Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Sixty Seven

By the time the children trouped back home in the late afternoon, breathless and happy, exhausted but lively, Paul and Gilly had finished their long discussion about his family and how he had come to live with Adam and Ava.

Meg burst through the door first, Inga at her heels. "Mother, Father! Look what Inga showed me today!" She held out a lovely handtowel embroidered with birds.

Inga smiled broadly, "Hello Aunt, Uncle -- Mother sent me over to help today. She and Father will come with Daniel in the morning."

Doris, Nan, Polly, Owain, Otto and Andy tumbled in the door after, arms laden with bags and packages, excited and conspiratorial smiles on their faces.

Nan sat down tiredly at the table, a hand on her side.

Paul was at her side quickly, loosening the brace she wore now on the outside of her dress. Polly hung up the jackets as Gilly poured out a spoonful of tincture from a bottle they kept next to the sink.

"Nan -- where does it hurt exactly?" asked Paul, watching her stretch lightly once the medicine was down.

"Oh Father, it hurts in my back, but also in my stomach a little. I am tired." She put her hand on his arm, "I would like to lie down before supper if Mother doesn't need my help." Gilly smiled and stood back as Paul helped Nan to her feet.

"Of course you may lie down, dear -- Andy won't mind peeling the vegetables, will you?" Andy blushed as the others laughed uproariously -- his habit of carving on everything hadn't managed to make him love kitchen work.

Andy set his bundle on the chair in the corner and good-naturedly washed up while his siblings and cousin moved into the front room to start decorating for the next day's celebration.

Supper that evening was a simple affair -- a warm broth with vegetables, pan bread and grain pudding. The pantry was full to bursting with confections and treats; meat pies, sausages, smoked meats, pickled vegetables, jellies and jams, cheeses, fruit pies, cookies and muffins, cakes and candies. A large roast in the slow oven sent its aroma through the house, and wafting up the chimney into the crisp mid-winter air.

Nan re-emerged from her bedroom in time to enjoy the festive atmosphere around the kitchen table, rambunctious and boys-terous -- though they were outnumbered still Otto, Owain and Andy seemed to fill the room with their antics. She sat straight in her chair and moved as little as possible, but the color had returned to her cheeks, and as she dipped pan bread into broth, she told a simple story her grandmother had taught her that day.

Once, long ago when the sky people and the land people and the water people were still friends, winter had not yet come to our mountain. The sky people and the land people and the water people worked every day, tending fields, caring for flocks, fishing and doing other chores. And many people worked every day. They grew tired, and were unable to keep up with the many tasks they set themselves. They had no way to mark time, except by the birth and death of the people. They were too tired to tell the stories of their people, and the children grew up with the daily rhythm of work and sleep. Their lives were long and boring.

Then a water person decided that there should be a way to measure the days and the nights, and started counting them off. And a sky person watched how the moons moved in the night sky and made a mark for the brightest nights on the tally the water person kept. Then a land person looked at the tally chart and noted when a crop was planted, when it was harvested and when the field was bare. And the people all looked at the tally chart and saw patterns in the moons and crops and the count of the days, and made the first calendar.And the people were very pleased, and congratulated themselves. Now, they said to themselves, we will know when we must plant and when we must harvest. Now, they said to themselves, we will be able to rest now and again.

And they began to rely on the calendar to tell them when to work, when to play, when to rest. And they had the time again to maintain their houses and their tools. But after a while, the people began to rebel against the calendar, and went back to working a little bit every day. The sky people, in particular, were not interested in being bound by the calendar. And so things began to fall apart. The people were so busy working that they did not take time to maintain what they had. Their houses grew dilapidated, their tools broke and remained where they were, rusting and rotting.

Then the water people knew that something else must be done. They dug a long trench from the lake they lived in, to the sea. And they drained the water from the lake into the sea, creating a vast plain. The water people moved away, across the sea, taking their calendar and life was as it was before.

But all was not as before. The weather changed, and the crops began to fail. The sky people were the first to notice that it was getting cold on the mountain and the animals were moving on. But it wasn't long before the land people also remarked how their crops, newly planted, seemed to languish in the cold. And many people died in the difficult times; and this was the first winter. And no one knew it would end, so spent their days looking for bits of crops that might yet be edible, bundled up against the cold, sorrowing and weeping through the nights.

But in the middle of the first winter, a child woke up one night, cold and hungry, and heard the song of the stars and the moons. He walked out on the cold ground, and laid his hand on the soil and felt the pulse of life beneath the land. He began to dig. And for many days he dug, trying to reach the pounding he could feel in his heart.

And finally, after his family and his neighbors came to help, after the sky people gathered around, sheltering him from the wind, he found the source of the rhythm. It was a small, tender bulb. And he lifted it and carried it into his house.

The people gathered anxiously outside, watching through the window at this one sign of life from the earth. The bulb began to sprout. And as it did, the days seemed to grow warmer. The sun shone brighter and the air whispered tales of life again.

In the middle of the winter, the people knew that things would get better. And they rejoiced and began to make preparations. They cleaned and repaired their homes and their tools. They began to teach their children the old songs. And the little bulb grew and grew. Then one day, it flowered.

And on that day, the trees put out new leaves, and the grass was green, and the birds returned to fill the air with song. The seed in the fields grew, and the animals gave birth once again.

And so, every year, we remember the long first winter, the despair and hunger of the people, and the lesson they learned. Work hard, but rest also. And so we work hard, but rest at this time and remember the other things that are also important.

Nan looked at her mother, who nodded and smiled approvingly. "Well done, Nan!"

And while the menfolk took care of the dishes, the womenfolk retired to the front room, to rest and to remember.