that she had always wanted.
The midwife took me to her home after my mother died. I called her Marraine. Marraine was ancient, as old as the cypress trees that towered over her tiny shack. She called them her “ladies,” and they did look like tall slender women with long wavy hair and wide skirts. She said the trees were her friends, and the little animals that lived in them -- birds, raccoons, possums, and squirrels – were her children. She was a small, stooped woman with charcoal skin and curly gray hair. Deep wrinkles encircled her dark eyes that could flash like lightening in her brief moments of anger, but were most often crinkled up in laughter. She had no teeth, but never seemed to care and smiled easily just the same. She wore a dingy housedress and slippers almost every day but Sunday when she would dress in bright purples and oranges and wrap her hair up in an elaborate tignon with long feathers. She was Creole, and she knew the mysteries of natural medicine. Her little hands, gnarled with arthritis, possessed extraordinary powers, but they touched me with tenderness.
Marraine was always traveling around, tending to sick people, helping women give birth and sometimes acting as a preacher for a wedding now and then. She took me everywhere with her, calling me her little helper and teaching me all that she could. Folks would pay her with dried beans, rice, cornmeal, chickens, eggs, whatever they had. Marraine would take this food and make meals every day for the family and friends who came to see her. We would take it out to the porch to eat with plates on our laps. After supper, someone would pull out an accordion and a rub-board and then they’d play Zydeco and we’d dance until very late until Marraine would have to say, “Get on home, now!”
On quieter nights, I would crawl up on her warm lap and snuggle into her arms as she sat in her rocking chair, sometimes snapping beans, sometimes sewing a little, and telling stories to those gathered there on her porch. I remember well the stories that Marraine told. They would help me to fall asleep, something I was afraid to do, because I had terrible nightmares. Every night, I dreamt that I was drowning.
Marraine told me that it was because of my sadness. She told me that the pain was drowning me. On night after I had woken up screaming, she came to my little cot and pulled me into her arms.
“Tite Melee,” she smiled, “I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a story about a family who lost a little girl, right about your age.”
“What happened to her?” I asked, drying my tears.
“Well, petite , she died.”
“Like momma died?” I whispered.
“Yes, like your momma died,” Marrainepulled me closer to her, and I lay my head against her chest. “Shush now, and let me tell you the story.” I got very quiet.
“After the little girl died, her family was very, very sad. They cried. Almost all the time, they cried. Until one day, the mother had a vision.”
“What’s a vision?” I interrupted.
“Oh, a vision, that’s like a dream you have, except when you’re awake.”
I thought about that for a moment.
“So, the mother, she had a vision. She saw many little children marching, all dressed in white and each one holding a candle. At the very end of that line of children, she saw her own little girl who was holding a candle too, but her candle was not lit. She was the only one who had a candle that wasn’t lit.
So, she went up to her little daughter, and she asked her, ‘Sweetheart, why isn’t your candle lit?’
And the little girl looked at her, and she said, ‘Momma’ she said, ‘you’re always crying for me. The Good Lord doesn’t like for you to cry for me. You have to accept that the Good Lord took me. Every time you cry, your tears put out my candle.’”
“Is that what the stars are, Marraine?” I asked. “Are the stars the candles of all the