THE HARD-HEADED WOMAN
Once upon a time — it might've been in the Year One for all I know — there was a woman that live in a little cabin in the woods not so mighty far from water. Now, this woman and this cabin might've been in the United State of Georgia, of they might've been in the United State of Alabama — you can put 'em where you please just like I does. But at one place or the other, and at one time or another, this woman live there just like I'm a-telling you. She live there, she did, and first and last there was a mighty heap of talk about her. Some say she was black, some say she was mighty nigh white, and some say she weren't as black as she might be; but them what knowed, they say she was nine parts Indian and one part human, and I expect that's just as close to truth as we can get in this kind of weather if we going to keep cool. From all I can hear — and I been keeping both ears wide open, she was a monstrous busy woman, 'cause it was the talk amongst the neighbors that she done a heap of things what she ain't got no business to do. She had a mighty bad temper, and her tongue was a-running from morning till night. Folks say that it was long and loud and mighty well hung. They listen and shake their head, and after while word went round that the woman done killed her daughter. As to that, I ain't never is hear the rights of it; she might, and then again she mightn't — there ain't no tellin' — but there was one thing certain and sure she done so queer, that folks say she cut up just like a Friday-born fool.
Her old man, he done the best that he could. He went along and tend to his own business, and when her tongue begun to clack, he sat down and made fish-baskets, and ax-helves. But that ain't make no difference to the woman, 'cause she was one these here kind what could quarrel all day whether there was anybody for to quarrel at or not. She quarreled and she quarreled. The man, he ain't say nothing but this just make her quarrel the more. He split up kindling and chopped up wood, and still she quarreled; he fetch home meal and he fetch home meat, but still she quarreled. And she refuse for to cook what he want her to cook; she was hard-headed, and she'd have her own way if she died for it.
If the man, he say, "Please, ma'am, cook me some grits," she'd whirl in and boil greens; if he ask for fried meat, she'd bake him a hoe-cake or cornbread. If he want roast tater she'd boil him a mess of beans, and all the time, she'd be giving him the worse kind of sass. Oh, she was a honey! And when it come to low-down meanness, she was rank and ripe. She'd take the sparrow-grass what he fetch, and kindle the fire with it. She'd burn the spare-ribs and scorch the tripe, and she'd do every kind of way but the right way, and that she wouldn't do, not to save you life.
Well, this went on and went on, and the man ain't make no complaints; he just watch and wait and pray. But after so long a time, he see that that ain't going to do no good, and he took and change his plans. He spit in the ashes, he did, and he make a cross-mark, and turn round twice so he can face the sunrise. Then he shook a gourd-vine flower over the pot, and something told him for to take his rest and wait till the moon come up.
All this time the woman, she was a-quarreling, but by and by, she went on about her business, and the man had some peace; but not for long. He ain't no more than had time for to put some thunderwood buds and some calamus-root in the pot, than here she come, and she come a-quarreling. She come in she did, and she slam things round, and after kicking up a rippet and making the place hot as she can, the woman made a big fire under the pot, and flewed round there just like she trying for to cook a sure enough supper. She made some dumplings and flung 'em in the pot; then she put in some peas and big pods of red pepper, and on top of all she flung a sheep's head.
The man, he sat there, and look straight at the cross-mark what he done made in the ashes. Afterwhile, he begun to smell the calamus-root a-cooking and he knowed by that, that something was going to happen.
De pot, it boiled, and boiled, and first news you know, the sheep's head begun to butt the dumplings out, and the peas, they flewed out and rattled on the floor like a bag of bullets done busted.
The woman, she run for to see what the matter is, and when she got close to the pot the steam from the thunderwood it her in the face and eyes and come mighty nigh taking her breath away. This kind of stumped her for a minute, but she had a temper big enough for to drag a bull down, and all she had to do when she lose her breath was to fling her hands in the air and fetch a snort, and there she was.
She mighter been mad before, but this time she was mighty nigh plumb crazy. She look at the pot, and she look at her old man; she shut her eyeballs and clinched her hands; she jerked off her head-handkerchief, and pulled her hair loose from the wrapping-strings; she stomped her foot, and smashed her toothies together.
She railed at the pot; she allow, "What ail you, you black Dickens? I believe you are the own brother to the Old Boy! You been fooling with me for the longest, and I ain't going to put up with it! I'm going to tame you down!" With that, she flung off the homespun sack what she been wearing and run out of the house and got the ax.
Her old man say, "Where you going, honey?"
She allow, "I'm a-going where I'm a-going, that's where I'm a-going!"
The man, he ain't respond to that kind of talk, and the woman, she went out in back yard for to hunt for the ax. Look like she going to keep on getting in trouble, 'cause the ax was on top of the wood what the man done pile up out there. The ax was on top of woodpile, and when it seed the woman coming, it just turned loose and slip down on the other side.
It weren't trying for to show off, like I've seed some folks 'fore now; it just turned loose everything and fell down on the other side of the woodpile. And whiles the woman was going round after it, the ask, it climbed back on top of the woodpile and fell off on the other side. Them what handed the tale down to me ain't say how long the woman and the ax keep this up, but if a ax is got eyes, it ain't got but one leg, and it must not've been so mighty long 'fore the woman catch up with it — and when she did she was so mad that she could've bit a railroad track in two, if there'd've been one anywhere's round there.
Well, she got the ax, and it look like she was madder than ever. The man, he say, "Better let the pot alone, honey; if you don't you'll surely wish you had've."
The woman, she squall out, "I'll let you alone if you fool with me, and if I do you won't never pester nobody no more."
Man, he say, "I'm a-telling you the truth, honey, and this may be the last chance you'll get to hear it."
The woman raise the ax like she going to hit the man, and then it look like she took another notion, and she start towards the pot.
The man, he allow, "You better hear me, honey! You better drop the ax and go out doors and cool yourself off, honey!" It seem like he was a mighty soft-spoken man, with nice feelings for all.
The woman, she say, "Don't you dares to honey me — if you does I'll brain you instead of the pot!"
The man smiled a long smile and shook his head; he say, "All the same, honey, you better pay attention to these last words I'm a-telling you!"
But the woman, she just keep right on. She'd've gone faster than what she did, but it look like the ax got heavier every step she took — heavier and heavier. And it look like the house got bigger — bigger and bigger; and it seem like the door got wider — wider and wider! She might've seed all this, and I expect she did, but she just keep right on, shaking the ax, and mouthing to herself. The man, he holler once more and for the last time, "Don't let Old Nick fool you, honey; if you does, he sure will get you!"
But she keep on and keep on, and the house got bigger and the door got wider. The pot see her coming, and it got from a-straddle of the fire where it had been sitting at, and skipped out the door and out in the yard.
The woman, look like she astonished, but her temper kept hot, and she run out after the pot with the ax as high as she can hold it; but the pot keep on going, skipping long on three legs faster than the woman can run on two; and the ax kept on getting heavier and heavier, till, by and by, the woman had to drop it. Then she lit out after the pot like she was running a foot-race, but fast as she run, the pot run faster.
The chase led right into the woods and down the spring branch, and away over yonder beyond the creek. The pot went so fast and it went so far that after while the woman begun to get weak. But the temper she had held her up for the longest, and more than that, every time she'd sort of slack up, the pot would dance and caper round on its three legs, and do like it's giving her a dare — and she keep a-going till she can't hardly go no further.
The man he stayed at the house, but the woman and the pot ain't get so far but what he can hear 'em scuffling and scrambling round in the bushes, and he sat there, he did, and look like he right sorry for anybody what's as hard-headed as the woman. But she look like she pleased to catch that pot. She say to herself that folks will never get done talking about her if she let herself be outdone by a old dinner-pot what been in the family ever since there been any family.
So she keep on, till she tripped up on a vine of the bamboo brier, and down she come! It seem like the pot seed her, and instead of running from her, here it come a-running right at her with a chunk of red fire. Oh, you can laugh, honey, and look like you don't believe me, but that ain't make no difference, 'cause the truth ain't never been hurted yet by them what ain't believe it. I don't know where the chunk of fire come from, and I don't know how the dinner-pot come to have motion, but there it is in the tale — take it or leave it, just as you please.
Well, sir, when the woman fell, the pot made at her with a chunk of red fire. The woman see it coming, and she sat up a squall that might've been heard a mile. She jump up, she did, but it seem like she was so weak and tired that she can't stand on her foots, and she start for to fall again, but the dinner-pot was there for to catch her when she fell. And that was the last that anybody ever is see of the hard-headed woman. Leastways, she ain't never come back to the house where the man was sitting at.
The pot, well, the way they got it in the tale is that the pot just laugh till it had to hold its sides for to keep from cracking open. It come a-hopping and a-skipping up the spring path. It hopped along, it did, till it come to the house, and it made a running jump in the door. Then it wash its face, and scrape the mud off of its foots, and wiped off the grease what the woman been too lazy for to clean off. Then it went to the fireplace, and kind of straddle out so it'll fit the bricks what been put there for it to sit on.
The man watch all this, but he ain't say nothing. After while he hear a mighty boiling and bubbling and when he went to look for to see what the matter, he see his supper cooking and after so long a time, he fish it out and eat it. He eat in peace, and after that he always had peace. And when you want to be hard-headed, and have you own way, you better bear in mind the woman and the dinner-pot.