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The Mountain Woman


Nancy Brar

"Stop running away from yourself." Nana was famous for saying. Everyone had ignored her odd quotes, popping in and out of every conversation. I had dismissed them as a wacky old woman's advice, advice I would never listen to, advice I'd never remember. Others had just pretended she hadn't said anything at all, instead of responding, or instead of forcing themselves to smile to be polite. My mother thought that because Nana was a mountain woman, she was stupid and useless in matters of the heart and soul, as if a business woman would know better than Nana.

Nana never wanted to leave her mountains anyway. It had all been a fluke. Something that should never have happened. Dad wanted her to come to the city. Dad wanted her close, so he wouldn't have to worry about her living alone up there in that backwoods town. None of us knew why Nana had agreed so readily. The old woman was known for her stubborness and her determination to be herself and nothing else.

"I ain't never had to pretend afore, and I ain't gonna start now," Nana would say whenever Mom suggested some sort of change to be made in Nana's house. Mom had given her a puzzled look, but had stopped asking about the statement, because Nana's reply was always the same to anything she said; "It takes time to figure it out." When Nana moved in, Mom would pick fights with her about everything. Mom had never liked Nana much, because she was a mountain woman. I had never cared much about anything going on either. I'd been too busy being a teenager to pay much attention to my family.

It had seemed before Nana, my father and mother were too busy to talk to me, to care about me. They had been overworked, stressed out and Mom had always been on a short fuse those few years. We'd never had much money. Mom's parent's had been angry that she'd dared to marry a man so below her social status and had cut off her money supply, had cut off any contact with their daughter. After all, Dad was the son of a mountain woman.

Nana would always be ready to talk to me, no matter what she was doing. And she was always doing something. Whether it was gardening and cursing at the same time, or doing repairs around the house better than a paid-for  handyman. She was always doing some kind of work to keep her busy, she couldn't stand to be idle. Nana wasn't lazy. She was always moving, even when Mom thought she would fall down from all the hard days in the sun she spent in her mountains.

And now? Now...Nana was dead. No matter what everyone said in replacement of the painful word, gone, free, she was dead and nothing would change that. I glared angrily at my father, hating him for everything about Nana he'd ignored and Mom, who'd always hated her, looking guiltily at her lap. I suddenly knew that if they'd both taken the time to listen to her, to care about her, as I should have, she might have left this world knowing she'd been wanted, knowing she'd been needed.

I stared at her ashes in silence in the jar. Her scent filled the car, and I couldn't help but hold it tight to myself for comfort I would never have again. She had hated the city, had hated the noise, the air, the grey. I looked up and found myself seeing her mountains, her beautiful mountains. I swallowed hard. Mom broke the silence.

"I can't wait to see Nana's house," she said in a falsely cheerful tone, as if she'd never seen it before and had stated in a loud voice that she'd hated it. I said nothing, but my father forced a small smile, as if he couldn't manage anything else. It didn't even look like a smile. He sort of stretched his lips and then his expression became blank and bleak again. I closed my eyes and felt the mountains. Her mountains. Where she deserved to be. I could see her smile, her deep, booming laugh. She never giggled like Mom did. It was another one of her beliefs: "If you're gonna let the happy out of you, laugh, laugh like it's your last."

I smiled for a moment, then I remembered the hateful things I had said to her. Nana cared about everyone in her own gruff way, but she made sure everyone knew she cared. I felt regret at the way I acted when she had tried to help me, when she had loved me the best she could, which was much more than I could understand, because of my mother and father's turning of cold shoulders on me. Nobody had been as special as Nana.

"Why can't you just leave me alone? Why can't you just get your own life?" My nasty words echoed in my head like sirens, and I felt ashamed, I felt angry at myself. How could I have been so hurtful? How could I have said that to her? I had sounded just like Mom, with her none too subtle hints that Nana should leave. I winced as the other words came back to me in a rush, "Go back to your mountains. Nobody wants you here. I don't give a crap about you." But I did. I loved her. She was my freedom, my heart, my soul. She was exactly like me. I felt startled when the car halted to a stop. My father looked at me with tears in his eyes.

All he'd wanted was Nana to be safe, all he'd wanted was to keep Nana close. Mom had ruined everything. Mom and me and Dad. I admitted my wrongs. I shouldn't have taken my anger out on her. I should have taken the time to listen to her.

"It's time to set her free," Dad said hoarsely as if it hurt him to just say those few words more than anything else he'd done or would ever do. Mom nodded and I could tell from her red rimmed eyes she'd been crying the whole way here. He didn't touch the jar, but his eyes were focused on me. I nodded too.

We climbed up that mountain. We didn't need any equipment, and Mom hadn't said anything, because she knew that this was the way Nana would have done it. I felt the sweat run down my face, I felt the air cool it. I felt the freedom Nana had always felt, when she'd been young and old, climbing these mountains, but I knew she'd always been young. My mother never said a word of complaint as she usually would have. My father was behind helping her. I moved my body up the roughness of the rocks. It took us hours, to climb up, my mother being a slow climber and needing a lot of help. I had learned to climb when I'd spent my summers at Nana's before she had moved to the city.

When were at the top we sat for a minute in our silence. And then I remembered something Nana had said. Something about not pretending. And I had been. I'd been pretending to be someone else besides the mountain woman I was, just like Nana. I hated the city. I'd lived for those summers with Nana.

My father's hand squeezed my shoulder, and he said, "Come on, Allie, let's do this. Let's give her back to the mountains."

I smiled. How fitting. She belonged to the mountains. My mother smiled too, with new tears in her eyes, putting her hand on my other shoulder. I lifted the lid off of the jar and slowly tilted the jar and watched Nana fly away into her mountains. We all stood there and smiled, knowing this was what she'd have wanted. The Mountain Woman.

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