Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Thirty One

The story began at 9:07 pm on August 28, 2006

Esmeralda woke up the next day with a smile on her lips.

She had been the doctor in the village for so long that sometimes she felt invisible.

People came to her when they had problems, and they were very polite when they met at the market or in the streets, but very few could be considered "friends."

She was a little bit younger than Ava, but looked more Cathy's age -- being a medical professional did have its advantages!

This morning, she sat and sipped her tea and ate a piece of fresh fruit from Gilly's garden and ate a small piece of teacake that Anna had pressed into her hands as they were leaving.

She thought about Doris's illnesses and reviewed her notes. They had been growing steadily worse over the last few years. She sighed as she considered how few remedies she had left to try...

Pushing those thoughts out of her mind, she decided to pursue a more pleasant topic.

Paul was finally home.

Not that she had ever really had any doubts -- she had watched him grow up since his strange arrival in the village, and had often spent time with Adam and Ava's family (they were cousins after all) in the cold months when few people were out getting sick or injured.

Ten years was a long time.

There was "look" about him that Esmeralda wasn't sure how to interpret.

Obviously, he had seen many unpleasant things. His posture alone, even without the lines on his face, would have told her that.

But he had also seen something wonderful. Of that, she was sure.

There was a strength and -- a quality she could not name -- when he spoke now. An assurance devoid of bravado.

He had changed. And so far, Esmeralda was pleased with what she saw.

Finishing her tea, she quickly washed the dishes and swept the floor of her small cottage.

Well, it wasn't really a cottage -- being in the middle of town -- but it was small. The floor at street level was just big enough for two people to stand between the door and the counter and look at the shelves lined with neatly labeled jars and boxes.

The basement level had a very low ceiling. So low that most people had to stoop to get down the stairs and through the doorway. Here she kept extra equipment -- tools, boxes, casks and caskets, jars, vials, barrels -- and bits and pieces of odd findings.

She lived, of course, on the upper level, slightly bigger than the street level, it had several windows facing south with a small iron stove in one corner. Along the back wall, her bed cabinet and some hooks for extra clothes.

On the side walls, shelves of books and a few sculptures.

And on the wall facing the street a large comfortable chair, a stool on three legs and a broad big table with the surface worn smooth from use.

She accessed her room by a ladder which she would pull up after herself at night.

Few people had ever been to her room, but Paul had helped build the bed cabinet when he was quite young.

Esmeralda remembered telling Adam of her need for a bed that would protect her better from drafts.

They had walked out in the forest one autumnal day and found the perfect tree. It was tall and broad and straight, with limbs starting well above head height.

Adam and Paul worked through the day to bring it down and limb it up.

Then they harnessed it to the team of horses and dragged it to the farmyard where they carefully stripped and saved the bark.

Paul had been tireless, working with the drawknife, taking the bark off in long sheets and rolling them up before placing them in a barrel of rainwater.

For a young boy, he had showed remarkable skill, patience and understanding.

Soon after, Esmeralda had offered to teach Paul the basics of medicine so he could help take care of the more common ailments in his family.

Ava had thought long and hard about this, then agreed that Paul might spend some of the time during the winter months. She asked if Cathy might be able to sit in on the lessons, and Esmeralda readily agreed.

So for several years, when the weather grew too cold to work on the farm or in the yard, and the children were not at school all day, Paul and Cathy walked into town to take lessons.

They learned the uses of the strange baccy plant, that could make the heart race and the mind think clearly.

They learned the dangers of the bind-bone plant and how too much could poison the liver.

They learned simple manipulations of muscles so that when a person had fallen or been hit they could relax the person and let the natural healing take over.

They learned to recite the recipes for the simple teas that soothed, calmed, revitalized or energized.

And they learned Esmeralda's simplest secret of all -- how to make good soap that really worked for washing hands.

Esmeralda's soaps were made with tree bark and oils from the tall sunflowers; with lavender and with oats. They smelled wonderful and brought a good price at the market.

She never made a secret of the actual recipe. But she told the children the reason the soaps she made were more successful: Love.

Cathy and Paul were fine students and soon were mixing preparations in the shop under Esmeralda's watchful eye.

The time came, when Paul was ready to go out and make money.

Esmeralda offered to teach him the rest of what she knew, so that he could become the next doctor, but he declined. Even at a young age, he knew that the hours and the commitment to the community would keep him from successfully supporting a family.

Doctors lived on what people paid, and what little they could earn in between the times they were needed. Esteem, they had in truck-loads. Comfort, and the ability to support a family, they did not.

Esmeralda understood, though she knew he had it in him to be a greater healer than she could ever be.

Still, she continued to check in with him from time to time, letting him know of the best places to find the herbs he might need; pointing out a new way to set a broken bone; giving him a small book she had "found" and no longer needed.

Her musings carried her through the morning, as she mixed batches of headache medicines in the shop. And a thick, gluggy treatment for diarrhea (poor man looked like he wouldn't make it home).

Startled, she heard the bells on the village hall tolling noon. She put down her mortar and pestle and replaced the jars on the shelf.

She hummed as she gathered the basket with the neat bundles of soaps and the box of simple ointments and creams that she would sell at the market.

Thin though she was, she was strong, and in no time she was sitting next to her small table at the edge of the market near the fountain.

She had brought a book to read, and every so often would look up as someone walked by her table.

She tried to ignore the whispers and comments of the villagers and other vendors, but some managed to make it through her practiced demeanor.

"I hear the doctor was driven home by a stranger the other day."

"I wonder if it was that same man who gave the cart to Gilly's twins."

"Poor Gilly, all alone with all those children. If that man ever returns, I'll..."

Esmeralda set her mouth and kept reading.

Finally, a distant cousin stopped by the table and bought a few bars of soap. Then the town crier's wife needed something to help morning sickness... always an easy and nice preparation.

Soon, her table was swamped with people needing a bit of advice or a small item. And before she knew it, her basket was empty.

Satisfied, she began to walk home, only to find several members of the town council at her door.

"We hear, Doctor, that a strange man has begun to live with Gilly."

She sighed and opened the door, setting the empty basket on the counter. Then she turned and fiercely faced the men and women.

"And you believe everything that you 'hear' I suppose?" she asked derisively. "I suppose you didn't hear that Doris took ill again -- quite ill -- and that I had to rush out before dawn yesterday?"

"Can't you leave the poor woman alone?"

The chief council person took a step forward, hands raised in apology. "Doctor, we are charged with the welfare of the village..."

Esmeralda turned on her, "You! always meddling in private affairs!"

"Meddling, but not offering help."

"Thankfully, Gilly has her parents and her brother's family to help her, or the last ten years would have been hard on her."

Esmeralda crossed her arms in front of her and nodded at the group.

"Obviously, things in that family have not always happened in accordance with our traditions. Certainly, none of you would have taken in an orphan child!"

"But that family also has made more contributions to the well-being of this town than any other in recent years."

She pointed at the sheriff. "You know that since the twins began working at the market there have been far fewer rows and thefts. Did you think this was an accident?"

"No, it is their experiences and the strength of that family."

"Now go home, and leave them alone. If there were anything that threatened our village I would tell you without prompting."

Chastened, the council wandered off.

Esmeralda went into her neat shop and closed the door.

So many things to think about, so many things to consider.

And she was tired.

The sun moved around to the side of the building as she climbed the ladder and pulled it up.

She made a simple meal of broth and bread and lit the lamp. The village was quiet and peaceful.

As it should be.