Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pumpkin Seed Promise

Pumpkin Seed Promise
            By Valerie L. Egar

When Maizie walked downstairs on Saturday morning, she found Grandpa at the breakfast table having coffee with Mom. “Morning, Maizie.” Grandpa’s eyes sparkled. “I’ve got a Halloween pumpkin for you, maybe even more than one.”
Maizie’s didn’t see a pumpkin. It wasn’t even close to Halloween. Grandpa was joking. “No, you don’t.”
“Oh, yes I do.” He pulled a paper packet from his shirt pocket. A picture of an orange jack o’ lantern decorated the front. “It’s right in here.” He gave the packet to Maizie. She shook it.
“Pumpkin seeds,” Grandpa said. “I’m guessing you can grow a few pumpkins by Halloween. Want to try?”
After breakfast, Maizie and Grandpa went outside. Grandpa had turned soil over on a small hill at the back of the house, away from her Mom’s garden.
“Let’s get some compost to enrich the soil.” Maizie and Grandpa took the wheelbarrow and Grandpa shoveled some compost into it. Maizie helped spread it on the overturned soil.
 Grandpa opened the seed packet.  “Take a look at the seeds, Maizie.”

She saw flat white almond shaped seeds that were easy to hold.
“Every seed is a promise,” Grandpa said.  “These seeds, given the right conditions, can grow pumpkins and produce seeds for more pumpkins next year. That’s what the seed, any seed, promises us. But we have to keep our end of the bargain and make a promise to the seed.”
Maizie raised her eyebrows. “Like what?”
“To plant it in fertile earth, which is why we added the compost. To make sure it gets watered regularly. That it gets sunshine. Notice there are no trees near your little patch? Pumpkins like sun. To tend the plants as they grow and watch over them. Can you do that?”
Maizie nodded.
Grandpa showed her how to plant the seeds and she pushed them into the earth, not too deep. Then she watered them, using her watering can.
Every day she looked to see if the seeds had sprouted.  She worried when she didn’t see anything. Maybe a squirrel dug the seeds up and ate them? Maybe they sprouted at night and a rabbit munched on them? Finally, after ten days, she saw a few leaves popping up.
 Once the pumpkin vines began to grow, they spread quickly and Maizie took care to water them generously. Grandpa showed her how to cull the weaker plants and how to trim the vines to keep them strong. When the first flowers appeared in late June, Maizie did a happy dance. “Some of those flowers will grow into pumpkins,” Grandpa explained.
“All of them! I’ll have hundreds of pumpkins!”
“No, only some flowers will grow pumpkins. And, if you want a big pumpkin, we’ll need to cut off some of the flowers so all the plant’s energy goes into a few pumpkins.”
The pumpkins grew bigger and turned yellow, then bright orange. By the end of September, Maizie had five large

pumpkins. She gave one to Grandpa for his front porch and another to her best friend, Joellen. She kept the other three for Halloween, but when it came time to cut them into jack o’ lanterns, she couldn’t do it.  They’d taken a lot of time to grow and she wanted them to last longer than a few days.
Maizie painted faces on the pumpkins and they remained on the front steps until the first snowfall.  When she and Joellen made three snow people, Maizie used the pumpkins as their heads. They looked silly and Maizie enjoyed looking at them until the snow melted.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published September 30, 2018, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Very Hungry Mouse

The Very Hungry Mouse
               By Valerie L. Egar

Jarrod, a small grey mouse with a white star on his tiny chest, was still growing and he was always hungry. He nibbled on cookie crumbs he found in the park. He crunched on birdseed that fell from feeders. He tasted tree bark (yuk!) and ripe berries (yum!). For Jarrod, the world was a huge buffet— every day brought new foods to savor.
One day, Jarrod discovered a handful of seeds near an abandoned farmhouse.  Never had he seen such seeds! They were speckled and blue. He tasted one. “Mmmm. Similar to a peanut, with an undertone of nutmeg and a hint of citrus.” He ate another.  They were delicious. He eyed the pile. Too many to carry back to his house. Even if he made several trips, some other mouse or a squirrel might discover them and eat them before he could take them away and stash them.
Jarrod decided to sleep on top of the seeds. Not one creature could touch the seeds without him waking. In the morning, a delicious breakfast would be right in front of him. With a yawn, Jarrod stretched and fell asleep.
When Jarrod woke up, a cool breeze chilled his back. Everything around him moved with the breeze. He grasped the vine next to him and held on. “Hmm, that wasn’t there before.” He looked around. Sunlight filtered through large green leaves surrounding him. He glanced behind him, but the farmhouse was gone. So were all the trees. “Where am I?”
            Jarrod peeked out from under one of the leaves. “Oh, no!”  He was on a vine so high in the air he saw treetops. He remembered his mother’s story about Jack and his magic beanstalk. “Magic beans,” Jarrod thought. “No wondered they tasted good!”
            He took another peek from under the leaf and shivered. The few people he saw looked as small as mice. The ground was miles away. He clung to the vine with all his might. The height made him dizzy. When a small gust of wind shook the vine, he screamed. “Eeeek!” He was afraid to move, but knew he needed to get down.
            A hawk flew by. “Hello, mouse,” he grinned. “Come a little closer and I will carry you away.”
            Jarrod’s mother had taught him about hawks. “No, thanks!” he shouted and the hawk flew off.
            A few milkweed seeds with their silky parachutes drifted by.  “Grab us and hold on, we’ll get you back down,” they said.
            Jarrod shook his head. It was a kind offer, but they didn’t look strong enough and he imagined plunging to earth. Jarrod shivered. “Thank you so much, but no.”
           As long as he didn’t look down, he was calm. Jarrod realized he felt hungry. He nibbled on a leaf. It tasted like cherries.  He tried another.  Cheese. “How could that be?” Jarrod thought, but he didn’t think about it for very long.  Instead, he ate it.  Jarrod bit the vine.  Some parts tasted like caramel and others like cinnamon. Another part like fresh strawberries.
Every now and then, Jarrod wondered how he would find his way back to earth, but then he tasted another leaf and wondered how many flavors there could possibly be.  Pineapple. Carrot. Coconut. Grape. Almond. Jarrod munched and munched. Every leaf tasted different. He decided the only flavors he didn’t like were rutabaga and mushroom. He left most of those leaves uneaten. The vine also changed flavor as he ate. Bubble gum, black raspberry, pizza.
Jarrod ate and ate until he was full. He peeked out from behind the few remaining leaves and blinked. He was inches from the ground! “Oh my,” he thought.  “Safe at last! I’ve eaten the entire vine.”
He was tired from eating so much and fell asleep once again on the magic seeds. If another vine sprouted during the night, Jarrod knew exactly what to do. 
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published September 23, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Monday, September 17, 2018

The Fairy Glen's Visitor

                                                 The Fairy Glen’s Visitor

                                            By Valerie L. Egar

            A dazzle of fairies lived deep in the forest in a thick fern glen near a babbling brook. The fern sheltered the wee folk and underneath the green fronds, tiny houses made from acorns lined moss covered avenues. Red mushrooms decorated neat yards and here and there, a hammock woven from spider’s silk was lashed between mushrooms.
            Like any village, the avenues in the fern glen led to a bustling Main Street where all the businesses were located— a cobbler shop with tiny shoes made from pinecone petals.  A grocery with bottled moonlight and sun glitter. An apothecary with a wise herbalist who knew exactly how much honeysuckle nectar to mix with star shine for sweet dreams. A dress shop with clothes made from rose petals and daisies.
            One day, the fairies heard thunderous splashing, worse than a heavy rain storm and closer, too.  Leaving the water, something pounded the ground so hard the earth shook. Looking up, the fairies saw grey fur above them. It shook, spraying water everywhere.
 The  fairies ran and took shelter in a hollow under a tree and watched. The thing  collapsed in the fern and fell asleep.
“It crushed our houses!” they exclaimed.
The bravest ventured from under the tree to look at the creature. Long snout. Pointy ears. Bushy tail. Long legs.
“It’s a horse!” said the mayor.
The wise herbalist shook her head.
“Tiger!” said the cobbler.
“No. It’s a wolf,” she said.
Just then the wolf stirred and opened his eyes. Few humans are able to see fairies and the same is true for those in the animal kingdom. Some have the special gift, most do not. The herbalist waited and saw the wolf blink. He shook his head, but he knew what stood before him— a magical creature, a fairy.
“You’ve injured your paw,” the herbalist said. “I can fix it.”
The wolf nodded his assent.
“What about our houses?” the others demanded. “Tell him to get out of here!”
She held up her hand. “Wait.” She made a mixture of soothing herbs and pressed them into his wound.
 The wolf was grateful. “Men were hunting me,” he said. “I ran.”
The wise fairy nodded. “You trampled most of our village.”
“I’m sorry! How can I make it up to you?”
“It’s no worse than when the brook floods in the spring, but I have an idea. Let me talk to the others.”
The wise herbalist talked with the townspeople and they came to an agreement. The mayor presented the plan.
“We would like you to stay with us,” the mayor said, “but not in the village. You wouldn’t fit.”  The fairy children giggled, impressed with the wolf’s enormous size.
“You can build a den nearby, maybe over there.” The mayor pointed to a rocky hill, which looked like a perfect place for a wolf’s den.
“We need your protection. Squirrels and chipmunks steal our acorns. Wild boars root in the fern and destroy it. We need you to chase them away.”
The wolf shook his head. “I would, but those who hunt me still follow.” He lifted his nose in the air.  “They are getting closer.”
“But I shall make you invisible,” the herbalist said. “They will never find you and you will be safe.”
“Say yes,” yelled the children who were growing to like the furry beast.
“You can be our school mascot,” shouted the principal.
The wolf looked around. “I accept,” he said. “Yes.”
 The herbalist immediately gave him a bitter liquid and he lapped it up. In a few minutes only a grey shadow remained and then, that was gone too.

The wolf hunters never found him and for many years, he shooed the squirrels, chipmunks and boars away from the glen. They sensed him as an invisible force and the rumor grew that the glen was haunted. Humans and animals stayed away. The fern grew more lush and fairy village increased until it became the largest in the world. It still exists, but only those with courage and eyes to see will find it.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be published, distributed or copied without permission from the author.
Published September 16, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Maggie's Sunflower Truck

                  Maggie’s Sunflower Truck
                        By Valerie L. Egar

        Maggie grew sunflowers on Sunnyvale Farm.
In the spring, she plowed and fertilized the fields behind her house and planted seeds. She made a scarecrow to keep the crows away, because she knew how much crows loved sunflower seeds. She waited for a good spring rain.
When the seeds sprouted, Maggie watched over them. She weeded between the rows, singing as she weeded.
            Sunflowers grow high as the sky!
            Bloom bold, bloom bright, don’t be shy.
Maggie was certain the plants knew they were loved and grew taller because of it.
The flowers began blooming in July. Pale yellow ones with bright green centers and bright orange ones with chocolate brown centers. Some had russet petals trimmed with gold and others, lemon colored petals. Maggie cut the flowers that were beginning to bloom, bundled them into bouquets and wrapped a rubber band around each. She filled the back of her blue pick-up truck with buckets of water and placed the bouquets in the buckets. Soon, the truck looked like a float in a parade, bright gold, orange and russet flowers crowding the truck bed.
           Maggie drove to town, her truck brimming with flowers. “Well, look at you!” Mr. Barker the barber exclaimed.
            “Would you like to buy a bouquet?” Maggie asked.
            “Sure would,” he replied. “One for my wife, another for my aunt and—” He looked around his shop. “One to pretty up the front window.”
            Maggie stopped at the McAllister’s house next. “Oooh! They’re beautiful.  Perfect for the front porch.” Mrs. McAllister bought two bouquets.
            Dr. Lillio bought one for her office waiting room. Miss Mathis asked if she might buy half a bouquet, since she was on a fixed income. “Oh, I have half-priced bouquets on the other side,” Maggie said and she went out to the truck and got the prettiest bouquet she could find.
            “That bouquet is bigger than the last,” said Miss Matthis.
            “Uh huh,” smiled Maggie. “Most folks want them smaller. That’s why it’s half price.”
            Everywhere Maggie went, people bought sunflowers. When she got to the Bouchard house, she had three bouquets left. “Ah, sunflowers!”  Mrs. Bouchard smiled. “My favorite. So cheerful! I’ll take all three.”
Every week for the rest of the summer, Maggie harvested the flowers and drove through the village selling them. Her truck was always a welcome sight. As fall approached, the harvest began to thin— sunflower season was almost over.
        Maggie made her way through the village and by the time she came to the Bouchard house, all the sunflowers were gone. She drove by, expecting to see Mrs. Bouchard and prepared to apologize for running out of flowers. Instead, her daughter Renee stood by the driveway. “I have a new sister! I’m going to fill the house with sunflowers before Mom comes home from the hospital!”
            “I don’t have any more.”
            Renee looked like she might cry. “They’re Mom’s favorite.”
            “I know.”
            Maggie had picked all of the last blooms that morning and knew the field would yield no more. When she stopped at Shop 'n Go for gas, she mentioned the Bouchard’s new baby and Mrs. Bouchard’s love of sunflowers. “But I’m all out.” Maggie sighed.
            People in the store overheard. “Heck, she can have some of mine,” Mrs. McAllister said.  “I don’t need three bouquets.”
            “I’ll write a post for the town’s Facebook page,” said the store clerk. “There’s bound to be more people who will pitch in."
            “Tell ‘em I’ll stop by to pick them up,” said the town’s fire chief.  “Maggie’s done enough work for one day.”
Maggie smiled. “I’ll come with you, Chief.  Renee’s going to need help arranging them. She wants everything to look nice when her Mother comes home.”
           In front of every shop, at the end of every driveway, people stood holding sunflowers for Mrs. Bouchard. Some were the ones they’d bought that morning from Maggie. Some were ones they clipped from their own gardens. Those who didn’t have sunflowers offered roses, marigolds, zinnias.
            “There’s thousands!” Renee exclaimed when she saw them.

            Maggie laughed. “Not quite,” she said, “But I think your mother is going to be very surprised.”

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published September 9, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Snickertales are written by Valerie L. Egar. Follow her on FACEBOOK. (Don't forget the 'L' or you won't find her!