When I was a young girl, my mother taught herself to play the guitar. She bought a second-hand book that showed the fingering techniques, a nice guitar, and set her clever mind to the success of the project. Then, on fair days, we would all sit in the front yard, mom with her guitar across her lap, her playing a tune, me singing the words, as my siblings and cousins scampered after butterflies and each other. This is a story about one of those songs that we would share together, written in her honor. I love you, momma!
By Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer Black
5 March, 2013
“There is a problem with Joe,” she said, looking weepy but resolved. There were red rims to her eyes, and an unmistakable puffy quality to her that indicated further future water works. Mariah sighed, but if Tess was coming to her, the problem was fairly severe. Usually, Tess could handle their brother, while Mariah usually fanned his flames.
It was just that she was right in the middle of something important, and if Mariah did not pay attention to the task at hand, she might forget. It was easy for Mariah to forget what was not immediately before her attention. She listened again to the message, so plaintive, from the heartbroken miner. Elise. She would remember, surely. Send word to his lady love, Elise.
Mariah took her sister under her arm and whisked her to the tops of the trees, then up into the mountains before asking, “What has Joe been up to now?” Tess looked distracted, pulled thin, not as collected and concentrated. Her voice was soft, wistful, as she with some effort at concentrating answered, “He is setting fire to the underbrush at the bottom of the hills. I know that he enjoys some fun, but it is dangerous, and I can not keep up with him. No matter how many times I try to stop his antics, he just joyfully dances about with a brand, mischievous. It is dangerous, and he will not listen to me.” She fixed her older sister with serious, weary, pale-blue eyes. “There are people, houses, and farms with animals nearby, and the fires are becoming impossible to control.”
Another sigh, and then Mariah assured Tess that she would handle their brother. Tess smiled, sleepily, and curled into a fetal position, recollecting herself in rest right there on the mountain top. The earth rumbled, but that did not disturb her slumber.
Mariah made her way past the no-name mining towns that popped up when gold was discovered, only to be swallowed when the mines, improperly shored up, collapsed beneath the roads and cat houses and saloons. Those who labored within the earth without even knowing his name were sure to eventually annoy him.
Mariah put out her hands to gently brush the leaves of the great redwoods as she hurried past, their hissing a sweet music, until she flitted to where she at last found Joe.
There, on the plain, he smiled in glee, sparks flying from his snapped fingers, the golden glory reflecting in his eyes as he watched the field ignite. He was not a bad boy, but the youngest and most indulged of the family. Such outbursts were often endured with a fond smile and a pat on his gingery head by all of the family. This was becoming a problem, though, and Joe would need to be finessed. Surely there was some other place that he could move on to visit, some place different that could use his renewing touch.
Mariah whispered a greeting, making Joe jump in surprise. He looked around at his handiwork, smiled sheepishly. There were moistened parts where Tess did her best to minimize Joes’ destruction, trying to bring about a rebirth of the land, but the field was open, overrun with tumble weeds and underbrush that was all too eager to catch with enthusiasm Joe’s offered fire. What was left resembled the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.
“It is time to move on now, Joe,” Mariah said gently, placing her arm about the shoulders of her brother and guiding him along. She was gentle but firm, and he did not fight her. Instead, he offered as an explanation the bonfire left unattended by the lazy cowboys which drew his attention, summoned his frenzy. Mariah nodded, understanding, but continued to move along.
The wailing and moaning of their passage made the children in the nearby town curl a little deeper into their blankets, thankful for their safe walls. Joe looked longingly at the dry wood from which the dwellings were made, knowing that there were still sparks waiting his attention, sparks that could spring to life and, perhaps with Mariah’s help, catch the whole of the town into a flaming dance. The people could be frenzied and excited instead of sleepy, he thought, but Mariah continued to move him along, unheeding of his destructive desires.
They agreed on a new place for him to visit, and he set to work with a gusto when the lightening called his attention to a recently struck tree. Joe was enamored of the effects of the hollowed-out and split trunk, and set to work immediately. Mariah watched indulgently for a moment before moving on to a new town, forgetting the plea of the miner who longed for the love of his left-behind girl.