What She Might Have Thought
(from the "Sunday Afternoon Rocking" series)
Copyright ©1998 JanPhilpot
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Today I am going to step into the shoes of someone else. I live in and nearby the mountains many of our ancestors crossed to settle Middle Tennessee. I don't think about it much until I drive out or in, and then it never fails to cross my mind and I am in total awe.
What kind motivation did it take for folks to set out on a journey over mountains that unwelcoming and that daunting, in danger of natives, nature itself....KNOWING full well they may never see the end of it, and that if they did they were more than likely to lose half their family in the process? What kind of thoughts crossed their mind when they made that decision? What kind of inner strength and fortitude did they possess that many of us today do not? Well...bear with a bit of a reverie here...may not totally be historically accurate, but I think the thoughts of a mother and a wife are...I stepped into the past and into the shoes of someone who might have been one of those folks:
"Johnny is decided. I reckon I have but one choice and it ain't an easy one. He says we have no choice, that we have to move on west and that now is the time to do it. There is land waiting in Tennessee he says, land that can be ours. He says any citizen of North Carolina now has a right to what ain't taken. He says there is nothin here for us anymore, and I am reckoning that is right too. But my heart is twisting in the inside of me and that is so as well.
I got three babies buried out back there to leave behind. The fever got Jakie... buried him at the age of two and like to broke my heart. Big strong boy, was sure he would make it...but the fever got him. Lizzie died at two months and Johnny never knew her name. He told me plain she wasn't healthy and not to get attached to her, to leave off the name so I wouldn't until we knew would she make it or not. But I couldn't stand putting her down in the ground without a name. I called her Lizzie in whispers and the day we buried her I whispered in her ear hopin somehow she would hear me, "Yore name is LIZZIE...Elizabeth Jane Clark, after your grandma, you hear? I named you after the mama I loved and that is yore name cause I love you too."
I knew full well how it is to bring youngins into the world and knew I would be burying them too, but I couldn't stand that baby nameless. Ain't no marker there, but I know it is Lizzie...nobody else does and when I leave here won't nobody know. Mattie is the third and I don't know how Johnny can not think of that...I reckon he does but does no good to be dwellin on it...a man's way. Mattie lived to be twelve. She was Johnny's pick.
Yes, it twists my heart the thought of leavin those babies out back there, worse even than it twists my heart I am leavin my mama's grave and those of my three brothers and two sisters. Won't nobody know my babies are there, won't nobody else pass by and stand a minute to remember. I won't never be back. I done decided before I go I am gonna go out back there and lay some big stones where they are, gonna scratch their names in it if I can, gonna lay some flowers there and tell them good-bye. I know it don't make no sense, but somehow I feel like I am deserting my babies, even if I cain't talk to them nor they to me.
That ain't all the thinkin and heart twistin I am doin about leavin here...Papa has my brothers that are livin, and my sister Jane, but I know the day I tell them goodbye is the last time I am gonna see them. I know Papa will die and I won't be here to bury him, nor any of the others either. There is somethin comforting about washing and dressing your dead...about lovin em gentle-like one last time and doin all you can for them before you send them on to the next world, and I won't get to do that...won't even know when it happens...will live all my days wondering if Papa is gone yet, or the others, and when they went, and how.
I won't watch my nieces and nephews grow up and I won't have Jane no more to talk to. Maybe I can send them word somehow along the way we are all right, maybe sometime they can send me word...but don't see how as things are now. They don't show no notion of following us to Tennessee. Only Johnny's brothers going to do that. All I will be able to do is lookup at the stars at night and think "well Papa and Jane might be looking up at these same stars...might not be together, but we in the same world with the same roof...that is something".
And the heart tuggin just goes right on too....I pitched an everlovin fit when Johnny come up with this. I looked at my livin youngins, all six of them, looked at their eyes a 'shinin as Johnny told em what was waitin out there for the takin, the times we would have, the future they had ahead...and I tell you my heart broke like somebody took a hammer and crushed it, over and over six times and no mercy. Those blue eyes shinin, those bright heads dancin up and down in excitement....and not a one of em old enough or with sense enough to know that they all wouldn't make it. We'll wind up burying some of em on one of those mountains loomin up like walls that reach to the clouds, or beside the river..I know we will and there ain't no two ways about it...and I know if my heart is breakin now it is gonna break even more then...Johnny won't have no time to let me stay there a spell and grieve..we will just have to leave them behind where ain't nobody, not even Jane, gonna know or drop on by and stay with them a spell now and then...I won't even know for sure where it is I left my babies on the way. Don't know how we will even go about buryin em right, puttin them away like a mama ought to have the right to lay her babies to the final rest.
And taint no sense dwellin on it. I know good and well could be none of us gonna make it, and for sure, if we stayed here neither there ain't no guarantee ...whole families I watched wiped out by first one thing and then the other. Caint vouch that the natives won't get us, nor a sickness, nor bad water, nor a piece of bad blood waiting to ambush us on the trail. Cain't vouch that river won't get us, have heard about that river and the places in it. Cain't vouch how long what supplies we have will last, nor for sure we can get more. Caint vouch for nothin much at all, cept Johnny is right.
Ain't nothin much for us here, gettin less and less all the time, and what of our babies make it, if any of em do, well they will have a better chance for it. They may can own their own land this way, get by easier in the world once that place is settled in. Maybe they can have things someday me and Johnny never dreamed of. But it shorely is a high price to pay. It shorely is.
And I reckon I'll follow Johnny even if my heart is twisting and bleed inside of me to where I don't know how I am gonna keep on keepin on. Johnny is decided and I reckon he is right."
And that is what I think might have gone through a mother's mind two hundred years ago.
Have a good day,