Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Thirty Nine

Storytime began at 9:06 pm on September 7, 2006

By the time Adam and Nan had arrived home, Gray and Olivia had been put down for their naps. Doris looked up from some mending as they came through the back door.

She smiled, "Aunt Cathy is here -- she brought the doctor. Nan, she wants to talk to you!"

Adam mumbled something about a "house full o' women" and "fence mending" and bolted out the back door.

Nan sniffed the air appreciatively, looked in the pot Polly was stirring and smiled at her sister as she wandered toward the front of the house, where the older women's voices could be heard.

Esmeralda was sitting in the chair closest to the fire, with a blanket over her lap and a cup of tea in her hands.

Nan walked uncertainly to her mother's side and leaned against her for a moment before looking at the doctor.

Esmeralda sat and watched. She noticed that Nan had avoided the footstool in front of her mother's chair as well as the arm of the chair.

She saw that her eyes scanned the room as she walked, and focused on various objects as she looked around the room.

When Nan looked at the doctor, Esmeralda spoke.

"Well child! What a wonderful gift you have received," she smiled, "How do you feel?"

Nan paused before answering, "I am a little scared of all the people crowding around."

Ava chortled from her corner, and Gilly and Anna laughed out loud.

Esmeralda nodded and took a sip of tea.

"Would you mind if I look at your eyes, Nan?" she asked gently.

Nan walked straight from her mother's side and stood before the old woman. They examined each other's faces.

The girl saw lines of laughter and worry, a few wild gray hairs that wouldn't stay under the head kerchief and a firm set jaw and mouth.

The older woman saw the wide-open gaze of a child, pigtails that turned in opposite directions despite the attempts to braid them the same, and a firm set jaw and mouth.

The girl's eyes were clear, and tracked the hand the old doctor held up with no difficulty.

Suddenly, the doctor clapped her hands in front of the girl's face.

Startled, Nan blinked and took a step back.

"Well, that settles it! If she can learn to read, I'd say her sight is excellent!"

Anna spoke from the bench where she was playing with the baby, "She can already read, I think."

And they looked at Nan expectantly.

Meg smiled a big smile and brought out a primer they kept at home for the poems. She had been sitting behind Gilly, "staying out of trouble" as the family called it, with her legs tucked up and her nose in a book.

Nan took the book from her sister and sat down on the bench where the light from the window made reading easier.

Meg opened the book to a random page and pointed. Slowly, Nan started to sound out the letters.

The room was quiet, as she carefully read:
I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth, I knew not where.
I breathed a song into the air, it fell to earth, I knew not where.
Long long afterward, in an oak, I found the arrow -- still unbroke.
And the song from beginning to end, I found again in the heart of a friend.
Speechless, they gaped at Nan.

With a slightly shaky voice, Gilly rose and said, "I guess that settles it, Esmeralda. Nan may study with you as soon as she pleases and you are ready."

Ava stood also, "About time to check on the dinner preparations. I know that Adam and Nan brought some things for tomorrow..."

Nan rose to go with the others into the kitchen, but Gilly gave her a hug and asked her to keep the doctor company.

The cat wandered through, as was its wont -- and leaped onto the window sill to sit in the last bit of sunlight.

Nan looked at the doctor from across the room. "Well..." she began uncertainly.

Esmeralda sighed and set the teacup down.

"Well indeed!" She replied.

They smiled at each other.

Nan had an idea. "Just a minute!" she exclaimed, and ran upstairs.

Esmeralda heard her coming back down a few seconds later, much more carefully.

She poked her head around the corner. "Would you like to see my pretty box?"

"Yes, indeed I would!"

And together, they carefully set the casket on the little table by the fire. They took out the contents, one pretty package, box and vial at a time.

Nestled in the lid was a small book with a fibrous cover, a metal-tipped pen nib fastened to a flexible reed, and a small jar of dry ink.

The little book was empty except for one word: "LOVE" -- written on the cover.

Esmeralda stroked the cover of the book gently, with a smile on her face. A tear ran down her cheek.

Nan was too busy picking things up and turning them over to notice at first.

"Look at this," she exclaimed delightedly, holding up a beautifully carved little box.

Esmeralda reached for the box and Nan caught the glint of the trail the tear had left.

"Oh, Doctor! What is wrong? Do you hurt?"

She patted the woman's arm, and Esmeralda put her hand over the child's.

"No dear, I do not hurt. I was remembering a time long ago -- before your mother was even born -- when I saw a little book very much like this one."

Nan was intrigued. "Did a big bird-person give you your book?"

Esmeralda sighed, "No, it was my husband. He had filled the book with poems and sayings for me."

"My husband had traveled to many lands -- he was a sailor and a merchant."

"When we married, he gave up the wanderings to keep a little shop in the valley where I grew up." She shook her head as if to clear the clouds of time. "Now tell me about the bird-person and I will tell you a little about these items."

Nan and Esmeralda spent the rest of the afternoon, exchanging stories and carefully opening and discussing each package.

When it grew so dark they were having trouble seeing, they stowed everything back where it belonged.

Nan helped Esmeralda stand, and they wandered into the kitchen where Adam and Meg and Doris were carrying the last of the dinner fixings to the cart.

Anna sent Gray to help with the meal, and Doris went along to help Adam with Gray.

Swiftly, Gilly, Polly and Ava set the table for those who remained at home, and they ate and chatted until it began to grow dark and the sounds of the cart and wagon filled the back yard.

In no time, a very sleepy Andy and an asleep Gray were carried in by the twins, and the very grubby older men started hauling water for baths. A long day, it had been, and another long and exciting day awaited.