Biggie and the Devil Diet - By Nancy Bell


I see the Angel of Death," Rosebud said, gesturing toward the afternoon sky with one big, black hand. "See her? Up yonder, settin' on a cloud." He pulled a cigar out of his pocket and slowly unwrapped it, then sniffed it, just as casual as could be, for all the world like he'd just made a comment on the weather. "Un-huh."

I looked at the sky, but all I could see was a pair of big thunderheads rising up like soapsuds behind the Muckleroy house.

Willie Mae dropped a just-peeled potato into the pan in her lap. "Humph," she said.

"Funny, I always thought the Angel of Death would be a man." Biggie sat in the swing next to Willie Mae, shelling peas. She nudged the porch floor with her toe to get the swing going. "Was she carrying a scythe, Rosebud?"

Rosebud held a kitchen match to the end of his cigar and puffed hard to keep it lit. "Nuh-uh," he said, "that there's the Grim Reaper. The Angel of Death looks just like any other angel."

"I'll bet you know a story about that, Rosebud." I looked up at him from where I was sitting on the porch steps. Rosebud has a story for just about every occasion.

Rosebud didn't answer. He was blowing smoke rings and watching them disappear in the slight breeze that rustled the leaves of the big pecan tree in front of the house.

I live with my grandmother, Biggie, in a big, white house on the corner of Elm Street and Sweet Gum Lane in Job's Crossing, Texas. Rosebud and Willie Mae live in their own little house in Biggie's backyard. I am thirteen and starting the eighth grade this fall. I have lived with Biggie since I was six. Before that, I lived with my parents in Dallas. My daddy owned his own business renting portable toilets to construction sites. My daddy died, and my mother, who is the nervous type, could not take care of an active child like me, so Biggie came and packed up my things and brought me here to live with her. Rosebud and Willie Mae came to us a year later. Willie Mae is a voodoo lady. Biggie is a very important person in town and is a charter member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, James Royce Wooten Chapter.

I sat for a while listening to the "pop-pop" of peas falling into the bowl and the occasional "thunk" of a peeled potato dropping into Willie Mae's pan.

"Biggie," I said, "tell about how Job's Crossing got its name."

"My soul, J.R. You've heard that a hundred times." She dropped a handful of pea hulls into the grocery sack at her feet.

"I'd like to hear it again." I know how much Biggie loves that story.

"Well, if you insist." She set her bowl on the swing beside her and commenced to speak. "It was back when Mr. Stephen F. Austin decided to bring a colony of settlers to Texas. My people all lived in Tennessee before that time. Your ancestor helped found the city of Knoxville. Did you know that, son?"

I nodded.

"Well." Biggie sat up straight in the swing and put her hands on her knees. Her little-bitty feet hung six inches above the floor. "So, my great-great— well, I can't remember how many 'greats' he was— grandfather, James Royce Wooten, set out from Tennessee to Texas to join Austin's colony down in central Texas. He was a brave man to make that trip alone, doncha know, and many hazards awaited him along the trail, from bandits to bears to hostile Indians."

"Golly," I said, thinking how the story got better every time Biggie told it.

"We Wootens have always had grit." Biggie reached for her glass of iced tea, which stood on the porch rail. She took a sip. "Grandpa James Royce wasn't afraid of man nor beast— but there was one thing he couldn't fight."

"What, Biggie?"

"Disease, that's what. A plague descended on that poor brave man so that he was unable to pursue his dream of joining Mr. Austin and his colony. But true to the Wooten character, when handed a lemon, my great-great— whatever— grandfather made lemonade."

"What kind of disease, Biggie?" I knew, but I also knew she wanted me to ask.

"Boils," Biggie said. "James Royce Wooten came down with a bad case of boils. You don't see that much in modern times, but back in the old days it wasn't an uncommon disease at all. Naturally, James Royce knew what to do. He doctored