The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Aunt Mattie

By Katherine Wardlaw © 1995

Issue: Winter, 1995

I had climbed Spring Mountain to find Aunt Mattie and expecting to see a wild-haired, unfriendly stranger. Instead, I found everybody's idea of a grandmother with hair drawn back in a smooth bun. Now, on a warm summer day, we were sitting on her tiny front porch and sipping spring water that had the purity of a saint.

"Tell me about yourself," I urged, having already explained on our meeting why I had come. "Have you never left your home, not even once?"

"Never," she admitted. "What can the valley of the world offer me that I don't have here?" She raised her arm to sweep the panorama. "My neighbors get me what I can't grow. Ben, whose house you passed, cuts my firewood just like his papa did for my mama after my papa died. You see my garden and the chickens and the beauty of the mountain top, so why would I want to leave?"

She sat in reverie. Out of her memory she finally spoke. "Once a strong man found our home. Charmed Papa and stayed for a while. Built this porch," she said, looking around. Her smile covered the past and the present. "We sat out here many an evening. Wanted me to leave. I couldn't do it. The big world frightens me. Seems they're always fighting over something."

We finished our water and Aunt Mattie stopped her rocker. "Let's go out in the bluebells and primroses and daisies. I'll pick you a bunch with roots that you can plant around your condo like you call it." A sly glance was tossed my way. "They ought to call it a 'cando,' cause you say you don't have to do a thing but live in it. Don't think I'd like that," she added. "Wouldn't seem like mine."

The flowers grew in profusion, and I sank down to bury my face in them. Aunt Mattie was pleased.

"Ever seen so many growing wild, my child?"

"Never." The back of my eyes hurt with suppressed tears to think of the love that had gone into the beauty.

Aunt Mattie spread a piece of faded gingham cloth and pulled flowers with roots until it wouldn't hold any more. She tied it with a string. "Now we'll wet this down and you be sure to plant them right away. That way you'll have flowers this fall."

I accepted the gift. "Please tell me more about your life," I urged.

"Nothing more to tell. Some folks kept urging me to leave but..., well, eighty years have flown and I ain't never been bored a day." She paused. "Lonesome sometimes but ain't never been bored... Let's go over to the graveyard," she said softly.

I could see the graves from where we sat and had wanted to go. I took her arm under the elbow.

She pointed to two rough-hewn pine crosses marked with names "Claud Laken" and "Minnie Laken." Then she indicated a tiny wooden replica of the other crosses. It was marked "Penny Laken." "That one's my little sister. Lived only six years. Couldn't take liquids Mama and Papa said." She centered her eyes on the white cloud overhead. "I think of them all up there. Not sitting, mind you, but showing others how to live the simple life. Mama and Papa was wise about that... I'll join them soon, and Ben's children will live here and keep it like it is. They promised me, and I know they will."

How could they not? I didn't want to go down the mountain.

I turned to walk back to the log cabin. Aunt Mattie lingered, and I waited at a short distance. When she joined me, she asked, "Do you think I did right in not going?"

I pondered the question. "What about sickness? What do you do then?"

"There's a small herb garden out back. Grows all I need. We know how to use them to stay well," she said in an easy tone.

I smiled with my face and my heart. "I think you made the right choice, Aunt Mattie. Nobody could give you what this mountain has."

As I wound my way back down the mountain after another cup of spring water, a shared hug, and my promise to return, I thought of all the wonderful, beautiful places I had been in my life. Always I had sought serenity, but it was not to be found in any country or on any ship. For me, here on Spring Mountain, it had been harnessed by a wise family and maybe others like her, and I couldn't blame them for sitting on it like a gold mine.