A short fiction story by Phyllis Doyle Burns
I have never forgotten that day Granma told me about the Old Mother. I was only fifteen at the time and had my head full of dreams and my heart full of love. 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 the Old Mother of the Mountain. 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, 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 cuppa coffee and me some cocoa and sat down by me. "You miss your breakfast, Chile?" I guess she knew I was mighty hungry as I gobbled down two cookies and took a big gulp of cocoa. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I thanked her for the cookies and cocoa and slowed down a little.
Granma chuckled and said, "Must have been something mighty important for you to miss breakfast over." She smiled as she raised her cup to her lips then sipped the hot coffee. With both hands wrapped around her cup she studied me quietly as I ate a little more slowly. I turned fifteen just the day before and should 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 experiencing love for the first time. Not the regular love, you know, for Ma and Pa, Granma and Granpa. This was different. It was a burning ache 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!
"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 again. "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?"
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 sun rise from behind the mountain this morning. And you know that old saying, that if you watch the sun rise there and you see chimney smoke just as the sun is coming up then that means she 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, honey. 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 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!"
"So, 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. "Is she a witch, Granma, like some say?"
"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. 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.
Granma turned back to me. She had a peaceful look on her face. "But, you have to find her yourself, honey. I will wait here for you."
Well, I did find my way up there, and I found Old Mother, too. At first she just looked like an old, old woman sitting on her porch. Then when I got closer to her, she stood up and was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. She told me to sit down on the chair next to her and she went inside to get us some cool cider. When she came back out we talked. I told her all my feelings. She told me that my love would come to me when I was ready and to not worry. Somehow, that made me feel better. When I left, I turned to wave to her and she was an old lady again.
A year later I met my Jimmy. His folks bought the big farm up the road from us, this farm. We were married when I was seventeen. Every time I looked at him that fire would flame up. When he took my hand and looked in my eyes, it was like stepping into a cool mountain lake on a hot day. He always had that affect on me. Even now, when the kids are grown and got their own cabins and Jimmy and I are just the two of us most the time -- he still flames that fire. It's just the sweetest thing in the world to step into that cool lake with him.