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.
On top was a red velvet shirt with a beaded yoke, a string of yellow flowers attached to a white vine, all hand sown by Nightingale herself. Next was a tiny pair of beaded moccasins, so small that he couldn’t fit his whole hand inside. He found a bandolier of china tubes interspersed with blue glass beads and a pair of white buckskin leggings with a fringed tunic.
“This was her weddin’ outfit,” he thought as he held them up to the light. “She sure looked pretty in these.” He held the tunic to his nose and inhaled, then cradled it to his chest. For many minutes Grandpa sat on his haunches, rocking with eyes closed, remembering the beautiful girl who stole his heart so many years ago. “This won’t do,” he chastised himself as he placed the outfit back in the trunk. He rummaged around some more until he found the item that he had had in mind. After taking it out, he closed the trunk, locked the door, and went back down the ladder.
About the same time Stan came in, leading Sally by the halter. “Guess what I saw up on the ridge?”
“No. Guess again,” Stan said as he led Sally into her stall.
“Little Bear?” Grandpa chuckled at the thought of the creature from lore being spotted at the top of the hill.
“You know better than that,” Stan said. “Give me a real guess. Something that lives up there, but you seldom see any more.” Stan pulled off the saddle and the blanket and hung them over a rail. He picked up a soft cloth and wiped Sally’s damp sides until she glowed.
“You saw a porcupine.”
“That’s it! How did you guess that? I haven’t seen one up there since I was a little boy.” Stan brushed Sally, removing the matted hair from her mane and tail.
“Well,” Grandpa drawled, “I was thinking of a porcupine that crossed my path when I was about your age.”
“Another story, Grandpa?”
“Yep. You keep workin’ and I’ll talk,” he said as he settled onto a three-legged stool just outside the stall. “Years ago, shortly after I met Nightingale, I wanted to give her something that showed how special she was. I had little money to spend, so I figured I’d make something. Now your grandmother always dressed in her traditional clothes. Somehow it felt right to her. None of that modern stuff.
“So I rode up on that ridge, just like you did, thinking maybe I’d see a nice piece of wood for carving. Instead I ran across a dead porcupine. Looked fresh. Maybe died of old age, as I didn’t see any wounds anywhere. Anyway, I got the idea to pull off the quills and make something out of them. The quills are hollow, you know, so it is easy to lace them together to make a necklace or breastplate. Plus they can be died different colors by using berries, roots, or mosses.
“Red was Nightingale’s favorite color, so after getting as many quills as I could, I searched around until I found some nice berries. I took it all back home, boiled the berries in some hot water, making a nice thick juice. Then I dropped in about half of the quills. While they were cooking, I found some rawhide scraps and cut them into very thin strips.
“Once everything was ready, I prayed to the gods to guide my work. The Blackfoot believe that the quills have religious powers, so I was extra careful not to offend anyone. I had some blue glass beads left over from a necklace I made her as a wedding gift, so I used them too.
“Every evening I came out here to the barn and worked while Nightingale took care of the mother. My fingers were too big and clumsy to make anything real fine, so I concentrated on the larger pieces of quill and the beads with the biggest holes. It took me nearly two weeks, but when I presented her with a sash for her waist, she smiled so big I thought her cheeks would split.
“So, here it is,” he said as he held it up for Stan to see. “I found it in her chest.”
“Grandpa, that’s beautiful!”
“The colors have faded a bit, but Rose might like it anyway.”
“She’ll love it. But won’t her father think we’re engaged?”
“Maybe yes to both. But if you notice, I made a design like antelopes. Blackfoot warriors place a lot of significance in the antelope. Because they run fast, the antelope escape capture more times than not. Curly Bear will remember that and know that this gift isn’t meant to tie Rose to you.”
Stan reverently held the sash up to the light, then ran his fingers along the lines of quills and beads. “This is perfect. Rose doesn’t have a sash nearly this nice.”
“Well, let’s go inside. It’s nigh on to dark. Soon it will be bedtime.”
Stan closed Sally’s stall door, turned off the light, closed the big barn door, then walked with his grandfather back to the house. “One question, Grandpa.”
“If this was Grandmother’s, don’t you want to keep it?”
Grandpa stopped at the top step and turned to face the now dark front lawn. He turned his eyes up to the sky, sighed, and then said, “The materials that went to make that came from the earth. Yes, it was a special gift. A way for me to tell my wife that I loved her. But it holds no power over my memories. Keeping it in that trunk is of no use to anyone. If’n you give it to Rose, every time she wears it, Nightingale will smile. Nope. It’s yours to give.”
Stan laid his right hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “I don’t know what to say, except thanks. This will make the best Valentine’s Day gift. All I need now is a box and red wrapping paper.”
Grandpa nodded. “I just might have some of that upstairs.” With that, he opened the door and led the way inside. “Why don’t you get some studying done while I gather what you need.”
Stan pulled his Government textbook out of his backpack and settled at the wooden desk his grandfather had recently made. The surface was smooth even though it was a bit uneven.
He loved the care that had gone into its construction. In fact, he even knew which tree his grandfather had used. Not too long ago, during a rare windstorm, a walnut tree had blown down. He had helped cut the tree into usable pieces that he had stacked under an overhang on the backside of the barn.
He opened to the chapter on socialism and was just starting to read when his grandfather reappeared, his arms full.
“I found ever’thin’ you need.”
Stan smiled when he saw the red Christmas paper. Rose would laugh when she saw dancing Santas and skipping reindeer. “That’s perfect. Thanks.”
“So,” Grandpa said as he got out his pipe. “Happy?”
Stan nodded. “Once again you solved my dilemma.”
Grandpa opened the front door and just before he stepped through, he said, “Valentine’s is about love. I’d do anything for you because I love you. You know that, right?”
“That I do.” Stan moved the paper and ribbon off to the side of the desk. “So what can I get you for Valentine’s?”
“Every day you gift me with your love.” Grandpa closed the screen door behind him. “That’s all I need.”