The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Three Vows

By Myra Harper © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

A few years back I was involved in the Peace Corps in a small community in southern Tennessee. One day while I was eating my lunch under a tree and old man approached and started a conversation. In the midst of our exchange he related a story to me and swore it was true. This is his story, decide for yourself...

It was in June of 1937, I had just taken over a bit of property some distance from a little town called Boonesboro, Tennessee. One day I drove my truck out to the farm to look over my inheritance. This mountain country had no roads meant for vehicles in those days and driving up to the main building I parked my truck and decided that if I was going to see anything of my property, I had best continue on foot.

I struck out and after walking about an hour, just rambling and surveying my place, there in a meadow just in front of me was a small boy picking flowers. I was surprised as I didn't think there was any kind of shelter nearby although I knew these hills were dotted with all sorts of homesteads and buildings.

Strolling up to him, I asked, "What are you doing out here so far from anything?"

He raised a pale face and replied, "I'm picking flowers for my baby sister."

He continued working for a minute then said, "You see, Mister, two years ago our folks died of the fever and I knew that I had to take care of us because we didn't have any other family. It broke my heart to do it but I had to take her to the orphanage over there," he indicated a direction with his hand. "I knew I had to look for work and I just didn't see any other way." He straightened up and his sad eyes looked into mine.

"Gee, that's tough, kid." I said.

"Yes," he said. "She was four years old and I remember the last time we were together, I took her on my knee and told her not to cry, that I would be back for her real soon."

"She was so small. I remember that she cried so hard at first and then she put her little hand on my face and spoke quietly, 'Oh, brother, dear, please, don't go away and leave me here. Please, take me with you. We'll find a place where both of us can stay and I won't be any trouble if you'll just take me with you. I wont get in your way or make any noise, you'll see, I won't run and play and I'll be real good if you'll take me with you."

His young-old face was strained as he tried to control his feelings, "I tried to quiet her fears and get her to understand that it would just be for a little while. That I was going to the city to find work and would come back for her soon. I held her close for a while, smoothing her hair and said, 'Listen, baby sister, when I come back I'll bring you some shoes for your tiny feet and I'll tell you a story, one that I'll make up just for you and I promise we'll never have to be apart again.'"

He took a deep breath trying to adjust to the sad memory and continued. "That was two years ago and I went looking for work every day but I couldn't find anything that would pay enough to keep us both."

He paused again and said, "Last week I got a message that told me she had died. Seems like bad news is the only news that travels now-a-days. Now she's buried over there and these flowers that I'm picking for her grave are called Lady-slippers."

He resumed picking flowers for a moment then said quietly, "I haven't been feeling good lately. I feel sort of weak. Dizzy, kind of. But, I made a promise that needs keeping. Would you help me, please, Mister?"

As I gladly bent to help him with his mission, he gave one rasping sigh and slipped to the ground. I hurriedly carried him to where my truck was parked, placed him gently inside and drove into town.

After notifying and talking with the authorities, we decided to bury him there in the meadow beside her. I was saddened for days and after reflecting on the encounter, I remembered he had made her three vows. He had kept two and I take it upon myself to keep the third one. Whenever I find someone who will listen, I tell them his story.