Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Eighty Four

Andy had been tagging along behind Doris and Meg all day, but they had gone in to help Mother with dinner, and he wasn't needed. Nan was in the village with Esmeralda, learning to identify all the items in the doctor's shop. Polly would be busy with her new family, learning the way her mother in law did things.

The twins were back to work, getting the market ready for the beginning of the new season in a few more weeks. He had helped them yesterday with pulling and stacking all the benches and tables, but the work today was going to need bigger people -- lifting and carrying replacement beams from the forest. By the time there was something he was able to do, he'd be back in school.

And no one seemed to remember it was his birthday. He shrugged, considering the busy week just past, the comings and goings, the cousins he'd had around to play with, the games and activities at the dance. It had been fun.

He kicked at the ground as he walked along. It was cold, and each kick knocked little particles of ice up with the dirt. It clung to the toes of his boots, and made a band of brown around the hem of his trousers.

Usually, he would have been playing with Grampy, learning new colorful ways to express disappointment...

But Grampy was gone, and Andy felt very alone.

He paused at the bridge over the little creek, remembering their last fishing trip, and Grammy's look of amazement when Andy showed her the really big fish he had caught. And Grampy grumbling about being shown up by a mere child. Andy smiled, and thought about how proud he felt of that fish.

It had been a beauty, nearly half as long as Andy was tall, silvery with a white belly, black freckles along the midline that faded to gray on the stomach, a blush of pink turning to dark blue-gray on top. It had tasted better than anything Andy could think of, except maybe Mother's teacake with hot cider.

He sighed and dropped a small rock off the edge of the bridge, hearing it plop and then splash, watching the way the ripples changed pattern as the water moved downstream. Then he wandered back toward home. Maybe Father or Uncle Tor had something he could do.

Paul was in the little shop in the barn when Andy stomped in, knocking bits of ice off his boots. The barn was warm from the animals inside, and felt comfortable and busy.

"Father!" called Andy, relieved to hear the baritone voice of Paul and the bass of Uncle Tor rumbling in response. The men were laughing over something, and Andy was eager for levity.

Paul stuck his head out the workshop door and smiled, "There you are! We wondered when you'd pop in. Grab a bucket of water please -- we're about to clean some of these tools."

Andy made a little circle and snagged a bucket from the well. Cleaning tools was better than the alternative, he supposed, but he had been hoping for something less drudgy and more... fun.

When Andy came back in lugging the heavy bucket, Uncle Tor pointed to the usual spot for the bucket by the bench. Paul handed Andy a heavy mallet and a brush.

"Now son," Paul said, "This one's brand new, so we need to wash off the travel dirt then oil it really well. When you're done, we'll work on these others that just came." He pointed at the bench that held a spade, a hoe and a hatchet.

Andy looked at his father in astonishment. They had never had a new tool in his life. Grampy or Uncle Peter or Father were always mending the old ones, making them last one more season. Something was peculiar.

Tor caught his look and laughed. Paul turned, then hit his forehead with the palm of his hand, "Nearly forgot! Happy Birthday, Andy!"

Uncle Tor brought out a small metal box and presented it to the boy, who sat in astonishment astride the sawhorse. Inside were all manner of carving knives: straight ones with thin blades for getting in small crevices; curved ones with thick blades for making fancy cuts; and normal blades that were just right for whittling.

Andy took out one blade, then another. The men watched him in amusement, a tear of pride in Paul's eye was quickly rubbed away as a speck of dirt. Tor elbowed Paul -- Andy was hunched over the box in the same posture Adam used to adopt when he was deep in a project.

Regretfully, Andy set down the knives and turned to his uncle, "Thanks Uncle!"

"Andy, those are from your grandfather. He got them for you last summer, and meant you to have them on your birthday..." Tor was silent a moment. "The tools though are yours from your father and me. We know you enjoy garden work, and it's easier with tools that are your own."

Andy turned his attention to the garden tools. The mallet and hatchet had strong handles made of hard nutwood, striped dark black through the grainy tan. The head of the mallet was of ironwood, it would last until Andy's grandchildren's grandchildren were grown. It was a dark brown, like well-used saddles that have known the road and the smoke of campfires.

The spade and hoe had metal blades, with a shank built in. Andy's eyes grew wide - most of the farm tools had simple blades, the wooden handles coming down on top, secured through the blade. The new shank style kept the blade a little cleaner, and it was easier to turn the soil. More nutwood for handles meant they wouldn't splinter or crack unless they were poorly cared for. That wasn't going to happen, thought Andy. He looked from his uncle to his father, and picked up the cleaning brush.

In no time, it seemed, the new tools were hanging in their proper places and Gilly was calling through the barn door for the mid-day meal. Andy picked up his box of knives and led the way, smiling broadly.

The day was turning out well, after all.