‘Set a Spell’ and think on these things

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

Part of the condition of “wellness” has to also be a sense of “well-being.” Our five senses make life pleasurable, safe, and productive. Then there’s that sixth sense that has to do with perception and intuition. It’s that thing where you are sitting in church and think something isn’t right but you don’t know what it is. Then you know what it is when you see that your shirt buttons are not locked into their assigned buttonholes. So since you’re on the back row and lights are low, you focus on the pastor and begin a stealthy maneuver to start at the top button and work your way down until all is well.

Wellness means you’ve eaten your broccoli and walked daily. Well-being is that certain feeling of knowing you are taking care of yourself. In the event you do not take care of yourself, there is hopefully still a good feeling that your last will and funeral plans are completed. A little broccoli wouldn’t have hurt.

Maybe you haven’t thought of the things that bring on that pleasant awareness of well-being. For me, it can be sitting on the front porch swing and suddenly there is not a sound except the “we-you-we-you” of a locust. For a few seconds, there is no incessant traffic or unbridled motorcycles going by. It is 1960 and I am 17 again, once more enjoying a quiet Old Conway. A minute later, there are three nonstop barking dogs, an ear-splitting sport cycle and roaring vehicles, all able to ignore noise laws. My tranquility vanishes.

I attended two Scots-Irish wakes in my childhood and, regardless of the occasion, they seemed tranquil. At a wake, the deceased would “lie in state” in their home. No expensive funeral home chapel rental. Mason jars or pewter pitchers holding field flowers like Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans and butterfly weed. Straight-back wooden chairs. Empty tobacco cans for spittoons. Youngsters playing outside.

Guests visited, chatted and “set a spell,” and brought things to eat that were not broccoli. On the red and white checked oilcloth-covered kitchen table, there were iron-skillet-fried chicken, fried pies, fried green tomatoes, sugar-free cornbread, home-grown green beans, and homemade rolls the size and shape of a 1960s pillbox hat. Certainly nothing blasphemous from a bakery. The funeral home sometimes provided a lavender shade of lighting that I learned later was to make the deceased’s complexion look, well … less deceased.

A long-time story about someone on their “death bed” concerned my great-great grandmother, her unusual last utterance, and an “angel’s crown.” The women of the house took care of this Christian grandmother’s every comfort for her well-being. She mostly slept, but someone remained vigilant as the end neared. One evening, she became restless and the attendant called for others to come. They all watched as a smile came upon her face, and her usually closed eyes opened and brightened as she searched the ceiling and room. Her last words were clear, audible, and excited. “Can you see them?  Oh! Can you SEE them?”  They could only assume she was being visited by angels coming to receive her spirit.

In those days, pillows and mattresses were made of chicken feathers. After someone’s death, it was a custom to cut open the pillow and see if there was an “angel’s crown” inside it. It was said that if the feathers were somehow woven into a circular form, the deceased went to heaven. This was done in her case and there was indeed a crown.

“Local resident, Nancy Breeden Mitchell, has her own story. She says, “My sister, Anita, was spending the night with our mother in the home where we grew up. She had returned from the hospital to die.  She would occasionally talk to an unseen someone, perhaps an angel. One morning, Mother instructed us to place chairs around her bed, as seating would be needed for the Eucharist and Rosary led by Nancy’s father. It was an overcast day, but the darkening shades were also lowered for privacy. Regardless, when Mother passed away, the sun came out and the room became brightly illuminated for a moment … and then the light faded.” 

A “sense of well-being” is what everyone on this earth wants to feel. Sometimes it is nourished through small or monumental moments. Today it is hard to see them, and we may have to look quickly! My mother used to say there is a feeling of confidence when you wear clean underwear. You may smile, but she was serious. One can explain that thought with one of the most peaceful Biblical passages. It speaks to ALL of us, saying, “ … whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ASV)

So wear clean underwear. Oh, and speak softly but firmly when needed; do what is right; do good deeds secretly; simplify your life and be grateful for it. It just might help you get one of those angel crowns one day!

Vivian Lawson Hogue
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