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When I Was Young in the Mountains

When I was young in the mountains,
Grandfather came home in the evening
covered with the black dust of a coal
mine.  Only his lips were clean, and he 
used them to kiss the top of my head.

When I was young in the mountains,
Grandmother spread the table with hot
corn bread, pinto beans and fried okra.

Later, in the middle of the night,
she walked through the grass with me
to the johnny-house and held my hand
in the dark.  I promised never to eat
more than one serving of okra again.

When I was young in the mountains,
we walked across the cow pasture and
through the woods, carrying our
towels.  The swimming hole was dark
and muddy, and we sometimes saw snakes,
but we jumped in anyway.

On our way home, we stopped at
Mr. Crawford's for a mound of white
butter.  Mr. Crawford and Mrs. Crawford
looked alike and always smelled of
sweet milk.

When I was young in the mountains,
we pumped pails of water from the well
at the bottom of the hill, and heated
the water to fill round tin tubs for
our baths.

Afterward we stood in front of the old
black stove, shivering and giggling,
while Grandmother heated cocoa
on top.

When I was young in the mountains,
we went to church in the schoolhouse
on Sundays, and sometimes walked with
the congregation through the cow
pasture to the dark swimming hole,
for baptisms.

My cousin Peter was laid back into the
water, and his white shirt stuck to him,
and my Grandmother cried.

When I was young in the mountains,
we listened to frogs sing at dusk and
awoke to cowbells outside our windows.
Sometimes a black snake came in the
yard, and my Grandmother would threaten it with a hoe.

If it did not leave, she used the hoe
to kill it.  Four of us once draped a
very long snake, dead of course, across
our necks for a photograph.

When I was young in the mountains,
we sat on the porch swing in the
evenings, and Grandfather sharpened
my pencils with his pocketknife.
Grandmother sometimes shelled beans
and sometimes braided my hair.  The
dogs lay around us, and the stars
sparkled in the sky.  A bobwhite
whistled in the forest.
Bob-bob-bobwhite!

When I was young in the mountains,
I never wanted to go to the ocean,
and I never wanted to go to the desert.
I never wanted to go anywhere else in
the world, for I was in the mountains.
And that was always enough.

Source: Cynthia Rylant, Copyright 1982.


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