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Wreath of Feathers

Pennsylvania, USA
October 1999

hen I was a young man growing up on a farm in rural Western Pennsylvania in the mid 1930's, we had an experience with these phenomenon, some call evil spirits.

It was mid-winter and there was an outbreak of what was then called influenza, in the town. Several of our neighbors had perished and it had been a dark and dismal winter. Just trying to find the chance to bury these victims was distressing, because the ground was frozen and undiggable. Most of these poor souls were loaded into a wagon and left in Dambaugh's barn until the weather would break.

My family of eleven, included my five sisters, and the four of us boys. Now in a family this size it is almost impossible to avoid some terrible outbreak completely, but in this year it seemed that we might be able to, by the grace of God.

But suddenly, on about the 5th of January, my sister Eldiva, the youngest of the girls, awoke in the morning with the dreaded symptoms.

For the first day, it seemed to be just any normal flu outbreak, but momma cared for her herself, not allowing any of the rest of us to get too near her, in case we to would fall victim to it. The second day she took a turn for the worse, and by the third day, Eldiva had a very high fever and was turning ghostly pale. Doctor Ziegler had made the arduous winter trip to our farm, from the town of Zelienople, but after leaving some medicine for momma to give her, he had to leave to get back to all of his other sick patients. He said that Eldiva had already passed the point of no return- and after being allowed to see her one last time-we all had to agree with him.

But momma refused to give up on her baby girl. She remembered the gossip she had heard in town last week about old Hattie Peytas. She was an old woman who lived on a very unkept and overgrown farm in the hills on the other side of town. The women were cackling about the fact that Hattie insisted that people weren't dying of influenza, but, rather from evil spirits that had taken up residence in our town. Hattie boasted that if she had been called instead of the doctor, she could have saved them. At the time mother found this amusing , but, now she was desperate, so she sent my brother Bob to bring old Hattie back.

As soon as she arrived Hattie ran to my sisters bedside.She pried open her eyelids and peered into her unresponsive soul. Then she lifted her limp hands and looked at her palms. She shut her eyes and when they reopened, she focused on the large feather pillow under Eldiva's head. We gasped as she quickly whisked the pillow out from under the girls head and took a knife from her bag and slit the pillow down the middle. Feathers filled the air but, Hattie still had her eyes glued to the now ripped pillow. "Look here", she said and we all leaned forward to see a circle of feathers, held together by an unknown source and bound in an almost perfect circle. Then Hattie raised her old, worn hand and ripped the circle apart. She told me and my brothers to gather up the feathers and all of the pillow and take them out back and burn them, until there was nothing left but ashes. And we did.

While we were gone, Sis says that Hattie checked all of our pillows for more feather wreaths, to no avail. When we returned, Eldiva's fever seemed to be dropping and color was beginning to come back to her face. Having convinced herself that there were no more evil spirits in our house, Hattie went outside and threw some kind of dust she had in her bag, all over the doors and windows of our house. Saying her work was done, she asked my mother for a handsome stipend, and then got back into the car for Bob to drive her back home.

The next day, Eldiva's fever broke completely. She went on to live a long, happy life. Mom later admitted that Hattie told her that if the wreath of feathers had closed to make a complete circle, Eldiva would have died. So from that night on we were convinced that old Hattie had saved our sister, and more convinced than ever, that old Hattie was a witch.

Pennsylvania, USA
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