Sunday Afternoon Rocking

I Once Knew a Mountain Woman

When we met, two worlds were destined to collide.and grow richer because of one another.

We sat alone on a summer night, gazing at the stars dusting the rich velvet of a mountain's sky, and she turned to me and said, "Why would you want to go to school now? You are married." Nothing in the realm of my experience at that point in my life had prepared me for such a notion as this.and I tried politely to cover my shock, and to explain why an education was so important to me. I had never had to explain that before. Perhaps she had never had to ask the question before.

She would ask that question again when I was a young mother with a career. "Why would you work now? You are a mother." And nothing I could explain about the times and necessity, about the reason for working, about the years of preparation or the dreams, could she understand. And as I grew older, I wondered if perhaps, just perhaps. She had been right.

The woman of another realm of experience was there every time I needed her. And I for her. I it was that she called to deliver her to the hospital for the birth of her own seventh child, and I who called her husband to tell him of the birth. "Birthing" was a time "of women". She hovered over me when I expected my own, warning me against sights or activities that might "mark the child", admonishing my husband to heed "cravings". I grew used to the superstitions, and at times, came to welcome them. A frantic young mother with a sick feverish child will not argue with a prayer cloth pinned to her child's night shirt, and she will grasp at homemade salves when drug stores are closed.

She spoke words long out of fashion and sprinkled her daily conversations with superstitions and thoughts that fascinated me, and I realized a link with a world fast disappearing from the mountains her ancestors had called home for two hundred years. I sat listening to her stories, writing down names, recording what she used only her mind to record. She did not understand why I would write, but she understood I would listen.

This woman who could neither read nor write amazed me in other ways as well. A bountiful meal she could prepare before I could plan a menu.and never use a recipe. She could remember dates, directions, names, events with astonishing clarity, and after a bit I came to understand that in compensation for her illiteracy she had developed an astonishing memory to take the place of what most of us depend upon our ability to read. I could not understand why one so handicapped would not understand nor value education. She could not understand why it was important.

I marveled at her ability to stay calm in the face of disaster, for it seemed to me that disaster courted this family, so different from what I had always known. I would wonder at what I perceived as a lack of planning or caring. I would ask myself time and again why a family did not reach for goals that would put such disasters out of the constant thread of their lives. Time and again, I would ask myself what it was in this woman that she seemed to "give up so easily".and then I would wonder if it was in fact a "giving up", a "resignation to fate." Was it I wondered at the manner in which she could so simply say, "I gave it to the Lord". I never fully knew the answer, or if it were a combination of all of those things.

She died much as she had lived. As a young woman, she had developed a serious disease, and all hope for her recovery was given up. When the doctors told her to prepare for death, she "gave it to the Lord". She promised Him, she told me, that if He would but allow her to live to see her children grown, the next time He called, she would be ready, and would go without a whimper. Her recovery was called a miracle, and the woman who entered the church doors unable to propel herself alone by any other means than crawling, stood and walked out on her own two feet that night. Seven children she raised, and the last born when she already had been a grandmother six times over. And when the last was raised, the Lord called. She received the news stoically, and remembered her long ago promise. She rejected life prolonging treatments, and the terminal disease did not take long to claim her. At the end, she reacted typically, and rejected the sterile and impersonal hospital environment in favor of her own bed in her own home. She would die with the strength and in the old fashioned manner in which she had lived, and in the only manner that she felt the "right way" to go. She told her children and her grandchildren that when the time came, they were to be there, young and old. It was right, she told them, that she die in her own bed with her family surrounding her, all of them. And so she did.

When we met, two worlds of two strong women were destined to collide. They collided without harsh words or ill feelings, without tears or anger.but they collided all the same. Never did she fully understand me or my world, but I think she came to appreciate that I was as strong as she, in a world fast taking the place of the one that she had spent all her days in. Never did I fully understand her, but I think knowing her, appreciating her.became a reason for my strength.


Copyright ©2000JanPhilpot



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