The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Sisters

By Patti Perry-Armes © 2015

Online: May, 2015

(Editor's Note: Patti Perry-Armes lives in the country, just outside Knoxville, Tennessee. She enjoys writing short stories, particularly about rural life and living in the Appalachian region. A number of her stories have been published in anthologies, and both print and internet magazines.)

Protruding branches grabbed like outstretched arms, as I made my way down the well-worn wooded path. It seemed they did, at least to a little girl of six. Sometimes I ran from their grasp, but more often, I pretended to be Little Red Riding Hood, on her way to grandmother's house. Because I was usually carrying a basket of fresh baked goodies, the role seemed to fit. Mama often sent me to visit the sisters and take them goodies. They lived just a short distance through the woods, but it seemed such a long way. I was an only child without any neighborhood children to fill my days, so a visit was always a treat. And they always made me feel so grown-up.

The sisters lived alone and neither had married. They had taken care of their mother for most of their lives, until her death. There just hadn't been time for suitors. They seemed so old to me with snow white hair and thin wrinkly skin, browned while working in the garden. In reality, they were probably only in their early sixties.

They were always so pleased to see me and made such a fuss over my delivery, making me feel like an honored guest. Mama always sent extra, because she knew how much I enjoyed partaking in this dessert picnic. Miss Clare, the oldest, would always take charge of pouring each of us a glass of cold milk from an old crock pitcher; reminding us that it was fresh from the morning's milking. Miss Grace would take out the china plates with little pink roses, faded from time. We would gather round their small white table, taking a minute to thank God for our blessings, before savoring our delicacies.

It seemed there was always something cooking at their house and scents of fresh bread or the morning's country ham evident. It mingled with the other household scents of moth balls and wood smoke. They cooked in an old woodstove, and usually did all of the day's cooking, in the morning, before the day became too hot; smells that I can still close my eyes and recall.

We would sometimes retire to the living room, if there were no chores pending. I would always step gently around their spit cans. Both sisters enjoyed their snuff, and would each have an old vegetable can by their rocker.

They enjoyed telling me stories of their childhood days and growing up on a farm and going to work in town when they were old enough. I was always an eager listener. Sometimes they would allow me to visit the doll room. The door always stayed closed, it had been their mother's room. It was now home to her collection of what seemed to be hundreds of dolls. They never offered to let me touch the dolls and I never asked. They were like precious jewels, only to be admired. Some were in boxes with clear plastic windows; others were just covered in plastic. But they all had the same bright painted-on red lips. It was always so special to see them.

Other days I would help outside with gathering eggs or wood, feeding the chickens or my favorite, filling up the marble bird bath with water from the rain barrel. It wasn't real marble, but glass marbles covered the base and bowl of the concrete bath. I liked the cat's eye ones the best and always searched them out. A brother, who had been killed in a car accident, had made the bath for them shortly before his death. I thought the bird bath was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with its many colors glistening in the sun.

I kept up my visits through the woods until I left home at eighteen. I had stopped delivering goodies after my Mama died when I was ten, but the visits had continued. They were such a part of my childhood and gave me a feeling of comfort, like being wrapped in an old worn quilt.

Several years ago I moved back to the road where I lived as a child. The sisters had long passed away and the woods were now home to several families. One day I finally managed up the courage to pay a visit to the couple who now own the sister's house. They had made a lot of changes to both the interior and exterior of the house, but it still felt the same. I was so happy to see the "marble" bird bath still standing. It was worn and not quite as large and regal as I remembered, many of its marbles lost, but it still glistened in the sun.

And as I traveled back down that path I recalled as a child, overgrown now, those tree branches didn't seem nearly so threatening.