Natchez, Mississippi-Spring 1879
The washerwoman my grandmother knew let me study at her feet. I never knew her real name, but I heard my grandmother call her ‘Sister Anne’. My grandmother said she was the best one to go to if I ever had a baby. She could tell if the baby was a boy by the way a Mama stood, or a girl by how much a Mama slept. I knew that the best way to get the woman that set them wolves after my Daddy, was to get in her house.
Sister Ann told me the best way to make ‘them folk’ as she called White people, was to ‘be low.’ She was doing her needlework on a dress for her daughter when she told me this. Her eyes never left her work, either. “Dey some ole monsters.” she said. “If you be low, act like yuh don’t know nuthin. Can’t do nuthin.” She looked back at her calico dress. “Den don’t nuthin happen to yuh.” She looked out at the trees and setting sun. “I caught babies fuh dem people since I was yuh age, Tally.” She took a deep breath, looking like she was hiding from hants. “Some time, Tally, the best way to be low is catch dem youngins.” She went back to her needling, more careful than before. “If yuh catch dem, Tally, they wont lookatchu like dey do dem otha ones.”
I sat there, still and quiet like water. I kept my eyes on her. I thought about everything she had told me. I swallowed hard, couldn’t catch my breath. I forced the words through my mouth. “Sister Anne?” Silence. “Teach me all you know.” Sister Anne kept needling. her shoulders rising and falling with her breath, the blue of her dress pulling her shoulders up and down. “Mmph.” her stitch pulling all the way through, her hand shaking. “Come in the morning.” I looked at the shaking white string. “Brang something to dig wit.”
I watched her finish her patch, and watched her go in her cabin. Her steps were slow and she leaned against the door frame. I fought the thought of going to help her. Sister Anne hated people to try and help her. My grandmother told me Sister Anne had worked in the field with her, and she had run from a plantation in L’sana. The talk was she had killed her master after he tried to take her sister as a bed wench. If anybody knew how to be low, it was Sister Anne.
She was bout to teach me all she knew.