Grandma Faith wavers in the mists, the wolf calls, the owl flies, the mountain is. Up up I go on Fionadala’s back, her hooves thundering. I see my child’s eyes only, through the closet keyhole, dark eyes are open, then closed. Thundering hooves, up the mountain we ride. At the ridge I stop, take Momma from my pack. And there, with mountain song rising, with fog wetting, with Fionadala nodding her head, with the fiddles of the old ghosts of old mountain men crying, with the voices of all I’ve lost and all I’ve gained, with the mountains cradling, with the West Virginia soil darkening my feet, with Momma’s cry of “Do It!” I open her vessel, and as I twirl, turning turning turning, I let her out—she flies out with a sigh, with forty thousand sighs. As I come to rest, she settles upon me, settles upon the trees and mountain and rock, settles, then is finally stilled. The owl cries, the wolf calls, the mountain is, Grandma Faith nods. Momma is a part of it all now.
‘All my tired flies out the window when I see Grandma Faith standing in the mountain mists that drift in and out of the trees. She’s as she was before, like one lick of fire hasn’t touched her, whole and alive and wanting as she beckons to me. Grandma whispers her wants as she’s done all my life.
I put my hand out the car window as Momma used to do, and say “Wheeee …” then holler to the owl flying in the night, “I’m Virginia Kate, and I’m a crazy woman.” He keeps his wings spread to find his supper. I don’t feel silly one bit.
Uncle Jonah had called and said, “Come home and fetch your momma.” I haven’t called West Virginia home for longer than what’s good, but I left before light without giving myself time to think too hard on it.
Grandma Faith used to say, “Ghosts and spirits weave around the living in these mountains. They try to tell us things, warn us of what’s ahead, or try to move us on towards something we need to do. But they want us to remember most of all.”
Momma never told stories much, since it hurt to do it. She said looking behind a person only makes them trip and fall. I understand why now in a way I didn’t as a girl.
I touch the journal Momma sent two weeks ago. I should have gone to her right after I read her letter, but I was too ornery for my own good, always have been. I didn’t want her to think she could crook her finger and have me scurry back to West Virginia after she gave me up as she did. I had set my teeth to her words and went on about my business.
Momma wrote, “I know you’d want to have this diary from your Grandma seeing how you are two peas in a pod. I made a few notes alongside hers. She didn’t have everything written down, so I had to fix parts of it. Come soon. I got lots to talk about. Things I reckon will explain what the notes in the diary won’t.”
I wrote back, “Dear Momma, I’m busy. You can mail my stuff to me (I’m enclosing a check that should be more than plenty for postage). You have your nerve writing me after all this time and expecting me to drop everything. That’s all I have to say right now. Signed, Virginia Kate.”
I didn’t open the diary until a week later. And only then because Grandma took up to poking at me until I had enough.
Now I’m full of regret. Momma didn’t tell me she was so sick; how was I to know? And the diary notes would have changed things, changed the way I thought about my momma. I’m almost to the West Virginia state line, but I already know it’s too late for Momma and me.’ –Virginia Kate (excerpt from Tender Graces)