Elvira’s breath expelled in puffy clouds as she scurried along the secluded trail to her favorite place. It wouldn’t be long before Jethro would awaken, and she was gathering firewood for his breakfast.
“Oh!” she gasped in wonder as she arrived, sitting on her sun-bleached, rain-smoothed rock to watch the awakening glory of sunrise over her hills. The breathtaking kaleidoscope of leafy colors spread balm over her careworn soul. She breathed in the poignant scents of dew-drenched foliage. A redheaded woodpecker knocked on the bark of a downed old sycamore while black squirrels scampered through the branches of a majestic oak tree.
“These mountains, they give me strength,” Elvira awe fully whispered.
Her gaze was reluctantly drawn to three little crosses surrounded by beds of planted wildflowers. “Emma, Jeb, Jim-boy,” she chanted, memories of their short lives washing over her.
“Still-born, measles, whooping cough. I shan’t forget.” She forced away the pictures of feverish brows and delirious-glazed eyes and replaced them with innocent smiles, the downy softness of their hair and the sweet ache of her departed babes suckling at her breast. As if to remind her of his presence, the 5-month old baby papoosed on her back let out a wail. And a rage enveloped Elvira. She stood up abruptly and shook her fists in the air.
“No more! You can’t have another one! I won’t let You, You hear?”
Mindful of time passing, she gathered sticks in her basket, making her way back. As she walked, she plotted.
“I’m done with Widow Hankins evil-smelling poultices and her superstitious chants.”
There was a mission down in the valley and she aimed to get there. Maddy Mullen’s chimney smoke reminded Elvira of the cost she might pay for this mutiny from their clan’s way of life. Maddy had taken her son there several years ago, and he was now a strapping, healthy boy. That was enough for Elvira. If she became ostracized, so be it. She could always join Maddy in yon forest. At least, she would have the comfort and joy of watching here babe grow into manhood!
“Mind, don’t wait much longer,” Maddy had cautioned Elvira. “If you wait until he’s ailin’, it won’t do no good. Vaccines, they call ‘em. They don’t cost nothin’, but you got to listen to a sermon first. Best hour I ever spent—me and Jesus, we get along fine,” patting the little New Testament in her apron pocket.
“I promise you, Love, you will grow strong and sturdy as these trees,” she murmured, going over her plan.
Elvira had ventured down into the valley only once before, searching for her husband. She saw him in the saloon where he sold his homemade whisky. A “fancy lady” was on his lap, doing things she blushed even now to remember. She had crept back up the mountains to their honeymoon home and then wandered to her sanctuary, storing this first hurt under the rock she had just visited. But she thought she could find the mission--it had a steeple bell—she had heard it ringing once when she was up here when the wind was blowing from the south.
Back at the shanty, Elvira deftly prepared Jethro’s pork and eggs with fresh biscuits and honey. Soon, he was off to the stills, giving her several hours to implement the plan . . .
. . .
“Be watchful for snakes,” Elvira cautioned Jeth-boy as she watched from her rock while he gathered firewood, picking a bouquet of fragrant lilacs for her at the same time. At fourteen, the lad was developing the muscular build of his departed father. Her breath caught in her throat as she watched him, remembering as if yesterday the rebellion she had instigated those years previous. Her newfound faith in God as she studied her New Testament was evidenced in countless ways to her friends. As a result, the hill people had accepted an improved way of spiritual and physical life. Oh, there were some “die-hards” who still clung to the old ways and she was continually saddened by their hardness of heart and the toll they paid for it. But, they were the exceptions and the ones who were now confined to forest dwellings as she and Jesus’ new converts forged a mission close by this rock she was perched on.
Its bell chimes rang every Sunday morning echoing from mountaintop to mountaintop and even into the valley below.
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