The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Lady

By Sandra Redding © 1984

Issue: December, 1984

High in the North Carolina hills, amid the flaming shades of autumn, my Daddy's Aunt Dosha used words to put together the bits and pieces of her life. The mountain language and spirit produced a pattern as colorful as a patchwork quilt.

Her small house, grayed by time and weather, is located just outside of Franklin, North Carolina. I sat on the steps. She sat on the porch in a Kentucky rocker. Her eyes, dark as hickory nuts, swept in the mountains surrounding us - mountains covered with golden maples, scarlet dogwoods and evergreens. We could hear a waterfall, too far away to be visible, tinkling over rocks.

Aunt Dosha had lived in that place so long she seemed to be part of the scenery. Gnarled hands clutched the chair arms as she rocked back and forth, back and forth. She spit snuff into an empty coffee tin and began talking about her childhood.

"From sunup to sundown, we was in them fields working. We didn't have no fancy tractor neither. I remember one year the drought come and almost wiped us out. We prayed for rain. We even thought of hiring one of them rainmakers but preacher said, 'Only God can make it rain.' Well sir, we almost give up on God that year."

I asked how they'd survived - how anyone, dependent on the land, survives a drought.

"Poppa brought us up tough as nails. But them times weren't easy. There was hardly nothing left to eat from the garden that winter. We lived on the fish and animals Poppa caught. Before spring come, we was all sick of possum."

Aunt Dosha told me about the Catholic Priest who'd come to the mountains and started a school. She told of having to walk over four miles to get there and of reading by the light of a kerosene lantern.

"Poppa saw no sense in girls getting book learning but Mamma said I could go with the boys if I wanted to. Some folks wouldn't let their younguns go. They was afraid the priest would make Catholics out of 'em. But priest or not, he taught me how to read. I used to read everything I could get my hands on. Why, I've read the Bible three times straight through."

Aunt Dosha spoke of past autumns and springs. She told about growing up and learning to cook and sew. She smiled as she recited tales of young men who came calling with bunches of wildflowers. Then she talked about her dead husband.

"When Sam come here from Asheville, everybody said he was the handsomest man they ever laid eyes on. He was tall and slim hipped with eyes as blue as bachelor buttons. First time we met, he said I was the girl for him. When he came courting, he'd take me down by the creek and sing songs or recite poetry. Once, after carving our initials in an oak tree, he said he was going to catch a star for me to wear in my hair. He was a wild one, all right. It was enough to turn any girl's head.

One fine spring day, we got married over yonder in the Baptist Church. Sam wore a straw hat, kinda cocked to the side of his head. I had on aunt Mattie's wedding dress. Ah, Law, we was sure a sight to see.

Sam were more a man for dreaming than working but we got by - we got by just fine until he lost his job."

She was quiet for a while but continued to rock back and forth, back and forth. Then she lifted her chin and looked toward the mountain in the distance.

"I remember the day Sam was laid off over at the factory. He come home and took straight to bed. Didn't say pea turkey to no one for two weeks. After that, it seemed he was done with his dreaming, excepting to have a son. He carried that dream to the grave."

She talked about her two daughters and how difficult their births had been. She told of raising them alone.

"My girls don't come around much. They got family of their own to tend to. Last time my eldest came, she brought my great-grandson. My, that boy is handsome. His granddaddy would of been so proud. But he speaks his mind, that one does. He asked me why I sat out here so much of the time. 'Grandma', he said to me, people's going to think you're crazy the way you sit out here staring at them mountains. Why do you stare at them anyway? They don't do nothing.' Well sir, I almost laughed my head off, but he's wrong. Them mountains do do something. They change. They change with the years."

Finally, she was silent. Rocking back and forth, she sighed, licking her lips. A wistful look came into her eyes. She pulled a soiled handkerchief from her apron pocket and blew her nose. Then, looking directly at me, a smile rearranged the craggy lines in her face.

"Reckon me and them mountains been through plenty together. Yes sir, me and them mountains been watching each other for quite a spell."