from Moonshine and Mountaintops, A Living History of Northeast Tennessee
The Day the Big Red Wasp Brought Down the Holy Ghost
By Virginia Wilson of White Pine, Tennessee
Hi, my name is Jenny.
This is all about me, not a story or fiction, but all true.
I was born in 1947, back in the hills of East Tennessee in a 3-room cabin that my Grandfather built and raised his family in. It was made from logs he cut. They were put together with clay mud and wooden pegs. We were, as my mom used to say, “Poor as old Jobe's turkey.” But we didn’t know it because everyone else was too. We were happy our cabin walls were covered with the Knoxville Journal someone had given us. You could see the ground beneath the house through the cracks in the floor.
We had an old potbelly stove we used in the wintertime. We even used it to cook beans and fried corn cakes and whatever else we could. Sometimes if the fire went out at night ice would freeze in the water bucket. It’s a good thing we had feather mattresses and plenty of quilts not comforters.
My mom canned and dried all our food from the garden we raised. We had five chickens and a hog. My clothes were made from flour sacks my mom sewed together. They had pretty flowers or designs on therm. She made sheets, towels, and other linens from the white hog food bags. Sometimes your shirt would have a cow or pig on it. She caught water in big wooden barrels to wash clothes and do dishes. We carried water for cooking and drinking. The spring was about a mile away. She made her own lye soap and washed on a washboard and a big tub and boiled our white clothes in a big kettle in the back yard. They were snow white and didn’t need any bleach. I didn’t go to school much because I had to walk so far to catch the bus, especially in wintertime when it was real cold. I only had two pairs of shoes, one for school, and one for church. My father worked at a sawmill and stayed there all week at the camp. We didn’t have a car.
At night, we used what you called a pee bucket. If you had to poop, you took the lantern or flashlight to the outhouse. I hated it when I had to go at night. The family graveyard was only a few feet from the back of the cabin. I was scared to death. I could imagine seeing a ghost or hearing something with all the night sounds.
I played in the woods. The dogs and cats were mostly my playmates. Grapevines were my swings until my mom found out. She was afraid I would get hurt and had it cut down. My heart was broken.
We hardly ever went to the doctor. My mom was the doc at our house. I can remember getting a splinter in my toe. She sat on me and did her surgery with a knife to get it out and used kerosene for disinfectant. She tied a white cloth around it and I was ready to go after all the screaming and crying. If anyone in the neighborhood got sick, they would come for her. She made our cough syrup from moonshine and honey and used onion poultices for congestion. She would give turpentine and sugar for pinworms and blackdraught syrup to run things out. She has even delivered babies if the midwife or doc couldn’t get there.
The only entertainment was an old battery radio. We weren’t allowed to listen too much of anything because my dad saved it for the Grand Old Opry on Saturday night. I can’t remember what year it was but we were listening when they announced that Hank Williams had passed away. We all cried for days about it. I hope someone enjoys what I’ve written because it’s all the truth. Thanks, I’ve enjoyed it.
I was about 15; the church where I was a member was holding a revival. This church was what we called hard core Baptist. They didn’t believe in music of any kind in the church. It was August. The church had electricity but no plumbing or air conditioning. All the windows were up, no screens on them.
I made sure I sat next to the window. That day everyone was using a hand fan from some funeral home because it sure was hot that day. The house was full, it seems like two or three preachers were preaching at the same time.
All of a sudden, this big red wasp came flying through the window and took aim right down the back of my dress. This sucker was eating and stinging me alive. I didn’t know what to do, so I jumped to my feet, jumping around, shaking, jerking, and hollering “Oh My God! Oh My God!”
This one preacher says “Bless you, Sister, Praise the Lord!” All of a sudden, people were shouting and testifying all over the church and coming to hug me. This hugging was causing the wasp to sting more. I finally made my way down the aisle and ran out the front door. My friend ran out behind me all the way to the outside john. She said, “What in the world happened to you?” I said, “Just help me get this wasp out!”
I don’t know if those people thought the devil was after me or I had received the Holy Ghost. So that’s the truth about me and the big red wasp.
I know he really got the church to moving that day. (They have modern facilities now but still no music)