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Mountain Traditions, Superstitions, and Old Christmas

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Mountain Traditions, Superstitions, and Old Christmas

 

by Deborah Grace Staley

The Award-Winning Author of the

Angel Ridge Series

 

What the Heart Wants

Winner of the HOLT Medallion

Is the January 5 Amazon Deal of the Day

Download for only 1.99!

 

 

January 6 is Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, if you will. In Upper East Tennessee where I come from, my momma called it “Old Christmas.” There are a couple of theories regarding Old Christmas. I always heard that Old Christmas was the date that for centuries had been celebrated as Christmas by Europeans. History bears this out. It was in 1752 that Britain moved from the Julian calendar to the Georgian calendar. In doing so, eleven days were eliminated from the year. Thus making Christmas December 25 instead of January 6. I suppose celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas ensued, concluding with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which in some Christian traditions is thought to be the day that the Magi arrived to view the Christ child.

 

Whatever you believe, here’s what I remember about Old Christmas. It was bad luck to do laundry, to wash or iron, on that day. My mother, who always said, “Now, I’m not superstitious, but…” just before she’d prove that maybe she was. And washing was not permitted on January 6. She cited a time when her family had done laundry on this day and later that year, her cousin drowned. Even if she was not superstitious, this fell into the category of “Don’t tempt fate.” Don’t do it, just in case.

 

When I got the idea for the character of Candi Heart in the Angel Ridge series, I wanted her to be from the mountains. I wanted all those mountain traditions I’d learned from my momma to be coded into her DNA. I was fascinated by the Granny Woman tradition. These were women who lived in the mountain communities of Appalachia who were respected in the community, but feared by outsiders. Some even called them witches. These women knew things. They knew how to heal with herbs. They knew how to plant crops by the signs of the moon. They knew other things, too, like the sex of an unborn child, when someone was going to take ill, and when others would die. They could tell you when it would be a good time to travel and when you should stay home.

 

I remember my mother telling me that people would come to see her mother to “ask for advice.” My grandmother would share a cup of coffee with the visitor, chat a spell, and then after the coffee had been drunk, she’d turn her visitor’s cup upside down in the saucer. She’d spin it a few times, then gaze at the pattern made by the coffee grounds in the saucer. Based on this, she’d give her visitor advice on any number of important and minor matters. I always thought that an interesting story.  I also found it interesting she’d taught my mother all sorts of home remedies, such as stealing a dishrag, rubbing it on a wart, and then burying it. This worked for getting rid of the wart. Earaches were cured with warm sweet oil in the ear and a bit of cotton to hold it in. These and other similar things were part of my DNA, and my mother’s, and her mother’s…

 

So, when I created Candi Heart (not her real name—her real name was Lark Hensley), I began researching Granny Women. Much to my frustration, there is next to no information written about them. This is because people in the mountain cultures just accepted who these women were. People from the outside who wanted to write about it? Well, most of them found these women suspect. And anyone who knows anything knows you can’t trust outsiders. So, no one talked about Granny Women. What bits I could find would be a couple of pages in texts about Appalachian culture or folklore. I’d get so excited when I found something, I’d stand in the library and read those precious few pages right there in the stacks. Minutes later, I’d slam the book closed, frustrated because I already knew what was contained in those pages. I found nothing, let me repeat, nothing I hadn’t already learned from my mother.

 

Understanding that truth was a light bulb moment for me that led me to pick up the phone and call my mother. After questioning her about the story of her mother reading coffee grounds for people, I asked, “Did she really read the coffee grounds or was that just a prop? Did she already know the answers without the reading?” At length, my momma admitted this was indeed a prop. At which point I asked about my great-grandmother. She had always been described to me as “not right in the head.” She’d died after having been bedfast for some time. You see, I’d read and heard that these Granny Women had been described as “not right in the head.” In fact, it was written into the lyrics of a Dolly Parton song called, “These Old Bones.” And I should add here, the women in my family suffer from bouts of depression. So, I asked my momma if her grandmother had been one of these mountain women who’d just known things. At which point she admitted that she had. Full disclosure, I’d had strong flashes of intuition all my life, but discounted them. At the end of this and other discussions with my mom, I realized I come from a long line of women who just knew things. Momma had known I also had this ability, but never talked to me much about it because she knew I wasn’t ready to accept it.

 

I’d be lying if I said this thing that’s a part of who I am doesn’t scare me. I don’t completely understand how it works. I know if someone is on my mind and I’m dreaming about them, something’s up and I need to reach out to them. I know when I have a particularly vivid dream about something, I need to pay attention. Like the time my son had a strange looking wound on the back of his hand. I dreamed he lost his hand the night before we went to the doctor. And guess what? The doctor told me he could have lost his hand if we had waited to have him seen. He’d been bitten by a poisonous spider. Now, I can’t tell people things on cue. I’m not a fortuneteller. But I’ve also learned that you can’t tell people something they’re not ready to hear. Dealing with what you know can be a delicate balance of the knowing and the knowing when to share what you know.

 

Candi Heart in What the Heart Wants is one of these women like the women in my family. She had vivid dreams about past events that are unfolding in her present…or are they part of her past? She just wants to fit into Angel Ridge and open up a shop for women with all the colorful, soft, frilly things she didn’t have growing up in the gray-green mountains. But when she is almost the victim of a hit and run incident and her shop is vandalized, it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want her moving to Angel Ridge, much less becoming a business owner. Of course, Sheriff Grady Wallace will have to step in to investigate and protect the sexy and mysterious new woman in town.

 

What the Heart Wants, winner of the HOLT Medallion for Excellence in Single Title/Mainstream Romance, is the Amazon Daily Deal today, January 5. Download your copy for only 1.99. Comment on this blog and include your email address and throughout the day, I will choose ten names randomly to receive the Kindle Version of the book. Just comment here or at this article on Fresh Fiction today.

What_the_Heart_Wants

Today’s Amazon Daily Deal!

Download for your Kindle–only 1.99

 

Happy Old Christmas Eve!

Deborah Grace Staley

www.deborahgracestaley.com

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Win free Downloads of What the Heart Wants for your Kindle!

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In honor of What the Heart Wants being part of Amazon’s November 100 Books for 3.99 or Less, I thought I’d give away some copies for all of you Kindle owners. Actually, you don’t have to own a Kindle to enjoy this giveaway. All you need is a Kindle app or your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

To whet your appetite, I’m posting an excerpt here. To win, all you need to do is post a comment ON MY FACEBOOK PAGE–NOT HERE. There’s a link to that page next to this post (it’s to the right on my computer. So, comment and win!

Good Luck!

Winner of the HOLT Medallion

for Single Title/Mainstream Romance

“Hello?” A deep, masculine voice called from the front.
The voice did not belong to Mr. DeFoe. Candi backed out of the storeroom, and cautiously replied, “Who’s there?”
A tall man with wide shoulders wearing a uniform appeared in the back room almost as soon as Candi got the words out.
“I think that’s my line.”
A frown creased the man’s wide brow, and a badge on his jacket declared him a lawman. His hand rested on his gun as he eyed her suspiciously. That made him the second person in town today who’d looked at her that way. Aunt Ruby said to never trust a lawman because they were all crooked, always looking for something to harass you about. She felt her hackles rising.
“I’m perusing the shop, sir. Mr. DeFoe gave me the key.” She held it up for him to see. “I might be interested in renting it.”
He took off his dark brown cowboy-style hat and raked a hand through reddish-brown hair cut short, but not short enough to conceal its tendency to wave. A ruddy complexion and freckles that went along with his hair color sprinkled across his nose and cheeks making him look younger than the creases on his forehead indicated. A jagged scar on his chin marred what might have otherwise been wholesome features.
“My apologies, ma’am.” He approached and held out a hand, “I’m Sheriff Grady Wallace.”
Candi reluctantly gave him her hand, but retrieved it after only a brief shake.
“When I was making my rounds this morning, I noticed the front door standing open and came in to check it out. This building’s been empty for nearly a year now, so naturally, seeing that door open led me to believe that someone had broken in.”
“Naturally?”
“Well, sure. Someone might have been looking for shelter for the night, or teenagers could have been up to some mischief.”
“Well, I’m not a teenager, and I didn’t spend the night here, nor would I,” she said.
“Oh, I wasn’t implying that you would.” “What were you implying, then?” “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”
“I didn’t give it.”
He took a breath, twirled his hat on his hand, and smiled. “How about if we start over.”
She stared at him blankly. She had no idea what he meant.
“I’m Sheriff Grady Wallace,” he said and extended his hand again.
She looked at it, frowning. “We already shook.”
He smiled again, like he wanted to put her at ease, and twirled his hat again. “I apologize for bustin’ in on you. I imagine I must have given you a fright.”
“You did that.”
“You have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
Great. She’d have to give him her name. He’d asked her point blank. She sighed and said, “Candi.”
“Just Candi?”
“Heart.”
“Excuse me?”
“My name is Candi Heart, sir.” Candi Heart? Saying it out loud to a stranger, it sounded stupid and unnatural. What was wrong with her? She should have decided on Jones or Smith or Collins or anything, but Heart? At first, she’d thought it was catchy and memorable, but now she just thought it sounded like some kind of fancy lady. She was not that kind of lady.
He chuckled and rubbed his fingertips across the scar on his chin. “Your name is Candi Heart?”
“Yes, sir. I reckon you could say my mama had a sense of humor.” She waited and watched, hoping the explanation made the lie go down easier.
“Please, call me Grady.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because you’re the law, and a body ought to show the proper respect.”
“Well, Ms. Heart, we don’t much stand on ceremony around here. If you’re plannin’ to live in Angel Ridge, you’ll find that out soon enough.”
Candi didn’t know what to say to that, so she didn’t say anything at all. He was quite a bit taller than her, and the fact that he was the sheriff, and that he still had a hand on his gun, made her uncomfortable. She remembered again Aunt Ruby’s warning about lawmen. Best to not say too much.
“So, you’re a hair dresser?”
He sure was nosey, askin’ all his questions. “No, sir.”
“I’m sorry. I just assumed that you might be since you’re thinking to rent Madge’s old shop.”
Candi continued to watch the man carefully. He seemed completely at ease. Confident and in control. Wonder how he did that when she felt like she might bust right out of her skin? She wished he’d get on his way.
“Mr. DeFoe will be coming by soon, and I’d like to look around a bit more before he comes, if that’s all right with you . . . sir,” she added.
“Of course. I’m sorry to hold you up.” He put his hat back on, and smiled widely this time. “I’ll just be on my way. But first, I need you to do something for me.”
Candi frowned. What could she possibly do for him? Still, she’d be crazy to get cross-wise of the law her first day in town. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
“Call me Grady.”
“I couldn’t—”
He held up a hand, halting her words. “Now, I insist. You callin’ me ‘sir’ makes me feel old before my time.”
Dixie Ferguson had said near the same thing earlier, but that was different. She could call Dixie by her first name because she ran a diner where interacting with people on a personal level was appropriate. This, however, was the sheriff. She couldn’t imagine ever calling him by his given name.
“I’m just bein’ respectful, sir. It’s nothin’ to do with your age. It’s to do with who you are—the sheriff.”
“I appreciate that, but if it’s just the same to you, I’d like you or anyone else in town to call me Grady. I’ve lived here my whole life, and as I said, we don’t stand on ceremony in Angel Ridge.” He looped a thumb in his gun belt and rocked back on his heels. “Would you be willing to give it a try?”
She took a breath and tried to at least act like she had relaxed into his easy manner, but found it terribly difficult. She chewed her lower lip, considering, and then said, “I’d be willin’ to try, say in a week or so, but certainly not with my just havin’ met you. I’m sorry, sir.”
Her words made a frown crease his brow again. “You mind me asking you where you’re from?”
She’d had about enough of his questions. “Yes, sir. I do.”
“Why’s that?”
“Meanin’ no disrespect, but unless I’ve done something wrong and there’s some official-like reason that you’d be askin’, I don’t see as it’s any of your business.”
“I see.” He pulled the brim of his hat down lower on his forehead. “My apologies. I don’t mean to offend. Most folks around here would call asking a newcomer in town where they’re from just makin’ conversation.”
“Is that why you asked? Because you were just ‘makin’ conversation?’” She looked deep into his hazel-colored eyes to discern the truth of his words. He looked right back.
“I was just curious. Your accent isn’t like what you hear in our foothills. It has the sound of the mountains in it.”
So, he was an observer of people and their ways. Candi supposed he’d need to be in his line of work. She’d have to work on being more neighborly. If she was going to run a shop, folks would expect her to be friendly, but she didn’t see how that meant she had to tell everybody her business. Still, she’d do well to hold to Aunt Ruby’s old sayin’, You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
“You’re right, Sheriff. I am from the mountains.” She’d let him take that as he would. She wasn’t about to tell him she was from Laurel Mountain.
“Hello!” “Back here, Bud.” The sheriff called out to Mr. DeFoe, but didn’t break eye
contact with her. Let him look as long as he wants, Candi thought. He’s not gonna see anything but a stranger who’s just arrived in Angel Ridge.
“What are you doin’ here, Grady?”
At last he looked away to speak to Mr. DeFoe. Finally able to breathe again, Candi took a long, deep breath of the cool musty air filling the back room.
“Like I was tellin’ Ms. Heart here, I was doin’ my morning rounds and saw the front door to the building standin’ wide open. Since the place has been vacant for so long, I figured I ought to check it out.”
Mr. DeFoe slapped the sheriff on the shoulder and offered him his hand. “Well, I’m much obliged, Grady. Appreciate you keepin’ an eye on things around town.”
The sheriff took Mr. DeFoe’s hand. “That’s what you pay me for, Bud.”
“That it is.”
“I’ll leave you to your business, then.” The sheriff swung his gaze back to Candi and touched the brim of his hat. “A pleasure meetin’ you, Ms. Heart.”
Candi nodded, but didn’t say anything. Words sometimes were unnecessary.

© Deborah Grace Staley

Order What the Heart Wants for Only 1.99