I held the fragile photo in my hands and smiled.
"Who is this adorable child, Betty?" I asked her.
Betty peered a moment at the photo, then groped on the coffee table for her eyeglasses. She put them on to help her glaucoma-dimmed eyes see the small photo I had pulled out from her photo album.
"Child?!" She said, snorting a bit. "That's no child! That's a woman!"
It was hard for me to believe that the barefoot girl in the oversized dungarees rolled up to her shins was a woman. I must have looked at Betty with a questioning gaze.
"Oh, yes! She got married not long after that and had a baby by the same time the next year."
"How old is she here, Betty?" I asked.
"I reckon she's 'bout thirteen there."
I looked at the broadly grinning, scampish face in the photo. She looked like she'd just come in from gigging frogs, or some other common childhood pursuit here in the mountains.
There are many paradoxes here. The mountains cosset their children and insist that they indeed be children. Between chores, there are endless childlike fascinations to be found. Turtles to harass, fish to be caught, salamanders to hold and icy creeks to swim in. But the mountains also ask those children to grow up practically overnight.
Those paradoxes are far deeper and more challenging for girl children.
I look at the photo of the little girl often. I wonder about how she had to grow up so quickly, moving from barefoot child to mother in the course of a year.
I wonder. But I know, somewhere deep in my bones, I know, that she was strong. Strong like Betty and all of the mountain women I know. She may have stayed seated in church, but hers was not only the hand that rocked the cradle, that stirred the pot, that did the laundry and milked the cow.
Hers was the hand that shaped a generation of proud Appalachian people.