- Saturday, March 01, 2008
Copper Brown Corbett held her skirts ever higher. Rushing water lapped first at her ankles and then her knees as she ventured farther into the creek. The flood was receding, but it was too late to save her garden. Might as well pull her feet out of the mud and go back to the house.
A baby’s cry drew her attention. Lilly Gray was awake. Hands on hips, Copper took one last look at the muddy water. That was the price you paid, she reckoned, for living on Troublesome Creek.
She’d asked for her father’s ramshackle farm, and he’d turned over the deed. Now all the work and worry belonged to her. She knew Daddy would be back one day. By that time she was sure to have the farm up and running again so that all he had to do was sit on the porch and listen to the katydids and the whip-poor-wills. Longing for her family nearly dropped her to her knees right there in the spillover that drowned the green onions, what was left of the lettuce, and the cucumber vines no bigger than her little finger. A few more weeks and they’d have pickles. Copper had already scrubbed the crock.
Lilly Gray’s cry escalated, gone from asking to demanding.
“Mama’s coming, baby,” Copper called as she mounted the stone steps. A dash of water over her feet sent a thin stream of mud off the side of the porch.
She entered her bedroom and smiled at her baby. Her pure pleasure. “Did you miss me?”
“Nursey!” Lilly Gray said, her cheeks still flushed from slumber, her eyes the dark gray color of a storm cloud. The contents of the crib were strewn about the room, flung as far as her chubby arms could make them go.
“You’re still dry, Mama’s good girl!”
After Lilly’s quick trip to the wooden potty in the corner, Copper wrapped her daughter in a crib quilt and carried her and a cup of tea to the porch.
“Nursey?” Lilly asked plaintively as she snuggled against her mother’s chest.
Copper settled into the wooden rocker that had been her father’s favorite. Stroking her daughter’s silky hair, she let the garden go. There was food to be found in abundance up the mountain—ramp and cress and mushrooms—and surely she hadn’t forgotten how to hunt. Daddy’s gun hung idly over the fireplace. Mam said he wouldn’t need it where they were going: Philadelphia. And there was an abundance of canned goods in the cellar. Her sister-in-law, Alice, had sent enough to feed an army, sure Copper would let Lilly starve without her help. A furrow formed between her eyebrows. Oh, that Alice.
The tea was just right, hot and sweetened with a teaspoon tip of honey. Tension melted from Copper’s shoulders as she rocked. There was nothing more relaxing than nursing a baby. I’ll miss this. Lilly Gray’s a big girl now. She’ll turn two in November. I’ll have to think about weaning her before fall.
Could it have been just a month since she’d left Lexington and her life in that fair city to return to her mountain home? As the baby lay in the crook of her arm, Copper examined her palms. Calluses were forming where blisters had popped across her soft, tender skin. A little more time with the rake and the hoe, a few more wash days, a few more floor scrubbings and she’d have working hands again. Hands she could be proud of.
Shifting Lilly Gray to the other side, Copper let her mind wander—a dangerous distraction. Sometimes she wished she could go back in time to when she was a girl, innocent of pain and sorrow, happy to run wild up the mountain in search of whatever suited her fancy on any given day. She leaned her head back and laughed to herself remembering how her stepmother strove to turn her into a lady and how she fought against Mam’s desires, yanking her hair ribbons out and losing her store-bought shoes. Poor Mam, she tried so hard.
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