Today’s guestpost was written by Garland Davis.



Grannyisms written by Garland Davis

My Granny was born and grew up in the Valley of the Yadkin River in the 1870’s. North Carolina was in the throes of Reconstruction. She used stories of the Klu Klux Klan (her pronunciation) to scare young boys into good behavior. Life was primitive, not very removed from that of the pioneer Daniel Boone who moved from Yadkin to Kentucky a century before. She was a strong woman who bore six girls and three boys between 1892 and 1910. Most of her life was lived in log houses, some with dirt floors. Families lived on that which they could grow, hunt or trade for. My Granny was a resilient woman who knew how to make do with whatever was available.

Her father and mother (my great grandfather and grandmother) never married. They lived their lives in two log cabins across a wagon road from each other. My great grandfather was half Cherokee Indian and my great-great grandmother forbade my great grandmother from marrying an Indian. I learned, many years later, that she considered it a stigma. (I can hear her now telling me, “Go to the woods and get me a switch to stripe your butt with for telling the world this. It ain’t no body else’s business.”) I always knew that I was her favorite grandchild. She always favored me, but I never knew why. I was her only illegitimate grandchild and I think she tried to protect me.

She learned plants and their uses as food and medicines from her pioneer mother and her Indian father. She often came in from the woods with plants and roots that she dried. My aunts often brought her things they collected in the woods. Relatives and friends came to her for potions and poultices to treat real or imagined ills. She dipped snuff and before she lost her teeth chewed Virginia Twist tobacco. Raw tobacco was twisted into a curl and cut off to smoke or chew. I remember finding a burlap bag of twists after her death. Some of them were probably thirty years old. Aged perfectly and naturally, without chemicals. We shaved it off and rolled it into cigarettes.

She always had advice to give, which she did freely. She also bossed young boys around. As a boy, I considered her to be a fount of wisdom. She was forever telling us items of folk lore. I call these Grannyisms. I believed the things she told us and tested many of them.

Toads: My brother and I were tormenting a toad by poking its butt to make it hop. Granny, upon seeing this, said, “You young’uns be keerful, if you kill that hop toad, it will cause the cows to go dry.” We had to milk the two cows. This piece of wisdom didn’t work! We murdered hop toads for weeks trying to dry those damn cows.

Snakes: She always told us, “If you kill a snake, hang it on the limb of a tree or on a fence rail and it will rain in the next ten days. This one always seemed to work. I was an adult before I realized that North Carolina had a temperate climate. It usually rained within ten days anyway. She also told us that if you kill a snake, its mate is nearby. I spent many hours searching for “that other” snake. It was years later before I realized that snakes do not mate.

Phase of the Moon: She swore on planting by the “moon.” She would rave at my mom and dad about planting the garden at the wrong time of the moon. I deliberately planted seeds at the “wrong” time and would show her my crops and say, “see it doesn’t matter.” She always replied, “If you had planted at the right time of the moon, them ‘maters would have been better.” You couldn’t win this argument.

Painters: As a little boy, she scared the crap out of me by telling me to stay in at night because a “painter” would get and eat me. My mom also used the term “painter.” I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I was wary of the night. We had a neighbor who was a painter. I imagined a mean man with a bucket of paint and a brush who ate little boys.  Again it was years later that I realized she was saying panther. For many years there have been rumors of Black Panthers in North Carolina, although none have been killed or captured.

Laxatives: She believed that to maintain good health a person needed to take a laxative periodically. She also believed that when little boys got into mischief, a laxative was needed to, in her words, “Work the meanness out of them.” Laxatives were applied to me frequently. It worked! After a purging, one didn’t have the strength left to get into anything.

Witchcraft: I cannot explain this one. As a young boy, I had numerous warts on my hands and fingers. My mom had taken me to the doctor but his solution didn’t work. My Granny told her, “The next time we go to Yadkin, I am going to take him to a woman and get her to witch them warts off.” I think I was about four, I remember her taking me by the hand and leading me on a footpath through the woods to a dreary old log cabin. It seemed we went a long distance, but again, I was just a little boy. There was an old lady there. My Granny told her she wanted to get the warts took off my hands. She gave the woman a burlap sack that she had brought with her. Payment for her services, I surmise. The woman took a string from a mop that was leaning upside down against the cabin. She sat me on the stoop of the house and hung the mop string around my neck. She then took my hands and touched each wart. She removed the string and tied a knot in it for each wart and hung it back around my neck. She took the string and carried it into the woods. A short time later she came back and told me that the spirit of the warts was in that string and soon the warts would leave to go look for it. She said if I ever looked for or found the string, all the warts would return. Soon afterward all my warts disappeared, except for one on the second knuckle of my ring finger. I guess she miscounted and missed that one. I have had it all my life.


I hope you enjoyed Garland’s post as much as I did. It reminded me of many things from my childhood.

To read more about Grannys, including mine, check out my Grannyism page-and while you’re there leave a comment about your grandmother.



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  • Reply
    George Pettie
    November 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Whether superstition or age-old wisdom. Garland’s Grannyisms are a gift from a time long gone – his granny is of my great granny’s generation – and I’m 68.
    Garland’s Grannyisms and all those in the Comments are wonderful lore of yesteryear and a pleasing connection to our mountain heritage from an earlier era.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 8, 2014 at 7:55 am

    My mother used to tell us to go cut the switch, we would bring back all sorts of unsuitable switches hoping to get out of it.
    Her sister would buy your warts, she gave us a bright shiny penny for each one, they all disappeared within a couple of weeks.
    She was always adamant that we should listen if we dreamed of someone that was dead, they had something to say we needed to know,

  • Reply
    November 8, 2014 at 12:50 am

    I only remember a couple, one my paternal Grandmother ALWAYS said when we were getting ready to go out anywhere was, “Didja change your underwear, cause if you go out here and get hit by a bus, you’ll want the doctors to see you have clean underwear on.” (???) I remember once when I reached teenage years, I told her, “Grandma, if I get hit by a bus, I don’t think my underwear will be clean anymore anyway.” She popped my mouth and I never said that again, just “Yes ma’am.”
    Back then, we all got a lot of what’s now called “cold sores” as children, we know now from a virus we probably all kept passing round and round the whole bunch of us, but our maternal Grandmother called them (excuse the French) “whore bumps” and said they were from kissing bad boys. (???) Well, ya never know. LOL
    If you ever ask for Dadisms, I could write a book. Our Dad was quite the character.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    November 8, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Thank you so much for sharing these terrific slices of life.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time, reminds me alot of my childhood. Our old folks sure had some weird beliefs and ways. The Laxative story made me laugh. Thank you Garland for an entertaining story of your grand
    mother. Sometimes I go and enjoy
    all the stories on Tipper’s blog

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    November 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Tipper: Ar first I ‘felt like’ Garland was my cousin, Garland Mull. Those details about toads, old ladies and other scary details seemed to me as if they came right off Tusquittee!
    We are all set to roll right into Murphy for that NOON TIME TREAT! I can’t believe -after all these years we will be able to attend C&C’s performance!
    Regards, Eva Nell

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    and Garland…Some of the stories you tell are sort of familiar to me in some form or other.
    I heard to kill a toad or frog was really bad luck…(also caused warts, especially toads)
    Killing a frog would cause your well to go dry. I’d say not to hear the frogs near or in the the well, might be a warning that your well was drying up!…So some truth to that one I think!
    My Granny and older relatives were very fond of riddles. Maybe that is what they did in their spare time. One of my grannies favorites was…
    Big at the bottom
    Little at the top,
    Thing in the middle
    Goes ker-flipety-flop.
    Yes, it’s a Churn
    My granny always forgot that she asked me the riddle…so I heard it a whole lot.
    I can tell you point blank that there are ‘painter’s, cat-a-mounts, Eastern Cougars, etc. in the mountains for I and also my husband had one run across the road right in front of us one afternoon while on our way home to Tennessee. I know my cats and the difference between a coyote and cougars, as coyotes are plentiful right here on my chicken laden hills…LOL No one will ever change our minds as to what we saw.
    One more thing, did your granny have any outside door painted blue? The color is supposed to keep witches at bay…My kitchen is painted blue…but she shows up everyday, so says my better half! LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Garland…loved this post!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 7, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Ain’t it amazing how old Grannyisms got spread so far and wide if there ain’t nothing to them. Before facebook, television, radio and nationally published newspapers they were strikingly similar all across the world? Ain’t it amazing that all those dull, uneducated, superstitious, backwoods hillbillies managed to survive and produce the bright, erudite, urbane and sophisticated individuals we have today? Ain’t it amazing that those simpletons produced such geniuses? You don’t reckon that when all of our children’s education got moved from home, farm and field into books, classrooms and media centers that they could have missed a few things. My grandmother used to say “You are not as smart as you think you are!” I tell my grandchildren, “Grammaw lived to be 97. You don’t do that by being stupid!”

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    November 7, 2014 at 10:17 am

    What is it with the warts?? My Granny had us spit on a new penny and rub it on the wart for 3 days in a row. According to Granny, within 10 days it would be gone. My Daddy swore that is what took care of his wart. Who knows? My Daddy did not have a wart any more. Many of these things remind me of my Granny. She was something else. She died 20 years ago at the age of 87. I miss her every day.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    November 7, 2014 at 9:51 am

    My Grandmother pow wowed. She would spit on her finger, say some words I think were from the bible, rub around the wart a few times and it would go away,
    I asked her to teach me to do this and she told me it could only be passed from a woman to a man and then from a man to a woman.
    I begged my brother to learn so he could teach me and he told me he had no interest in learning that hocus pocus mumbo jumbo.
    I don’t think I ever really forgave him for that.
    I know she stopped bleeding for a neighbor and fixed a lot of headaches for various relatives.
    I wish she had passed it on to someone in the family.
    As much as I can remember it was all based on bible verses.

  • Reply
    November 7, 2014 at 9:36 am

    My granny also did and said all those things except the Klu Klux Klan stories. She believed certain acts, like poking the toad, and people who were rumored to be witches could make the cow go dry. We dreaded the day she brought out the Syrup of Black Draught or Castor Oil to help expel the meaness from us. A laxative was also used when a child had a cold or flu to help rid the body of germs. I can’t remember which one was used as a laxative. I learned later in life how deadly the Castor bean is. It’s no wonder I thought Mammy was trying to kill us when she fed us Castor Oil. She believed some folks had the power to “try on” warts as well as other ailments to make them vanish. Mammy passed most of her superstitions and home remedies down to mom. And so the Castor Oil treatment continued until I moved out.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    November 7, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Loved this. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply
    November 7, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Those tales were interesting. Of course, I am not in favor of toads, frogs, snakes, etc. Killing them is not my thing, but being in the same place as one, I’ll leave and let them be there own critter. Working with my plants leaves me on a hunt for lurking critters while trim and pull weeds.

  • Reply
    November 7, 2014 at 5:40 am

    Fascinating stories,, trying to dry up the cows and the laxatives was hilarious.. I had a wart on my finger, we tried all those store bought remedies and it kept coming back and my Aunt on my Dad’s side rubbed it with a persimmon or peach tree limb,, I cannot remember, said a few words over it and told me to throw it over my shoulder as far as I could and walk away and don’t look back, you know in 3 days it dried up and fell off and has never returned.. I was amazed..

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