Monday, July 31, 2017

Jule's Birthday Surprise

                                                  Jule’s Birthday Surprise
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

The gulls woke Jule on her birthday as they did every morning.  She looked out the window. It was a bright, clear Maine day, with just a hint of breeze. She smiled.  Today she was 10, and somehow, that seemed like a very special age to be.
Born in 1886, Jule lived on a Maine island, far enough from the mainland for her to think of the island as her family’s kingdom, since they were the only inhabitants. Her father was a lighthouse keeper and a tall lighthouse, painted red and white dominated the landscape.
A modest two-story house stood next to the lighthouse. In the summer, when Jule’s  bedroom window was open, waves splashing on the rocky shore lulled her to sleep. Early in the morning, noisy gulls woke her up.
Jule loved her island life. When the tide was low, she perched on a rock and watched the seals play. Pups clowned and capered on the rocks. Then she wandered to a small stand of weathered pine 

trees she thought of as an enchanted forest.  She sat on a soft bed of moss and took a book from her pocket and read.  Books from a circulating library were delivered by boat once a month and Jule read them with gusto. If she finished all the books before the month was over, she read them again.
           Jule longed to see the ocean from the top of the lighthouse and  imagined all the ships she would see— merchant ships filled with lumber and wool destined for England, passenger ships headed to Portland. Lobster boats . Fishing boats. “May I come up and see?” she asked her father.
“The top is no place for children,” he said.
“Can you see Boston from the top?” she asked.
“Can you see land at all?”
“Yes, the mainland on a clear day.”
That was something! Jule had only been on the mainland twice with her mother to visit her grandparents. It had taken hours by boat to get there it was so far.
“Is there any brass to shine at the top of the lighthouse?” Jule asked one day. No one visited their little island except an occasional inspector who arrived unannounced and went through the lighthouse and their tiny home with a sharp eye, making certain that brass was shined, the lens on the lighthouse was soot free, and supplies were properly stored and inventoried. To Jule, it seems that her father spent a lot of time shining brass that already looked shiny. “I can go up and help you shine it.”
Her father smiled. “Thank you, Jule, but children aren’t allowed at the top.”
 On her birthday, when Jule walked downstairs to breakfast, she was surprised to see that her father was still awake. He usually slept during the day since he needed to man the lighthouse all night.  Her mother heaped pancakes and bacon on a plate for Jule.  “Happy birthday!”
When they finished breakfast, Jule’s father said, “I have a surprise for you.” He took her by the hand and led her to the lighthouse. “I think you’re old enough, now.”
Jule looked at the hundreds of narrow iron steps spiraling up and up to the top. “One step at a time, slowly,” her father said. “I’m right behind you.”

Jule climbed, one step and one step and one step, around and around. She felt a little dizzy. How many steps were there? Her muscles started to ache. Finally, there was a short metal ladder and she was at the top!
Unlike the house, the windows didn’t open. The top of the lighthouse was hot and stuffy, but Jule eagerly surveyed the ocean.  She saw a merchant steamer and wondered what kind of cargo it carried.  Maybe it was coming back from China carrying tea, silk and fragrant spices.  On the far horizon, she saw a group of fishing boats.
            Looking west, she glimpsed the mainland, like a mirage in the distance.
            She looked down and noticed the rocks on the shore looked very small. So did their house.

 Jule was thrilled with all she saw and her face glowed. “This was the best birthday present ever!”

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published July 30, 2017, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Guardian Giants

                                                 The Guardian Giants
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

Once upon a time, long before people existed, two giants, Hannah and Rose, lived high in the mountains. The sisters made a cave their home, enlarging it to fit their height with one mighty kick that sent tremors through the earth for miles.  
            They spent most of their time outside, up early to watch the sun rise and break through the clouds. During the day, they took turns rearranging the rocks in their rock garden. That was hard work and when either of them sighed, a strong breeze swept down the mountain into the valley. Every evening, they leaned against the side of the mountain to watch the sun go down, enjoying the bright streaks of red and orange in the sky.
            Despite their size, they didn’t need much to survive. A quick scoop of water from the nearby river quenched their thirst, though they were always careful to sieve out the fish and water creatures and return them to the river.  Once a snapping turtle nipped Rose on the finger. Though it didn’t hurt very much because her fingers were the size of logs, after that, she always swirled the water a little before scooping it up.
           When they felt hungry, Hannah stood on Rose’s shoulders and reached high into the sky, with a fine net to gather space plankton. Tiny almost invisible creatures made delicious and nourishing soup, exactly what giants liked.
Hannah and Rose led a peaceful life, watching over the valley from the top of the mountain. They acted as guardians for all the wildlife on the mountain and in the valley.  One summer, when a searing drought parched the land, Hannah found a dry field and stomped her foot to make a deep hole. Rose scooped water from a faraway river to fill the hole Hannah made. The newly formed lake quenched the animals’ thirst.

When a hurricane tore through the valley uprooting trees one autumn, Rose and Hannah spent the following days carefully lifting each tree and placing it back into the earth.  Birds and squirrels chattered happily, knowing their homes were saved.
One day, a wildfire tore through the valley. The flames leaped from tree to tree and across grassy fields. Hannah and Rose scooped water from the river over and over to douse the flames, but to not avail. The fire continued to spread. Bears, moose, lynx, deer, and other wild animals fled the flames but the high mountains blocked their escape. What could be done?

Hannah and Rose saw the frightened animals at the base of the mountain trying to escape the fire. Together, they started kicking the mountain and throwing rocks aside to create a mountain pass for the animals to safely cross to the other side. Never had they attempted such a big job! On and on they worked until they made a pass that even the smallest hedgehog could easily navigate.
Hannah and Rose stood at the pass in the thick smoke that filled the valley and yodeled so the animals could find their way to safety by following the sound of their voices. On and on the animals came, big and small, old and young, throngs and throngs of them, anxious to escape the flames. They scurried to safety guided by the giants’ thunderous voices.
Even though they were exhausted, Hannah and Rose stood at the base of the mountain pass and guided the animals until the very last creature, an old porcupine who moved slower than the hours from midnight to morning, was well on his way. Just then, a gentle rain began to fall. The dark sky promised a long rain, one that would extinguish the fire.
 Hannah and Rose, tired as they were, collapsed and fell asleep where they stood, their hard work finished. The rain washed over them and in the morning, two tall stone peaks stood, glittering with crystal, beside the mountain pass to mark it forever for those who needed to find their way to the other side.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published July 22, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).


Monday, July 17, 2017

Not Animal, Vegetable or Mineral!

                       Not Animal, Vegetable or Mineral!
By Valerie L. Egar

“She’s cheating! That car was orange!” Jimmy yelled from the back seat.
“Am not!” Taylor said. “It was dark yellow.”
Taylor and Jimmy were playing “Yellow Car,” a travel game to see who could spot the most yellow cars within twenty miles. Mom was driving, keeping track of the miles, and Dad was in the front seat keeping score. 
     “I’m calling it as yellow,” said Dad. “Jimmy, you have seven, Taylor four.”
“I’m tired of this game. How long before we get there?”
“We still have a long way to go,” said Mom.  Mom and Dad had two weeks off from work and they were taking Jimmy and Taylor to Virginia to see Grandma and Grandpa. They planned to take their time and sightsee along the way. That morning, they’d left Portland, but Mom wouldn’t tell Jimmy or Taylor where they were stopping that night. All she would say is that it would be a “surprise.” 
“I hope it’s the Grand Canyon,” said Jimmy.
Dad laughed. “That would be a big surprise, since it’s in Arizona and we aren’t anywhere close to it.”
“When’s lunch?” asked Taylor.
Mom piped up. “Same time as when we’re home. Twelve-thirty. You’ve got an hour to go.” Then she said, “Why don’t we play Twenty Questions?” 
Jimmy and Taylor always liked the guessing game and sometimes even played it with their friends. One person would think of something— an animal, an object or a plant— and everyone tried to guess what the person was thinking of by asking questions.  If no one guessed the correct answer after twenty questions, they lost.
Jimmy yelled, “I’m thinking of something.”
Dad asked, “Is it an animal?”
Taylor asked, “Mineral?”  She thought Jimmy might be thinking about his bike because he wanted to bring it on the trip, 

and asking whether it was a ‘mineral’ was a way of asking whether it was an object.
Mom said, “Then it must be a vegetable.” The category ‘vegetable’ covered  more than just the vegetables served at dinner. Everything that was plant life— flowers, trees, fruits were ‘vegetables’ in the game.
“Is it bigger than a loaf of bread?” Dad was thinking about the gigantic sequoias Jimmy read about in school.

“Is it smaller than an apple?
Taylor laughed. She thought she knew the answer, but first, she was going to ask one more question. “Is it red?”
“Cherries!” she shouted.

Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, how’d you know?”
Taylor didn’t tell him that the bag of cherries they’d been nibbling was the biggest clue of all.
Now it was Taylor’s turn, and Jimmy asked the first question.        
“Vegetable?” asked Dad.
“Ah, an animal,” said Mom.
“No.” Taylor said, giggling.
“It has to be one of those!” said Jimmy. “You’re cheating.”
“Well, it isn’t any of those and I’m not.”
“Is it bigger than a loaf of bread?”
“Way bigger.”
“Is it found all over the world?” asked Dad.
“Yes, it is.”
Mom spoke up. If you’re thinking of ‘air’, Taylor, that would fall into the ‘mineral’ category.”
“That’s not it.”
“Is there a lot of it?” 
“Sometimes, yes, sometimes, no.”
“This is too hard!” said Jimmy.  “I can’t think of anything that’s not a vegetable, animal or mineral, that’s found all over the world, that’s way bigger than a loaf of bread and there’s a lot of it sometimes, but sometimes, there isn’t.”
Dad shook his head. “I give up.”
“We’re almost to a rest stop, “ said Mom. “I give up, too.” 
Taylor smiled. “Love. I was thinking about love.”
“Oh my, “ said Mom and smiled. “I think you win the Twenty Questions trophy!”

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.

Published July 16, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Summer Memory

A Summer Memory
                                               By Valerie L. Egar

            During the summer that I was nine or ten, my sister Nadine and I were always looking for something to do. Certainly, we enjoyed days jumping waves at the beach and others wading in a stream near our home.  We played baseball games with neighborhood kids, with trees designated as bases. Catching fireflies and putting them in a jar with holes in the lid so they could breathe occupied more than a few evenings.
At some point that summer, our world expanded and we were allowed to walk beyond our mother’s mighty call. (There were no cell phones then and most Moms stood on the front step and shouted names and sometimes a short message, like “Supper!” or “Bath time!” when they wanted their children to stop playing and come home.) Our neighborhood was small— a quarter mile street with four short side streets, but no explorer ever felt more adventurous than Nadine and I as we walked past the first curve and lost sight of our house.
We weren’t aimlessly roaming. I collected postcards and wanted to expand my collection, so we decided to canvass the neighborhood. Nadine, younger by a year and ever generous, was happy to pester the neighbors with me.
 “Hello, do you have any used postcards?” I would ask when the door opened to our knock. I was certain no one would part with new ones they could use. Unless someone had just received a card from a vacationing relative, most people didn’t. We never got back home with more than two or three for an afternoon’s work.
The sparse results never deterred us— most of the fun was being on our own and so every week, we made the rounds, knocking on doors, asking the same question. We quickly learned which houses yielded results and which to avoid. 
We skipped Brittany Avenue after the first week.  A woman who cackled like a witch and yelled for us to “get off her street” put us in fear of flying monkeys like the ones we saw on “The Wizard of Oz.” No use taking chances— we stayed away.
A nice woman on Reynolds Street started putting post cards aside to give us, but we noticed the messages on each were always erased with a chemical formula called “Ink Eradicator” that secretaries used to correct mistakes.  Nadine and I giggled. “She thinks we’re spies!”
One man questioned us about why we wanted them.
“I collect them.”
“What do you do with them?”
“I look at the pictures. “ I didn’t tell him that I longed to visit the places in the pictures and imagined myself there.
We always saved the best house for last. Aunt Emma lived in a small bungalow with a screened in porch. She reminded me of the pictures I saw of Victorian ladies— steely grey hair pulled back into a knot, a dark dress with long sleeves even on warm days— but she wasn’t stuffy. She always welcomed us warmly.
Her windows glittered with displays of colored glass— cobalt blue vases, tiny red pitchers, amber plates and she had a china cabinet brimming with curiosities, including seashells we had never seen at the shore. Best of all, Aunt Emma had an old-fashioned porch swing. It hung from the ceiling on her porch with springs that gave it a little bounce as it moved. Nadine and I fit on it perfectly and we weren’t in the house for a minute when we were settled into the swing, gliding back and forth, amazed that something that was so much fun was inside a house.
Aunt Emma bustled to her kitchen and brought us home-made lemonade in beautiful thin glasses decorated with flowers. They were elegant, so we tried to act elegant. Then, Aunt Emma disappeared again. In a few minutes, she reappeared with jewelry for Nadine and me that she'd fished from her jewelry box, a rhinestone pin or a bangle bracelet, something to enjoy when we played dress-up.
In the neighborhood, she was the only one who asked us to come back again soon.

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not  be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published July 9, 2017  Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).