A Valentine’s Dilemma

Part Two:

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?”

“A beaver?”

“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.”

“Sure.”

“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.”

A Valentine’s Day Dilemma

Part One:

            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?”

            “Yes.”

            “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.

Night Terrors

            The large dun horse runs full tilt down a rock-strewn hill, its hooves sliding, slipping, searching for purchase which it finds, then loses then finds again as it runs harder, faster, its eyes huge, lather forming on its withers, its sides and foam dripping from its mouth, its tongue dangling to one side as its sides heave and heave. The headlong descent to the swiftly moving river below doesn’t slow its run, doesn’t ease its fears but rather amplifies them for the roar is deafening as the current bangs against tree limbs hanging so low their branches dip into the melee.

            She tries to stop, but her forward momentum is so strong, so impulsive, so rushed that her hooves slide through the muddy banks and into the river she jumps with a mighty splash. The water is too deep and she flails, legs trying valiantly to swim, to coordinate, to come up with a rhythm that will keep her afloat, but its all in vain as she is swept downriver along with branches and other debris.

            Her head is barely above water and her breathing is ragged but still she fights, her hooves hoping to touch bottom despite knowing that they will not, they cannot for the river is deep and the current keeps sucking her under. Downriver she goes, crashing against huge boulders that suck her breath away, that hurt her legs, her ribs, her neck.

            Kicking and kicking she never gives us, never succumbs to despair that would pull her under even when her mighty head dips below the surface and all she sees is a muddy swirl. Sides heaving she fights the fight of her life, not giving in for a minute, a second.

            In front of her, all around her a roar begins. Quiet at first if a roar could be called quiet but as she fights, it intensifies as she nears a bend in the river, a turn she hopes will allow her weary legs to strike mud, sand, gravel anything.

            No more boulders ahead. She has hope. Her spirits life, until she notices that the roar is so loud that she hears no bird, no insect, no bubble or quiet gurgle. Roar and more roar. Growing louder as the current pulls her forward toward an end. A drop-off. A precipice inot which she knows she will fall.

            And so she gives up. Her exhausted legs stop churning. Her head slumps. Her heart stills. She is prepared to die and million deaths for she knows what comes next. She’s seen if before. Heard it before. Lost companions before. But with one last burst of energy she screams signaling her acceptance of death as she plunges over the edge.

            Down and down she falls carried by the torrent, deep into the mist, the swirl, tossed over and under until she does not know which way is up or down or sideways. So deep that there is no sun, no light, no joy until there is peace. She quits fighting knowing that her life is no more.

            A sudden overwhelming peace fills her. A lightness of spirit. She has come to her afterlife. She will run with her ancestors. Romp across stubbly fields in joyous rapture.

            Until she opens her massive eyes and realizes the she is being carried along with a mild current, heading toward a sandy shore. She fights just enough to get her head out of the water, just enough to be able to breathe, to see a blue sky. To feel the sun on her shoulders, to hear birds singing softly overhead. In and out she breathes. In and out.

            With effort she struggles to her feet and stands for fear of collapse. She raises her weary head and sees grasses just a few steps ahead. She knows she must eat. Must restore energy lost and so she makes her way to the first patch and nibbles gingerly as if it might not be real. Nibbles more and more as she moves away from the river.

            Natural instincts take over and she grazes calmly, naturally as she’s done all her life. As her ancestors have done. Ripping out one nourishing morsel after another as the roar of the terrifying falls slowly recedes into the distance.

            Satisfied, she shakes her head removing the last of the water and she neighs calling for her kind. Nothing at first so she heads toward a sand dune, a tiny hill and makes her way to the top being careful, ever so careful where each hoof goes.

            At the crest a beam of light falls across her back and it warms her inside and out. With a sigh she plods forward, one step after another. She nibbles the choicest bits now that her hunger is satisfied. She neighs again and waits for something. She knows what it is, but will an answering call come?

            Far to the west she hears a faint call. With the sun going with her she heads toward what she hopes will be a welcome. Serenity fills her for she has survived. The tragedy will soon move to the recesses of her mind, but will never be forgotten. Not entirely. Not for many years.