“The Cross Across the Creek”

Granny sat by the fire wrapped in her shawl that was knitted by her grandma. Nobody remembered when. Mountain people counted time by seasons, not years; seasons of plenty and those of hunger and suffering, seasons of early spring and those of bitter, unending bitter cold. This season was one of those and their firewood was dwindling away fast.

Adelle laid on the old four-poster bed across the small room gazing out the stained and frosted window across the partially frozen creek to the valley below. She was huge with child, covered in several hand-made quilts sewn by granny in her younger days when her finger were nimble-not twisted and swollen in the joints. Each square depicting unknowable mysteries and symbols of the mountain people’s culture. Granny kept them clean for her and the infant to come by gently washing them in her ancient copper tub with grease and lavender soap.

Adelle was hoping to see the father of her baby coming back. She had been watching and hoping for going on two weeks now. She both loved him and feared him, but they needed him.

Willie was practically a boy himself and had promised Granny to be a good husband to Adelle when thy wed under the Old Cross down in the valley way last summer. The girl, then only 16, had flowers braided in her long yellow hair by her two bridesmaids and Willie had borrowed a suite coat that came down to his knees from his daddy. The reverend pronounced them man and wife and Granny believed the baby was conceived the same night.

Willie left each morning with his lunch Adelle fixed for him and went off to work-so he said. The most he had to show for it was coming home with a few grocery staples and liquored-up.

Granny watched Adelle as she stared out the tiny window, knowing what she was thinking. Her mind turned to her own daughter, Adelle’s mother. The same scene, the same hoping, a baby coming, husband gone, frozen in. Granny grasped her twisted hands together, bent her head and began to pray, the prayers of the mountains, the old-time prayers. She called on God and the spirits of long gone women-women who knew-knew of these things-things only mountain women know.

Whimpering sounds came from across the room. Granny felt her hands begin to warm. Granny raised herself from her chair and crossed the room to Adelle’s bedside. It was time. The two saw that they were going to bring the child together.

Adelle looked at Granny with fear in her young eyes. “I will not lose you as I did your mama. I will not lose your child. We will have help.” Granny said to her grand-daughter with conviction. Adelle looked up at her with an unsure smile.

As the hours of her labour progressed and Granny took her care, Adelle saw from the tiny window a progression of shadow-like women approaching their house from the cross in the valley. They entered, one by one and quietly went about the business of helping with the  birth. Granny never acknowledged their presence, but worked around them quietly.

The baby was a healthy girl with red hair like Willie’s. Granny washed her and Adelle. While she did, the other women cleaned the house and quietly left as they came. After they were gone, Granny found the cupboard stocked with all they needed.

The next morning as the sun rose, Adelle asked, “Granny, who were those others?” “Mountain women, honey. One was your very own mama.”

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