As I was recently reading some Appalachian Folklore, I came across a tale that I had never heard but thought would be good to share now that it's time for Halloween! As you may know, much of Appalachian folklore was brought to the area from wherever the settlers came from and this tale is said to have originated in Ireland. Out of all the versions I read, Dave Tabler's over at Appalachian History is my favorite. Hope y'all enjoy!
There's an old Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." Stingy Jack was a drunken brawler who found great enjoyment from playing tricks on anyone who crossed his path Jack also had the great misfortune of running into the Devil more than once.
Jack's first encounter with the devil happened at a local Irish pub within the village. Obviously Stingy Jack was called Stingy Jack for a reason, and he wasn't about to change now in the face of the Devil. Jack convinced the Devil to transform into a sixpence piece so that Jack could use him to pay for their drinks. In exchange for this transaction, the Devil would receive Jack's soul. Little did the Devil know, Jack sill had a few tricks up his sleeve.
After changing into the sixpence piece, Jack quickly tossed the Devil into his pocket next to a silver cross - thus preventing the Devil from returning to his original form. Jack then bargained with the Devil to keep his soul for 10 more years - in return for the Devil's freedom. The Devil reluctantly agrees and Jack frees him. Ten years pass and Jack crosses path with the Devil a second time. With the Devil ready to claim his soul, Jack made a last request: "I'll go, but before I do - will you retrieve and apple from that tree for me? I'm awfully hungry!"
The devil began to climb the tree, and while the Devil was climbing to the top of the tree, Jack carved a large cross into the back of the tree. Again, the Devil had been tricked and could not get down.
Jack being quite pleased with himself; bargained yet again with the Devil - this time for the promise that the Devil would never, ever try to take his soul again. With no way out of the tree, the Devil agreed.
Year pass and Jack finally passes away. Unfortunately for Jack, after all of his evil trickery and horrible deeds - God did not allow Jack into Heaven. The Devil, still bitter at Jack and his bag of tricks, kept his word and did not claim his soul. Jack was unable to get into Heaven, and unable to get into Hell.
"Where shall I go?' Jack asked the Devil, confused and afraid.
"Back to where you came from!" The Devil growled angrily at Jack and sent him on his way back to earth.
Jack's journey back was very dark, and he begged for the Devil to lend him a light to help him lead the way. The devil provided Stingy Jack with a coal from the fires of Hell - which Jack then placed into a turnip he had in his pocket. The carved out turnip lead the way back to earth. Since then; Jack appears every Halloween. doomed to roam the earth in search of eternal rest - leading the way with his turnip lamp.
The Irish people began to refer to the ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern, " and soon "Jack O 'Lantern."
Traditionally on All Hallows Eve, many Irishmen make their own versions of Jack's lantern by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them near doors and windows to scare away the body-snatching spirits.
According to Appalachian History, pumpkins weren't actually used until the Irish immigrants brought the tradition of the Jack-o-Lanterns with them to America - only to discover that pumpkins were easier to carve than their traditional turnips and potatoes.
Have you ever heard this tale? I was very surprised to learn that the tradition all started with a turnip! Dave has all sorts of Appalachian related lore and info over at his website and I encourage you to check it out.
Hope y'all enjoyed the tale and I hope you have a Happy Halloween!
Fit to be tied: An exaggeration referring to someone being so angry that they should be tied up to keep them from being aggressive.
Example: Tom was fit to be tied when he realized someone had shot his prize turkey.
Just recently I wrote a blog post about a story that Granny had told me and while I didn't write the story down as she told it, I could almost hear her speaking as I recalled and typed it. "Fit to be tied" was a phrase that she used often and is something that I still say.
I always try to add a picture to every blog post and as I immediately thought of this one of my son, Dude (not his real name). This was taken at our VBS when he was about 5 or 6 years old and from the looks of it, he was fit to be tied! There ain't no telling why he was so mad but he definitely was.
If you are a visitor and hear someone use this phrase, proceed with caution! Other Appalachian phrases that refer to being mad:
What are some other "mad" phrases that you've heard?
- Ill as a hornet.
- Mad as an old wet hen.
- All riled up.
- Got my feathers all ruffled up.
- All worked up.
- Having a hissy fit.
- Pitching a fit.
- Got their panties in a wad.
- Got a burr in their saddle.
- Puffed up like a bullfrog.
- He's tore plumb outta his frame.
- She's gotta a bee in her bonnet.
- Mad enough to spit nails.
- Plumb fed up!
Spring makes me think about Granny. Back in April 2017, about a week before she passed away, we had an unusually warm, sunny day. She decided that she wanted to go out in the sunshine for a while so I went out and sat on the porch with her. "Granny, tell me a story." She pondered a minute or so, gave a little chuckle, and then the tale began...
"When I started school, I'd become awful lonesome for my Mama. I'd get to school, get to missing her, and then get to crying. I decided that I'd tell my teacher that I had a bellyache."
Now you have to remember that this was the early 1940s. A teacher or school secretary couldn't just pick up the phone and have her Mama come and pick her up. One, Granny and Pa Wilson didn't have a phone, and two, if they had a car or truck it would've been being used by her Daddy to get him to work.
"My teacher went and found my older brother Keith and told him I was sick and that he would have to walk me home. So me and Keith set off for the five mile walk home, he told Mama I had a bellyache, and then he turned around and walked the five miles back. Mama loved on me and all was right with the world.
The next day, I got to school and was missing Mama...again. I thought I'd be slick and use the bellyache excuse...again. My teacher went and found Keith and told him to take me home...again. Keith was fit to be tied because he knew I was fibbing. He marched me the whole five miles home, begrudgingly told Mama that the teacher sent me home with a bellyache, and turned around and walked the five miles back. Now Mama was no fool. She knew from the day before that I was perfectly fine. She had to do something to nip this problem in the bud. She went to the medicine cabinet and pulled out the Black-Draught. Whew, I never came home from school early because of missing Mama again!"
For those of you who don't know, Black-Draught is a liquid laxative sold since the late 18th century. Much like castor oil, it was a commonly used folk remedy for many ailments.
We had ourselves a good laugh over that one! Granny would probably whoop me if she knew I was telling this story but I also know that she would chuckle after she had done it. I'm thankful that, despite all she was going through, she NEVER lost her sense of humor or her ability to tell a good story. I hope that whenever I leave this world people will be able to say the same for me.