Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seven

August 1, 2006

We have heard about the man and his wife, their children and the extended family...

The village in which they lived, on the leeward side of a tall mountain, was rich in agricultural land and had bountiful harvests and clear waters.

It was not known for its magnificent art scene, nor for its musical talents.

It had a nice-sized market three days a week near the south end of town where the river turned and flowed east.

It had a respectable inn and a slightly less reputable tavern that nevertheless sold fine ales.

The meeting hall in the center of town was used for public meetings, the occasional trial and weddings when the weather wouldn't cooperate.

The village school had three rooms -- and children from many miles outside the village would come to town during the weeks and stay with cousins or distant relatives so they could attend.

Most children stayed until they could read and cipher well enough for farm work. Boys often came and went through the year as their help was needed at home with harvests or planting or building. Girls were more reliable in their attendance, but rarely stayed long enough to take the final exams.

The youngest children were in the biggest, brightest room which was also used as a sort of nursery for those mothers who could not stay home. Here, they learned songs and letters, and manners, and simple crafts.

The middle students, who could read a little and sit still for longer, were in the next biggest room, with walls lined with books and pictures. A warm stove in the winter kept them cozy, and in the spring the windows and doors were flung wide to catch the fresh breezes.

When students had read the "Three Most Important Books" and could do their sums to 100 easily, they could move on to the upper class.

The upper class was held in a room upstairs -- it was the smallest of the three rooms, but it held the nicest books, the most comfortable desks and maps of many lands.

Very few students actually stayed long enough in this room to finish and take the exams, but those who did attend learned to use a dictionary, to calculate great sums, and to write beautifully.

They studied poetry, music, history and art. They spent some time with one or another professional in the village: the apothecary, the baker, the judge, the healer, the librarian...

In the Spring, the students who wished, went to the big town on the plain to take the exams. Very few actually did this -- only those who had the time and dreams of far-off places wanted to take the time, or could afford the travel.

When the eldest daughter had to leave school to help her mother, she was close to finishing her studies, but not close enough.

Her brother, likewise, thought he'd do better to apprentice to a trade, and soon left off school.

The next eldest daughter had stayed to finish her studies, but money being short decided not to try for the exam.

And the twins, rapscallions as they were, were much too "busy" to sit still to learn. Still, they stopped by the schoolhouse occasionally in the winter to help the younger students or to look something up in the reference books.

The three girls in the middle were all, at the time of our story, in the upper class, and their younger brother was just about to begin the middle class. The youngest sister was in the beginning class, where she often listened to the very youngest students read and helped them learn their songs.

The tall, willowy sister was able to recite nearly anything she had ever read or heard. The comfortable sister with the green eyes could draw pictures of anything and remember exactly where in a book she had read something. And the sister who was going through the awkward stage not only had a mind for numbers, but a sense of humor that often distracted the other students.

Now these three sisters, once each week on different days, would help at the village library, stacking books, answering questions, and often writing letters for people to send to family far away.

Their younger brother liked the days they were there, because he got to wait for them after school, and look through as many books as he pleased. And their youngest sister liked the days they worked there, because they would bring home books to read to her.

The other days the girls walked home together when class was over, chattering excitedly about this person, or that event or some other important topic.

The youngest brother and sister were always home sooner, for their classes lasted only half a day. Some afternoons, they would walk through the park on their way home.

Other days, they would stop at their grandparents' to visit and have some delicacy the grandmother "just happened" to take out of the oven as they arrived. They would listen to the grandfather tell tales, and the boy would help with the animals or the yard while the girl sat with her aunt and grandmother and learned all the stories by heart.

The aunt was very patient with the little girl, and was teaching her to knit and to play the curious stringed instrument peculiar to their village.

And the grandfather and her brother had made a wonderful wooden board with raised lines, on which she could lay a piece of paper and write. A special crayon of thickened beeswax let her feel where she was writing. Her letters were a little wobbly still, but she was quick and determined.

Often, late at night, the grandparents would sit out on the porch (in the summer) or by the fire (in the winter) and talk about all the things they wished for all their grandchildren. Good health, loving families, enough to eat, and just enough excitement to keep things interesting.

Often, over the last ten years, the grandparents had looked sadly across the fence at their daughter's home and wondered what had become of their son-in-law. They were proud of their strong, capable daughter.

They were proud of their loving, helpful grandchildren, and doted on the two youngest, as grandparents often do.

So many of their grandchildren by this time had children of their own -- some of them already thinking of starting families, and they knew many things about life's up and downs.

Yet most of the grandchildren by this time had moved away, and came home at most once a year. This made the grandchildren next door that much more precious.

Once in a great while, the grandparents would take a trip to visit their distant children and grandchildren. This was always an Event, and meant taking and bringing boxes of gifts from and to everyone here and there.

When the grandparents went traveling, their daughter stayed behind to look after the animals, and often took her meals next door.

In this way, the children came to view her almost as another mother -- her slow pace and gentle ways soothing all manner of ills and injuries and injustices. She could tell marvelous stories, and knew most of the people from the village and the surrounding farms.

It was also she who helped at the school in the classroom for the youngest, and when her youngest niece began to study, she would sit by her side and read to her in the school so she wouldn't miss anything.

It was this aunt who, carefully and quietly, walked her niece around the village, describing each building and its purpose, and helping the little girl count off the steps from place to place.

It was this aunt who carefully watched the children when her sister took ill (which was a thankfully rare event), and who held her sister's hand when she needed a good cry.

And it was this aunt who happened to look out the window to see her sister sitting on the porch next to a man one evening, looking very comfortable and happy for the first time in years.

{This chapter turned out to be more transitional than I had intended...}