Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - thirty-one}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

Gretel paced from the kitchen to her cot and back again.  She twisted the ribbons of her apron around her fingers.  Pausing at the window over the sink, she smiled at the two red breasted robins flitting about the bird feeder.  A third, smaller barn swallow darted toward the dish of seeds and was chased off in a flurry of feathers.

She drummed her fingers against the countertop and chewed her lower lip, staring past the birds to the forest beyond.  She took a deep breath and walked back to her bed.  She scooped up the small sack that lay there and walked back to the kitchen.  Hurriedly, she finished packing a few more items:  several candles, a tin of cookies and a packet of chocolate pieces.  “Perhaps I could make cocoa,” Gretel pondered.  “Or maybe ... tea?”  She pulled the box of tea down from the shelf above the stove.  Holding chocolate in one hand and tea in the other, she felt a wave of anxiety roll over her.  “I don’t even know if he likes cocoa,” she sighed.  “I could pack both, I suppose.  But what if he prefers coffee?”  Paralyzed, she stared at her hands.  She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath.  “He wants to see you,” she reminded herself.  “It’s not a matter of tea or cocoa or coffee, it’s a matter of seeing Father again.  Keep calm and don’t let these silly details fluster you.”  She opened her eyes again, feeling peace flood her soul.  Before she could tumble into another dilemma of her own making, Gretel closed the sack, fetched her shawl and headed to the door.

Spring was still young.  Patches of snow still huddled in the shade of the evergreens that surrounded the cottage and the aspen trees only braved a few buds on their slender branches.  Most of the forest still slept, but there was evidence of the spring thaw all around.  Gretel stood on the front step and listened to the family of birds in the eaves of the house.  Tweets and whistles filled the air as they called to one another.  The drip, drip, drip of the snow melting off the roof of the cottage and wood shed added to the rustling of the branches overhead as a cool breeze blew through.  Gretel pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders and stepped out of the shade and into the sunshine.

Hansel had left at the first light of day, another trip to see Father.  With the warming weather, the treks through the forest had become easier.  Less work to do around father’s cabin and more time to spend side-by-side, whittling and talking.  This easy companionship reenergized Hansel’s efforts to bring his sister and father together.  But his desire to share this intimacy with Gretel had continued to be met with resistance.  Until this morning.

After Hansel had disappeared into the forest, following his familiar path through the woods, Gretel had sat at the fireplace, her hands laying idle in her lap.  She sat still, watching the fire crack and pop, for several minutes.  Her gaze fell on the mantle, taking in the menagerie of carved creatures her father had sent her, week after week through the long winter months.  Each animal had been whittled and carved specifically for her.  The thought of her father sitting in front of his own fire, thinking of her and lovingly making her each critter brought tears to her eyes.  Happy tears.

She reached into the pocket of her apron and drew out the broken hummingbird.  As much as she cherished this winged treasure, she recognized now that it was the last string tying her to the past.  A past filled with pain, suffering, anger and regret.  A past she longed to part with.  Gretel leaned forward in her seat, setting her shoulders straight and took a deep breath.  In one fluid motion, she cast the hummingbird into the fire.  There was a flash and pop as the flames consumed the bird.  In moments, only ashes remained.

To her surprise, no tears came.  Instead, she felt a wave of intense joy wash over her.  And a peaceful relief.  She felt as though an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders.  She had no idea that such a small carved bird could be such a burden!  She felt new, raw emotions bubbling up to the surface, but they didn’t scare her.  Fueled by this sudden excitement, she scrambled to her feet and began to pack.

Now standing in the clearing at the edge of the forest, she felt her enthusiasm wavering.  Faced now with the reality of her decision, she felt the familiar tugs of fear and anger.  She shifted from one foot to another and adjusted her sack over her shoulder.  She looked back at the cottage and then turned back to the path.  Gathering her courage, she took a few steps down the trail.

Feigning determination, Gretel marched past a small grove of aspen trees, her steps muffled in the darkened fallen leaves.  The path bent toward the left and she looked over her shoulder one last time as the cottage slipped from view.  Stepping over a fallen log, she looked down, careful to watch her step and spied something blue among the overgrown bracken.  She stooped low and parted the coarse fern with her fingertips.  Nestled there at the base of the log was a cluster of sky blue forget-me-nots.

Gretel stood slowly, eyes fixed on the delicate flowers.  Then she looked down the forest path dotted with pockets of blue promises.  And broke into a run.


Thank you for reading along with me this month!  Writing this story was a little journey for me, too!  All I had at the start was the idea of a flower path that would lead Gretel home, but the internal havoc of hardheartedness and the process of her learning to forgive was worked out a day at a time.  The nature of posting a segment of the story each day was exciting (what would happen tomorrow?!) but also challenging (I can't go back and change the hummingbird to a snowflake!  ahh!).  This was a wonderful exercise in seeing a story through from start to finish (with plenty still to edit and tweak) and it's possible that I have caught a storybook-virus ... the need to write another tale.  A bigger tale.  But more on that, tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - thirty}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

The next three weeks passed in a blur.  Hansel divided his time between Gretel and Father, chopping wood for their fireplace and caring for Bree and then setting off through the forest to keep their father resting and healing.  He tread an enduring path between the cottages.  Before long, however, Gretel could see the weariness in her brother’s movements.  He couldn’t continue laboring in this same way for much longer.

Hansel sat in his seat before the fire.  His snow-covered boots sat on the hearth, a small puddle forming about the tread.  He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees with his chapped and chilled hands stretched out toward the warmth.  Gretel draped a blanket across his shoulders and returned to the kitchen for the steaming mug of cocoa she had prepared for him.

“Thank you,” Hansel murmured, blowing on his mug before cautiously taking a sip.  He winced and set it aside to let it cool.  “Father is well.  Doc Jameson stopped for a visit this afternoon, just before I set off for home.  He said the break is mending, but Father still can’t put any weight on his leg.  It’ll be a few more weeks before he can get about on his own.  But he’ll still have to be careful - no outside labors and caution on the slick snow, of course.  I imagine he’ll be needing help, at least until the spring thaw.  Perhaps even longer.”  He rubbed his hands together and reached for his mug.

“What a gift you have given him, Hansel.  Your help and your care is priceless.  Thank you for serving him.  I wish ...”  She let her words hang in the gathering darkness of the evening.  Previous nights and tear-filled conversations still echoed in the cottage.  As much as she tried to muster up her courage to see her father, Gretel was unable.  Upon each of Hansel’s returns, she enjoyed listening as he shared about the men’s time together and she would feel a building desire to see her father.  But every morning as Hansel packed his sack for the trek through the forest, Gretel would weaken, falter.  All commitment to join him fled.  In vain, Hansel had tried to convince Gretel that in time there would be reconciliation., but she lacked her brother’s certainty.

“I’m sorry.”

Hansel, seeing his sister’s sadness, reached across the space between them and patted her knee.  “It’ll come, it’ll come.  Someday you’ll join me.”  Leaning back in his chair, he began to recount his recent visit.  “I saw a flock of geese overhead this afternoon.  They were headed back north.  Maybe spring will be upon us soon.  I also noticed that about midday, some of the snow was melting from Father’s roof.  Of course, now those drops have probably frozen into icicles, but there is a sign of a thaw coming.  I’m eager for some warmth and to see the forest green again.”

Gretel felt her nerves settle as she listened to Hansel.  She leaned back in her chair, a peaceful contentment to have Hansel home and to have the breech in their friendship mended.  Much to Hansel’s credit, of course.  Gretel, however, had made an effort to soften her attitudes and words regarding their father.  While she still held Father at a distance physically, she welcomed stories about him.  And on comforting evenings like tonight, she could almost pretend that she held him no ill will and that maybe next week she would visit him.  Almost, but not quite.

“Here.  I almost forgot.”  Hansel slipped his hand into the deep pocket of his cloak, “Father wanted me to give you this.”  He opened his hand.  Laying in the palm of his hand was a wooden squirrel.  

“Oh, my!  Look that little fellow!”  Gretel plucked him out of Hansel’s hand to inspect his mischievous look.  “He looks as if he might just scamper across the room!”  She couldn’t help but smile at his beady eyes, and curved fluffy tail.  “It truly is a marvel that Father can carve such marvelous creations!”  Standing, she walked to the mantel and added the squirrel to the menagerie on display.  Each visit, Hansel ferried home another critter for his sister, his most recent gift being a robin.

“Come to the table, and let me serve you some stew, Hansel.  I’m sure it will help you to thaw out completely.”  Gretel set about ladling out a hearty meal into heavy bowls.  She tore off a hunk of bread for each of them and fetched the crock of butter from the icebox on the front porch.  Sitting at her seat across from Hansel, she watched her brother dig into his dinner.  She smiled again, grateful for the harmony in their home.

Hansel swallowed his bite of bread and looked up at his sister.  His eyes locked on hers.  “He’s sorry, you know.  He suffers in the same way that you do.  Perhaps worse.  But he is sorry and he wants nothing more than to see you.  To welcome you home.”  Gretel stared back at her brother and nodded silently.  “It doesn’t mean we forget how we were wronged, but we do have the choice to forgive and let the past live in the past.  You invite your future to be better, fuller, richer.  That’s what I want for both of you.  More than anything.”

“I know.  I just ... I still feel ...” Gretel stuttered and twisted the napkin in her lap, she sighed.  “I’ll try.  That’s all I can promise you.  I’ll try to forgive him.”  She smiled shyly, “‘Planting a seed of forgiveness, ...’ ” 

“‘... reaping a harvest of love,’” Hansel smiled and returned to his stew, and shared another story from his visit with their father.

Monday, October 29, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - twenty-nine}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

As Hansel stepped out of the woods and into the clearing, he was surprised to find the cottage dark.  No lights shown from the windows and he could discern no smoke coming out of the chimney.  He paused for a moment in the gathering shadows and then he half-walked, half-ran the remaining stretch of snow to the front door.  He took a deep breath, gathering his courage, before turning the knob and stepping into the unexpected gloom.

His eyes roamed about the room, taking in the cottage:  the kitchen table sat empty, something indiscernible dumped on the floor, a kitchen chair laid on its side near the fireplace and only weak embers burned on the hearth.  Hansel took a few steps into the room, squinting in the twilight.  He stepped on something that crunched under his boots.  He squatted and fingered the floor blindly.  A cloud of lavender wafted up, filling his nostrils.  He stood and turned toward the cots on the far side of the cottage.  His gaze fell on Gretel sitting on the floor with her head resting on the edge of her bed.

“Gretel,” he whispered.  “Gretel?  What’s wrong?  What’s happened.”

Only silence.  Fumbling at the mantle, Hansel found a candle and lit the wick in the embers of the fire.  He crept to where his sister sat and lowered himself to his knees.  “Gretel?”  he repeated softly.  Slowly she turned and looked toward him.  She kept her eyes averted, focusing on the candle in his hands instead.

In its wavering glow, Hansel saw her tear streaked face, eyes swollen from crying.  Seeing the concern etched in his face only renewed Gretel’s grief and she buried her face in her arms, turning away from Hansel.  With a sigh, he stood and went about lighting the candles, chasing the darkness out of the cottage.  Keeping an eye on his sister, he set to stoking the fire, adding wood to the coals and encouraging the welcome warmth of the flames.  Once their home was light and warm again, he returned to Gretel’s side, coaxing her off the floor and onto her bed.

“Please talk to me.  What happened?  Are you hurt?”

Gretel shook her head.  They sat knee to knee in silence, listening to the fire pop and crackle.  Finally, Gretel opened her hands and revealed the broken hummingbird.  Hansel looked at the pieces, perplexed, wrinkling his brow.  “This?  This is what happened?  You broke the bird?  That’s all?”  His voice was hard, a sharper edge to his words than he usually used with his sister.  Gretel’s head snapped up, her eyes wide.  She had heard the iciness in his tone; fresh tears stung her eyes.

“Yes.  My bird.  My bird that Father made me.  You were always jealous of that bird, so you’re probably pleased that it’s shattered.”  She felt angry and raw.  She didn’t care if her words wounded.  She wanted someone else to feel the pain she was feeling.  “But you wouldn’t understand because you don’t have feelings.  How could you be friends with Father if you actually felt anything?  You should hate him.”

“Hate him?  The same father that carved your precious bird?  How is it that you can hate him and yet cherish his gift?  Answer me that.  And how can you accuse me of being hard-hearted?  I have done nothing but care for you these past nine years.”  Hansel stood, clenching his fists.  “I have listened to your cruel words concerning Father and I have held my tongue, aching for you to forgive, aching to be a family again, aching for you to soften your heart.  You have no idea the pain I have suffered waiting for you to be gracious to Father.  And now this?  Grief over a bird?  Your hard-heartedness has to end, Gretel.  It’s time.  You have to forgive Father ... for all our sakes.”

Hansel seemed to deflate then, all the fire going out of him with his final plea.  With slumped shoulders, he shook his head.  “I can’t keep guarding you and enduring this fracture in our family.  I’m sorry that you hurt, but you can’t harbor this heartache any longer.”  He dropped into his chair, rested his elbows on his knees and buried his head in his hands.  Under his breath she heard him utter, “Waters lacking forgiveness poison the soil of friendship ... and family.”

Gretel sat stunned for several minutes, watching the flicker of the fire.  She clutched the bird, feeling the sharp wood cutting into her hands, much like the truth had cut into her heart.  Hansel was right, of course, but she struggled with what she knew to be true and with what her heart felt.  It was easier to feed her anger than to forgive.  Easier to stay here in her comfortable darkness than to step out into the light.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - twenty-eight}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

After a small bite to eat, Gretel busied herself by shaking out blankets and rugs.  Stepping outside to shake the kitchen rug, she was pleased to note that the warming sun hand succeeded in thawing corners of the frozen landscape.  Snow fell from branches in miniature avalanches and there was a steady drip from the eaves as the snow on the roof melted.  With a sense of relief, Gretel swept the front porch and hoped that Hansel’s return trip would be warmer and quicker.

Soon Gretel ran out of surfaces to scrub and blankets to shake, forcing her to look for another task to keep her occupied.  Hanging from the rafters near the fireplace she spied the bunches of lavender she had cut and hung to dry at the end of summer.  By standing on her tip toes on a kitchen chair, she was just able to untie the bundles from the twine that stretched between the ceiling beams.  She gently laid the lavender on the kitchen table and returned to her perch on the kitchen chair.

On Gretel’s fifth and final trip, she stumbled.  She caught the toe of her boot on the hem of her dress and sent herself sprawling off the chair and onto the rug in front of the fireplace, narrowly missing the brick hearth.  She landed hard on her right side and felt the pain of the impact in her knee, shoulder and hip.

Gretel laid on the floor for a spell, stunned and reeling from the pain.  Gingerly she sat upright and then gently rubbed her limbs and back, checking to make sure she hadn’t broken anything.  After a few moments, she stood, using the chair by the fire for support.  She was relieved to find that her legs supported her fine and that she could move her right arm without much pain.  But she knew that tomorrow she would be stiff and bruised.

“That could have been disastrous,” Gretel murmured.  “You keep both your feet on the floor from now on,” she admonished herself.

Carefully, she walked to the kitchen table and began to untie the bundles of lavender; the heady aroma filled the air and stirred up in her heart her passion for gardening.  As she stuffed the little fabric sachets with the lavender, she was pleased to have a little something from her flower beds to get her through the cold, stark winter until spring.

When all the sachets were filled, she grabbed the corners of her apron to lay the bundles in the folds of the fabric with the intent of distributing the fragrant pouches throughout the cottage.  As she lifted the corners of her well-worn apron, something fell out of her pocket.  A wing.

With a cry, Gretel reached into the pocket and pulled out the fragile hummingbird.  Both wings had been broken in Gretel’s fall.  Tears coursed down her face as she clutched the wounded creation to her chest, feeling her own heart break.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - twenty-seven}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

Hansel set out just after breakfast.  Gretel watched from the front porch as he trudged through the snow, wrapped in his heaviest cloak with a woolen hat and gloves to keep his head and hands from frostbite.  In his burlap sack, he carried the parcel for their father as well as a few smaller bundles for the other older shut-ins Hansel intended to visit.  His breath froze in clouds about his head.

Gretel stood at the door until Hansel was hidden from view among the snow covered trees.  Then with a last glance at his plodding foot prints, she turned and shuffled back into the warmth of the cottage.  She leaned against the closed door and closed her eyes in an attempt to calm her anxious heart.  She fought against the worry that threatened her peace - worry about Hansel’s trek, worry about her father’s wellbeing, worry about the future and worry about how she would keep herself busy all day.

Opening her eyes, she spotted the kitchen and the breakfast dishes that sat dirty, waiting to be washed.  “That’s as good a place to start as any,” she spoke into the empty cottage, and set to work.

The steam from the bucket of water she had heated fogged the kitchen window as she scrubbed the kettle.  Setting it to dry on the counter, she noticed that the countertop was covered in crumbs and was sticky along one edge.  She plunged the rag into the scalding water and focused on cleaning the counter to a shine.  She then moved along to the kitchen table and beyond, fetching and heating fresh water when the bucket’s contents turned grey and cold.  In this way, Gretel spent the morning, scrubbing and scouring the cottage, hoping her busy hands would keep her from fretting too much about the day.

As she swept the corner near her cot, Gretel remembered another time with her father.  She recalled a morning of cleaning and sweeping while her father tended an ill Hansel.  Her brother had suffered with a fever for several days and on this particular morning, Gretel hand chewed her nails to the quick with worry.

Her father, seeing her anxiety, had handed her a broom with the words, “Busy hands quiet an anxious heart.  Work our your worry on the floor, dear one, and leave your fingernails alone.”  His warm smile had comforted her and she had hidden his wisdom in her heart.  This morning as she labored, she found that her mind did not wander from worry to fear and back again, but stayed quiet and focused on the task at hand.  Before she knew it, the cottage shone and her stomach rumbled, signaling the arrival of the afternoon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - twenty-six}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

She jumped at the sound of Hansel stomping his heavy boots on the porch and she turned just as he opened the front door.  He stepped in and quickly closed the door behind him, hoping to keep the cold air out and the warm air of the fire in.  Gretel carefully folded her afghan and placed it in the basket.  Rising from her chair she saw that Hansel’s mood hadn’t improved.  Now in addition to an uncharacteristic frown, his nose and ears were bright pink and his eyes looked sad and heavy.

“Ol’ Man Miller passed away last night.  I just talked to James, his son.  He was headed to Pastor  Willem’s place and he stopped to tell me.”

Gretel felt a wave of sadness and guilt wash over her.  Sadness for the Miller family’s loss and guilt for suspecting Hansel of some clandestine meeting.

“I’m sorry, Hansel.  It seems to me that he’s been around forever.  How old was he, do you know?”

“Ohh ... I think he was going on eighty.  Or maybe he just look that way.  All those hard years of cutting wood, working out of doors.  I know that he was a wood cutter long before Father.  In fact, I think Father worked with him as a young man, a bit like an apprentice, perhaps.”

“I didn’t know that.  I guess that’s why Father always had a fondness for the Miller family.  That makes sense to me now.”

“Yes.  I imagine that it will be a blow to hear he’s passed.”

Gretel paused a moment before speaking.  It was still a challenge to talk about her father and this added grief brought with it an unfamiliar wave of compassion for him.  She felt the iciness of her heart thaw and her shoulders relaxed.  “Maybe you should be the one to tell Father.  I’ve already made up a small package for him.”  She pointed to the table where the bundle sat.  “You can head out after breakfast.  You need get to warmed up a bit first.”

For the first time that morning, Hansel smiled.  He settled himself in his chair at the kitchen table and took the steaming mug of hot tea that Gretel offered him.  She pulled the warmed biscuits out of the oven and brother and sister sat down to eat.  Both felt curious about this change in Gretel.  And both hoped that their father was warm and well-fed in his cottage on the other side of the forest.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - twenty-five}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

As Gretel pulled the front door open, the arctic air caught in her lungs and made her cough.  She was startled by the iciness of the morning and was filled with a sudden gratefulness for their warm cottage and blazing fire.  She squinted into the early morning light, looking for Hansel’s tracks.  She could tell from his footprints in the snow that he had been to the barn to check on Bree.  His footsteps led out of the barn and to the wood shed and then back out again.  With her eyes, Gretel followed his steps around the bend of the cottage.

Slipping on her boots, she carefully stepped onto the porch, closed the door behind her and made her way around to the right.  She used Hansel’s footsteps as her path, stepping her booted feet into his larger prints.  Staring into the bright sun, she could barely make out his trail ahead of her.  She stopped in her tracks when she heard voices.

Hansel stood just inside the edge of the forest talking to someone, another man.  Their voices were low, she could just barely make out their murmurs.  She peered into the shadows, but couldn’t make out any forms.  Gretel rocked back and forth on her feet.  Feeling the biting cold through her shawl, she rubbed her arms and wished she had grabbed her cloak.  She felt her feet turning to ice in her boots.  Apart from the cold, she also felt uneasy standing there in the snow.  She didn’t want Hansel to think that she was eavesdropping, but she was curious.  Who was he talking to?  Why be so secretive?

Soon the cold became too much for Gretel.  She turned and made her way back through the snow to the front porch.  Stamping her feet, she shook the frosty snow off her boots and stepped into the welcome heat of the cottage.  Leaving her frozen boots by the front door, she hurried to the fireplace and sat in her chair, facing the fire.  She rubbed her hands and arms, slowly feeling them thaw.  She pulled the afghan she was knitting out the basket by her chair and draped the warm wool over her lap.  Within a few moments she felt the cold ache leave her body and she sighed with relief.  She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, the warmth of the fire suddenly making her feel sleepy.  Her body relaxed, but her mind still fretted with the mysterious meeting in the woods.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 Days {Rooted in Love - twenty-four}

To start at the beginning ...

image from deviantart

After changing her clothes, she quickly set about packing a bundle of bread and strawberry jam for Hansel to take with him.  She added a small packet of tea to the package and tied it with a scarlet ribbon.  She stood back from her work and found herself floating back to another kitchen and another winter.

She stood at the kitchen table with Helga’s old apron tied around her small waist.  The ribbons of the apron were so long that her father had wrapped them around twice before tying them in the front.  Her father stood next to her with his hands on his hips, surveying the table.

“We need several gifts for the neighbors.  You keep count, little one, and let us see if we have all that we need.”

Gretel held her hands up and counted on her dimpled fingers as her father recited the many recipients.

“The Millers, the Blacks, the Sutters, the Smiths, the Brandt’s and Old Lady Landers.  How many is that, Gretel?”

“Six,” Gretel announced holding up one hand and her thumb.

“Very good.  Now, let us divide up what we have here.  A loaf of bread, a jar of preserves, a few cookies and some cocoa.  Yes, I think that will do.  If you will put the food in the center of these circles of fabric here, I will tie the ribbons.”

“Father, what if we run out of food?  We only have a few more jars of jam in the pantry.  Maybe we should keep this for ourselves.  Just in case the winter is long.”

“Oh, dear one, we have what we need and we have our good health to be able to take care of our selves.  These families have come upon a hard season in their lives.  They need our care.  They are deserving of our kindness.  Not because they are needy, but because they are our friends.”

She remembered feeling the importance of having been chosen for this task, but she also remembered the warm joy in her heart from this act of giving.  Six bundles sitting on the old oak table, all tied with scarlet ribbons ... gifts for those in need, given not out of their own abundance, but from their hearts.

Gretel shook her head, releasing herself from her daydream.  She smiled, adjusted the ribbon and went to the front door to call Hansel in for breakfast.