Child of the Mountains - By Marilyn Sue Shank


It’s about my problem.


My mama’s in jail. It ain’t right. Leastwise, I don’t think so. Them folks that put her there just don’t understand our family. My mama’s the best mama in the whole wide world. Everbody used to say so afore the awful stuff happened. Even Uncle William. And he don’t say much nice about nobody.

I got to get her out. But how? Even when they’s wrong, once grown-ups make up their minds about something, a kid like me don’t stand much of a chance of changing it. Poor Mama. I know she hates being caged up like a rabbit, and it’s all my fault.

I feel like my heart done shattered in tiny pieces, like Gran’s vase that me and BJ broke playing tag one time. And I ain’t got nobody to help me put them pieces back together.

That’s why I stopped by the company store after school yesterday and bought me the biggest spiral notebook they had. Maybe writing everthing down will help me sort it all out.

“Lydia, when you came to be, you was my only star in a dark, dark sky,” Mama always said. When I lived in Paradise, Mama and Gran always made me and BJ both feel like we was right special to them.

But sometimes a body can feel all alone, even when other people live in the same house. That’s how I feel living with Uncle William and Aunt Ethel Mae here in Confidence, West Virginia. They be nice enough people, but they ain’t got nary a clue about what to do with me.

The bad stuff commenced like this: My brother, BJ, was borned awful sick, but we didn’t know it at first. When Mama birthed me, Gran said I didn’t cause Mama no trouble at all. Daddy was at work, so Gran hollered to a neighbor across the road that I was a-coming soon. The neighbor got in his car and went to fetch old Doc Smythson.

When Doc Smythson comed to help Mama, Gran told him she could manage things just fine, but he said he would be awful obliged iffen she let him help because it was his doctoring duty. So Gran figured it would be okay. But Gran told me that she really done most of the work, after Mama, of course. Gran midwifed most of the women around these parts. She fixed Mama blue cohosh tea to sip and tickled her nose with a feather.

Gran said, “When your mama sneezed, you whizzed out of her like a pellet from a shotgun. All Doc Smythson had to do was hold out his hands to catch you.” Gran shook her head. “Ain’t like you have to go to some fancy school to learn how to do that!”

But things sure turned out different with BJ. I recollect the whole thing. I was four years old at the time. Gramps and Daddy lived in Heaven by then. Me and Mama and Gran lived in Gramps’ cabin all by ourselves.

When BJ was about to come, Mama started bleeding real bad, and she screamed like a hound dog a-howling at the moon. Nothing Gran mixed from her herb bottles helped none. Gran sent me running to the neighbors’ house to have them find Doc Smythson.

Doc took one look at Mama and told Gran he had to fetch her to the hospital in Charleston straight away. But we didn’t have no ambulance close by where we lived. Sometimes the men from the funeral home took folks to the hospital in their hearse. But they couldn’t get to our house soon enough for my mama, tucked way back up in the mountains as we are.

So Gran wrapped Mama up in blankets, and Doc carried her like a sack of taters to his jeep. Her eyes was closed like she was asleep. I cried out to her, “Take me with you, Mama! Take me with you!”

She opened her eyes just a little and looked at me. Her lips said, “I love you,” but no sound come out at all. Doc sped off with her to the big hospital in Charleston.

Tears commenced to roll down my cheeks when I watched them drive away. Gran smoothed the hair back from my face with her hands, rough as a cat’s tongue. “Your mama needs us to stay here and look after things for her, pumpkin,” she said.

When me and Gran went back inside, Gran pulled Mama’s bloody sheets offen the bed and took them to the washtub. I couldn’t