SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Rosa Belle's Death Vigil, Angel Choir And Other Omens

By Bob Weaver

In my lifetime Hurite James Hollis Kerby was the most superstitious man, with well-grained beliefs in every matter of things to be seen or heard strangely, and things unseen.

In the late 1940s, when I was eight years old, my mother took me by the hand to travel out the Kerby Ridge to my first-ever death vigil, Hollis' wife Rosa Belle was dying.

Neighbors at that time went to houses to sit with the ailing and dying, and it was Rosa Belle's time.

The two-story jenny-lind house was dark, slightly brightened by oil lamps. The woman was reclining in her bed and gasping for breath, while a circle of people hovered around, while others sat on the porch chatting quietly.

Hollis announced her death was imminent because he had been trying to listen to a program on his battery operated AM radio. When the signal faded away to be replaced by the voices of a heavenly choir that sounded like angels. He knew the crossing was near.

All the mirrors were covered with cloths. This was to prevent the deceased soul from getting trapped in the mirror, a practice from ancient cultures. God forbid the breaking of a mirror, predicting seven years of bad luck.

Hollis related the appearance of omens that presented themselves days before. One was a shadowy figure that drifted around his corn patch that made strange gurgling noises, causing the dogs to bark fiercely.

Another had to do with the disappearance of water from the water bucket. Hollis explained it was an omen of death, the disappearance of life-giving water.

He sat in his rocking chair reading various scriptures.

Rosa died and the neighbor women cleansed her body for the arrival of the undertaker.

Over the years, neighborhood men and boys had entertained themselves by creating ghostly apparitions and wild animal sounds to scare Hollis, who was deathly afraid of panthers.

Some years later, with the help of my buddy Ronzel Lynch, imbued with the devil of dubious excitement (you had to make your own entertainment), we joined in the teasing.

Hollis, every Wednesday night in the 1950s, walked out the Kerby Ridge to the McCoy Store, carrying his lantern for his return after dark.

My buddy and I rigged a cumbersome two-way radio in a tree along the Kerby Ridge, a forerunner to walkie-talkies.

Hiding over the road bank as Hollis returned, we uttered a few "words from God," at which time Hollis broke into a full run, his lantern wildly swinging, headed for his house.

I am now grateful that Hollis had a strong heart and survived the episode.

Years later, when Hollis was on his deathbed in the Village of Hur.I slightly redeemed myself, at the request of his daughter, and brought oxygen to the dying man during his last hours.

He will be remembered as king of the superstitious mind and his frequent accounts of incubus and spirits in the greater woods and valleys of the village.