Stan Ellis sat before his computer, furiously searching the Internet for a gift for his girlfriend, Rose. He wanted to get her something for Valentine’s Day that said he cared about her, but nothing more. After all, they were both seniors in high school headed for college in the fall.
“That won’t do,” he thought as he looked at diamond necklaces. “I don’t have that kind of money, and something like that spells L-O-V-E.” He checked out watches, rings, hats, and various types clothing, but nothing seemed to fit what Stan thought were in Rose Tailfeather’s taste.
Grandfather Ellis, looking on from the kitchen as he fixed dinner, smiled. He remembered going through the same thing when he wanted to give his wife Nightingale a special gift on their anniversary. He understood how hard it was to find just the right gift.
After putting the casserole in the oven to bake, he stepped into the living room. “Whatcha doing?”
“Oh! Grandpa, don’t sneak up on me like that, please.”
“It’s good to know I can still sneak. I thought these ol’ bones made enough racket to wake your long-dead uncles.” Grandpa pulled his pipe from his shirt pocket, stuffed it with tobacco from a hand-tooled pouch hanging from a nearby shelf, tampered it down with his finger, lit it, then inhaled. As he exhaled, he made perfect clouds of smoke rise toward the ceiling. “I asked what you were doin’.”
“Valentine’s Day is coming up and I want to get something special for Rose,” Stan said.
“Go to Draper’s in town and pick up somethin’ there. The old man carries a good variety of things to please a woman.” Grandpa settled into his old, worn recliner, put up the foot rest and got himself comfortable.
After turning off the computer, Stan said, “You don’t understand. Rose comes from a traditional Blackfoot family. If I give her something too valuable, then her father will think I’m proposing. If it’s not something Rose wants, then she will think I don’t care. I’m stuck.”
“Is Rose a nice girl?”
“Of course. You met her before the Winter Dance. I brought her over, right?”
“Is she the one that wore the old-fashioned buckskin dress with blue and white pony beads down the sleeves?”
“That’s the one. Rose is proud of her heritage and wears native regalia almost every day. She’s in my Chemistry and English classes and her grades are always the highest,” Stan said as he fidgeted with his hands.
“Doesn’t her family live outside of town on Little Creek Ranch?”
“I remember her ol’ man, Curly Bear Tailfeather. He believes the people’ll rise and take back the land. He goes to Ghost Dances and parades about like he’s a medicine man. He’s kind of nuts, if’n you ast me,” Grandpa said, inhaling and puffing once more. “You sure chose the wrong girl, Stan.”
A look of shock swept over the young man’s face. “Why do you say that?”
“Because no matter what you do, you’re in trouble. Curly Bear believes in all that ritual stuff. Anything you give Rose is an engagement promise.”
“That’s my problem, Grandpa. Rose may come from a traditional family, but she has modern ideas. She expects a boyfriend to remember her on Valentine’s Day. And not just with a cheap card, either. She wants something in a box covered with bright red paper.”
Just then the oven timer rang. “Go check dinner, Stan, and I’ll think on it for a spell.”
When Stan checked on the casserole, it wasn’t quite done. While it continued cooking, he put together a tossed green salad, set the table, and poured two tall glasses of ice water. His grandfather had some diced potatoes in the frying skillet, so Stan turned on the heat, put in a little oil, onion, salt and pepper, and cooked them until the potatoes had a nice brown color and the onion slices were translucent. After putting the potatoes in a serving bowl and placing them on the table, he pulled out the noodle casserole and centered it on the hot pads his grandfather had spread in the center of the table.
“Dinner’s ready, Grandpa. Come on in.”
“Thanks, Stan. I was so busy figurin’ I forgot about food. I think I solved your problem,” he said as he walked into the kitchen and sat at the head of the table. “Say the blessin’ for us.”
They bowed their heads as the nuns at St. Matthew’s Episcopal had taught both. “God, our Creator and Heavenly Father,” Stan intoned. “Bless our meal and all the people who helped create it. Watch over us as we go through our days. We thank you for all the gifts you have given. Amen.”
“Amen,” echoed his grandfather. “Pass the potatoes. Got to eat ‘em afore they get cold.”
As Stan ate he remembered Grandma Nightingale’s rules about chewing slowly and eating quietly in reverence to the animals and plants that gave their lives in order to sustain the people. When he was finished, Stan said, “So, what idea did you get?”
“Well, if you give Rose jewelry from a store, she might like it, but her father won’t. He hates anything store bought and thinks old man Draper cheats the people.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Plus Rose might read engagement into it, and I don’t want that to happen. We’re still too young.”
“You can’t give her flowers, as Curly Bear’s anger would rise at destroying plants for no purpose. That leaves clothing or food,” Grandpa said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his full belly.
Stan got up, picked up the dirty dishes and carried them over to the counter. He rinsed them off and then placed them in the dishwasher. The leftover casserole went into a refrigerator container. He dampened a paper towel and washed off the table, careful not to disturb his grandfather.
“I’ve got to take Sally out for a ride before it gets too dark,” Stan said. “Want to walk out to the stable with me?”
“Sure,” Grandpa said. “What I was thinkin’ was that what you could give Rose is out there anyway.”
Together they walked across the lush front lawn to the barn. Stan pushed open the large door while his grandfather turned on the lights.
Stan looked around and saw only hay, harnesses, bridles and horseshoes. “What’s out here that I could give Rose?”
“Nightingale’s trunk is up in the rafters. If I recall correctly, there’s something in there that would make Rose smile and keep her father happy as well. You go out for a ride while I climb up and get it.”
“Sure, Grandpa. I’ll be back in an hour.” Stan saddled Sally and headed out toward the distant hills.
After his grandson left, Grandpa climbed up the ladder to the rafters. He walked to the far side where there was a locked door. Pulling out a ring of keys, he found a small, old-fashioned one that fit the hasp lock. Once the door creaked open, he allowed his eyes a moment to adjust before stepping into the dark storage area.
Just as he remembered, there was an old leather trunk in the corner, covered with a layer of dust. He lovingly rubbed his hand across the top. He opened the lid, revealing Nightingale’s treasures.