Updated: Nov 5, 2022
From Mountain Girl by Marilyn Moss Rockefeller
“I keep telling you, she’s something else,” Daddy said to his younger brother in his long, slow burn of a West Virginian accent. “She’s a real pistol, and if she wants to shoot a gun, I’m gonna teach her.”
It was October of 1946, and I was six years old. The three of us stood in Uncle Alex’s field in West Virginia, no houses around for miles, a few faded orange and yellow leaves clinging to the naked trees.
“Ain’t she too young for a gun, Charlie?” my Uncle Alex asked as he tipped the whiskey bottle back for another slug, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, stained black from working in the coal mine.
“Hell no,” Daddy said. “We learned to shoot a gun as soon as we could walk.”
“Yeah, but we weren’t no girls,” Uncle Alex laughed and shook his head.
We could hear the noisy rush of the river where an occasional duck skidded across the water, then flapped its wings on its way to being airborne again. The sky was a clear, azure blue with a few bulbous clouds. Uncle Alex sat on a wooden keg by the old stone wall and lit a cigarette. Daddy squatted down beside me and placed the butt of the .22 rifle against my shoulder, then held the barrel for me. “You have to hold it up, sweetheart.”
I was trying very hard. I wanted to make him proud of me. I had always thought my arms were strong, but the barrel continued to pitch down.
“Here, place your hand out here,” he said gently. “Okay. Now, honey, I’m gonna help hold it the first time, ’til you get the feel of it.” Daddy reached to take the gun from me, stood up, and took off his suit jacket. He always wore a suit and tie when he wasn’t driving heavy road machinery for the state of West Virginia. He folded his jacket carefully and hung it on a nearby tree limb, then loosened his tie and rolled up his white shirtsleeves.
I started to shake a little and wasn’t sure whether I was excited or scared.
“You see that big can out there on the stone wall?” He pointed at a shiny metal can. “That’s what you’re gonna aim for. And you’re gonna hit it.”
I didn’t feel nearly as confident as he sounded.
Daddy cocked open the barrel. Then, holding the rifle with his left hand, he put his right hand in his pocket, pulled out a cartridge, put it into the barrel, and snapped it shut. The metal-on-metal clang startled me. My knees started to shake and wouldn’t stop. He squatted back down behind me, brought the rifle up to my shoulder, positioned my arms and hands, and placed my forefinger around the trigger. The barrel and trigger felt cold on my hands.
“Okay. You see the can?”
He put his hand under the barrel to support it. “Now, move it gently to the left . . . then bring it to the right, back to the can.”
I squeezed the trigger.
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This excerpt serves as the prologue to Marilyn Moss Rockefeller's new memoir, Mountain Girl—an inspiring and poignant story that shows how grit and soul can take a person from barefoot in Appalachia to the boardrooms of industry without losing that special something or selling out. Rockefeller's childhood may read like a sad country song, but heartbreak only fueled her determination to grab the world by the harness and ride with a dynamic combination of guts, luck, charm, and intellect.