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  • Bill Parker Leach

The Gift

by Bill Parker Leach

As a boy growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I heard Momma and Daddy and neighbors from town talk of many strange happenings through the years. There were mountain folk who found caches of buried Union payrolls in the hills or rusted iron cooking pots filled with Confederate gold buried on their property. There were sightings of hairy, manlike beasts who roamed about stealing pigs and chickens from local farmers. When Momma’s Uncle Frank and an old woman from church died in the same week, Momma told us to beware because death always comes in threes. I had nightmares for weeks, scared I might be the next one to go, but no one else died that year and things settled down.

On one occasion when I was very young, Daddy drove me and Momma in his old pickup to the top of a mountain for fresh eggs. Daddy’s truck labored to climb those rutted dirt roads to the farm where Momma’s friends from church lived.

When we arrived, we could see forested ridges in all directions. Daddy pointed out three different states. While Momma discussed chickens and eggs with her friends, I looked around their homestead. Donkeys and goats grazed in a yellow meadow while bees swarmed next to the barn. I felt a tug on my wrist. A boy around my age pulled at me, gesturing toward the barn. We ran into the darkness followed by a wrinkly faced hound. The smell of hay overpowered me as my eyes adjusted. Big eyed cows stared at us and shuffled around their pens while sheep milled about. The boy pointed to a corner where a lamb had just been born. He tugged me closer and drew my hand to the lamb’s side. I could feel its heartbeat, but the lamb’s breathing was labored. The boy’s old hound sniffed and whined, circling around the lamb, but the boy shoved it away with a loud grunt. Then he placed his hand next to mine and began uttering in a language I’d never heard before with more than one crude, guttural ‘Amen’ thrown in. The cattle and sheep listened and watched as the boy kept praying in his strange language. Even the bees in their hives grew silent.

Soon, the newborn lamb stood on wobbly legs next to its mother, but then fell down and stopped breathing. The boy ran from the barn, waving his arms, shouting and dancing and singing old hymns while the barn animals and honey bees went back to their business. I followed him outside where his entire family celebrated with the boy. I couldn’t figure out why they were so happy. Their lamb had just died. Momma said her goodbyes and carried her tan and blue eggs to the truck, and Daddy drove us down the mountain, grinding that old truck’s gears the entire way to keep from tipping over the side.

As I grew older, I heard of other miracles and healings that occurred on the top of that hill that the locals called ‘Prayer Mountain.’ It wasn’t until many years later that Momma told me the story of that deaf and mute boy who prayed for his newborn lamb to survive. Momma told me that even though the lamb died, the boy was healed of his afflictions. She said he grew up to be a country preacher who travelled through the foothills and led many people to salvation. Stories made their way down the mountain and throughout town of the miracles that flowed from his preaching. All the townsfolk believed he had the gift.

I later moved to a faraway city and began my career in the news business. Momma and Daddy have passed on, and I don’t get to church much anymore. But sometimes when the traffic noise of the city and the odor of the paper mill gets too bad, I’ll drive north into the hills for fresh air, lightening bugs, and the songs of crickets. I’ll remember the farm on top of Prayer Mountain where miracles happen, where donkeys and their foals dance in a yellow field, and where stars converge in circles around a full moon like a halo in the nighttime mist.

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