Friday, August 17, 2012
Cody Hill was only 9 years old when he first saw Mavis Short in the woods behind the shack the Hill family called home. Mavis was Mavis Cooley at that time. It would be two years until she married old Earl Short. Mavis was the prettiest thing Cody had ever seen. She was reading a book. Cody had never seen a book before let alone ever read one. Mavis called him over and showed him her secret stash of books that had fallen from a traveling salesman's wagon a few years back. Cody sat down next to her in the small patch of grass while she read him the story of Little Women. She made Cody promise not to tell anyone about the books. Learning, especially for womenfolk, was frowned upon in the backwoods. Cody was able to sneak out every day to visit with Mavis and listen to her reading her precious books. Mavis learned to read when she was just barely 7 years old with the help of old Mrs. Crenshaw.
Agnes Crenshaw had lived in Greensboro until she was 16 years old when she was married off to Gideon Crenshaw who had been a mountain man all his life. Mrs. Crenshaw hoped that Mavis would be able to leave the mountain someday but she knew that it was almost impossible to escape this backwoods country.
Mavis read her books out loud to Cody and eventually taught him to read also. Cody didn't mind that the stories were about girls, he was happy to have stories to read over and over again. The two friends met every day when weather permitted. Mavis was like a big sister to Cody. He knew she was resigned to marrying Earl Short. Mavis never complained about the mean, unpleasant man she called Sir. Earl was out of sight most days and Mavis was happy to have her time with Cody reading and dreaming of a better life.
Cody guessed Mavis was going to have a baby even before she discovered it herself. Cody had been around his aunts and cousins enough to know the signs. Mavis knew in her heart that the baby was a girl. She told Cody she would name her Iris after the beautiful irises that bloomed every year by the river. Her joy was contagious and Cody anxiously awaited the time when little Iris would be born and he could be a big brother to her.
An early winter storm hit the mountain on a day that had started out very calm. Cody's Paw was felling trees when the winds started blowing. He was knocked unconscious by a falling tree and died shortly after. Maw took to her bed after Paw's death and eventually died of what Agnes Crenshaw said was a broken heart. Cody's aunts and uncles would have taken him in but Agnes saw something different in Cody. She knew that Mavis had taught him to read . He was just a boy, not quite 12 years old.
Agnes wrote a letter to her brother in Greensboro and explained the situation to him. Melvin Tanner agreed to give the boy a home. Melvin was a kindly old gentleman who lost his beloved wife several years before. His only son lived in New York City. Melvin never understood why their parents married off Agnes to Gideon Crenshaw so many years ago. Agnes did seem to be happy with Gideon through the years but her life was very difficult in the mountains.
Cody was heartbroken to have lost both of his parents and Mavis comforted him as best she could. He told Mavis about Professor Tanner's offer to take him in. He didn't want to leave Mavis but she insisted he go to Greensboro where he would be able to go to school.
“One day you will come back to get me and Iris and we will all find a way to a better life.”
With tears in his eyes, Cody left the mountain. He tried to fight the feeling that he would never see Mavis again. Mavis died later that winter giving birth to baby Iris.
Cody's life had changed dramatically. Professor Tanner introduced him to so many new things. They visited museums and art galleries. The following summer they took a train ride to New York City to visit the professor's son. Cody had never imagined how much the world had to offer. He didn't miss the mountain but he did miss Mavis. The professor broke the news to him about Mavis. Cody wanted to go back to be with Iris but he knew he was too young to care for her. He made a vow to Mavis that he would get an education and save little Iris from Earl Short.
Cody was true to his promise and excelled in school. Any time he missed while growing up on the mountain was made up when he set his mind to learning as much as possible. Professor Tanner grew to love the boy as another son and Cody felt the same way. Mrs. Crenshaw passed away two years after Cody left the mountain. Mrs. Crenshaw was his only source of information about little Iris Short since there wasn't another soul on the mountain who could read or write.
Time passed quickly and Cody graduated with honors from Greensboro High School the day after his 18th birthday. Professor Tanner knew he would be going back to the mountain to look for Iris before he started college in the fall and sent him on his way with his blessing and a little something extra to tide him over until he returned to Greensboro.
It took two days of hiking and climbing to reach the midpoint of the mountain where he had lived the first part of his life. He came upon the bungalow he called home. Another family was living in his old home. He decided not to bother them and went directly to Mavis' old cottage. This time he found no sign of life. It was obvious the hovel had been abandoned. He noticed two graves further down the lane. The graves had crosses made of rocks on the top of them. Mavis' name was scratched on one rock. Cody assumed the other was that of Mavis' maw. Cody couldn't help the flow of tears as he remembered the many happy times he and Mavis shared so long ago.
He walked slowly along the path that led to his aunt Ellie Sue's place. Cody didn't recognize his aunt. She had aged considerably in the few years since he left the mountain. Ellie Sue was happy to see her nephew. She gave him a weak hug and stood back to look at the handsome young man standing before her. Ellie Sue scolded Cody for leaving the mountain.
“Mountain men stay where the good lord intends for them to be and this is where you belong.”
Cody knew it wouldn't do any good to argue with the woman and ignored her remark. He asked if she knew what had happened to Iris. Ellie Sue's memory had lapsed but after several minutes of prodding, she did recall a young thing Earl called Girl. Her maw died when she was born and nobody ever thought to give her a name. Earl took off down the mountain one day with Girl in his buckboard. The authorities came shortly after that asking about Girl's kinfolk. We told the man she had nobody.
“You understand, don't you, Cody? We have to struggle to feed our own and there isn't enough for anybody else.”
Cody didn't understand but he needed more information if he was going to find Iris. Ellie Sue couldn't remember where the man was from. All he could get out of her was that it was some town down the mountain. Cody bid farewell to Ellie Sue and headed back down the mountain. He was so thankful to be leaving the place where the only good memories were of Mavis. He knew he would never come back. He also knew it would be useless to try to persuade his kin to move out too. He looked upwards to heaven and thanked Mrs. Crenshaw for sending him to live with the professor.
Cody wasn't sure what to do next. He tried to think like Earl Short would have thought. Maybe he had heard about the gold rush and would head west to California. That is probably just what the nasty old man would do. As he found his way down the mountain he turned west. He walked for several miles when he came upon a sign that said Welcome to Camden Corners. Cody was happy to see civilization again and vowed the first thing he was going to do was buy himself a horse. He wasn't accustomed to walking and climbing.
Camden Corners was a pretty little town. It was much smaller than Greensboro but had a very friendly look to it. He spotted a shop called Warm Hearth Bakery. Diana Taylor, Owner. His food supplies were enough to sustain him but the thought of a something sweet made his mouth water. He walked into the bakery where he was greeted by a nice lady who he assumed was Diana. He picked out 3 cookies and Diana poured him a glass of cold milk. He sat at a small table and began to devour the cookies when he heard a young girl's voice calling, “Mama, may Joey and I have a cookie?”
Diana turned toward the backroom and said, “Yes, Iris. Bring Joey out here and you may each pick out the one you would like.”
Cody's mouth flew open when he saw the little girl who looked so much like his dear friend Mavis. It must just be a coincidence, he thought. This little girl has a Mama. Cody finished his cookies and milk trying not to stare at the little girl. Diana noticed that the color had disappeared in the young boy's face. She asked if he was feeling alright.
“Yes, ma'am, I'm fine but I would like ask you about a little girl I am trying to find.” Cody began telling her about his friend Mavis when Diana seemed to hurry the children into the back room.
“What do you want?” she asked. “Who sent you here?”
Just at that moment Joe Taylor walked through the door. He knew immediately that something was upsetting his wife.
“This boy is asking about Iris. We adopted her a year ago and nobody is going to take her away from us.”
Joe put his arm around his wife's shoulder to try to calm her down.
“Let's all sit down and find out what the lad wants with us.”
Cody apologized for upsetting Diana. He wasn't here to make trouble. He explained his friendship with Mavis and how he was sent to live with Professor Tanner after his parents passed on. He told of the promise he made to Mavis that he would be back one day to save her and her baby girl from the mountain life. He told them how Mavis had named her daughter before she was even born and that she loved her with all her heart. Cody's eyes filled with tears as he talked about what a special person Mavis was and how happy she would be to know Iris was obviously loved and living in a beautiful town like Camden Corners.
Diana wrapped her arms around the boy and this time she apologized for jumping to the wrong conclusion.
“Iris means so much to us and I think I have always feared someone would try to take her away. I can see you loved her mother and I think it would be good for you to get to know your friend's daughter. She is a special little girl and just from the little you have told us about Mavis, I think I know where her wonderful qualities came from.”
Joe thought the boy was being sincere but didn't want to take any chances. He suggested they wait until tomorrow to introduce Cody to Iris. Joe was afraid she wouldn't be able to sleep that night because of the excitement of meeting a friend of her mother's. Cody agreed, the men shook hands and Joe pointed toward Watson's B&B where he was sure Mrs. Watson had an open room. A real bed sounded like heaven to Cody who had been sleeping on the ground the last several days.