There was little tiny girl, middle of the floor, just some planks laid over a few beams beneath, a blanket over her shoulders, nothing on her feet or legs, just a sack cloth dress covering her back and chest, sides and thighs, then across that small lap was a full sized guitar which she played upon with such love-filled strains, melodies and cords. Her voice seemed to warm all in that room of four walls and a roof with an opening through which she could see the stars, “the sky window,” she lovingly called it, in their 8’x12′ house.
A small fire crackled in the corner from a “hearth” not much larger than the old iron stewing pot just beside it. The cold from the planks we called a floor made it all but impossible to remember that there was a source of heat other than the warmth from a tiny little girl, a large guitar and the sweetest voice you’ve ever known coming from the fifth of the eight children. The others were piled together over the weakest one who was troubled by a cough, snuggling between his Momma and Daddy who had led the prayers that night until all had participated ready to settle in, until one got up as she said she had to “to comfort lil’ Dwight,” as much as to comfort all there, herself included if not centrally in her mind. The instrument called to that sweet young girl who probably would have been twice her size had she more to eat, more shelter and clothing, a girl who exuded Love, optimism too, with an uncommon strength, a Power you might say… Staying in bed for warmth simply was not an option. She was born to sing, born to play, a born story teller with each, both, or, if need be with neither song nor strings, other than the tissue of her vocal cords which soothed as if her words were sung while spoken. Here was a true phemom… A secret treasure known this way, then, and for several years and a few more, only to those within that li’l shack at The Wood’s edge.
After the eighth song after Sun-down, and some light snoring was heard, that little musician clambered into the ‘pile’ of others on the small pallet placed near enough that little fire to help bring some warmth and comfort to them all where everyone was grateful for the body heat of every other present in this room that they all called, “home.” A big brother took the blanket she brought up and covered her shivering body, knees and feet now pulled to her chest clenched in tightly, leaning into Briol’s big brother-arm, so very warm compared to she, wrapped now in that blanket not half her size, a big brother’s warm arm beneath her back and head, emanating also love that warmed what she thought a strangely lonely heart, with the warmth of the others, almost all so very still. At last, sensing Briol drifting away for the night into sleep, she too joined their slumber, trusting that Mom, Daddy, or another would add to the fire when it got too low. Someone always did. For when they rose it was warmer than it had been the night before. Though moving about with chores got their blood pumping and so their bodies warmer with activities. Chores were created for this purpose with the wisdom of parental love.
Gidea, the family cow had to be milked. Little Angel-Marie, the family musician who had Un-officially taken the place of ol’ Gran Dad, Momma’s Papa, and ownership of the instrument that had been in the family at least as long as his Papa’s Pa had been…A long, long time. She always volunteered to do the milking because Guidea was so warm. The cow was named from a feminized version of “Guideon” of the Bible by this same little girl. At the time the Family Bible and those of any itinerant preachers passing through their region of the World was known to them only as “Christian,” not realizing its inherent Jewish roots or message until Angel-Marie learned to read one year, later adding Bible stories to the night’s entertainment… Even Dad had to admit, “The Lord’s speaking through that child sure as she can sing,” he whispered to his wife Sharon-ell (short for, Sharon-Ellen). Briol was the only one in the household without a biblical name. It was something Angel-Marie wondered about, having read the entire Bible herself. She didn’t understand why her Mom and Daddy would do that to him.
“No matter,” she reasoned within, Briol’s the best big brother a girl could have.” He beat on David-Lee after he tried to hurt me,” she would later say to a reporter from the North who had come to see how folks like us got by. “Mountain folks,” he called us. And, I suppose that’s what we were. We were people who literally lived so close to the mountains we were on that those mountains were truly family members to their inhabitants. The smell of it, the mountain, the trees, the soil, the stones, the rock with scents the stronger after a rain, the terrain, the unquestionable Godliness or holiness and purity of those Love emitting and evoking mountains were part of us helped us, and wood from their trees helped us to sleep over the ground instead of on it. The wood also kept that fire burning, along with Azariah-elle…
When I was about 14 I’d say, I remember waking up to see Azi slide out from our pile and feed the fire especially well just before we would get up. It must have been three or four in the morning, maybe eleven at night, then two, that she would get up as cold as it could be (not one of us had shoes back then), to gather wood from the forest we lived half in and half out of in that little shack. It became a ritual for nearly a week, of my spying on my sister’s act of loving kindness that may well have saved our lives. So, when she got sick at about 18, and that Summer she died, I cried even harder than when Papa died. Because she was so very young and never married or had children. Lots of others on and around the mountain called her a young old maid, pittying that she was single almost more than that she had died, probably, I thought and felt in y heart, because she had risen so very many times to keep us warm in Winter and Fall to save Our lives!
Oh, I wanted to Shout it out at those nosey, snoopy neighbors who just liked hearing themselves talk, to let them know what I knew about Azi having helped save our whole family. But, I kept quiet then… A bother, too, was the fact that though no one said it, I think all of us may have been glad that it wasn’t any of us with our bodies being lowered into the ground that Sunday. In other families there was perhaps or probably a gratefulness that it was not one of theirs, their child, brother or sister or aunt who had died that Summer time. Azi was three years older than I. It was she who had given me Gran Pops guitar one day when I was underfoot while she tried to cook an evening meal for Mom and Daddy the day they had gone to Town to sell the corn husk dolls Mommy made all year long, and the shoes of leather Daddy had made, “moccasins,” they were called. I liked the name, and I longed to wear a pair. Daddy said they were like what the Indians wore to keep their own feet warm and dry. That seemed right smart to me.
When I finally tried a pair on once, my Daddy smiled real big, then he looked scared when he heard Mom coming from the garden, and told me as quickly as he could to “put m in the corner. Don’t let yur Momma see.” Scared then myself I did just as he told me to, though my whole body seemed to rebel, urging me to keep them on, hiding m neath a banket and atwixt others’ feet to keep Mom from finding out. “It might work,” I thought. But, fear won out. Though, that very night, before the pile started to build, once Dwight-James had been tucked in and Mom had gone out to get some air, I asked as softly as I could, “Daddy, why can’t we have moccasins like the City folk and the Indians? To answer, he asked if I’d like to hear a story. Of course I would! I loved hearing ‘m as much as telling ‘m. So, I pulled myself close to the pallet where he was already lying down next to Dwight-James to help keep him warm for the night as Daddy whispered a story about a man in the woods who made moccasins just like real Indians wore.
I was sure he was telling me about himself which added to the allure. “He had himself a big ol’ family. Why, it was three Times as big as our’n. And, whenever a family on the mountain had a cow, goat or lamb die, they’d call their neighbor Mr. Tommy.” Right then, I remembered Mom talking about her Uncle Tom, and thought that was maybe how he gave himself that name in his story that night. “Now, Mr. Tommy would help the families find out how and why there about that their animal had died, whether they could eat from what was left or burn it up before putting it in a grave…” My Daddy did do that for others, but I loved the fact that he turned his story into another! I thought he was one of the most smart men ever on our Mountain. And he was a looker, too. I thought I’d marry a man only if he looked and talked like Daddy did. I just didn’t want him to be afraid, the man I would marry one day, or my Daddy.
The folks called him Mr. Jim. It was my Mom that told me that “Jim” was another name for James.He did diagnose causes of death and was usually right about whether or not the family could use any of the animal for food, wool, tools and such. If they could eat it, he would de-bone the carcus and scrape the hide for the family. Over time it became customary for all to give or offer him the skins: Just like Mr. Tommy!
“Well, it was mighty cold up on the mountain, so Mr. Tommy asked his wife Hosannah if’n he could make moccasins for their children after he had come home with the hides of two steer. “But,” here his voice got deeper and a bit more quiet, “Mrs. Tommy wouldn’t have it. She reckoned that her family was tougher than the toughest Indians ever ever Ever! And, they didn’t need No shoes!” Dad looked sadder now, but tried to keep the story going as much to get away from his tears as to prevent me from seeing that Mr. Tommy wasn’t very brave at all when it came to his wife, my Mom. I mean, Mrs. Tommy.
“But!” Dad said again, this time with a mighty grin that lit up the room and my heart with every front tooth still in place white as could be, ahead of his time in “maple stick chews,” the first thing approximating tooth brushes I had heard of or seen on our Mountain until I went off to the big Town myself at fifteen to “find me a school and learn all a body can before comin home.” “But!” said Dad with excitement shining through his whole self, “Mr. Tommy made his moccasins just the way he was shown how by a real Indian woman who had married into the Logan clan when Mr. Tommy was still a boy. And, if he couldn’t give his children shoes, he was going to darned sure give them some store bought clothes, some cough medicine for his little girl, and coats as many as he could, even a pretty yellow tight woven fabric sold by the yard, sos he could help his Mrs. have a dress in her favorite color.” I wondered if he knew that I could remember.the year he gave Mom a brown paper package tied with string, and inside was her Christmas present from Santa which was the biggest piece of cloth I had seen up to that very night. There was a needle with lots of yellow thread and six shiny yellow buttons out of which Mom made yellow dresses for the four of us girls and yellow shirts for the boys. She had tears dripping from her eyes when she saw it. Happy tears from a woman who sure could yell enough to scare a super strong man like my Dad, my biggest brothers, and when I was much older, as an adult by city standards, I realized that even I had feared her more than death itself.
Making us all those bright colored clothes was about the nicest thing she had ever done. And, my dad did buy coats that we would take turns wearing when out, or in bed sharing them as blankets that one or two of us would get to wear in bed! I’m very happy to say that more than twice I was one of ‘the luckiest in the pack.’ That was what Briol called us, we giggling with joy straight from heaven. That’s what it seemed like to me.
“Well,” Dad continued, “every year, Mr. Tommy would take those cured hides and make moccasins to sell to Town and City folk who were,” he said, “a confused group. I’ll tell ya that. Cause they, lot of m, they would call Indian people mean names. If they ever did see an Indian person in real life they’d like about to spit on m. Mighty cruel. They didn’t know the Bible like how you done teached us. No sir-rie! They made mean songs about Indian folk and would say the plum cruelest things you ever did hear!” Though I begged him to tell me what all they said, he said it wasn’t fitting for a lady to hear, nor any person under the Sun.” Those words pleased me enormously, for they meant that my Dad thought of me as a real lady! And, a real person!
He did slide the storyline away from the mean Town and City folk, to how they wanted to have warm feet like the Indians who had “lived here hundreds and hundreds of years before their ancrstors came over to take their land, hurt them worse than bad, and they wanted their families to have warm feet, just like the Indians! Yes, they were a confused lot!” I loved the word “confused,” because I knew what it meant. My Dad had taught us all. It seemed not another soul on that Mountain knew that word! Words were some of the best friends I ever had!
As it turned out, “Mr. Tommy used his skill at making maccasins to sell them to the rich folk,” the mean, confused ruch folk, “sos he could help provide for his family.” Did Mrs. Tommy contribute, too, I wanted to know! “Why, she surely did. That woman worked day in And Out to make sure her family had an evening meal Ev-er-y day of their lives together. She was also an art maker, who could make dolls out of corn husks, which she also learned to do from an Indian lady. So as tough as Mrs. Tommy tried to act, like she and hers were stronger than Indian folk, deep down she knew that if’n it weren’t for them Indian folk neither she neither her man could be providing for their childr’n, that they loved So Soooo Much that…” “That what, Daddy?” “That they made sure their younge’ns got to bed with a fire going and somthin to eat in theys bodies! C’mon now, you get yo’self ready. Snuggle up with Dwighty an me afore you get to strummin and sangin pretty like how you do.” He paused for what seemed like the longest pause ever while looking at me with something special in his eyes. I knew he loved me. Now, I knew, too, that Daddy saw me as a lady AND a person, which to me felt like about the biggest compliment in the Whole Wide World! “You,” he said, “You, young lady, are a miracle lady. Don’t you tell your Mom, but I think you are part Indian too with your healing ways and how you sing and play gui-tar. That’s not a traditional Indian instrument there Angel-Marie, but there’s lots of things that are. Yur like them. We’re all alike. You just found that gui-tar like an Indian girl finds a lute or a drum or her voice, like how you found yur’n, an goes right into making a gift of God known to man hisself!”
I snuggled in happier than I ever knew I could be that night just as Mom walked in asking, “What kind of nonsense have you been filling this child’s head with, Jim Anders?” Dad saved me from certain heart break, by responding right away: “I have done no such thing, Mrs. Anders! You know I could never lie to a child of mine!” Mom didn’t look happy, but she didn’t look so angry or scary anymore. She pitched a cigarette nub into the fire. I knew she smoked those things but that was the first time I’d seen the evidence. She was gentler with me that night than usual, even patting me on the head and stroking my cheek like maybe she even loved me. Lots of times I thought she only loved Dwight-James, maybe cause he had part of Daddy’s Biblical name…or cuz he was sick and she was always scared he would die in the night.That was what I thought.
Once all were in bed, I squirmed out to get Gran Pa’s guitar, which by then, I was beginning to believe should be my… my Christmas present or dowry. I knew I was coming age-wise near the time I would have to leave, maybe to learn enough in schools that I could live anywhere in the world. But, to leave my guitar behind was a harsh thought indeed.
That was thirty years ago! I did leave, against Mom’s wishes and demands. What she never seemed to understand, though I’m quite sure that she knew before I did, was that I Would Need to leave our home, including the Mountain I grew up on, well before I would marry. To have stayed would have crushed my spirit and had me marry too young, having children while a child myself, luckier than anyone in our County if I’d married a boy closer to my age and not some adult or old man who couldn’t find a grown lady who would marry him….
(Edit & TBC… Yes?)