The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

This Morning

By Rick Phillips © 1990

Issue: September, 1990

She stood at the stove fixing breakfast, and agonizing over her troubled marriage. She realized today she must decide whether, or not, to return home to her husband.

Rebekka saw her mother enter the spacious country kitchen. She looked especially old and tired this morning, Rebekka thought, as her mother eased her big, round body down onto the sturdy old oak chair at the kitchen table.

She placed a cup of steamy-hot, black coffee in front of her mother, and returned to the range to finish cooking breakfast. After a few minutes her mother broke the silence.

"I heard him outside chopping wood again this morning. Cussing the cold as usual, and squealing like a hurt puppy when a piece of log splintered and bounced off his tender shin. As much as he griped about it, he loved it out there that time of morning.

The strong smell of coffee he put on before he went outside pulled me upright in bed, and the country ham he had frying in the skillet told me he wanted biscuits and red-eye gravy with his scrambled eggs this morning. That meant I had to get right up to have them ready by the time he wanted to leave.

I tripped over his boots in that dark, little bedroom for the upteenth time, and swore at the old codger for leaving them there, like he always does, no matter how many times I tell him not to.

I went to the bathroom, and while I sat listening to him pound the devil out of a stubborn log, the echoes careened down through the valley, and I heard the owls hooting out their 'whos'. They were asking again who this crazy old man was who was disturbing the peaceful night air.

I brushed about half the tangles out of my hair, and as I looked in the mirror at this wrinkled old face, and big double chin, I thought about how glad I was that I wasn't out there in the cold swinging that doggone axe.

When I heard the door slam, and heard the newly split logs hit the floor by the fireplace, I knew I had indulged myself for as long as I could, and made my way back through the dark bedroom tripping, of course, over those stupid boots again.

He was standing there pouring coffee when I drew up beside him at the stove, and he smiled at me like he did the first time I met him. And I looked back at him with the same suspicion and disapproval just like I did then.

He handed me the coffee, poured himself one, and walked off toward the bathroom just like he had been doing for forty-nine years.

I got the biscuits made and in the oven, turned the ham over, and beat-up some eggs, then sat myself down at the table. I always used this time to think about all you kids, and say a little prayer for you, especially your brother, Robert. My, he was a wild one. He's in the army where he belongs. I wonder if they don't beat the fire out of him every day just to keep him happy. That's what it took at home.

When I heard those big boots clopping on the hardwood floor I'd get up, take off the ham, pour him coffee, and scramble-up the eggs. That's when I remembered I didn't put on the grits, and I'd kick myself real hard. But I never mentioned them, and, bless his heart, he didn't either."

Rebekka watched her mother pick up her coffee, slurp a big mouthful from across the top, and set it back down in exactly the same spot.

"I know, I know," she said, waving her hand in the air, "When I didn't hear that old, cold-natured Chevy pick-up snort and belch and backfire up through the carburetor, I knew then I was only dreaming."

A single, large tear burst from her eye, rolled down her cheek and splashed on the table. She dipped her finger in it as if to question whether it was real or not, then swept her hand across it as though sweeping it from the table. She looked up at Rebekka, who was still standing at the range listening.

"I'm not going to tell you something stupid like your Daddy never did anything I didn't approve of, but I'm going to tell you something wise. I stayed with him. I gave him every reason to stay and no reason to leave. I let him alone, and let him be who he was. He loved me for that, enough to let me alone, and be who I was. A good man will always stay when you stop looking for reasons he should leave."

"Honey, times change, and people change, but the things that hold them together never change." Then looking Rebekka straight in the eyes she said, "People never have anything if they don't have each other."

Rebekka came over to her mother, leaned down, and kissed her still wet cheek. "Thanks, Mama," she said, and went off to her bedroom to pack.