THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED AN OWL
by Anne Virginia Culbertson
When the children got home from the nutting expedition
and had eaten supper, they sat around discontentedly,
wishing every few minutes that their mother had
"I wish mamma would come back," said Ned. "I never
know what to do in the evening when she isn't home."
"I 'low 'bout de bes' you-all kin do is ter lemme
putt you ter baid," said Aunt 'Phrony.
"Don't want to go to bed," "I'm not sleepy," "Want
to stay up," came in chorus from three pairs of lips.
"You chillen is wusser dan night owls," said the old
woman. "Ef you keeps on wid dis settin'-up-all-night
bizness, I boun' some er you gwine turn inter one'r
dese yer big, fussy owls wid yaller eyes styarin', jes'
de way li'l Mars Kit doin' dis ve'y minnit, tryin' ter
keep hisse'f awake. An' dat 'mines me uv a owl whar
turnt hisse'f inter a man, an' ef a owl kin do dat,
w'ats ter hinner one'r you-all turnin' inter a owl,
I lak ter know? So you bes' come 'long up ter baid,
an' ef you is right spry gettin' raidy, mebbe I'll
whu'l in an' tell you 'bout dat owl."
The little procession moved upstairs, Coonie, the
house-boy, bringing up the rear with an armful of
sticks and some fat splinters of lightwood, which
were soon blazing with an oily sputter. Coonie scented
a story, and his bullet pate was bent over the fire an
unnecessarily long time, as he blew valiant puffs upon
the flames which no longer needed his assistance, and
arranged and rearranged his skilfully piled sticks.
"Quit dat foolishness, nigger," said 'Phrony at last,
"an' set down on de ha'th an' 'have yo'se'f. Ef you
wanter stay, whyn't you sesso, stidder blowin' yo'se'f
black in de face? Now, den, ef y'all raidy, I gwine
"Dish yer w'at I gwine tell happen at de time er de
'ear w'en de Injuns wuz havin' der green-cawn darnse,
an' I reckon you-all 'bout ter ax me w'at dat is, so
I s'pose I mought ez well tell you. 'Long in Augus'
w'en de Injuns stopped wu'kkin' de cawn, w'at we call
'layin' by de crap,' den dey cu'd mos' times tell ef
'twuz gwineter be a good crap, so dey 'mence ter git
raidy fer de darnse nigh a month befo'han'. Dey went
ter de medincin' man an' axed him fer ter 'pint de
day. Den medincin' man he sont out runners ter tell
ev'b'dy, an' de runners dey kyar'd 'memb'ance-strings
wid knots tied all 'long 'em, an' give 'em ter de
people fer ter he'p 'em 'member. De folks dey'd cut
off a knot f'um de string each day, an' w'en de las'
one done cut off, den dey know de day fer de darnse
wuz come. An' de medincin' man he sont out hunters,
too, fer ter git game, an' mo' runners fer ter kyar'
hit ter de people so's't dey mought cook hit an' bring
"W'en de time come, de people ga'rred toge'rr an' de
medincin' man he tucken some er de new cawn an' some
uv all de craps an' burnt hit, befo' de people wuz
'lowed ter eat any. Atter de burnin', den he tucken
a year er cawn in one han' an' ax fer blessin's an'
good craps wid dat han', w'ile he raise up tu'rr han'
ter de storm an' de win' an' de hail an' baig 'em not
ter bring evil 'pun de people. Atter dat, dey all made
der bre'kfus' offen roas'in'-years er de new cawn an'
den de darnse begun an' lasted fo' days an' fo' nights;
de men dress' up in der bes' an' de gals wearin' gre't
rattles tied on der knees, dat shuk an' rattled wid
"De gal whar I gwine tell 'bout wuz on her way home
on de fo'th night, an' she wuz pow'ful tired, 'kase
dem rattles is monst'ous haivy, an' she bin keepin'
hit up fo' nights han' runnin'. She wuz gwine thu a
dark place in de woods w'en suddintly she seed a young
man all wrop up in a sof' gray blankit an' leanin'
'gins' a tree. His eyes wuz big an' roun' an' bright,
an' dey seemed ter bu'n lak fire. Dem eyes drord de
gal an' drord de gal 'twel she warn't 'feard no mo',
an' she come nearer, an' las' he putt out his arms
wrop up in de gray blanket an' drord her clost 'twel
she lean erg'in him, an' she look up in de big, bright
eyes an' she say, 'Whar is you, whar is you?' An' he
say, 'Oo-goo-coo, Oo-goo-coo.' Dat wuz de Churrykee
name fer 'owl,' but de gal ain' pay no 'tention ter
dat, for mos' er de Injun men wuz name' atter bu'ds
an' beas'eses an' sech ez dat. Atter dat she useter
go out ter de woods ev'y night ter see de young man,
an' she alluz sing out ter him, 'Whar is you, whar is
you?' an' he'd arnser, 'Oo-goo-coo, Oo-goo-coo.' Dat
wuz de on'ies wu'd he uver say, but de gal thought
'twuz all right, fer she done mek up her min' dat he
'longed ter nu'rr tribe er Injuns whar spoke diff'nt
f'um her own people. Sidesen dat, she love' him, an'
w'en gals is in love dey think ev'ything de man do is
jes' 'bout right, an' dese yer co'tin'-couples is no
gre't fer talkin,' nohow.
"De gal's daddy wuz daid an' her an' her mammy live all
'lone, so las' she mek up her min' dat it be heap mo'
handy ter have a man roun' de house, so she up an' tell
her mammy dat she done got ma'ied. Her mammy say, 'You
is, is you? Well, who de man?' De gal say 'Oo-goo-coo.'
'Well, den,' sez her mammy, 'I reckon you bes' bring
home dish yer Oo-goo-coo an' see ef we kain't mek him
useful. A li'l good game, now an' den, 'ud suit my mouf
right well. We ain' have nair' pusson ter do no huntin'
fer us sence yo' daddy died.'
"'Mammy,' sez de gal, 'I'se 'bleeged ter tell you dat
my husban' kain't speak ow' langwidge.'
"'All de better,' sez her mammy, sez she. 'Dar ain'
gwine be no trouble 'bout dat, 'kase I kin do talkin'
'nuff fer two, an' I ain' want one dese yer back-talkin'
"So de nex' night de gal went off an' comed back late
wid de young man. Her mammy ax him in an' gin him a
seat by de fire, an' dar he sot all wrop up in his
blinkit, wid his haid turnt 'way f'um de light, not
sayin' nuttin' ter nob'dy. An' de fire died down an'
de wind blewed mo'nful outside, an' dar he sot on an'
on, an' w'en de wimmins went ter sleep, dar he wuz
settin', still. But in de mawnin' w'en dey woked up
he wuz gone, an' dey ain' see hya'r ner hide uv 'im
"De nex' night he come erg'in and bringed a lot er
game wid 'im, an' he putt dat down at de do' an' set
hisse'f down by de fire an' stay dar, same ez befo',
not sayin' nair' wu'd. Dat kind er aggervex de gal's
mammy at las', 'kase she wuz one'r dese yer wimmins
whar no sooner gits w'at dey ax fer dan dey ain' kyare
'bout hit no mo.' She want son-in-law whar kain't talk,
she git him, an' den she want one whar kin arnser back.
She gittin' kind er jubous 'bout him, but she 'feared
ter say anything fer fear he quit an' she git no mo'
"Thu'd night he come onct mo' wid a passel er game,
an' she mighty cur'ous 'bout him by dat time. She
say ter husse'f, 'Well! ef I ain' got de curisomest
son-in-law in dese diggin's, den I miss de queschin.
I wunner w'at mek him set wid his face turnt f'um de
fire an' blinkin' his eyes all de time? I wunner w'y
he ain' nuver onloose dat blankit, an' w'y he g'longs
off 'fo' de daylight an' nuver comes back 'twel de
"'Oh, mammy,' sez de gal, sez she, 'ain' I tol' you
he kain't speak ow' langwidge, an' I 'spec' he done
come f'um dat wo'm kyountry whar we year tell 'bout,
'way off yonner, an' dat huccome he hatter keep his
blankit roun' him. I reckon he git so tired huntin'
all day, no wunner he hatter blink his eyes ter keep
"But her mammy wan't sassified, 'kase hit mighty hard
ter haid off one'r dese yer pryin' wimmins, so she go
outside an' ga'rr up some lightwood splinters an'
th'ow 'em on de fire, dis-away, all uv a suddint."
Here the old woman rose and threw on a handful of
lightwood, which blazed up with a great sputtering,
and in the strong light she stood before the fire
enacting the part of the scared Owl for the delighted
yet half-startled children.
"An' w'en she th'owed hit on," Aunt 'Phrony proceeded,
"de fire blaze an' spit an' sputter jes' lak dis do,
an' de ooman she fotched a yell an' cried out, she
did, 'Lan' er de mussiful! W'at cur'ous sort er wood
is dish yer dat ac' lak dis?' De Owl he wuz startle'
an' he look roun' suddint, dis-a-way, over his shoulder,
an' de wimmins dey let out a turr'ble screech, 'kase
dey seed 'twa'n't nuttin' but a big owl settin' dar
"Owl seed he wuz foun' out, an' he riz up an' give
his gre't, wide wings a big flop, lak dis, an' swoop
out de do' cryin' 'Oo-goo-coo! Oo-goo-coo!' ez he
flewed off inter de darkness." Here Aunt 'Phrony
spread her arms like wings and made a swoop half-way
across the room to the bedside of the startled children.
"An'," she continued, "de wind howl mo'nful all night
long, an' seem ter de gal an' her mammy lak 'twuz de
voice of po' Oo-goo-coo mo'nin' fer de gal he love."
"And didn't he ever come back?" said Ned.
"Naw, suh, dat he didn'. He wuz too 'shame' ter come
back, an' he bin so 'shame' er de trick uver sence
dat he hide hisse'f way in de daytime an' nuver come
out 'twel de dusk, an' den he go sweepin' an' swoopin'
'long on dem gre't big sof' wings, so quiet dat he
ain' mek de ghos' uv a soun', jes' looks lak a big
shadder flittin' roun' in de dusk. He teck dat time,
too, 'kase he know dat 'bout den de li'l fiel' mouses
an' sech ez dat comes out an' 'mences ter run roun',
an' woe be unter 'em ef dey meets up wid Mistah Owl;
deys a-goner, sho'."
"But how could they think an owl was a man?" asked
"Well, honey, de tale ain' tell dat, but I done study
hit out dis-a-way, dat mo'n likely de gal bin turnin'
up her nose at some young Injun man, an' outer spite
he done gone an' got some witch ter putt a spell on
her so's't de Owl 'ud look lak a man an' she 'ud go
an' th'ow husse'f away on a ol' no-kyount bu'd. Yas,
I reckon dat wuz 'bout de way. An' now y'all better
shet up dem peepers er you'll be gittin' lak de owls,
no good in de day time, an' wantin' ter be up an'
prowlin' all night."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~