- Saturday, March 01, 2008
It turned out that Copper had needed every one of the lessons her stepmother so diligently taught, for she married a doctor and left her mountain home, ever grateful for Mam’s foresight.
“Still, I had much to learn,” she said as if Lilly could understand. “A hillbilly girl set down in the city, I was a sight. I don’t know how your father stood me.”
Lilly Gray glanced up. She looked so much like Simon. Copper didn’t know if she’d ever get used to seeing him there, locked in his daughter’s eyes. A little heartache started up, but she pushed it back down. She was tired of grieving. “Let’s climb the mountain, baby. Let Mama get her shoes, and we’ll go find some wild onions for dinner.”
Testing the path with a walking stick, Copper steadied herself as she climbed. It was difficult going with the weight of the child nestled in a sling pulling her backward. She’d lost her sturdiness since Simon died. Between that and nursing Lilly, she was as stringy as an old squirrel, no meat on her bones.
She pushed aside a leafy branch and peered into a quiet meadow lined on three sides by towering oak, beech, and ash. It had probably been a hundred years since they were acorn and seed. The early morning sun streamed through their leafy limbs, piercing the shadows. She could barely see a smallish tumble of water on the far rocky hillside. Even from a distance, the splash of falling water played a pretty song.
“Cow?” Lilly Gray asked.
Copper reached behind, her arms cupping Lilly’s bottom, taking the strain from her shoulders. “Shh. Mama deer and baby fawns, Lilly. They’re having breakfast.”
“Shh,” Lilly whispered in Copper’s ear. “Nursey?”
They watched as the doe nibbled delicately on a patch of clover while the twins took turns with her milk, knocking heads in their impatience. Suddenly, the doe’s ears perked. She froze for an instant before turning to leap into the darkness of the forest, her twins close behind, white tails bobbing. Their crashing run reverberated across the meadow.
Copper was sorry for disturbing the mother deer. But the beauty of the place could not be ignored; the forest creatures would have to share with her and Lilly Gray.
The sun hitched higher in the morning sky and graced a line of pear trees with its light. A breeze kicked up, and a drift of fragrant white blossoms showered Copper and her baby.
Untying the sling, Copper slid Lilly from her back and let her dance in the midst of their sudden good fortune. Lilly grabbed handfuls of the silky petals and flung them in the air.
“Looks like snow, doesn’t it, Lilly? You were just a baby last winter when we made snowmen with Auntie Alice and cousin Dodie.” Another thing I’ve probably done wrong, taking Lilly Gray from her family.
Help me know I made the right decision in coming back, Lord, she prayed. Please help me.
Copper picked up Lilly, then settled her on her skinny hip. “Let’s go find the waterfall.” As they traversed the field, she took note of the small orchard, just a line of a couple dozen or so trees actually, as if someone had intended to farm this patch of land and then left for one reason or another. She and Lilly would come back to check on the fruit. Pear butter was good on biscuits.
They entered the forest gloom and popped out again before a sparkling waterfall revealed itself. It tumbled from a high rock outcropping and was as pretty as a gemstone.
Oh, Copper wished she’d brought a bar of soap and a towel, but no matter, she and Lilly Gray would bathe anyway; her linen petticoat would serve to dry them. Lilly shivered in the needlelike spray. Copper could have stood there all day. The sluicing water, the moss-covered rock, the sycamore tree bent forward over the brook … peace, that’s what it was. Peace as strong as communion and also sacred. It seemed God had designed this place and this moment just for her. An answer to spoken prayer.
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