Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Five

July 30, 2006

The descriptions in the first chapter were the three middle girls. Tonight we will meet the eldest daughters.

The eldest daughter had been 15 when her father left home. She was the eldest child -- and so much of the responsibility of caring for the others fell to her.

She left off going to school without complaint, though, and settled into a routine: Getting up with her mother and going out to see to the animals.

She would milk the goats, feed the chickens and water the horses.

She would milk the goats, feed the chickens and water the horses.

Her brother, just two years younger, would walk the cow and her calf out to the pasture at the edge of the village and leave them with the village cowherd.

Her next eldest sister would gather the eggs from the hen house and check the pigs' water.

By the time they got back to the kitchen, their mother had breakfast well started, with steaming hot cups of tea ready for their chilly fingers.

As soon as they had finished their breakfast, the brother and his younger sister would go wash up and get dressed for school, while the eldest sister helped the three middle sisters get up and get dressed.

The mother by this time, was making sure the youngest two were clean and comfortable, and soon sat in the rocking chair by the kitchen stove to nurse the baby.

As the eldest brother and his sister walked off to school, they picked up the basket of knitting and sewing their mother and sister had finished for the neighbors. They would deliver these during their lunch break.

The three middle sisters, full of energy, would wiggle as they ate, and tended to upset the jugs on the table, so the eldest sister patiently stood by, ready to help them serve and clean up. She also made sure her little brother had his bowl of gruel with a little bit of honey -- or, when they were ripe, fresh berries from the little patch next to the well.

And so, as the seasons came and went, the eldest sister learned about children, about managing the household, about making a home.

In no time at all, it seemed, she had matured into a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman. Her brown hair and sober brown eyes lent her an air of dignity, even as her delicate figure and dancing feet and ready smile gave her grace.

She soon caught the eye of the son of a metalsmith, who had learned his trade well -- and they married and moved to a town that had need of his skill.

Meantime, the son grew into a tall, strong man, with skill in many areas, but a special talent for wood working and a love of story-telling.

He was able to find an apprenticeship in the village on the other side of the mountain; and so with tears of pride in her eyes, his mother watched him begin his own journey through life.

In these years, the next eldest daughter had developed a talent for needlework. As her sister and brother left home, she naturally began to help her mother around the house and garden, and soon became a fine cook.

The middle sisters were becoming good helpers, and when they were not in school they took care of the yard and the animals. All four of these girls were quite in demand around the village as helpers when mothers needed extra hands for canning or looking after the children when a new baby was born, and often helped younger children with schoolwork when they fell behind.

Now the eldest girl who was still at home was the very image of her mother at the same age: fair skin with rosy cheeks, a smile hovered constantly around her lips and made her blue eyes twinkle; and her dusty blonde curls were always falling out of the ribbons she used to tie them back.

Her hands always had something in them: a bit of mending, a gift for a friend, a piece of lace she hoped to sell at the market.

The few times she sat still, she usually had a book, and often her younger brother would sit on her lap while she read.

It didn't matter to him if she was reading a cookbook, a novel, or a book about far-away lands... the sound of her voice and the rustle of the pages fascinated him.

One day, while sitting at the market with her laces and such, she caught the eye of a man who was visiting the town.

This man was a merchant in a town by the river on the plain, and was impressed with her skill.

Week after week, month after month, he returned to the market, and soon became a regular customer.

Of course, when her eldest sister had her first baby, the child had a lovely layette made for her with ribbons and bows. The ribbons were from the merchant.

When her second child was born, he had a suit made for his first going out, with fancy work on the collar and pearl buttons all up and down. The buttons were from the merchant.

Now, this merchant was quite a bit older than the girl, and had three children of his own, about the age of her younger sisters.

He had been widowed suddenly when an epidemic swept through his town, and had hired a housekeeper who was very efficient and caring in her own way. But she was not the same as a mother to his children.

It didn't take very long before the merchant decided to ask for the girl's hand in marriage.

She, for her part, enjoyed the talk of the goings-on in the bigger town, and appreciated the pretty ribbons and gee-gaws the merchant sold on his trips through the village.

She dreamt of seeing the big houses, and the rumble of big wagons on wide cobbled streets.

Her mother was not so sure...

First, she invited the merchant to tea, and carefully watched how he treated all the children.

He showed her little boy how to turn a stick into a reasonable fishing pole.

He held the baby in his arms and took her around the house and yard, lifting her up so her eager hands could explore every inch of her home.

He explained the seasons to the three middle girls, and how the festivals and holidays followed as predictable a path as the sun and the moon.

On his next visit, he brought a new kettle to the Mother, explaining that it was too badly dented for him to sell... and a book of geography for the little boy, with many pictures of far-away lands to look at.

He brought three small stools, just the right size, for the middle girls to embroider as their own.

He brought the baby a special box, with secret latches and hidden drawers filled with bags of spices and bells.

And he brought the young woman yards of lovely cloth, to make warm jackets for everyone in the family.

In the winter, when it was too cold to garden or sit at the market, he took the whole family to his town to meet his children.

His house was not overly large, but it was comfortable. His children were not angels, but they obviously loved him.

The three children had heard quite a bit about the young woman, and so were shy around her at first, but soon were bringing their best treasures to show.

The housekeeper, a stern grandmotherly type, provided a splendid dinner their last evening there. And the merchant treated her with as much respect as he treated the mother of his intended bride.

And so, in the spring, the merchant came once again to the little village, and the wedding was held in the park across the street.

The young woman and her husband drove off in a large carriage, with a shower of flower petals raining down from the trees.

*I need to go back a bit....* The TWINS, all this time, had been helping in the garden, going to school, learning how to care for the animals.

When their elder brother had gone away, they had naturally assumed much of the responsibility for the animals, and rapidly got strong enough to harness oxen to carts or put shoes on horses.

They were not very interested in school, so as soon as they could, they found jobs helping anyone they could with any tasks they had.

Men of all trades, they became, and soon gained a reputation for hard work and honesty.

Nevertheless, they often found themselves rolling in the dirt over some imagined slight or insult...

-- usually with each other.

But occasionally they would tangle with strangers who thought they were too young or too poorly educated to know what was right.

The strangers never came out ahead in these transactions.

To avoid trouble, the village sheriff pulled them aside one day and taught them three things.

The three things were: How to tell if an insult is intended (the person won't look you in the eye); whether an issue is worth fighting for (are you willing to spend the night in jail for it); and how to disable someone without actually hurting him.

Soon after this, the twins' reputation evened out somewhat -- and they settled down into a routine that suited everyone:

They woke up early and took care of their family's animals, then went to the market and helped the vendors set up.

In the middle of the day, they could often be seen fishing (in good weather) or working around the Inn (fetching and carrying wood and water and traveler's goods) or sitting at home, taking care of the two youngest children while their mother worked around the house or helped neighbors.

In the evenings, like all young men, they would visit the Inn to catch news of the wider world, or attended dances or parties, trying to catch the eye of one young woman or another.

And so the years went on, the eldest daughter had a large family, all fine strong children with winning ways and serious minds, just like their mother.

The eldest brother married and started his business and his family.

The next eldest daughter married a family and then had one of her own -- a lovely and delicate little girl.

And the children at home grew and learned, and their mother was proud and happy.

And the father had missed all of this, because he was away.

*I think this is a good stopping point -- went on about the twins for longer than I meant to...*