Storytime with Stidmama

Seventy Three

written 26 Nov 2006

Nan woke early the morning of the winter festival. Esmeralda had stayed over, and they had shared the cozy bed behind the kitchen stove. Esmeralda, as usual, had got up even earlier, and was sitting comfortably by the warm stove, a kettle already heating for tea.

Nan yawned and sniffed the warm air. Definite spicy aroma... she was looking forward to breakfast.

Esmeralda looked up from her book, a smile as inviting as the spice cake would be in a few minutes. "Hello dear, pop into your parents' room and make sure they're up. I have a surprise for you all."

Gilly and Paul were still asleep, curled up in bed like a couple of puppies on the hearth. Nan stopped a moment, thinking how much younger they looked. But the sudden stillness woke Gilly, who looked around and held out an arm to her youngest. She happily crawled in next to her mother, enjoying the moment of peace.

"Mother, Esmeralda has the tea and the spice cake almost ready. She asked me to wake you." Paul stirred and opened his eyes with a perfect imitation of Nan's yawn. She smiled at his wife and daughter, and pushed the covers back while he sat up.

"Well, my dears," his rusty morning voice gritted, "I suppose we'd best be up doing -- Polly's big day and all..."

Gilly's eyes teared up momentarily, but she helped Nan sit up and followed suit.

Polly's big day. An important moment that Paul would NOT miss. There was so much to do still! Starting with waking Polly...

She sent Nan upstairs to the bride's room, while she and Paul dressed. By the time Nan was back in the kitchen, Paul and the twins were busy stoking the fire in the big room to get it warm for the afternoon's feast. Andy was in the kitchen, fetching and carrying for Nan and Esmeralda. Doris and Meg were chattering upstairs in Polly's room, helping her into her clothes. Gilly popped upstairs with a tray for them, blinking back more tears, and hurrying away before she upset the happy girls.

Esmeralda was still sitting comfortably in her chair, overseeing the hustle and bustle. Her book in her lap, she waited until Nan, Gilly and Paul were cleaning up after breakfast, the others scattered to dress. The roast for the evening was in the oven, a pot of vegetables simmering on the stove, and rolls rising on the counter.

From the pages of her book, Esmeralda drew some thin sheets of paper. They held finely drawn sketches of each of the members of the family.

Gilly exclaimed over each one, pausing to trace their features lovingly. "Esmeralda, they are beautiful! What a lovely gift for Polly!"

"No, Gilly, these are for you and Paul. I have something else for the happy couple."

Gilly and Paul laid the pictures out on the table:

The final picture was of Gilly and Paul, as they had been, twenty years before, radiant at their own betrothal. Paul looking strong and hopeful, Gilly looking a bit surprised.

Nan looked all the pictures carefully. "Which is Annie, and which is Jane, Mother?" She studied their faces carefully, comparing them to those of her parents. Finally, satisfied, she turned to Esmeralda.

"This is the most beautiful gift ever," she exclaimed, caressing the picture of her parents. Esmeralda smiled happily.

"I thought you would like it. Now I believe you have some dressing to do. Nan, I will help you so your parents can get ready."

Esmeralda helped Nan into her finery, a new dress for the winter festival, fine warm leggings that Aunt Helena had edged with lace in honor of the betrothal, at the neck and cuffs lace that Nan had made while she convalesced, a warm and colorful vest quilted in the manner of the village. Nan winced a little as she pulled on the vest, and Esmeralda looked at her with concern.

"Does it still hurt, child?" she asked, laying her hand expertly over her ribs.

Nan gasped and nodded, fumbling at the buttons angrily. "I can't do anything anymore! Just as I think I'm better it hurts again," she sobbed. "But, don't tell my parents, I don't want them to worry about me."

Esmeralda held the child gently and rocked her back and forth, whispering gently. She reached for a vial on the bedside table, but Nan shook her head.

"No, Esmeralda, I think I have to learn to deal with it. You and the medicines won't always be here to help me."

The old woman nodded, and turned away to grab the hairbrush. "I can teach you some ways to breathe that will help without the medicine. And there may be some exercises you can do, but I do not know them. I will write to my teachers and ask their advice."

Nan nodded, and stood still, her slight frame moving gently as Esmeralda brushed and braided her hair with ribbons.

Soon, Nan was ready, and helped Esmeralda into her robes -- she would officiate at the betrothal. Gilly knocked on the door, and slipped into the room with her offering for the good doctor, a wreath of ribbons and lace that set off her dark hair and softened her usually severe expression.

They assembled in the large room, absent Polly and Meg who would wait for the ceremony, and waited for the rest of the family and friends to arrive. The procession to the town hall for the betrothal ceremony would mark a turning point, not only for Polly, but for the village.

But that, as they say, is a story for another time!