Chapter 1 – A Birth “On the evening of the third day of labor, the woman’s screams filled the little cabin, escaping through the open door to tangle themselves in the dark hemlocks that mourned and drooped above the house.” And so begins the story of “Least” the last of Fronie’s children, born shortly after the death of Fronie’s husband in 1922.
Least is born with “the gift” and is a part of Appalachia, both harmed and helped by her mother’s neglect. She can see the little creatures and work with the magic of the land in the way of her ancestors on her mother’s side who were Cherokee. After the birth, Fronie has decided that she needs help, that all of her other children had left or were soon to leave and she wanted to ensure that Least stayed. So she put out that Least was “simple” and unable to take care of herself. She didn’t leave the homestead and she was not to be taught how to read or interact with people, she was basically hidden away. Until her grandmother had to be taken in. It is at this time that you learn that Least is in fact very intelligent and gifted in unexpected ways. Her grandmother teaches Least all about the plants and medicinals, how to talk to the little creatures and what is to be feared or treated cautiously to ensure no harm.
This book takes us from her childhood and then leaps from her courtship and marriage at a young age (1938) to her widowhood in 2007 where she is now known as Miss Birdie. There is a dark time that has come upon her home and she must make the difficult choice of whether to follow her heart and use her skills or stay true to her late husbands beliefs that these talents were actually “witchcraft” and should not be used.
Her life and struggles in the heart of Appalachia were very interesting. The author also intersperses articles from local papers to highlight facts from these times that the fiction weaves around and references. It was a compelling book and I wolfed it down. It is not only the history of the area but also the culture that really comes through well. The author is Vicki Lane and I do plan on finding other books by her.