Appalachia Bare is proud to showcase our First Prize winner of the George Washington Harris Short Story Contest.
Linda Hinkle is a former Army Combat Medic and a current solitary practicing Pagan. She resides with her loving husband and two grown sons in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She was born and raised in McDowell County, West Virginia in Oosley Holler, in pure coal country. She learned everything she knows from the strong women who came before her, and especially owes everything to her Grandmother Molly and her generous heart. In her current job, she is a practicing social worker who works daily with her fellow sister and brother veterans to assist and support them. She will be happy to do so until she takes her last breath.
Grow Lavender for Luck Child
Molly Anne had a heart of gold and ever body knew it. She was kind, intelligent, and never held a sour word for any woman or man. She could be counted on to check in on the elders in the community that needed help from time to time, as the years had taken away much of their ability to help themselves. She was also blessed with a beautiful face alongside of her beautiful heart, and every young man in the community was out to make her theirs. Now Molly Anne was raised by her mother, Rosa, who had the same good heart, but, as an Appalachian Granny Woman, she could also turn the evil eye on you, spell a pox, or curse the very dirt you had to grow in. Knowing this, most of the young men in the community tread very carefully and were always respectful to Ms. Rosa.
Billy Ray was a handsome young man and he knew it. Unfortunately, he was fair of face but the good Lord had not seen fit to grace him with anything that resembled kindness. He had learned to hide it well and most people in the community were unaware that his heart was as black as the coal mined from the West Virginia hills.
Rosa was well aware that boy was no good; she was quick to remind her daughter of this whenever Molly would mention him or look his way. But, the heart wants what the heart wants. Molly was helping her mama Rosa in the garden on the fateful day she decided to tell her she was in love with Billy Ray and pregnant with his child. Rosa sat there, closing her eyes after the awful truth had been admitted, and listened to the mountain. It was alive with the sounds of birds and insects, the air infused by lavender, rosemary, and sage. She knew what she had to do.
Molly knew the moment she told her Mama that, although she would not be happy about how it happened, she would come to love Billy Ray just as much as Molly did. When Rosa’s eyes opened, she reached into the lavender and clipped off a few vibrant purple stalks. Rising, she carried them to her daughter and laid her hands against her daughter’s belly. She whispered words over her growing grandchild with a smile, slipped the lavender into her daughter’s pocket, and said, “Always grow lavender for luck child.” Molly smiled and hugged her mother; everything would be well. Rosa hugged her child close as her smile faded to anger, for she knew what the future held.
It was a small wedding in Rosa’s backyard. The cliffs covered in brightly blooming creeping phlox, alive with butterflies and humming bees, were the perfect backdrop. A few family members and community members gathered to wish the happy couple well. Molly was beautiful in her little simple cotton dress, wearing a crown of herbs and lavender that her Mama had made especially for this day. Billy Ray wasn’t quite sober from his wild night out on the town to celebrate his coming nuptials, the fresh black eye he was sporting as a testament to his lack of wit and willingness to finish every argument with his fists. Rosa shook her head when she saw it, raising her eyes to the blue skies and praying to her ancestors to help keep her out of prison. Rosa knew she could speak against this union, but she also knew her daughter figured herself in love, and that, regardless of Rosa’s issues with this worthless boy, her daughter could never see it. No, sight came with time and lessons that a mother cannot teach her daughter, that only the Universe could.
So, she bit her tongue and swallowed her rage for the time being.
The “I do’s” having been said, the happy couple received their blessings. Molly hugged her Mama tight to say goodbye, as she would now be going to the house Billy Ray had prepared for her and their future as his wife. Rosa whispered in her ear, “I love you my daughter. You can always come home, please remember that. Start your garden, toil the soil, and remember to grow lavender for luck child, and all will be well. And always remember that you are loved.” Molly smiled at her Mama and promised she would do everything she asked. Billy Ray tugged her away and, before she knew it, Rosa was standing alone at her front gate. She closed her eyes and channeled the sounds of the mountain deep into her soul and whispered protective words over her daughter. She shook her head, turning to climb up the mountainside to her garden. It was time to prepare the work.
It didn’t take long for Billy Ray to show his true colors, starting with ugly comments about her Mama, the food Molly cooked, and how fat she was getting with pregnancy. His drinking increased, which meant fewer nights at home and more sinister reactions when he was. He had yet to hit her, but Molly came to know that it was coming if something didn’t change soon. On the nights when he was gone, Molly toiled into the late evenings in her little backyard garden. She remembered the peace that came from working alongside her Mama at home in the garden, and she knew there were herbs she could plant that would help buffer the negativity. Between that and her love for Billy Ray and the forthcoming birth of their child, she just knew everything would be okay. She planted tomatoes, peppers, basil, angelica, rosemary, and lavender . . . thinking of her dear sweet mother all the while. The garden became the newest way for Billy Ray to mock her. He would come out back clutching a beer, already three sheets to the wind, and mock the empty pots with no signs of growth: “Stupid bitch, don’t you know lavender only grows for strong women?” Molly would do her best and wipe away any tears so that he couldn’t see the damage his words were doing. She continued to water, to talk to the plants, and to hold out hope that the lavender would grow.
Days later she welcomed her sweet little daughter into the world. Molly woke in the night with the pains of labor and had to fetch a neighbor to help get her Mama, as she was in too much pain to make the trip and her husband was absent once again, running the town and drinking. Rosa got word that her sweet girl was in labor, gathered her things quickly, and made her way to her side. The labor was long, but her sweet baby granddaughter made her way into the world in her own time. Rosa wrapped her in a baby quilt she had stitched together with love and words, and handed her to her Mama. “What shall I name her Mama?” Rosa thought for a moment, placed her hand on the little sleeping one’s head, and smiled, “Call her Linda. Linda Darlene . . . It means Beautiful Beloved.” It was in that moment that the sound of Billy Ray’s boots hit the porch. Rosa saw the fear rise in her daughter, so she eased her, “Rest child, he can wait. I will take care of him.” Rosa handed her daughter a tea to help her sleep and urged her to sip it. Once the tea had taken effect and Molly was resting, holding her child, Rosa turned and walked into the kitchen to greet her son-in-law.
Billy was in his natural state: mean and drunk. He was slamming things around the kitchen, caterwauling for Molly and calling her foul names. The sight of his mother-in-law standing in the doorway knocked him silent for a few beats before he smiled and said, “Where is my bitch of a wife? I hear my brat has been born and I am anxious to see my son.” Rosa smiled sweetly, pulling out a chair for her son-in-law and coaxing him into it. “Molly and the baby are resting. The labor was long and difficult . . . Why don’t I fix you something to eat and we will let them rest a spell?” Billy Ray squinted one eye at his mother-in-law. He had never remembered a time when she had spoken so nicely to him. “What are you up to old woman?” Rosa smiled and cocked one fist on her hip. “Is there something wrong with me taking care of my son-in-law while my daughter rests?”
Billy Ray, still not impressed, said, “Eggs. Bacon.” Rosa smiled and pulled out pans and got to work. The little house filled with the smell of a fine country breakfast. In mere moments Rosa placed a veritable feast before her son-in-law made up of eggs, bacon, fresh brewed hot tea, homemade biscuits, and honeycomb. He smiled and even begrudgingly offered, “Ms. Rosa, I don’t like you much and your daughter cannot seem to do anything right, but you sure know how to cook.” Rosa smiled. “Drink your tea, son-in-law. I made it special just for you.” Billy Ray smirked, tucked a napkin at his neck, and dug in. By the time he drained the last few drops of tea from his cup, there was nothing but empty plates in front of him. He belched, patted his tremendously full stomach, and pushed back from the table. “Now, give me my son.”
He stood and Rosa turned with a smile just in time to watch him collapse to the floor. He looked around confused and wide eyed, as his heart began to thunder in his ears. Rosa took her time, wiping down the counters, scrubbing the teapot clean until no trace of her brew was left, and only at that time did she turn to her son-in-law. She walked across the room towards him just as the pains began to wrack his body, his muscles cramping as the screaming started. She knelt. “Does it hurt boy?” He groaned in answer and began to pull himself as best as he could out the back door and onto the porch. She smiled and clasped her hands to follow him, “Good.” He ended up lying in the dirt, surrounded by the empty dirt pots his wife had tried to urge to life, with no more strength left to crawl. He looked up at his mother-in-law as she said, “You didn’t think I saw or heard what you’ve done . . . how you have treated her, but I have always known. You will never lay a finger on my daughter or my granddaughter, ever. I will not allow it.” He smelled it before he saw it, the last thing he would ever see or smell . . . lavender bursting in full bloom from empty dirt pots. She bent down, placed one finger under his chin, and echoed, “Stupid bitch, don’t you know lavender only grows for strong women?”
Rosa went to get the shovel as his eyes closed on the world and he rattled his last breath. The tea she gave her daughter kept her asleep and blissfully unaware of the impromptu burial happening out back. Nobody looked for Billy Ray – he was too mean and spiteful for anyone to care. Poor Molly wept a few tears for him, but she had her little Linda to care for and her sweet Mama for comfort, and eventually moved on. Years later in the garden, as Linda played in the lavender and watched her Grandma collecting the leaves, Rosa had to smile. Linda toddled to her Grandma and reached her little fingers towards the plant she was working with. Her Grandma pulled her back, “No sweetheart,” she whispered. “That isn’t for you. But always remember: Grow lavender for luck, but plant hemlock for peace.” Rosa smiled.
** Featured Image by MireXa on Pixabay