful. Roy will come home. When he comes back, he will have a limp, but that’s all, because the surgeon is a good surgeon. He is trying to take care of him because he has compassion for Americans.”
When Uncle Roy came back from the War, he came back with a limp. Grandma told him about Great Grandma’s vision.
Uncle Roy exclaimed, “That is so weird! That is really what happened! Word for word!”
Somehow, Great Grandma had been there and had seen what happened, through the power of listening prayer.
This world gets more and more mysterious, with every story that folks share with me.
Become a Patron of the Art of Storytelling and Folklore!
Your patronage of the Art of Storytelling and Folklore allows me more time to research, speak with people, and spend time crafting truthful-yet-enjoyable tales of personal encounters with the paranormal and small-town folklore, told to me by normal, every-day folks just like you!