I just finished doing the final edits on my upcoming historical novel, These Healing Hills, set in the Appalachian Mountains in 1946 with the background history about the Frontier Nursing Center. My character, Francine Howard, comes to the mountains to train as a nurse/midwife at the Midwifery School in Hyden, Kentucky. She has to learn mountain ways and get to know mountain characters. One of the characters I had the most fun “hearing” talk was Granny Em, a wise old mountain granny. She just kind of showed up one day while I was writing and that was my lucky day with this story. So here’s where Fran learns about swinging bridges and meets Granny Em for the first time, that day she just walked into my imagination. Hope you enjoy the scene.
Fran pulled in a deep breath and took two more quick steps. The bridge bounced to life with seemingly one aim. To shake her off. She grabbed the rope side with a death’s grip, afraid to move either direction.
A laugh behind her startled Fran. When she jerked around to see who was there, the bridge wobbled under her feet again. An old woman stood at the edge of the bridge with a basket looped over her arm.
“First time on a bridge like this’n?” the woman asked.
Fran dared a slight nod. “It doesn’t seem all that sturdy.”
“That bridge has held up plenty of bigger folks than the slip of a girl you are.”
“I’m not all that little,” Fran said.
“But some smaller than an elephant.”
“An elephant has been across here?” Fran couldn’t imagine such a feat.
“Not that I’ve heard tell of, but ’twouldn’t surprise me if Mary Breckinridge brung one in. She takes a fancy to all sorts of unusual things.” The woman eyed Fran. Her bonnet shaded her face, but it was easy to see the deep wrinkles creasing her cheeks. Her eyes were an odd coppery color that made Fran think of lion pictures she’d seen.
But her eyes were striking for more than their color. While the old woman’s shoulders were humped over a bit and her knuckles were thick with arthritis, her eyes looked like those of a young woman. Bright and glaring as she watched Fran, hardly blinking at all.
Fran had the feeling the old woman thought she was one of Mary Breckinridge’s odd things. She decided to go along with her. “Like me.”
A smile lifted one corner of the old woman’s lips. “Like you. But I’m thinking you ain’t as unusual as some of them others. ’Cepting for being scared of high places. These here hills ain’t a very friendly place for a body fearful of being high.”
“I’m not afraid of heights.”
“Are ye sure of that?” The old woman clucked her tongue, then set her basket down and moved over to the bridge. She grabbed the rope handhold and jumped on the bridge with both feet.
Fran clamped her lips together to keep from shrieking. When the swaying slowed, she admitted, “Well, except those heights that wobble and sway.”
The old woman twisted her thin lips to the side and gave Fran a considering look. “I like a body who tells the truth even if it has to be shook out of ’em. So I’ll cure you of the fear you’re having.”
“How’s that?” Fran thought she might just have to stay on the bridge until somebody pried her hands loose from the rope rails and carried her off.
“The bridge ain’t shaking. It’s dancing. You gotta dance with it, girl. Let your feet find the rhythm. If you pay some mind, there’s rhythm nigh on to ev’rything.”
“Dance, huh?” Fran kept her eyes on the old woman. “But I’ve never been much of a dancer.”
“Ain’t nobody what can’t dance if’n they turn their feet loose. The good Lord built tappin’ to music right in our toes.”
Fran swallowed and gripped the side tighter.
“Don’t be afeared. Give it a try.” The woman took a couple of steps toward Fran. She moved with the ease of a child and the bridge barely shivered.
Fran followed her example and forced her foot forward. The bridge dropped down a bit but then seemed to lift up to meet her next step. The swaying did have a certain cadence that might make one think of dancing.
She looked back toward the old woman, who had moved off the bridge. “I see what you mean.”
“Good to know you kin take advising.”
“Yes, thank you.” She took another step or two, but then thought she should say who she was. “I’m Nurse Howard, by the way.”
“I knowed who you were.”
“But I don’t know you.”
“If that ain’t the truth.” The old woman picked up her basket and walked away from the bridge.
Thanks for reading and let me know if you think you might want to get to know Granny Em better.