Heavenly Preaching & One Fine Funeral
A Negro Folktale
The Lord ain’t going let nobody get away
with no meanness. Sometimes it look like he ain’t paying no
mind to what happen, he let some folks get by so long. Then
again, don’t nobody know a person is up to no devilment till
the Lord put the sign of his vengeance on them. Yes, the Lord
moves in a mysterious way. But he do move.
Like it was with Addie Bell Henslee and her
brother Cass, the time Cass want to get married. Cass come home
this Friday night and say to Addie Bell, “Addie Bell, I going
get married with Josephine tomorrow week.”
Addie Bell don’t like that a-tall.
“What the name of God you talking about,
Cass? She say. “What ail you, you slim-limb brain, frizz-head
fool? You mean that lanky, haggy-looking Josie Foxhall? You
ain’t got no business marrying that dim yellow bat-face wench.
She’s so snotty she won’t speak to her own mama. You ain’t
got no business marrying nobody. You got all the womens you
wants rights here on North Central Street. Far as that go, you
got this Josie, too, so what for you want to marry her?”
“Josephine she think we ought to get
married,” Cass say. “It seems like the right thing to do.
And please, Addie, don’t call her Josie. You know how she like
for folks to call her her right name, Josephine.”
Addie Bell say, “Oh she do, do she?
Josephine, huh? Well I got a lots better names for her than
that. Just you wait till I sees her! I show will tell her a few
mouthfulls of something. That shriveled out, shrunk up, pale
faced hussy! She look like a frostbit pole bean. I swear I
believe you done plumb lost your mind, Cass.”
So they talk and they argue. They go on like
this for a long spell. And Addie bell she ask how come Cass
ain’t please to stay with her like he always done.
“Aint’t I always take good care of you
and provide for you good?”
she say. “Is you ever have to turn a lick of work, you
black weazled, monkey-face baboon? You the laziest Negro in
town. And ain’t I always keep up insurance on you to bury you
good? Ain’t never a week I fails to pay your quarter benefits
long with mine. And now when you is getting so old you almost
dead anyway, you wants to go and get married! Old age done smite
you in the head, Cass. You done gone and got soft in the
Cass say, “That just what I want to talk to you
about, Addie. About the insurance, I mean. A man’s wife is due
and bound to get his insurance, Addie. Everybody know that. I
done tell Josephine I knowed you won’t mind, to make her the
“You what?” Addie Bell say. “You tell
her you knowed I won’t mind? I see you toasting on a pitchfork
in hell before I sees that dough-face slut collect any insurance
that I paid the benefits on.”
Cass don’t get much sleep that night. Addie Bell take on something awful. Ever once in a while she let up
and Cass figure she about wore out now. He say to himself, she
bound to quit now. Then she start in again twice as strong.
Cass turn over on the bed and stuff the
bedclothes in his ears, but he can’t shut out Addie Bell. It
go on this way all night long and Cass can’t stand it much
longer. Soon as gray begin to crack in the sky he get up and
leave the house.
Cass sneak in pretty late that night and the
next few days he lay low. But Addie Bell ain’t say no more
about Cass getting married. So along Monday or Tuesday Cass get
up his nerve and mention the insurance again.
He say, “Josephine and me aiming to get
married this coming Saturday, Addie. I sure do hope you has
decided to fix up that insurance all right?”
Addie Bell say yes, she done study and decide
Cass is right. She say she made the insurance over soon as Cass
and Josie get married.
So the insurance man come around that
Wednesday to collect the benefit. And Addie Bell double Cass’
insurance. So now it cost fifty cents a week where it only cost
twenty-five. But Addie Bell know that the last time she have to
pay the benefits.
Friday night Addie Bell fix Cass a sure
enough fine supper. She say, “Cass, this is the last time I
get to cook for you, so I wants you to enjoy and remember it. I
done fix everything you likes best. There’s the likeliest mess
of turnip greens you ever see, cook with a whole hog jowl and
plenty of poke salad mixed in. And corn pone and buttermilk to
go along. And there’s oodles of fried chicken, cooked all
crunchy and brown like you likes it. And a big pot of black-eyed
peas with the hot pepper chow-chow you likes. I do hope you
likes it, Cass.”
Cass like it, all right. That Cass was one
man relish eating. He eat like a old black Betsy sow with ten
new pigs. He clean the table off.
Addie Bell ain’t eat none herself. She just
stand by and wait on Cass. “Have some more poke salad,
Cass,” she say. “Let me pour you some more buttermilk. And
there’s a sweet tater pie for desert. I wants you to eat
Cass eat hearty, all right. He shoveled it in
like the Negro firemens stoking the Robert E. Lee.
About half hour after supper Cass sit in the
front stoop smoking his old corn cob. All to once he grab his
belly and bend up plumb double. He fall out of the chair and
commence to hollow till all the Negroes on North Central Street
heard him and come a-running. “Oh, Addie, honey, I’m
a-dying! Oh, Addie, call the doctor quick!”
“Hush your mouth, you fool no-good
Negro!” Addie Bell say. “Ain’t nothing the matter with you
except you done made a hog of yourself. You plain done eat too
much. You ain’t need a doctor no more than I does.”
But Cass he done died by time the last Negro
get there from the far end of North Central Street. So they lay
Cass out on the bed and put some money pieces on his eyelids.
They turn the mirror and pictures to the wall. Some of them
start to moan.
“Poor Cass!” they say. “Poor Cass, you
gone and left us. Done gone and left poor Addie. Done gone and
left poor Josie. Poor Cass, poor Cass, done gone to meet Sweet
Some of them whispers and say, “Poor Cass
sure do die hard. That look bad for Addie. Cass come back and
haint her, sure.”
But Addie Bell ain’t seem much upset. When
she see Cass done plumb dead she call the insurance doctor. So
the doctor come and look at Cass and he say Cass is dead.
So he ask Addie some questions about Cass and
how old he is and how he die. And he fill out the papers to say
Cass die with acute indigestion, which mean with a god-awful
When the doctor leave, Addie Bell call the
undertaker and they lay Cass out for burying. They wrap Cass up
in winding sheets and lay him out on the cooling board. Addie
Bell tell the undertaker to do the funeral up in high style,
cause she get twice as much insurance as usual. She say she want
Cass to have the biggest and best funeral North Central Street
Then Addie Bell call some regular moaners to
come in and help them moan. And now Addie Bell got the business
all done, so she start in to moan herself. She carry on more
Some of them say this look funny. “How
come?” they say to one another, “Addie Bell ain’t put out
till now. She ain’t seem much broke up at first, and now she
moan louder than anybody.”
“That ain’t all look funny,” say some
others. “How come Cass die on this Friday? Just when he about
to get married tomorrow? And Addie Bell don’t seem no bit
surprised when he die. There’s something someway peculiar.”
So they talk to one another, but Addie Bell
ain’t take no notice And when Josie Foxhall come in, Addie
kiss her and call her, “Poor honey.” And each cry down the
other one’s neck.
The Negroes come in from near and far to set
up with the corpse and help moan. They bring plenty white corn
to keep wakeful and they moan for three nights and two days.
On the third day they hold Cass’ funeral.
Negroes come from all over and the church house was plumb packed
full. When you stand off a piece and look at it, the walls looks
like they bulge out. There was old Negroes, young Negroes, rich
Negroes, poor Negroes, near Negroes, far Negroes, and a lots
that just plain Negroes. And some of them sad and some of them
glad, but all of them pretty well drunk. There’s more Negroes
and autos on hand than North Central Street ever see. That sure
is a fine funeral.
Out in the church yard the grave is dug, six
foot deep and six long. And a awning spread overhead to keep it
dry if it rain. And a striped canopy awning from the church door
out to the street. But ain’t no cloud in the sky, and the June
sun shine like a wash day fire. Sure is a fine day for the
Inside the church house there so many Negroes
don’t look like there’s room for the corpse. But Cass lying
there right up front in a satin-lined coffin with gold handles.
And the ferns and flowers stack waist deep all around. That sure
is a mighty fine funeral.
So the preacher get up and they sing some
hymns and they sure do sing them sweet. The window panes rattle
and the shingles shake and the whole church house creak and
Then the preacher commence to pray and he
pray for mo than a hour. This preacher name Brother Bumpas and
he sure can pray and preach. Then they all sing another hymn,
and the preacher commence to preach. And he preach all about
“Brethern and sisters,” he say, “we
ought all of us think about Heaven, but most of the time we
don’t. But when the Lord call one among us, then we should
stop and study about it.
“And now that Cass is in Heaven, we wonder
what do he find there? I tell you brethren and sisters, he find
it a wondrous place.
“When Cass enter them pearly gates,
amazement done seize upon him. He find it a land some ways like
the earth, only a lot more prettier. Like the prettiest place on
this earth, only a lot more prettier.
“Now consider these flowers and ferns,”
he say, “that stack all about Cass’ coffin. Do Cass find
flowers like these in heaven? Well, he do and he don’t. Fine
as these flowers here is, they don’t hold a nubbin to them
that’s in heaven. There is ferns and flowers and shrubs
that’s bigger and greener than any on this earth. Cass he see
roses and flowers, flowers and roses. He see red rose, pink
roses, yaller roses, white roses, he even see green and blue
roses. He see roses that’s spotted all colors, like the
fantail peacock’s feathers.
“He see birds and beasts about him of every
sort and conditions. He see lambs and dogs, and hawks and doves,
and love birds and lions all about him. And they is all friends
with one another and friends with the peoples likewise. The
fleas and the skeeters don’t bite and they ain’t bedbugs
a-tall. Everything in heaven is just like Cass like it, only a
whole lot more so.
Brother Bumpas say Cass get his reward for
the good life he led on this earth. He tell what a fine place
Heaven is and what a good time Cass have there.
He say, “Cass ain’t got no troubles of no
kind, now that he is in heaven. There ain’t no wars in heaven
and there ain’t no sweetheart troubles. There ain’t no work
to do and there ain’t no bills to pay. And there ain’t no
taxes neither, and likewise no stinky smells.
“All times the weather just right, so
don’t nobody talk none about it. It don’t rain, nor thunder,
nor lightning, nor snow, but there’s always plenty of water.
“Don’t nobody notice the time, cause in
heaven time just stand still. Say Cass take his self a catnap.
Maybe so he sleep ten million years but it just like he doze for
ten minutes. He wake up with his friends close about him. Then
might be eat him some breakfast. A few pork chops, maybe, or
maybe fried chicken, with coffee and preserves and hot biscuits.
Or anything else he might like. All this he get and lots more,
cause he live for the Lord on this earth.”
Brother Bumpas say Cass always is been a
mighty man at the praying.
“In heaven,” he say, “there’s no
praying. The Lord don’t never pray, cause He got nobody to
pray to. We don’t pray no more, cause there ain’t no sin no
longer. And we don’t have to go to no church.
“But while we is on this earth it behoove
us to meet and pray mightily. That way we can all get to heaven.
O brethren, oh sisters, I tell you, that heaven’s a sweet
place to be!
“Cass will be there to greet us and all
them that’s gone before him. And the Lord and the angels will
sing and all of us join in the singing.”
So Brother Bumpas preach, and he preach for
more than three hours. It sure was a mighty fine preaching.
And now the preaching is done and they most
ready to put Cass away. They stand up to sing the last hymn, and
Addie Bell go up to lead. She stand there right beside Cass. She
close to the pulpit, right under the organ loft. She commences
to sing “Steal Away.”
Addie Bell singing sweet, sure enough. She
more than a little bit tight, holding to the coffin with one
hand and swaying like a sycamore sapling. The organ is bumbling
and grumbling and Addie Bell singing so sweet. The others all
singing too, and stomping they feets, slow like. The whole
church house creaking and groaning.
And then all to once it give way. The church
house floor spread apart and the rafters crack and bust loose.
The walls commence to swag in and the roof shingles cracking
apart. The whole organ loft sway out from the wall.
Then the organ bust loose and fall. It just
miss the coffin, it just miss the pulpit. Right smack on Addie
it fall and squash her totally flat.
And that lick finish the house. On through
the floor do the organ. Organ, pulpit, coffin and all, on down
to the ground dirt, eight foot below. The whole floor bust plumb
loose and everybody fall eight foot to the ground. And the
rafters cave in about them.
The coffin hit the ground with a smack. It
bust open and fling Cass out. There he sit with his eyes wide
open, prop up against one of the high stilt posts that’s
suppose to hold the floor up. He staring right at Addie Bell.
And one of his arms fling straight out in from of him, pointing
right at her. Addie Bell deader than Cass is now, squash totally
flat by the organ. And nobody else ain’t hurt.
So after that, folks all know. They all know
Addie bell poison Cass so he can’t marry Josephine Foxhall.
Addie Bell done poison Cass and the Lord strike her dead for her
But that sure was one fine funeral. The
Negroes on North Central Street ain’t never forget it till
Source: Tennessee Writers' Project. God Bless the Devil:
Liar's Bench Tales by James R. Aswell, etal. University of Tennessee
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time it took to complete the research was much
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