Nothing makes Blessing happier than to sit, singing, with Monnie, her grandmother, beside her, making music on the fiddle. Blessing's mama died when she was two, and Monnie has looked after her ever since in their small house in the Tennessee mountains. But it's been a long time since Monnie has felt well, really well. Even working in her beloved garden is beyond her now, and the doctor says she isn't getting any better.
Blessing is only eleven, and she knows she's going to be on her own soon. The mountain people will help her, but how does she know whom to trust? And how will she go on without Monnie by her side?
From the author of Mama, Let's Dance comes a novel of heartbreak, remembering, and hope, set against the backdrop of the Second World War.
About the Author
Patricia Hermes is the author of more than 20 novels for children and young adults. Among her many awards are the California Young Reader Medal, the Pine Tree Book Award, and the Hawaii Nene award. Her books have also been named IRA/CBC Children’s Choices and Notable Children’s Trade Books in the field of Social Studies. Her titles include Kevin Corbett Eats Flies; Heads, I Win; My Girl; and My Girl 2.
"Tell me about the snowstorm," I said.
"What snowstorm?" Monnie asked.
"You know what snowstorm," I said. "Tell me about my mama. Tell me again how I got to be named Blessing."
"Your mama named you Blessing 'cause you was such a blessing to her, coming after your papa had just died, and I've told you this about three thousand times."
"Tell me again," I said. "Tell about me as a baby."
"You didn't have no hair," Monnie answered. "You was bald as that stone over there till you were more'n a year old." She nodded her head at a large white boulder at the edge of the garden. She turned and squinted up her eyes at me. "Now why're you thinking about them old things?"
I shrugged, but I didn't answer. More and more lately, this had been happening to me. I'd be thinking of Monnie, and suddenly, I'd be thinking about my mama. Then, before I knew it, I'd find that the words had jumped out of my mouth and were hanging in the air between us.
Monnie bent to her hoe again, chopping at the hard earth, lines of sweat streaking her huge back and broad shoulders, shoulders almost as big as a man's. Her head was wrapped in a scarf, and from the back, it might have made you laugh -- a man wearing a head scarf and a skirt and apron. But when you got to look at her up close from the front, there was no doubt Monnie was a woman. Just a big one.
"How come you're thinking about your mama so much these days?" she asked, breathing hard.
"No reason," I said. I guess I was just thinking about snow. Maybe it'll snow again tonight." Which of course was not what I was thinking about. But I couldn't tell Monniethat.
"Well, think about this here garden," Monnie said. "We got to get this ground softened up and ready or we won't have no vegetables come summer. I don't see you breaking up them clods much."
I sighed. "I'm doing it, I'm doing it," I said. I lifted my hoe and followed Monnie down the row, hacking at the hard ground. My back was about broken, but I knew I couldn't quit till Monnie was ready to quit. And though Monnie is old and sick, she can work harder in the garden than anyone I know.
"Did my mama help with the garden?" I asked. "I mean, when she was my age?"
"She helped with the garden and hated every minute of it, just like you," Monnie said. "Not that she was lazy or nothing. She just didn't fancy getting her hands dirty."
"I don't mind getting my hands dirty," I said.
"I know you don't," Monnie said. "But your mama, she wanted to keep her hands nice for the dulcimer."
Monnie got to the end of a row, stopped, and turned to me. She took a big blue handkerchief out of her apron pocket -- the long apron she always wore in the garden -- and buried her face in it, then ran it up one side of her neck and down the other. "Lord have mercy, it's hot for a cold day," she said.
I nodded. Here it was mid-March, and the air was cold, and it still snowed at night. But when you worked in the sun, it felt like July. It's always that way here in the shadows on Star Mountain. It's hot and then it's cold. In the day, the sun can bake you till you feel yourself turning hot and all yeasty-like inside, like a loaf of bread rising in an oven. And then the sun slides down behind the mountain peaks, and it's colder than a grave digger's rear end.
Monnie looked at me, her eyes squinted up in that thoughtful way she has sometimes, head tilted to one side. "Now how come your mama's on your mind like this?" she said again. "That's at least the hundredth thing you've asked about her this week. And with her dead more'n nine years now."
"Since I was two years old," I said. I knew because I had been told the story so many times. And she died in a snowstorm on the mountain -- just like I was born in a snowstorm on the mountain -- and when she was found, she was reaching out toward home. Toward me. Those snowstorms, they're some of those "God things" Monnie always talks about, how God has his plans. But I didn't say any of that out loud.
"So whys she haunting you now?" Monnie asked again, like a dog with a bone, not letting go.
"No reason. I told you."
But Monnie, she's too smart for that. She kept looking at me. I ain't going nowhere," she said softly.
"I know that!" I said. But I was lying. And I had to look away. Because you can't lie and look Monnie straight in the face. You just can't. For some reason, I was scared lately -- scared that Monnie would up and die, just like everybody else had. My papa had died in a mine accident the same day as my grampa, both of them together, before I even got born. And then two years later, my mama had died, too.
I still couldn't look at Monnie, but I could feel her eyes on me, studying me.
"How about this?" she said softly, after a few minutes had gone by. "How 'bout we get on down to Ellie's tonight? After we clean ourselves up some. You'd like that?"
"Yes!" I said.
"Good. Then let's get this garden done with, Monnie said, and she turned and started with the hoe again, working with a vengeance.Sweet By and By. Copyright © by Patricia Hermes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.