Monday, March 25, 2019

The Merchant and the Vine

                                           The Merchant and the Vine
                                           By Valerie L. Egar

            A long time ago, a rich merchant, Samir, owned a store filled with wondrous objects from all over the world. Turquoise and saffron silk adorned his shop window, silver wind chimes tinkled in his doorway, gold and red lacquer boxes invited customers to take a closer look. His store was popular with people near and far and Samir grew richer and richer.
Samir dreamed of expanding his shop. Late at night, he envisioned owning the whole street. Both sides, all his! Never did he wonder where the baker might go, or where people would buy their fruits and vegetables, or how the village would manage without its tea shop. He only thought about how rich he would be.
One day a mysterious man walked through the village and stopped at Samir’s store. He fingered the soft leather slippers and admired brass candlesticks that shone in the sunlight.
            “You have a very nice shop,” said the man.
            Samir nodded. “Thank you.”
           The man reached into his pocket and took out three bright red seeds. “These are for you,” the man said. “Plant the first seed in front of your shop.  It will grow a tree taller than any around. People will see it from miles away and know where your store is.”
            “Thank you,” said Samir.
            “The second will grow a beautiful red rose bush. Plant it near your door. Its blooms will fill the air with fragrance and invite people into your shop.”
            Samir nodded. “This man is very good for my business,” he thought.
            The man handed him the third seed. “I cannot predict what this one will grow. Whatever sprouts shows what’s in your heart.”
            Once again, Samir thanked the man. He waited until the dark of the moon and planted the seeds.
            Surely they were magic, because by the end of the next day, the seeds had sprouted and matured. A tall pine, higher than the tallest building, stood in front of Samir’s shop. It was visible from hundreds of miles away and would make finding his shop easy.
            Next to his door, a bush covered with roses red as the finest rubies bloomed with a scent so pure, people would surely wander up to the front door and walk into the store.
           The third seed sprouted a vine that snaked up and down the street, knotting itself around every building, except Samir’s. Wanting to own everything up and down the street was in his heart, and that is what the vine showed.
Soon, the whole village was at Samir’s door. “Your vine is a nuisance!” the people yelled. “It covers our doors and windows, creeps into our houses and wraps itself around our tables and chairs.”
“It was twisted around my cow this morning!” yelled another. “I had to untangle her from it.”
Samir shrugged. “Trim it back. How a plant grows is how it grows.”
All day, men and women who should have been tending their stores, baking bread or serving tea chopped at vines. Only Samir’s store was open, but business was terrible, even though his new roses were inviting. People in the village were too busy working to notice them. People from far away left the village quickly when there was no place open to have a cup of tea or buy a sweet roll.
            That night, Samir spent a lot of time thinking. Maybe it was the fragrance of the roses, or the thin peel of moon shining through the tall pine, but Samir’s heart started to ease.  All the shops in the village attracted people—  if Samir’s shop were the only one, even if it was huge, few people would visit. Without the tea shop and the fruit seller, the apothecary and tailor, no one would come to the village at all.
           In the morning, the villagers awoke to find the vine no longer encircled their homes and businesses. Instead, it wove itself into a leafy canopy that arched over the street and shaded people from the hot sun. Butterflies fluttered around the hanging golden flowers.
Samir opened his shop and smiled. It was going to be a beautiful day for everyone.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 29, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Present for Miss Mabley

                                           A Present for Miss Mabley
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

            Camille looked out the window at the apple tree blossoming in the nearby field. Though she was supposed to be memorizing a poem, she was distracted.
The younger children at the front of the one room schoolhouse were fidgeting in their seats, anxious to go outside. The teacher, Miss Mabley, reviewed Latin exercises with three of the older students who would soon graduate. 
Camille sighed. The breeze coming in the open window was inviting. It had been a long Maine winter and a muddy spring. Finally, the earth was coming alive and the small town bustled with activity.  Ships arrived in port with sugar and molasses from the West Indies. They were soon loaded with Maine lumber and granite and sailing back to the islands.
Camille whispered to her best friend, Harriet.  “What do you think Miss Mabley is going to tell us?”  That morning, Miss Mabley told the class she would make an announcement at the end of the day.
Nathan overheard Camille’s question. “She’s not coming back next year. That’s what Father said.”
 Camille made a face. Because his father ran the town’s general store, Nathan thought his Dad knew everything. “I don’t listen to gossip,” Camille scoffed.
Nathan shrugged. “You’ll see.”
Secretly, Camille worried Nathan might be right.  Everyone liked Miss Mabley. She’d taught at Willow School for five years and no one would want her to leave Edgeport.
Anxious as everyone was to leave at the end of the day, even the rowdiest quieted when Miss Mabley stood to make her announcement.
She looked at the class. “I want all of you to know I will not be returning to Willow School in the fall.”
Camille took a deep breath. Nathan was right!
Miss Mabley continued.  “My brother Ashton and his wife are moving west to Wyoming. They’ve invited me to come with them.”
“But that’s dangerous!” Camille blurted.
Miss Mabley smiled. “I’d like to think it will be a wonderful adventure.”
“But what will you do there?” Harriet asked.
“I’ll teach, like I do here.  The people of Laramie have already built the schoolhouse.”
“What does Wyoming look like?” one of the smaller children asked.
“I’m not sure, but I’ll write letters to tell you about it. I know there’s a fort and people travelling west to Oregon stop at the fort for supplies. I don’t think there’s a forest like Maine’s. And, there’s no ocean.”  Miss Mabley looked sad for a moment. “I’m going to miss the ocean. And of course, all of you.”
Camille and Harriet walked home feeling sad. “Let’s have a party for her,” said Harriet.  “We can give her presents she can take west.”
For the next few days at recess everyone whispered about the party and what they planned to bring Miss Mabley.  Nathan was giving her five yards of dress cotton from his father’s store. Harriet embroidered six handkerchiefs. All the children had quickly thought of gifts —a balsam pillow. Tin of matches. Writing paper. Candles. Homemade soap. A straw hat. 
“What are you bringing Camille?”
Camille shook her head. “I don’t know.” She wanted to give Miss Mabley something special that was different from everyone else’s gift, but she didn’t have any idea what that might be.
Every day the party grew closer and Camille still didn’t know what to bring Miss Mabley.
The afternoon before the party, Camille walked along the water and listened to the ocean, thinking. She loved the scent of salt air and the sound of waves. She couldn’t imagine leaving the ocean behind and perhaps never seeing it again. With that, she knew exactly what to give Miss Mabley.
            The next day, Miss Mabley unwrapped a beautiful golden conch shell from Camille. Its underside was shiny pink.
           “When Uncle Scully sailed back from the West Indies, he brought the shell for me,” said Camille. “But I want you to have it. You can hear the ocean when you hold it to your ear.”
            Miss Mabley lifted the shell to her ear. She heard the ocean and smiled. Maine and the ocean would never be far away.

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       Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
        Published March 16, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, March 10, 2019

What Rafe Brought His Grandma

                     What Rafe Brought His Grandma
                                              By Valerie L. Egar
            Rafe lived on a small farm with his parents a long time ago. His parents depended on him to help with chores. He milked cows and slopped pigs. He split wood for the fire.  Rafe planted wheat with his father in the spring and picked apples in the fall.
Everyone agreed Rafe was a hard worker, but better than that, he was kind. When he was in the field working, he saved the last scrap of bread from his lunch for the sparrows. At dinner, a small piece of meat always fell from his plate for the dog. The cats in the barn always got extra cream when Rafe milked the cows.
One day, Rafe’s parents decided he was old enough to travel on his own to bring food to his Grandma. Though the journey was long, his parents knew he would reach her house by nightfall. They loaded a cart with two bags of wheat from their harvest, and carrots from the garden, cheese and loaves of bread his mother had made. A basket of apples. A tin of cream.
Rafe hitched the horse to the wagon and climbed in. “Now don’t go giving everything away!” warned his mother. Rafe nodded and he was off. The sun was bright, the air scented with autumn. Orange and scarlet trees arched over the road.  
 After a few hours, Rafe stopped near a meadow to stretch his legs. A flock of yellow canaries landed nearby. How beautifully they sang! Rafe knew they were flying south for the winter and needed food to keep them strong for their journey.
He pulled a sack of wheat from the cart and spread it on the ground. The birds fluttered near him pecking the grain. “Have a good journey!” Rafe said as he left. Though he didn’t notice, one bird followed his cart.
By lunchtime, Rafe was near a small village and stopped to rest by a stream at the edge of town. He drank water from the stream. Taking a small piece of cheese and bread from his bag, he leaned against a tree and ate.  
A cat peeked at him from behind a bush.  “Kitty, kitty,” Rafe called. Slowly, the cat approached him.
She was skinny and moved slowly, one ear tattered. “You’re starving!” Rafe  took the tin of cream and poured half of it into a bowl. The cat quickly lapped it up. He gave her more. That was quickly gone, too.
“You need to come with me,” said Rafe. The cat purred and cuddled next to him.  He put her on the wagon seat and continued his journey.

Not long after, a stray dog ran after the cart.  Rafe fed him a big chunk of the cheese that was meant for his grandma. The dog gobbled it up and continued  following the cart.

By the time Rafe reached his grandma’s house, he had a canary, a cat and a dog. Also, an old horse and a goat.
The cart was no longer filled with the food he’d started out with in the morning. All the cream was gone. The cat drank it. The carrots were gone, he fed them to the horse. The apples were gone. He’d traded them to a mean farmer for the goat. The cheese was gone. The dog ate every drop. One loaf of bread was gone. The goat  enjoyed it very much.
All that was left was one bag of wheat and a loaf of bread, not very much at all. Rafe carried them into the kitchen. Rafe’s grandmother smiled.
“I have a canary for you, too,” Rafe said.
“I’ve always wanted one. What good company it will be!”
“And a cat.”
“Perfect! It will keep mice out of the kitchen.”
“And a dog.”
“How wonderful! He will guard the house.”
“And a horse.”
“Can he pull a carriage?”
“Then I can come and visit you!”
“And a goat.”
“I can make cheese! Rafe, I’ve never had so many nice presents all in one day.” Grandma hugged him.
And that made Rafe very happy.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published March 9, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Brian and the Tooth Fairy

                                          Brian and the Tooth Fairy
                                     By Valerie L. Egar

            When Brian lost his first tooth, his father told him to put it under his pillow and the Tooth Fairy would take the tooth and leave money in exchange. “Why would she give me money for my tooth?” Brian asked.
            “Not sure,” said Dad, “but that’s what she does.”
            “Have you ever seen her?”
            Dad admitted he hadn’t.
            “How do you know the Tooth Fairy is a ‘she’?”
            Dad laughed. “That’s what my Mom, your Grandma told me.”
            That night, Brian slipped his tooth under the pillow and though he tried to stay awake to see the Tooth Fairy, he soon fell asleep. When he woke the next morning he found a quarter.
            “Look what I got!” he yelled.
            Every few months, Brian lost another tooth and slipped it under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy. In the morning, he always found a quarter, but he still wanted to know why the Tooth Fairy paid money for teeth.
            “She must have millions of teeth. What does she do with them?”
            “Look on the internet, dear,” Mom said to Dad. “I bet you can find an answer for Brian there.”
            Dad spent a few minutes searching. “Seems no one really knows. There’s lots of different ideas about it.”
            “Tell me, ” asked Brian.
            “Here’s one— she makes necklaces for other fairies from them.”
            “Gross,” said Mom.
            “Well, another one says she turns them into stars.”
            “That doesn’t make any sense,” said Brian.
            “Builds fairy houses from them.”
            “We made fairy houses in school. Fairies like wood, moss, pine cones. Not teeth!”
            “Well, here’s the explanation I like best,” said Dad. “‘It’s a fairy secret!’ See, it says it right there.” He pointed to the computer screen.
            Brian shook his head. “Maybe she collects them for the same reason you collect coins. Because she likes them.”
            Mom laughed. “That sounds right to me.”
            When Brian’s Grandmother brought a few shark teeth home from Florida for him, Brian had another question.  Did the Tooth Fairy collect teeth from other animals or just children?
            “Just children,” Dad said.
            “But what if I left a shark’s tooth under my pillow?”
            “I think she’d know it wasn’t yours.”
            “How could she tell in the dark?”
            “Fairies can see in the dark.”
            “I’m going to try it.”
            “Are you sure you want to part with your shark’s tooth?”
            “Uh huh. I want to see what happens.”
            That night Brian put the smallest of the shark teeth under his pillow. In the morning, he felt under his pillow to see if the tooth was still there. It was gone. In its place, he felt a small can. He lifted his pillow to look. Sardines? Yuk!          
            Brian ran downstairs to show his parents. “The Tooth Fairy took my shark’s tooth but she left a can of sardines instead of a quarter!”
            Dad shrugged. “That’s probably what sharks like best. What would a shark do with a quarter?”
            “I don’t like sardines.”
            “You’re not a shark. But I’d bet if you leave it under your pillow tonight, she’ll take it back and leave you the shark’s tooth.”
            Brian slept that night with the can of sardines under his pillow. Sure enough, in the morning, the shark tooth was back. Brian was happy to see it. He’d decided to start his own collection of teeth— shark’s teeth! He knew he had a long way to go before he had even half as many as the Tooth Fairy.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published March 2, 2019, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)