Customs of the sick room or death bed
In the Ozarks, as it was in most places in the South, those on their death bed, or dead but not yet buried, were never left alone. Neither was a bedridden person to be lifted from one bed to another, nor turned from end to end. It was also cause for misfortune to sweep under an ill person’s bed.
Omens of Death
Any of these things happening were thought to be harbingers of an impending death:
~If dogs bark or a rooster crows unexpectedly near a sick room.
~A turtle dove, or any bird flying into the house.
~Breaking a needle before finishing a quilt.
~Death noises: most commonly bells, unexpected tearing noises, rapping, knocking noises were said to be death bones rattling.
~A clock striking thirteen times.
~When a bedridden person picks at the bedcovers.
When a person was bedridden for a time before their death, their bed pillow was opened after they died to look for a feather crown. Some people thought feather crowns were an omen of good fortune in the hereafter. Some believed they were death omens, and the work of evil forces. In actuality, downy feathers hook together over time because of their shape and other characteristics and naturally form a circular pattern. This would be more likely to occur in pillows that were in constant use and not “fluffed”.
Beliefs and Customs concerning Burial
~If a burial party is forced to stop on the way to the burial site, another member of the family may be buried before the year is out.
~Anyone who digs a grave and does not stay to see it covered is marked for an early death.
~To insure retribution for a murder, pawpaw seeds may be thrown into the coffin.
~It’s bad luck to walk on a grave, for the result is said to be the death of a family member. A counter-curse is to jump backwards across it right away.
~It is bad luck to carry anything out of a graveyard.
~Rain at a funeral is a sign that the soul of the dead is at rest, for the old saying goes; happy is the bride that the sun shines on, and blessed are the dead that the rain falls on.
Death and misfortunes come in threes.
I went outside to sweep the porch the one day last week. Jasper and I came back in an were straightening out the kids’ bedroom when I looked up and saw a cat sauntering into the room! It really startled me. She must have come in when I had the door open. I guess the reason it startled me so much is because I thought if this cat came in, what else (or who else!) could have also snuck in with me unaware. Silly thought, right? I’m one of those people who often sees something moving out of the corner of the eye.
Also, although this isn’t a superstitious omen, it brings to mind some Ozark superstitions that I was brought up with… if a bird flies into your house it is deathly bad luck… if you carry a stray cat into the house- bad luck (avoided that here- she came in of her won free will)… too bad she wasn’t a black cat, because if a black cat comes to visit, it’s very good luck (unless it stays), but a black cat with yellow eyes is good luck to it’s owner. Everyone knows that it’s bad luck for a black cat to cross your path. But do you know how to counteract the curse? Turn your hat around backwards on your head, or turn around and go back in the other direction. Seeing a white cat in the road is good luck. The old folks used to think that a cat would kill an infant by sucking it’s breath out of it’s mouth, and there probably were incidents where cats accidentally suffocated babies by laying on them for warmth. But the old timers seemed to think that cats killed babies on purpose, and so cats could not live in the same house with a baby. My baby’s not exactly a newborn anymore, but funny thing, I’ve never owned a cat when any of my kids were babies. I had lots of pets when I was growing up, but as an adult I’ve only had one pet- I had a black cat for three years, then she ran away.
Anyway, back to the story- I lured the cat back outside with a bowl containing a tad bit of milk, then me and Jas stayed outside to visit with her a bit. She’s a really nice lovable cat- white with orange spots and big yellow eyes. I think she belongs to some neighbors the next street over. She let Jas pet her- Jas squealed with delight! Then we heard a door slam and the cat scurried away to hide behind a bush and a neighbor boy came out looking for her. When he was gone, the cat came back out to play with Jasper. A few days later we were coming back from the park and the cat seemed to be waiting for us, or rather, for Jasper- much to his delight. Too much delight I might say: he pet the cat vigorously and tried to climb on her for a horsey ride, so she took off. We’ve seen her a couple of times since- from far away.