The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Light In The Window - Sam and Annie Stevens

By Roger Stevens © 1988

Issue: October, 1988

Sam and Annie Stevens taken January 13, 1955 on their 40th wedding anniversary.Sam and Annie Stevens taken January 13, 1955 on their 40th wedding anniversary.After the football game, I quickly showered, dressed and jumped in my dad's old sedan and headed home for a change of clothes. The other high school kids converged on the local hang outs, while I was escaping suburban life and heading for my grandparents home in the country.

I eased the car over the rocky, quarter mile road bed that led to their home. I opened the old wooden gate and pulled the car through. After shutting the gate, I paused for a few minutes and looked at the old, brick-sided, farm house sitting on top of the hill. Its outline was barely visible in the darkness. All the lights were out except for the oil lamp burning in the dining room window. My father's words came back to me of how he and his brothers traveled this very same road late at night as youngsters; I know first hand what my father meant by the warm and secure feeling they received in seeing the light in the window when coming home. It was a beacon of love that gathered love ones home.

The cold November wind whipped up my pants leg as I got out of the car. There she was - the oil lamp in one hand and holding the screen door with the other. In all my life long visits, I don't think I ever knocked on the door of that house because the door was always open when I arrived. "Get in here, boy. Where's your hat, don't you know it's cold out here. You gonna catch your death."

Once inside the house, she fussed and fumed about me being late, keeping her up, "playing some old football game." She sat fried apples and biscuits in front of me that had been warming in the oven. She shuttled around the kitchen humming and making over me. Her good natured fussing hadn't bothered me, I could see the look of love in her eyes, she was enjoying it. Her fourteen children were grown, long been gone and it gave her pleasure mothering over me.

My eyes followed her around the room as I ate. She was a walking newspaper, relating all the happenings during the past week. My only contribution to the conversation was nodding my head and an occasional yes or no. "You gonna keep me up all night," she said. I kissed her, "goodnight, grandma..."

Her bedroom slippers sliding across the upstairs floor woke me. My eyes blinked in the total darkness that surrounded me. Lying on my back, I stared at the ceiling, my eyes following each step. The steps creaked as she descended, sideways, one step at a time, one hand on the banister and the other carrying a lamp.

I struggled to turn on my side from underneath a foot high mound of quilts and blankets on this frigid morning. A glimmer of light ran underneath my bedroom door, as she passed, breaking the dark void, but only for a moment, as darkness quickly engulfed the room.

The sounds in the kitchen couldn't hide the going ons. The banging of the stove top as it was being removed; the sound of paper being wadded up making a bed for a fire; the rattle of kindling being gathered out of the woodbox. A few moments later the scraping of the grate in the Warm Morning stove in the living room, bringing the coals back to life. I snuggled deep under the covers and slipped back into unconsciousness.

A broom swatted me on the backside. 'Get up, boy, you gonna sleep all day?" I rolled over facing her. The once darkened room was now light. The window shade defused the sunlight, casting a yellow tint about the room. "Good morning, Grandma." Her mischievous smile caused me to laugh aloud. "Get up, breakfast is almost ready," she said leaving the room.

Trying to muster enough courage to leave my warm sanctuary, I glanced around the room. In the corner of the room sat an old pump organ that had been mute for years. Piled on top of the organ were empty Christmas boxes, boxes of old photos, papers, and old clothes neatly stacked in a pile that would never be worn again. I always planned to investigate the secrets of the pile, but never had.

Throwing the covers back, the chill of the room gripped me. Shivering, I slipped my pants on, grabbed socks, shoes, shirt and hobbled across the cold wooden floor, to the warm haven of the living room.

I slowly rotated, the Warm Morning stove caressing me with warmth. I stopped and gazed at her in the kitchen. Her back was to me, one hand on her hip and the other stirring gravy in a black skillet. The waist length, silky, gray hair was in a tight bun on her head. She was a remarkable woman, full of wit and energy. She turned around; I looked away, not wanting her to know I was watching her. "Go to the barn and get your granddaddy so we can eat."

"Watch out below," he yelled. A bale of hay hit the ground and burst open. The cattle quickly converged on the hay. "Grandma said to come and eat."

The minister/farmer eased down the ladder. He was small in statue, big on life, with sparkling eyes that had never thought once about becoming old. He took me by the arm and looked up at me, "Did y'all win the game last night?" "Yes sir." "Good, good..." As we walked toward the house, he spoke, "Did I ever tell you about the time..." Yes he had, several times, but like the hundreds of stories he told, they were never boring, as though they were being told for the first time.

As the day was drawing to an end, I prepared to leave; the usual sliver of sadness pierced my heart. I hugged and kissed them both. I love you grandma, grandpa. "We love you to boy." Walking to my car, I acknowledged her usual warning - drive carefully - by raising my hand. I glanced in the rear view mirror, they stood on the porch waving...

I knelt down and removed the dead, wilted flowers from the vase at the base of the headstone. I stood and stared at the names on the monument that simply said, Sam and Annie Stevens. The head stone projected a cold, matter of fact part of life. It seemed a small and unimportant epitaph to a truly great man and woman.

A man who worked six days a week to provide for fourteen children, never worked a public job, but lived off the land. On Sundays he worked for God in the pulpit; a giant, who lead hundreds of people to God through his ministry. He preached hard fact of life and the dangers of worldly living. When members of the congregation were in trouble or had strayed from the teachings of the Bible, he was gentle and easy, trying to help restore them through love.

She was the woman who worked in the fields next to her mate. She bore fourteen children, resulting in fifty three grandchildren and had the ability to council with a fifty year old child or a ten year old grandchild. She had a talent to serve a buffet to the "whole crowd." She could soothe pains, physical or emotional and had a shoulder to cry on or could deliver the hand of correction.

Both treated the oldest child to the youngest grandchild "fair and square." Both had the rare quality of being able to treat each individual differently, but loving them all the same. The most important task in life and they were successful at it, was the verse of scripture, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Leaving the cemetery, I drove to the old farm house. As I emerged from the car, I paused, momentarily expecting the front door to open, but it didn't. A rusty padlock secured the door trying to imprison the memories inside, but it didn't. I walked around the house, shielding my eyes and peered through the dining room window. The old oil lamp was gone, the room bare. I pressed my forehead against the window pane and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, though not very loud, I could here the sounds of the house coming alive. "Git up boy, you gonna sleep all day? Go to the barn and git your granddaddy..., we love you boy."

Although a physical flame no longer burns, to fourteen children and fifty three grandchildren, the light in the window burns eternally, in all our hearts.