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Friday, June 8, 2018

song of the mountains

Ilse Falls, Waterfall, Long Exposure Lilly Jean hiked her skirt to her knees and dipped her toes into the water. Ooooh, it was cold. It could be hot outside as bacon sizzling in her mama’s cast-iron skillet and the mountain stream still felt like water dripping off an icicle. She stuck her other foot into the water, keeping her balance on the slippery rock-bed; she had been doing this ever since she was a toddler. Lilly Jean Hilkins had been born to these mountains. And this break in the stream was her favorite place. She stood still a moment while she got over the inner shiver that ran through her body. Where was Donna Sue? Probably stopped to pick a few daisies. Her best friend loved flowers—the few books in her room were bursting with pressed blooms. She had read in a library book about flower collections and was now trying to gather as many varieties as the mountains offered.
     Lilly Jean hummed a little as she skipped from one rock to the next. It was a really pretty June day—the kind just asking for a wedding. In her dreams, she always pictured a day like today—the mountain peaks covered with a violet haze, the valleys blanketed with wildflowers, a sweet breeze waffling through the piney woods, and a caring man standing straight and true, waiting as her Daddy brought her down the church aisle. Except, of course, there was no caring man and her Daddy had been dead for 8 years, since the logging chain broke and he was crushed under a ton of logs.
     It was time for her to be getting home. Mama would be pulling the breakfast biscuits out of the oven soon, and they had a full day of work in the garden patch. Lilly Jean stood up and bent to pass under a low-hanging branch. She listened for a moment to make sure Donna Sue wasn’t coming. They’d see each other later. 
     She took the left fork on the way home and took a minute to stop by Granny’s grave. The hump of earth was flattened now by the mountain rain; fresh green grass and a few dandelions making a patchwork covering over it. 
Hey, Granny. It’s Lilly Jean. Wish you were here to see this pretty 
June day. I’d love like everything to sit on your porch and hear one of 
your tales. Some of your peach cobbler would be tasty, too. Gotta go 
now; Mama’s calling. I know you’re up there singing with Jesus now, 
but I still remember our song. 

     Tara Stevens slapped the laptop shut. The gurgling of the water beside her was mesmerizing. She could hardly believe Grange had been able to arrange this accommodation. The Great Smoky Mountains were her favorite place; call it a blood tie. Their little romantic tryst here every year was a tradition since their honeymoon. Someday, when they had children, they’d bring them here too. It would be such fun to introduce them to the moist woods and sweeping views, to ride the chairlift together and buy them a little stuffed bear like the one she had as her first souvenir of the mountains. But more than that, Tara wanted to share with them the soul of the mountains. It was something she tried to describe in her best-selling books, but had to come back here to understand. 
     She heard her name and looked back toward the cabin. Grange was walking toward her. “You’re up early. Did you get the chapter finished?” 
     She nodded. “I think Grandma Lilly would like it.” 
     Grange slipped his arm around her shoulders and smiled. “You’re barefoot again. If your readers only knew that the New York Times Best-Selling Author wrote her masterpieces with her feet stuck in a mountain stream.” 
     She punched at him. “I can’t wear shoes here. It’s part of being a mountain girl.” 
     “Wild as the mountain and sweet as clover honey.” Grange quoted Grandma Lilly. “Come on, let’s eat; I’m starved.” 
     Tara put her hand in his as they walked back to their breakfast biscuits. Behind them, the stream rippled and splashed to the mountain’s rhythm. And in her memory, Tara could hear Grandma Lilly Jean singing too.                                                                                                          — VQ 

Friday, May 11, 2018

the sea shell

Shell, Shells, Nature, Beautiful, Beauty“I’m going to walk along the beach.” I drop the words over my shoulder as I walk past the recliner where my husband sits. I touch his arm; he half-smiles, his eyes lazy with fatigue. “Okay. But don’t stay too long; I want to take you out for supper.”
      I waggle my fingers in a goodbye motion as I open the door on a watery world. The condo is one of several on this stretch of prime beach property in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. We don’t own it, but we have a generous friend who couldn’t use her time share. 
     “You take it.” She said. “After the wedding, you’ll need a quiet place to rest and 
recharge.” She got an impish twinkle then. “And maybe, revive some romance.”
     I rolled my eyes at her, outwardly downplaying what sounded like a good idea. Or at least, it might have if I hadn’t been to the saturation point with all things related to romance.
     Weddings do that to the mother of the bride. What once seemed so sweet and wonderful evokes near nausea. Oh, it has nothing to do with the groom, bless his heart. Poor dear already fears his mother-in-law (gracious, is that me?) No, the sick feeling washes over me every time I realize anew that romance in my daughter’s life means she’s changed homes as well as names. My legs suddenly feel weak, and I sink to the sand. It is sun-warmed and damp. I wish I could reclaim my emotional balance as well.
     A wave breaks at my feet, its foam reminding me of frothy bridal dresses. I remember the other times she wore white – her christening, a friend’s wedding, her high school graduation. I wonder if white is a color anyway, or just an empty space left when the vibrancy of life is gone.
     A solitary shell sits a couple feet from me; I stretch to get it. The underneath is satiny smooth, with a wondrous pink tint. I gentle my finger across it. My little girl always treasured shells. Her collection in a large pickle jar sits on the shelf in her closet; it didn’t make the cut of the things that moved with her. I put the shell back on the sand for another little girl to discover and release the tears that have been threatening me all afternoon.
     A vortex of emotion controls me. I birthed that child, taught her to play patty-cake, told her the story about The Three Bears, scolded her, hugged her, dressed her and worried over her. I miss my mommy role. Yet, I delight in the woman she has become, partly with my help, partly in her own right, through God’s goodness. I would not keep her a child, unaware of the greater scope of living. A mother joys in the blossoming of her child though all the while she frets over the process. Oh, what a complicated thing is motherhood. I hope a day will come when this season too will seem normal and good.
     The phone in my pocket rings. “Hello?”
     “Hi . . . Mom?”
     I swallow hard, put brightness in my voice. “Hi, baby! How are you?” (Dumb question. She’s a happy bride.)
     “Awesome . . . except I just spilled shrimp cocktail sauce on my new skirt.”
     “Uh-oh. The one we bought last week?”
     “Mm-hm. A big spot right in front. And I can’t remember if I’m supposed to use 
hot or cold water on this kind of stain.”
     The mothering nature in me wants to remind her how many times we’ve discussed laundry stains and their treatment, and then I realize I’m being asked something by my adult daughter. She needs me. Sure, it’s a small thing, but after all, isn’t most of mothering about the small things in life? And the small things usually turn out to be the most important.
     The world slowly tilts back into focus. The beach is beautiful. The sunny day is glorious. The sand welcomes my toes. The clouds are happy puffs of white—white is a color after all. I’m a mother. Mothers make things better. I hug her with my voice. “Don’t worry; I’m sure you can get it out. Go to the restroom and dab it gently with cold water. Then, when you get to your room, use one of those stain wipes we packed, okay?”
      “Okay.” I hear a voice in the background. “Oh, and I’m supposed to tell you (from the guy sitting across from me that the chicken salad at the reception was amazing, and that we can’t wait to visit and eat more of your cooking.”
     The afternoon is totally brilliant. My heart and voice smile. “That’s sweet. I’m looking forward to it too.” Come to think of it, she’d married a guy with some good qualities.
     “Well, I need to go now.”
     “Okay, honey. It was nice to hear from you.”
     “Bye, Mama. I love you.”
     The words pull me into a wave of wonderfulness. I catch my breath and whisper. “I love you too.”
     I stand up to start toward the condo. My phone rings again. The screen displays the name of a friend who has been with me through everything and who understands my journey like no one else. I smile as I answer. “Hi, Babe. Where are you taking me tonight?”
     Out of the corner of my eye, I see a mother and a little girl walking my way, collecting shells. I pick up the one beside me to give to her. She’ll love it. 

 - VQ 

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