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Up and Down the Scratchy Mountainsby Laurel Snyder
(BEFORE THE BEGINNING BEGAN)
Our Story doesn’t begin Once upon a time or Back in the days of yore. It didn’t happen as long ago as all that, but still it happened before televisions and interstate highways, and even before your grandma was a little girl. Back then, the world was a different place.
Nowadays people can visit anywhere they please, because of silver airplanes and big ocean liners. Nowadays people can go to France or Zimbabwe, Topeka or Kathmandu, and be home in time for dinner. But back when this story began, the world had tiny corners--pockets nobody ever visited because it was too hard to get there.
In one such corner of the world, beyond two continents and across a wide ocean (nowhere near France or Topeka), there was a corner of the world that was chockfull of rolling hills and jagged mountains, rivers and streams, and walled villages. And in that land, which was called the Bewilderness, there was a village called Thistle. And just inside the village walls of Thistle there was a blue barn. And beside the barn--close enough that the red-and-white cows sometimes munched on the windowbox geraniums--there was a tiny house.
It was a stone house--a white one--with a thatched roof and a smokestack that chuffed cheerfully. In the house there was a family that consisted of a papa, a mama, and two little girls named Sally and Lucy. The family was happy almost all of the time,which is as happy as anyone can really expect to be.
Sally was only two years old, but she was helpful, quiet, and well behaved. Her brown hair hung straight and was never mussed, and somehow her shoes stayed remarkably clean. Everything about Sally was clean--in fact, her very favorite game of all was helping Mama fold the dish towels, which is unusual for a child. Sally was good.
Lucy was not. She was a tiny baby--fresh and bright and snappy, with a peach glow and a head of rosy curls-- but she screamed all the time. She screamed when she was being put to sleep and when she was waking up, and sometimes she even screamed when shewas snoring. She screamed when she was eating mashed peas, so that the peas fell out of her mouth in a blurp. She screamed when her papa chucked her under the chin and when he left in the morning to milk the cows. And she screamed loudest whenever Sally tried to hold her, because Sally’s arms were too small. So sometimes Lucy slid free and landed with a thunk on the floor.
In fact, the only time that Lucy didn’t scream was when her mama held her in the rocker and sang to her softly. Since nobody liked to hear Lucy scream, her mama sang to her most of the day, and often at night. She sang every song she knew, and some she didn’t really know. When she ran out of songs to sing, she made up tunes of her own and sang the words from her cookbook:
Oh, take two cups of sugar,
And put ‘em in a pot,
Then add a bunch of raisins,
And stir it up a lot.
When it gets to bubbling,
Chop an apple in,
And now I can’t remember
Where I put my rolling pin!
When her voice wore out, she hummed. And Lucy listened and cooed all the while. But Lucy’s favorite song, the song that put her right to sleep every single time, was a song that her mama had learned when she was a little girl herself, before she came to live in Thistle. The song that Lucy loved so dearly and so quietly was a song that the goatherds sang on the slopes of the Scratchy Mountains. Lucy’s mama called it the "Song of the Mountain," and it went like this:
Though winter snows may freeze us, and spring storms flood our beds,
We’re glad to feel the mountain grass is pillowing our heads.
Though goats may be our closest friends, and life is simple here,
We like it on the mountain, where the air is sharp and clear.
We have no use for fancy things, so keep your lace and jams.
We have no need for company, just labor for our hands.
And goats to sleep beside us, and bread to keep us full.
And stars above to guide us, and blankets made of wool.
We think of you with kindly thoughts, but seek the simple life.
We choose the mountain over all the joys of hearth and wife.
We’ve felt the sun from heaven, and breathed the mountain air
And now it seems that city life is too much life to bear.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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