The Pineywoods Manifesto: A grounded view on death

Curt and his mom, Mary Iles, in her home. The Bill Iles painting, “Doten at The Old House” hangs in background. Theodosia “Doten” Iles was my paternal great-grandmother. Doten’s stories comprise the basis of much of my piney woods philosophy of life. Much of my life philosophy comes from the example of my parents, Clayton and Mary Iles. It’s good to have deep roots.



A word from Curt

I’m blogging a new non-fiction project entitled, The Pineywoods Manifesto: Field Notes on the Full Life.

Although I’m writing it primarily for my four grandsons, I’m also thinking about the values and qualities we cherish in the part of western Louisiana we call “The Pineywoods.”

Today’s lesson chapter involved a grounded worldview on something that is as real as life: death.  There are two statements my great-grandmother made as she died that have shaped my view and given me great comfort.

I hope you’re touched by this remarkable story from a remarkable woman.

You can scroll down to read earlier posted chapters of The Pineywoods Manifesto.


An enduring lesson and legacy left for me.

Doten, playing fiddle, with her son Lloyd Iles on “handsaw” and granddaughter Margie Nell on the piano. Dry Creek Old House circa 1950


Her name was Theodosia Wagnon Iles, but we called her “Doten.”

She was my paternal great-mother.

Her parents homesteaded the land our family still lives on.

Doten’s lessons were many:

Never harm a lizard. They’re our friends at this old house.

“Don’t cut down a scrub oak. Those blackjack oaks are a native tree as much as the longleafs. They’re not pretty, but they’re part of our land.”

“Baby, you better get a sweater on, you’ll catch cold.”

I never understood her obsession with children getting sick until one day I stood in the old part of the cemetery and saw how nearly every adult grave was surrounded by several small graves.

“Honey, don’t play near that chimney. There might be a rattlesnake pilot** there.”

But her best lesson was her dying words.

Doten had a life‑long fear of death. All of my older relatives spoke of it. They said she lived with a great dread of dying throughout her eighty plus years.


My great-grandmother, Theodosia Wagnon Iles, with her sister Lou Wagnon and their mother, Sarah Lyles Wagnon. Dry Creek Old House circa 1910


Cancer runs in my family. Doten, dying of cancer, was placed in the Beauregard Baptist Hospital in DeRidder.   My father, who was there on her dying day, shared two statements about her dying moment.

“All of my life I’ve dreaded this moment. And now that it’s here, it’s not that bad at all,” she said.

A few minutes later, she tried to rise up in the bed, lifted her arms and said, “I see Jesus and I can nearly touch him.”

Within minutes, she died.

Her two statements stuck in my seven-year-old mind.

Fifty plus years later, they’re still there.

Doten lived her life in fear of something we all must face… and something we need not fear when we are prepared.

When that time came, she did not face it alone but with Jesus.

Others may surmise she had a hallucination, but I simply believe she realized she was stepping over into another life.

I believe every word of the Bible about life after death. Additionally, I have the deathbed testimony of my great grandmother. I believe it too.

I’ve built my life on the words of the one she trusted. Jesus. Each time, death has brushed up against my life, I hear his words at the grave of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

John 11:25‑26


Doten, thanks for cementing my view of death and everlasting life in Jesus.

You lived much of your life in fear of death, but thanks to your final earthly words, I’ve neared feared it. Thank you.

Yes, one’s great-grandparent’s best lesson was about life (see yesterday’s blog about what Doten’s husband, Pa, taught me about anger

And the other’s was about death.

Lord, I thank you for my roots.

Lord, I want to leave those same enduring footprints on the life road of my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Help me, Lord.

May my words be few but wise.

May I seize each opportunity to set an example

Of the things that really matter.

And as always, remind me

that those things that matter aren’t really things.

They’re lessons.

They’re words.

They’re stories.

Thanks for calling me to be a storyteller.

Help me not to miss the stories and lessons I yet have to learn. Amen.

Curt and Colleen Iles with our great-grandmother, Theodosia Wagnon Iles. Circa 1964


**”Rattlesnake Pilot” is an archaic term for the Copperhead.   It is a term I heard as a boy but haven’t read/heard it in years.  It comes from the fact that the mountain (hibernation) dens of rattlesnakes often contained copperheads. Legend was that these copperhead snakes guided “or piloted” the rattlesnakes.

Old-timers feared that any sighting of a copperhead could mean a rattler is nearby.

My Louisiana ancestors, who migrated south and west from the Carolinas and Georgia, brought this mountain term with them.


“Doten at the Old House” by Bill Iles.

My favorite Bill Iles painting, “Doten at Old House,” hangs in the home of my parents.

Earlier Chapters from The Pineywoods Manifesto.  All can be found at


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