The Stranger at the Foot of the Mountain
By Phylenia G. French
sitting on the front porch was the gaunt, nameless form with waving hand,
acknowledging drivers who traversed this mountain. Someone’s grandmother, we
supposed. Perhaps she was lonely and this brought a sense of connection with
Her small, gray cinderblock house, though situated along the main highway, sat against a wooded area at the foot of the mountain. And every year, by fall’s end, there was a stack of firewood piled against the porch wall and the rising smoke from the chimney on colder days, like the waving of her slender arm, reminded travelers of “her” presence..
Months passed and we always smiled as we approached “her” house for she brought a bright spot to everyone’s day as they traveled across this stretch of highway. We were joyfully grateful recipients of this kindness. It was rare to see anyone else sharing her space on the porch, so we presumed that she lived alone, probably a widow, we thought.
On one occasion as we were driving on a return visit from our daughter’s house in another county, my husband, with compassionate tone said, “We should take her a bouquet of flowers sometime.”
“A great idea,” I replied. as the spark of anticipation was ignited. I looked forward to learning more about this person who gave joy to so many others.
Some weeks went by and finally, on a beautiful, sunny morning in June, I was on my way to visit my daughter to take her a birthday cake. The festive mood seemed to prompt me, “this is the day” to buy “her” that bouquet of flowers. Before I set out on the highway I stopped in at Wal-Mart and purchased a bouquet of roses accented with baby’s breath donning a white satin bow.
As I drove toward the mountain, I silently prayed that “she” would be on the porch, or at least at home. We knew nothing of her personal life, we didn‘t even know her name. . We were just always blessed by her presence. Given the possibility that she may not be at home, I was willing to go forth bearing this bouquet for the stranger at the foot of the mountain.
Her house finally came in to view and there she sat on her porch, her thin, slightly bent form, protected by a gray wool sweater to block the chill from the early morning mountain air.
I parked my van, and approached her porch with flowers in hand and a ready explanation for my visit. After all, we had never met.
I introduced myself and presented her with the bouquet verbally applauding her for the joy she had been bringing to our lives and others who traveled this mountain road.
Speaking with a broken voice, she said “Cornelia is my name. I‘ve just always liked to wave at people ever since I was a little girl, “ I’m 90 years old now”, she told me.
I posed questions that arose out of my inquisitive nature as one would expect upon meeting a stranger. She volunteered the fact that she had no children and she told me she was native to this area. .I offered her a piece of my daughter’s birthday cake, but she declined, owing the necessity to stomach discomfort she was feeling at that moment.
I asked if she had a container in which we could place her roses with water. “No, she said, without offering to go inside and look, I don’t really have a vase” I glanced down by her chair and spotted a two liter Coke bottle with enough water in the bottom(wondering why it was there) to accommodate the flowers. She urged me to use that. After placing the bouquet with the packet of flower preserver in the bottle, I placed it against a wooden pillar in front of her for her enjoyment and the opposite end of the porch was graced with a large hanging planter of pink and white petunias.
As I edged my way to the steps, I told her I was headed to Franklin County for my daughter’s birthday and halting my leave, she made a very touching statement, “Before you go, write down your name and address, I might want to send you a Christmas card.”
That was on a mild summer morning in June. My visit with Cornelia, the stranger at the foot of the mountain, had left an indelible impression on my spirit.
It hadn’t been so long ago that she kept her place on her porch, bringing smiles to many travelers but Cornelia’s investment in mankind continues as her obituary read:
She now sits on Heaven's porch waving to those she loves as they go by.
Our porch photo is of Wallow Lodge on Sapelo Island, Georgia.
Phylenia French resides in Virginia, but was born and raised in the coal camps in southern West Virginia. She is a LPN. Phylenia has been published in the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail, The Roanoke Times, Blue Ridge Traditions and Appalachian Life magazine. The piece presented here is from, These Were My Mountains, Life in West Virginia Coal Camps, a manuscript yet to be published.Phylenia French presents readings to residents of retirement/extended care facilities. She presented a reading from her first book Homespun Yarns to an Elderhostel at VPI and has presented a program on Appalachian Culture to Adult Day Services participants. Contact Phylenia French at: firstname.lastname@example.org © 2004, Phylenia French, All Rights Reserved