Passage from Chapter 25 of The Wayfaring Stranger by Curt Iles
Background: Joe Moore, a teenaged Irish immigrant has been befriended by an old Redbone woman known as Miz Girlie. This scene takes place in the longleaf pines of Louisiana in 1849.
Joe slept each night on the porch. Miz Girlie gave him an old quilt and moss-filled mattress to lie on; aside from the mosquitoes, it was a fine place to sleep.
Every morning about daylight, he’d hear the old lady leave the house. She’d be barefooted and trying to slip out quietly, but invariably he’d hear her footsteps.
After the third day of watching her leave each morning, his curiosity got the best of him. When she returned an hour later through the tall pines, she greeted him as she got to the porch. Joe didn’t know if it was the early morning sunshine or something else—but her face seemed to have a glow to it.
As she ascended the front step, he asked, “Miz Girlie, now I ain’t trying to be nosey or nothing, but, uh, where do you go each morning?”
The old woman smiled. “Baby, you come with me and I’ll show you where I go. It’ll be a sight easier to show it to you than tell you about it.”
They walked out of the yard and into the tall longleaf pines. The shafts of sunlight shone through the tall canopies and Joe Moore was reminded of why he already loved the Louisiana piney woods.
Miz Girlie led him to an old twisted pine that was obviously in its last stages of life. The woodpeckers had drilled holes all up and down its thick trunk. Under the tree was a homemade bench that showed evidence of long use.
“Joe, this here spot was what my momma called her ‘prayer tree.’ It was where she started her day all the years I can remember. It didn’t matter how cold it was—raining or August hot—she came out here every morning.
“Son, it was her place to start the day with the Lord—under this here prayer tree—just her and the Lord, and a cup of coffee. When she passed in the year 1827, I just adopted it as mine. It’s now my prayer tree—a place where I meet every morning with the Lord, and we jes’ visit.” She smiled in a way Joe would always remember, “It’s my place to meet with God.”
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