Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Ninety Two

In the far long ago, so they say, lived a race of people with many wondrous and mystical machines. They built and used these machines to create and destroy, and lived for many long years like kings, but in the end they could not be content, and the machines were used for the wrong purpose, and their villages disappeared.

And even longer before them, I am told, lived a mystical and wondrous race of people who had little need for machines. They could call on the wind or the waters, or the sun or the animals, and whatever they had need of was provided. They lived happy, long lives, but in the end they asked too much too often, and the wind and the waters, and the sun and the animals refused to answer their calls. And their villages disappeared.

That some of them lived above the ground, and some of them below, I have no doubt. And if the legends be true, there may even have been some with their homes above the clouds, in the great dark empty-ness between the sun and the moons and the stars. And while the people disappeared from their villages, some remained who eventually learned to live with what they had, and to work hard for their families, and to enjoy the good times that came to them.

But one family had kept three things: from the time before machines, they kept the ability to call the wind and the creatures of the wind; from the time of the machines they kept a pot that could cook anything put into it without a fire; and through all the times that followed, they kept the stories and the dreams.
Esmeralda paused for effect, and gazed out at the bright, eager faces of the children at the market place. Beyond them, their parents and other adults looked on amusedly at the children's ability to sit quietly as they listened to the story. The children shifted slightly, drawing her attention back to the task at hand.

She drew out of her basket a beautiful length of cloth the very color of the sky, and as clear and evasive as the wind. She draped it over her shoulders and reached down again.

A bright red cap, feathered with the feathers of a thousand birds it seemed, with bells all round. She shook her head to hear the music and the children cheered in response.

Next she retrieved a small black cauldron, placing it carefully behind her so the children couldn't see what it contained (though the eldest remembered and murmured expectantly).

And finally, a bright green apron she quickly pinned to her dress.

All set, she leaned forward into the crowd, her hands on her hips, shaking her head with the red cap on it comically.

And do you know, that one day a very very old woman was walking the path to the market, looking this way and that, muttering all the while to herself? She imitated the teetering old woman's steps -- not so different after all from her own, she mused.

The children burst into gales of laughter.

Esmeralda spun to face them and shook an imaginary stick, "What have you done with my magical pot?" She whined and wrung her hands.

"It was a gift to my mother from her father's mother, and so on through the ages from the time of the great machines and beautiful songs!"

Esmeralda put one hand to her brow and another to her heart. The children grew wide-eyed and quiet.

The birds of the air came to her aid, and lifted her up, into the clouds so she might see all about. Esmeralda lifted the blue cloth from her shoulders and flung it up over her head, letting it drift gently down shimmering in the light turning purple or yellow or gray as the light and the shadows willed, until it lay on the laps of the children in front, who gently if nervously touched it to be sure it was real.

"Where is my lovely little pot, in which all the porridges and stews and puddings of my family have cooked?" She bent to the ground and heaved a sob.

A tiny child stepped forward and put a hand solemnly and comfortingly on her shoulder, then placed a solid kiss on her cheek before scampering back to his seat. Esmeralda quietly retrieved the blue cloth, wrapping it around her as if holding the child's kindness.

The winds whispered around the old woman, it is here, it is here, it is here.

Esmeralda shook her apron as if shooing a cat, "Be off with you, teasing a poor old woman!"

So the birds sang, it is there, it is there, it is there...

Esmeralda shook her head side to side and up and down, as if undecided where to turn. This sent the children into gales of laughter. Not a few of the adults giggled, anticipating the next play...

The little cooking pot, that had survived all the years, had been set aside quite carelessly by the old woman's granddaughter, thinking it was useless because it was old. And the little pot, being so well-used, had thought that perhaps it was true, and so had stayed where it was set.

Until it heard the wind and the birds talking about it, and it perked up its attention.

Esmeralda stood still, her hands on her hips, her right foot twitching nervously back and forth. "The pot my mother gave me," she explained more calmly, "It means so much to me, this pot holds more than food. It holds memories."

Some of the children in the front noticed a movement behind Esmeralda, and a wave went through the crowd as little by little the small black pot inched its way toward her.

"This little black pot, you see," Esmeralda took a small step to the right, and the pot rocked to the right, "It watched the first steps of my first child, and the first steps of my first grandchild."

Esmeralda took a small step toward the left, and the pot rocked to the left. "When my husband was ill, this pot made healing broth for him. When I was tired, this pot reheated stew so I could rest."

The children in the front row were getting a little nervous, and backing up slightly... the children behind were eager to see what was happening and so were pushing forward.

The small black pot, older than the woman, older than the village, nearly as old as time itself, heard her speaking and thought of all the years and memories it held. And it leaped up, and into the woman's arms!

With that, the pot skittered sideways and straight into Esmeralda's waiting hands.

The children shrieked -- or laughed -- or sat with their mouths wide open like frogs, and the commotion caught the attention of anyone who was not already part of the gathering.

Once again, Esmeralda shook her head, setting the bells on her cap ringing, "Who will look and see what memories this pot holds today?"

Every hand was raised, even some of the younger adults leaned forward eagerly.

Esmeralda reached in, and grabbed a handful of bright yellow candies wrapped in thin papers, and scattered them into the crowd, smiling broadly. And for the child who had come up to comfort her, she reached in and drew out a small doll dressed as the old woman. "This is for you, so you will remember that it isn't the age of something that gives it value, but how many good memories it holds."

The child clutched the doll with wide eyes, and his mother thanked Esmeralda with a kiss.

The crowd drifted off, the children finding other games, and the adults going on with their shopping. Esmeralda carefully repacked her basket, remembering the many years she had told the story. This was only the second time a child had offered to comfort the woman.

She smiled, Nan had stayed at the shop to mix up more soaps.