I know I’m supposed to be thinking of those who served in the military this Memorial Day. I have been, but these thoughts have led me to others, engaged in a different kind of war, on the home-front. Women with the pioneer spirit fascinate me. I want to know what drives them…what they are made of…where they get their spunk…and hope that I can learn something from them that helps me foster some of the same grit.
My father’s grandma was one of these. She appears small in stature, but she was mighty in spirit. See that gleam in her eye? Mattie was possibly of the Chickasaw or Choctaw tribe. I have spent much time trying to connect the dots to this heritage, but so far, to no avail. I assure you, though, her determination surpasses her height.
(Update: for anyone in my family who might know the precise details of this story, mine turned out to be rather fictionalized. See? I am a writer.) *See addendum at the end*
My father tells the story of Mattie’s days in the Oklahoma territory as a young bride and mother. Accommodations were sometimes rudimentary. Hers was no exception. The place where she began rearing her family was crude, but it provided a roof over their heads.
One night, the window over the kitchen sink was left open. It was probably a sweltering summer night where any slight breeze would have been appreciated. Mattie was awakened by a sense of foreboding. Adjusting her eyes to the dark, she raised herself to a sitting position on the feather bed in the one-room cabin. A glint from the moon sparkled off the eyes of a creature climbing into the cabin through the window. It was a mountain lion, perhaps on the hunt for one of her babies!
Mattie possessed a split second to make a move. She had to do something. The rifle leaned against the door-jam, all the way across the room. There was no time for thought. She sprang from the bed in her white, cotton gown and flung her arms around the creature’s neck and shoulders, attempting to wrestle it to the ground. The piercing scream of the lion cut through the quiet as a tumble of limbs and fur crashed against the sparse furniture. In a stealthy leap the massive animal suddenly sprang toward the window and made its escape.
Mattie sat on the floor gulping in great breaths. Tears streamed down her face. Her husband ran to her. Four claw marks trickled a tinge of blood down one forearm. There were no puncture wounds, nothing serious. It was a miracle.
It is difficult to place these two pictures together in my mind. Envisioning Mattie entangled with the mass of a mountain lion seems too unreal. It is, however, the truth.
I have seen one of these incredible creatures once in the open. I was driving at dusk when I saw the massive, golden muscles of a mountain lion twitching as it crept low to the ground in a bar ditch off a country road in Oklahoma. Its size and beauty stunned me. I longed to see more, but it was not possible. I would love to meet this gaze in a safe setting, but that is not likely, either. A healthy respect for their power is probably all I can drum up.
I wonder, if faced with the same challenge of chasing a mountain lion from my home and protecting my children, would I rise to meet it? I hope that I would, for the sake of the family slumbering nearby. I don’t know. Women of that generation were made of a strong gristle. I hope that in my own way, I possess that verve. Sometimes life does require it.
*Update* Otherwise known as, “Get your facts straight, Chickie.” ;^) A mountain lion did enter the kitchen window of my great-grandmother’s home when she had small children. It probably took place in Arkansas, my dad was fairly certain, although not 100%. Mattie heard the lion, which she called a “panther” (dad said she said, “pain-ther”) screaming several times outside, before it came in. She did not wrestle the mountain lion. My mistake. This tidbit it just as good, though. She threw a hot flat iron off the wood stove and hit it, burning it enough to frighten it back out the window! (I would think that since it was bold enough to scream before it came in, it was definitely on the hunt and hungry!) The panther did, however, make a note-to-self (just as I have done) and said, “Don’t mess with Mattie!”) (OK, more fiction, BUT–it did not come back!) ;^) Dad also said that Mattie probably never weighed over 100 pounds and was only around 5 feet tall. Still a GOOD story, and TRUE…now that you know the “rest of the story.” ;^)