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.”

The Stars

If I could catch a single star

I’d hide it in your hair.

Whenever things drag you down

I’d hand you a mirror

And watch the sparkle fill

Your eyes.

 

With both hands reaching

Toward the sky

I’d catch a star in each.

One to plant inside your heart

The other in your soul

Just to brighten your every day.

 

Given time I’d gather a handful

To decorate your life

With joy and mystery enough

To last your whole life through.

 

With a scoop and bucket

I’d sweep them all into a tidy bunch

So that the glorious light constantly

Blooms wherever you train your eyes.

 

But maybe not.

 

If I could catch a single star

That would be enough

To remind you of my steadfast love

Forever burning bright.

 

Grandma’s Gift

When I was a little girl, probably five or six years of age, someone gave me an old, cheap plastic doll. It’s arms and legs moved and I could rotate its head a bit to the right or left. Its hair was painted auburn and its lips a light shade of red. It was nothing fancy, but it was mine.

And when you’re poor, you appreciate those hand-me-downs more than a rich kid receiving another shiny toy. So that doll meant a lot to me and I brought it everywhere I went.

At the time we lived in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, in a housing development that I later understood would have been called projects.

My older brother was the bain of my existence even then. He teased me, pushed me around, took things from me and ridiculed my appearance and my parents did nothing to stop him. As a small child, I understood the power he held over me and the lack of presence I had within the family unit.

Anyway, my mother’s parents lived in Galipolis, Ohio, a long drive from home. They lived so far away that we usually only visited them once a year. While we had little, they had even less. We had furnace heat, they warmed their house with coal. We had running water in the bathroom and kitchen, they had an outhouse which terrified me and a pump in the kitchen that poured out the coldest, most refreshing water I’d ever tasted.

On one journey to visit my grandparents I brought along my doll, as usual. During the ride, my brother took it away from me several times which brought me to tears. He would eventually give it back, only to steal it away almost immediately.

When we arrived at my grandparent’s house, after getting hugs from Grandma, I went outside on my own to play with my doll. My brother followed me. A chase began, which I lost due to my shorter legs and slower-moving body.

My brother stole the doll, threw it on the ground and stomped on it. He repeated this over and over until the arms, legs and body were little more than shattered pieces of plastic. I howled, long and loud.

My grandma came to investigate and listened carefully as I told her the tale. She chastised my brother and told him to go sit in a chair on the porch. She took me inside and wiped off my face. Gave me a cup of cold water. And held me close, brushing my hair off my reddened face.

When we left that night, of course there was no doll to take home. Months passed. In time I forgot about my doll as I moved on to other things. I colored obsessively, filling page after page with drawings that I meticulously colored, staying within the lines.

The year passed and nothing changed in my life. My brother still teased, pushed, pulled, pinched and ridiculed. My parents still did little to stop the abuse.

When summer came we returned to my grandparent’s house. As always, Grandma greeted me at the door with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. But then a most magical thing happened. Slowly, ever so slowly, she pulled something from behind her back. It was my doll!

Actually, to be precise, it was my doll’s head attached to a hand sewn body.  The doll was now made of some type of beige cloth. It had lines to indicate fingers and toes. It had underpants, a slip and a dress. It was beautiful!

I brought it to my chest, tears in my eyes. The words of thanks whispered from my lips.

Then my grandma turned to my brother and told him that he had better, never take that doll from me or he’d have to answer to her, and she would not be gentle.

My grandma gave me a most precious gift. It goes beyond the doll and its clothes. She gave me a symbol of love. A toy that made me feel special. Unique. But most importantly, loved.

I still have that doll. It is now more than 62 years old and it occupies a place of honor in my house. Whenever I see it, think of it, it speaks to me of the one person who loved me as I am.