Preface: Grandma Gussie and the Parboiled Cat

MY GRANDMOTHER WAS TOUGH AS NAILS. About five foot, bow-legged, always carried a switchblade in her sock. And she dipped snuff. When Grandma was older, I would make it a point to visit her, really talk with her.

Whenever I was heading that way to see her, to relax her I'd bring a bottle of MD 20/20, which was some wine, and some snuff. You know, just to say hello to Grandma. She was around in her early eighties when I'd go and sit with her. We just talked. We called it telling each other lies.

One day I was sitting and talking to Grandma. I said, “Grandma, tell me about your family.” She says, “You know what? When I was a little girl, I had a uncle, his name was Uncle Rubin. Uncle Rubin knew some tricks.”

I said, “What kind of tricks, Grandma?”

She said, “One time I seen Uncle Rubin disappear. I must have been about eight or nine or ten when it happened. Back then when they used to wash clothes, they called it parboiling. They put the clothes in a big black pot over a fire, and just kind of heated them up and washed them.

“One day I was out there washing those clothes. Uncle Rubin was going to dump the water out of that pot. He was going to put some fresh water in it. He asked me if I knew of any black cats. I said, “I know some black cats, Uncle Rubin, but they're kind of kittens.” He said, “You go find me a cat, but make sure there's no white on him nowhere.”

“Those cats wasn't our cats, but I went and got Uncle Rubin a cat. When I got the cat back, Uncle Rubin just grabbed that cat and threw him in the water, that boiling water.” She said, “I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe he did that.”

She said, “Uncle Rubin took all the bones from that cat, and he commenced to sucking on them. And he told me, he said, 'Gussie, now when you can't see me anymore, you nod your head.' And Uncle Rubin just started taking these different bones, sucking on them bones. And I seen my Uncle Rubin disappear.”

There's also an old blues song that says, “I got my black cat bone.” I had always heard that, but I never knew what it meant.

I said, “Grandma, are you serious?”

She said, “Son, I ain't got no reason to lie to you.”