Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Ninety

written 1 Mar 2007
Nan looked up from the bundles of herbs she was tying and smiled at her mother.

"It's good to be home for the day, Mother. I miss you when I am gone."

Gilly smiled at her youngest child, and smoothed a wrinkle on her apron strap. It was good to have her home, too. It seemed that the days were much longer and lonelier now that Nan was living and working with the Doctor, and Andy was spending so much time with his father, making up it seemed for all the years they had missed.

"Out with you! Shoo!" Gilly swatted the dog with the end of a towel as it tried for the eighth time (she had been counting) to snatch a piece of bacon off the counter.

Nan laughed and picked up another stem of purplepuff. She thought it might be her favorite flower, beautiful seen up close like this, the tiny bell-shaped individual flowers forming near-perfect orbs at the end of the squared-off stalks. It was even more beautiful, she mused, seen afar off, in the drifts and mounds the plants made on the dry hillside where they grew, halfway around the mountain, looking out toward the sea. And the scent! Heavenly.

She picked up a piece of balsam branch, the aroma of the dark forest clinging to the bark, the deep midnight needles setting off the lavender of the purplepuff. It reminded her of Uncle Tor and Father the day they had come home from cutting logs for Daniel's addition to the old farmhouse.

Swiftly but gently, she pressed the two together and wound a piece of red thread to bind them. She picked up a piece of silver-line, noticing the way the light gray underside of the small leaves cozied up with the flowers on the purplepuff, and admiring the way the bright green tops of the leaves glowed against the darker needles of the balsam. She nestled it at the base of the purplepuff and knotted the thread securely. With her other hand, the scissors snipped off the ragged ends, and she set it on the table in line with the other bundles.

"Mother, did you know that silver-line is nearly as good at healing infectin as the purplepuff? Esmeralda says that if she couldn't have purplepuff, then she would take silver-line without a second thought! It's amazing how many lovely plants there are, and lovely how amazing each one is!"

Gilly laughed at her daughter's enthusiasm. Seemed more infectious than the ills the bundles were supposed to cure.

"When I was a little girl, your age, I was afraid of Esmeralda. She seemed so severe, and quite sad. I felt sorry for her, living all alone and only visiting us when we were ill or on special occasions. But since you have been studying and living with her, she is much happier. I am glad you are attending so well to learning."

A loud stomping on the back steps heralded Paul's return from the shop, and a gusty breath of smoke and wet earth mixed with straw and mingled with the healing scents of the bundles.

"Well, ladies!" boomed Paul, then teased, "About time for tea, isn't it? Aren't you about finished with all your frilly nosegays?" He shook out his coat, dripping bits of sawdust and bark.

Andy poked his head out from behind his father and winked at Nan, "Yeah, can't you find anything to make something nice for tea? You've got plenty of leaves and stuff!"

Gilly flicked her towel at him the same way she had the dog. "Go along, child! Grab the broom and clean up after your father!"

Paul roared and swung Gilly into an embrace, "Ma'am, I ought to take you driving soon, up into the hills and to our special tree..."

Nan giggled and Paul winked at her.

"Nan! Andy! How do you feel about fixing some tea for us while I drive your mother over to see the progress on your Uncle Peter's house? I'll bring Inga back with us for tea."

Nan jumped up, upsetting the cat that had been napping on the chair next to her, reaching instantly for the kettle. Andy snorted and nonchalantly said, "I suppose I could do kitchen duty just this once," then winked at Nan and added, "But if we're in charge, we get to choose what to have!"

Gilly pulled her shawl on as she unpinned her apron. Paul gallantly held the door and gave the kids a knowing look as he followed her down the steps.

Andy and Nan began putting away the herbs in elegant but simple wood caskets, and moved the finished bundles to a basket Esmeralda had provided. With two working, it went fast, and before Gilly and Paul were out the back gate to the fields the table was clear.

Conspiratorily, Andy whispered to Nan, "Father has a surprise for Mother!" then hurried out to get more wood for the fire while Nan checked the pantry for treats.

As the afternoon wore on, Andy and Nan chatted pleasantly about this and that, sat to pet the dog for a while, played a simple game of stones and squares... and looking longingly at the lovely brown cake with glaze that now sat on the sideboard, waiting for tea.

And they waited for Meg and Doris to come home from school with news of their friends. Since Nan had begun studying with Esmeralda and Andy had been excused to help on the house construction and farm, Meg and Doris were the last two scholars, and since Polly had married, the two eldest students in the school. Naturally, they had taken on a greater role, helping teach the younger students, and working alongside the teacher in the afternoons to get ready for the next day's lessons. Meg had even taken over one day when the teacher was ill, teaching the older students while Doris had kept the younger ones on task.

The kettle finally began to hum, then chugged a little before the lid began to rattle. Nan stood to pour out the water just as the front door opened and the older girls came in, laughing and chattering on about nothing in particular. They swept into the kitchen, and overtook Andy's inventive story about saving the most important log from being lost off a wagon with their own tale of foolhardy but handsome young men who had offered sweets to them as they left school.

Nan rolled her eyes, and Andy shrugged his shoulders. The energy of their sisters was infectious, and soon the house was filled with laughter and action as they pulled the house into order. Andy was dispatched to fetch Grammy and Aunt Cathy, while Meg and Doris brought Nan up to date on school and family gossip of the sort their mother would have neglected to pass on.

It was a perfect afternoon, and only Mother and Father and Inga were needed now to complete it.