Currituck County Tales and Legends

Miss Emmaline
Contributed by Robert Etheridge

      Everyone liked and respected Miss Emmaline, but no one knew exactly where she came from. When asked about her origin she would just reply, “Someplace around Meckibun” and that was all she knew. Most folks believed that she was speaking of Mecklenburg County, close to Charlotte.
      It was said that she traveled to Currituck many years before in search of a son who had been sold to a landowner and had stayed in the area after emancipation in 1865. But she never found her son and decided that she would just settle where she stood. She had been a “house servant” in the old society and had learned all of the skills required in the domestic area including sewing. She was known to be the best seamstress in the county.
      She did domestic work for many families and her services were much in demand. Most of her services were paid for in trade because in those reconstruction years few had cash. When someone was able to pay her cash, she carefully squirreled it away and after several years, was able to buy a small plot of land with a very small one-room house on it. In this she spent all of her remaining years.
     In age she was not young, but she also was not old. She was in an advanced middle age. Her health was excellent. She walked everywhere to her jobs and always had a cheerful disposition and a ready laugh. Her attitude was contagious and everyone walked away after meeting her, feeling better than they had.
      It was not at all unusual for Miss Emmaline to walk ten miles to a job, work until nearly dark and then walk back home again before darkness. She walked briskly and never complained about common ailments that seem to afflict most of us when we turn sixty. It was, therefore, a dreadful shock when Miss Emmaline, upon arriving one morning at a farmhouse for a day's work, suddenly put her hand to her head, moaned and fell down dead upon the ground!
     The farmer's wife screamed and the farmer came out and saw immediately what had happened. Nonetheless he sent his son running for the doctor who happened to be on the next farm. When the doctor arrived, he confirmed what all had thought. Miss Emmaline had died from a sudden attack—possibly a stroke.
      Word spread rapidly over the county. Everyone was distraught. All knew that things would just not be the same without that cheerful smile to warm the coldest day. Without exception, both black and white communities were stunned and saddened.
     Her body was taken back to her house. In those days there was no embalming such as we have today and this was especially true in a poor rural community. Instead the body was cleansed, balms and ointments applied and many flowers were brought into the room. She was laid on her small cot for three days and different folks came in to “sit up” during the day and night. Everything appeared to be normal except Miss Emmaline never seemed to “stiffen up” like most corpses did. But older folks said that was not all that unusual and the fact that Miss Emmaline was “keeping” so well probably explained that phenomenon.
     On the day of the funeral, Miss Emmaline was placed in a pine coffin, which had been lovingly built. It was put on a cart drawn by a beautiful black horse and taken to the little AME church that she attended. Miss Emmaline had never traveled in such style!
      The church was full of both black and white folks and the crowd overflowed onto the front lawn. It was summer so those outside could hear the service through the open windows.
      The congregation sang a hymn. Several folks got up and spoke moving testimonials about Miss Emmaline and recited various incidents in her life that proved what sort of wonderful person she was. Mr. Elijah Sandoval delivered a moving rendition of “Going Home”. There was not a dry eye in the church or the churchyard either.
      And then the minister rose and began the eulogy. He had a deep resonating voice and, except for an occasional sniffle, there was silence in the church. Everyone wanted to hear the minister's comments. He spoke of Miss Emmaline's goodness and had just spoken of the day when this dear soul will “rise up” when a voice said, “What is going on here?”  Pandemonium reigned in the little building because the voice belonged to Miss Emmaline, who had indeed “risen up” and was looking out over the church! Four or five women and one man fainted dead away. The rest made a mad rush for the front door of the church. Some made it outside, but others were log jammed against each other and were wedged tight. Those closest to the windows climbed out and ran. One of these was Mr. Elijah Sandoval. Mr. Sandoval was a man of great girth and when he went through the window, a portion of the sash came loose and somehow became attached to his back. He was seen running and screaming across a nearby field. Each time he took a stride the sash would hit him on the back. Apparently he thought that Miss Emmaline was after him because he kept yelling, “Let me go! Let me go! I ain't done nothing to you!”
      Finally the minister and a few others, including the doctor, gained control of themselves and approached Miss Emmaline. Assuring themselves that she was actually alive, they helped her out of the coffin. The doctor examined her and pronounced her alive and very well. Apparently she had been in the grip of some sort of catatonic fit that gave the appearance of death.
      The doctor was busy that afternoon. There were numerous cuts and scratches to mend as well as sedatives to administer. When he was through at the church, he went across the field where Mr. Elijah Sandoval had stopped under a tree due to exhaustion. He had a cut on the back of his neck where a nail from the sash had caught, but otherwise he was fine and was delighted to know that Miss Emmaline was not a ghost!
     Miss Emmaline walked back to her home after saying kind words to everyone and telling them that she hoped she had not caused them distress. She examined her coffin and requested that it be brought to her house where she used it for years as a table. “When my time comes, you can put me back in there—but be sure I'm really gone!”
      She lived for a great many years after that day and outlived a good many of the folks who were at her “funeral”—including Mr. Elijah Sandoval.

© 2005
Marty Holland