MOUNTAIN WOMAN -- by Howard Hull

I hated the fog,
and I guess she did too.
She never said.
Just looked out the window
into that damn wall of gray,
and hoped the sun would come up,
The fog was cold,
and hung on 'til noon
or maybe later.
And thick,
so's you couldn't see the houses
down below.
She turned,
looked at me
and eased herself into
the tall chair dad had gotten for
her with part of his black lung check
so she wouldn't have to bend her knees.
They hurt.
She began to speak of years past,
when the kids were home,
and of hard times.

"I sewed a skirt
from a red feed sack.
Four days a week
it went to school.
Never graduated, just wore out.
Remember ole Jerse,
the cow we had,
and the dominecker chickens
you killed and threw under the tub
so they wouldn't get lost
walking around without heads."
She went on.
"Seems like it was yesterday
when you stuck that fish hook
in your toe and I pulled it out
with a pair of pliers.
You were about seven then.
I didn't know if I could do it,
but I did."
She paused, and I wondered how
she ever fed seven children
in that small kitchen space,
all raised up now
and gone from the hills
that made them strong.
She spoke again.
"I sure am proud of you kids.
You've sure done well.
Just wish you didn't live so far away,
or you'd come home more."
I moved closer to look at the
crossword puzzle she'd started.
"Finish it," she said.
"You know mor'n I do."
I took the pen from the
tough, tender hands,
scarred from disease and neglect,
and wondered what she had gotten
for all of it.
She knew,
but I couldn't.
Forty years in a three hundred
dollar house on the side of
a hill without water
is a long time.
As I left,
she turned back toward the window
to watch the car as we drove
down the narrow dirt road
toward the highway.

It was March then,
and November now.
The wind still whistles
through the screen door
while the fog creeps up the
valley and waits for the sun,
but she's not there now.
She left on an April day
when wildflowers bloomed on the hillside
above the porch steps where she'd stand
and watch for the yellow school bus
to stop down by the big road.
I can still see her with one hand
on a white painted two by four
and an anxious look on her face
as she counts us one by one.

Howard Hull grew up in the coalfields of McDowell County, West Virginia.  After graduation from Welch High School in 1950, he enlisted in the United States Air Force and served eight years as a weatherman in Europe and the United States.  He was honorably discharged from the service in 1958.   After receiving degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, he taught in the public schools of Tennessee and at Northwestern Louisiana State University.  From 1965 until his retirement in 1999, he was a Professor of Art Education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  He is a collage maker, painter, and writer of short stories and articles about education in the arts.

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