Maddie remembers ~
Granma sat me down and told me about Old Mother of the mountain. I was just fifteen at the time with my head full of dreams and my heart full of the wonder of love. Ma had died early on, when I was just a babe, and Granma was the only mother I knew, so I spoke all my inner thoughts to her.
It was early summer and I was aiming to find out about some things. I heard tell around town since I was a little girl about Old Mother way up there in the blue mists of the Smokies. I can’t rightly say I ever believed the stories, not until that morning Granma told me hers….
I sat at the kitchen table in the old log cabin my grandparents still lived in at the time. I was watching Granma bake cookies. The smell of oatmeal, raisins, and walnuts baking made my stomach growl. I had been up since before dawn and just grabbed a biscuit as I ran through the kitchen. I wanted to get out back and watch the sunrise on the mountain, then run over to Granma’s. Two hours later, I was starving!
Granma sat a plate of warm cookies on the table, poured herself a coffee and me some cocoa and sat down by me. “You miss your breakfast, Maddie?” I guess she knew I was mighty hungry as I gobbled down two cookies and took a big gulp of cocoa. My mind was on Old Mother and I wasn’t thinking of manners. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I thanked her for the cookies and cocoa and slowed down a little, remembering my manners.
Granma chuckled and said, “Must have been something mighty important for you to miss breakfast over.” She smiled as she raised the cup to her lips and sipped hot coffee. I had always loved Granma’s way of doing things. She moved slow, with purpose, as if there were always deep thoughts within her. I loved sitting and talking with Granma in her cabin, it was so cozy.
Deep thoughts ~
With both hands wrapped around her cup she studied me quietly as I ate a little more slowly. I had turned fifteen just the day before and old enough to have had better manners, I was just so hungry and had a burning flame inside my chest.
It was like something was trying to jump up into my mouth and wanted to shout. I did not quite understand what was going on with me. Well, that ain’t rightly so. I knew what was going on with me, I just didn’t know what to do about it. I mean, well, I knew I was wanting to know what love is all about.
Not the regular love, you know, for Ma and Pa, Granma and Granpa. This was different. It was a burning ache, like a fire that just would not let me be. It was always there, for the last several months and just kept getting stronger. I felt like if I didn’t talk about it soon, I would just explode in a burst of flame!
“So…” Granma took a cookie and slowly broke it in half, dipped one part in her coffee and took a bite. “You gonna tell me about it? It won’t get any better till you do, you know.” She chewed slowly as she watched my face. “How do you always know what I am thinking, Granma?”
She finished her cookie then looked at me as she studied my face. “Why, honey, your thoughts show on your face, to me anyway. I can tell how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and know when something new is tugging at your heart. It’s love, ain’t it?”
I dropped my cookie in the cup of cocoa and fished it out quickly with the spoon Granma handed me. My face felt hot, I knew I was blushing. But, it was just Granma, so I blurted it all out. Told her about the fire and my heart feeling like it was so full of love, but there was no boy I knew that I loved. I just felt love.
“Granma, I watched the sunrise from behind the mountain this morning. And you know that old saying, that if you watch the sunrise there and you see chimney smoke just as the sun is coming up then that means Old Mother is up there and has a message for you. I saw the smoke, Granma. I really did. That means the Old Mother is up there and I have to go see her to find out what my message is. It’s about love, Granma, I just know it is!” I stopped to catch my breath.
“Now just calm down, child. If you feel you have to go up there then you do it.” I stared at her in surprise. “You mean I can? I won’t get in trouble?” Granma laughed. “Of course you won’t get in trouble. I won’t tell anyone. But, if you ain’t back here by supper, I will have to send someone looking for you.” I was so excited I jumped off my chair and hugged her. “I will, Granma. I will be back before supper. I promise!”
Turning things round in her head ~
“So,” Granma was turning things round in that head of hers, “you gonna go up there and see Old Mother, huh?” I sat back down and felt a little discouraged. Granma was staring into her coffee, thinking. “I might,” I whispered, not so brave now. “Well, yes! I will! I’ve got to find out about this love in me, Granma.” She still looked a little too thoughtful.
I hesitated then asked, “Is she a witch, Granma, like people say?”
Granma’s eyes sparkled, as if with memories she cherished. “Some call her a witch, others say she is an old crone. I just think she is a lovely lady. She knows your heart and she becomes what is in your heart.” I was so surprised when Granma said that.
“Have you seen her, Granma?” Granma got up and walked to the window that faced the mountain. “Yeah, I seen her. Long time ago it was when I was just a little older than you are now. And I found out I did not have to go all the way up there to see her. I had all the answers I needed, she just told me how to find them inside me. She is never far from me. When I need answers, I talk with her and she’s here.” Granma tapped her chest.
I found it very mysterious what Granma said and was a bit befuddled. Granma turned back to me. She had a peaceful look on her face. “But, you have to find her yourself, honey, for it is your own heart she wants to see. I will wait here for you.”
Maddie’s journey ~
Well, I did find my way up there, only it took me longer than I thought it would, for the magical things I found the closer I got to the cabin of Old Mother. When I reached Cosby Creek, I just had to sit a spell on a rock, took my boots off to let my feet dangle in the cool mountain water, then cupped my hands and fished up some water to drink.
I cooled my face off with a few splashes of that bubbling cool water, then sat there awhile, listening to the ripples gently flowing and bouncing over the rocks. It was so peaceful.
It was a good thing Granma had fixed me some bread and honey to take along. I began picking on that sweet slice of homemade bread not long after I found the trail up the mountain. I was on the watch for rattler’s and other critters I would have to keep away from. Then I noticed the further up the trail I got, the less danger there seemed to be from any of the critters.
I did not even feel any threat from an old bear who just lazed in the sunshine and watched me pass by, as if he was as curious about me as I was about him. I felt kind of a kinship to that ol’ bear as we stared at each other, and sat a piece of bread and honey on a rock for him.
Further on I saw what I feared most, a huge rattler. It just lay on a rock, all coiled up and paid no mind to me. I also came upon a Black Rat Snake that was crossing the trail and a Jordan’s lizard looking as if it was happy playing in the leaves. None of the critters were wary of me, nor did they bother me. I felt like I was in a different world on that mountain, so magical it was.
There were even unusual and pretty flowering shrubs I had never seen afore. I kept thinking “They can’t be real, they are too unusual and pretty.”
I was so caught up, so amused, by the calm friendliness of the critters and the unusual beauty of the flowers that I suddenly realized I was way up the mountain. Then I saw a faint trail that looked so very old. It seemed to beckon me. I felt something stir in my heart. After a moment of hesitation I followed the path and found it to be an easier walk.
Old Mother ~
Just a few feet later, I drew up at the strange sight in front of me. I saw an old cabin, not just any ol’ cabin, it was ancient. Its logs and timbers blended so well with the trees around it was almost invisible and if I had not been looking for it, I doubt I would have seen it.
It was like in another world, or behind a veil of mist. As I got closer, all hesitation left me. I felt peaceful. A porch I did not realize was there became clear and I saw an old handmade rocking chair with a dozing woman in it. A lovely old shawl over her head and shoulders shadowed her face, but I could tell she was very old – Old Mother!
Everything about the cabin, the porch, the woman seemed ancient, yet I had no fear whatsoever. She was peacefully dozing as I silently walked up the stairs and stood before her. She was aware of my presence, for her soft snoring ceased then she opened her eyes and smiled up at me. That is when the magic happened. Her face, at first old and wrinkled, smoothed out as I gazed in wonder. Her old hands became those of a young woman.
She rose with such flowing grace that I was amazed. As she drew back the shawl a cascade of flowing blond locks spilled over her shoulders. Her smile showed perfect white teeth and her emerald green eyes shown with wisdom and peace. I realized I was standing in front of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
“You have come a long way, Maddie. Would you like some cool cider?” For some reason I was not surprised Old Mother knew my name. Her voice was pure and sweet, like the melody of songbirds welcoming the dawn. I felt immediately at ease and sat down in the other chair she motioned me to.
“She becomes what is in your heart,” Granma had said.
We sat there on her shady porch sipping cool cider for a long time as we talked. Well, Old Mother did most the talking as I listened in wonder, for as as Granma had said, she knew what was in my heart. She told me that I was an old soul with a deep understanding of love, which would come out of me eventually because I listened to my soul and followed my heart.
“Many young people”, she said, “marry because they feel it is the right thing to do when they reach marriageable age.” She went on to say that marriage is more than just feeling right – it is a union of two souls who have found their true love, and when love is true it grows stronger with time.
Old Mother told me many other things about love and souls as I absorbed every word she spoke. Towards the end of my visit I had just one question, “How will I know him when I meet him?”
Her gentle laugh was like chimes blowing softly in the breeze. “You will know as soon as you see him, and he will know you.”
When I left her porch I walked a few feet down the path then turned to wave. She stood there smiling and waved back, then went over to her rocking chair. I looked back one more time before the path turned, as the cabin faded back into the mists.
My journey down the mountain seemed to take only a few minutes. I felt as if I was floating with joy and peace. As I ran out of the foothills, I saw Granma on her porch, her arms stretched out to me. As I snuggled into her warm embrace she said, with tears in her eyes,
“Supper is on the table.”
Jimmy, my true love ~
A year later I met my Jimmy. His folks bought the big farm up the road from us. We were married when I was seventeen. Every time I looked at him that fire would flame up. When he took me into his arms and looked in my eyes, it was like stepping into a cool mountain lake on a hot day. He always had that effect on me. Old Mother knew he would come into my life.
Even now, when the kids are grown, have their own cabins and Jimmy and I are just the two of us most the time, he can still put that fire out. Why … it’s just the sweetest thing in the world to step into that cool lake with him.
We live in Granma’s old cabin. She gave it to me just afore she died as Pa and I stood by her bed holding her hands. Jimmy had added to the cabin over the years to make room for our children, but, the kitchen is still the same. I would not change Granma’s kitchen one bit, it is filled with the presence of her love. Every night, afore going to bed, I blow out the lamp on the table and go over to gaze out the window above the sink and look up to the mountain.
The ridge line of the mountain is dark at night and stands out against the wide open sky, with stars twinkling above. I gaze at the mountain and say, “Thank you, Granma.” It seems there is one star that grows larger and brighter when I say that.
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© Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved Phyllis Doyle Burns
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