Once upon a time, there was a lady fox who was always grooming her bushy tail which she considered to be her best feature. She always sat out of reach of the boys and blinked her eyelashes at a certain shy male who stood, as still as a statue, watching from a distance.
A dimple appeared in Anna’s cheeks when she smiled at the children. She listened to Great Uncle Henry’s story and wished she had brought her tape recorder. Mother and Anna recorded his stories each time they visited and transcribed them later. Anna and her mother made a book for Great Uncle Henry that included Anna’s sketches for each story. Anna had copies for the local library as well. As he talked, Anna took down the story in shorthand after she sketched and took pictures of the foxes.
An hour later they headed down the hill towards the cottage with the children scampering ahead as surefooted as goats. They would all disperse towards home for lunch and to do chores.
After lunch, Anna went up to the loft to put her things away and to make the room tidy once more. Anna looked at the clothes scattered on the bed and wooden rocking chair. Anna hummed as she opened drawers and the wardrobe to put everything away. Then she spied her Grandmother’s small trunk beside the bed with an old fashioned key poking out. Great Uncle Henry always kept the trunk locked. Whenever Anna asked her mother she had simply smiled and told her all would be revealed when the time was right. Anna would gain access to its contents and everything inside was hers to keep someday. Anna took the colorful afghan off to reveal a hand carved lid. Who had carved all the animals? A memory came crowding back. Her mother had said once that she had gone to Africa with her parents a few times. The last time she had stayed behind with her Uncle Henry. Her parents, Anna’s grandparents, had died in a flood ravaged land. Anna knew Mother had grown up on this mountain and loved it dearly. It was the mountain and Great Uncle Henry that she always remembered.
The lid creaked when Anna opened it. Laying on top were scrapbooks and notebooks with the name Angelina, who was her mother, written on the covers. The scrapbooks contained dried flowers. scrapes of fabric and newspaper clippings with dainty handwritten notes. A couple of scrapbooks were marked in Africa and full of colorful drawings, fabrics, photos, and dried flowers. The name Maryanne was on the cover of both. That would have been her grandmother’s work. On the first page, there was a collage of photos centred around wedding photos. Anna found names written in gold. Two of the names that caught her attention were Maryanne and Samuel. Her grandmother was Great Uncle Henri’s twin sister. They had both grown up in the village. What a treasure. Anna sat cross legged on the braided rug in the middle of the floor looking through the scrapbooks. The afternoon went quickly and before she knew it Great Uncle Henry was calling her for supper. Anna put the scrapbooks back into the trunk and set the journals aside to read later.
Before going down the ladder Anna picked up the books, with Great Uncle Henry’s stories to take down with her.
“You should have called sooner. Would have helped make supper,” Anna said as she entered the kitchen. ” Have something to show you. It is a surprise Mother had prepared. She taped all your stories. Each story has a sketch. The books have been published, and there are copies for the library and you.” Anna set the books on the corner of the table. “Think you’ll enjoy them and the children in the future will still have your delightful stories.”
“What a surprise. Did you open your Mother’s little trunk?” Great Uncle Henry put the pitcher of cold goat’s milk on the table.
“Yes. Who carved all the animals?” Anna buttered a crusty roll and filled her bowl with homemade soup.
“Your grandfather carved those before he married Maryanne. It was his wedding present to her. She always left it here when they were off on their trips. She filled it gradually over the years. She kept accurate records of their travels. They had several trips to Africa, India and other countries in the middle east. Maryanne had always been interested in faraway lands. After your mother was born, Maryanne stayed home for the first couple of years but after that Maryanne left her baby here with Mrs. Sullivan and me. They died young, but they were happy. Your mother never wanted to travel that much but did see a few places before she became a mom. Then she said that you would come first, and she would do a bit more traveling later.”
“She never got the chance,” Anna pushed her bowl away.
“No, she didn’t but those were her choices, and she never regretted her decision. Your mother was always happy,” Great Uncle Henry lit his pipe.
“Yes. She was always happy right up to the end,” Anna cleared the table. “Will do the dishes.”
“I want to take a look at those books you brought down. It will be nice to see my stories printed for everyone to read. Thank you for doing it,” Great Uncle Henry opened a book. The room was silent other than the clink of dishes and rustling of paper as Great Uncle Henry read his printed stories. A grin crossed his face as he looked at the numerous illustrations.
Later that evening, they sat in the living room in front of the crackling fire. Even though it was summer, the cottage became chilly in the evening. The sun never reached the living room built in the hollowed out hillside, but in the middle of an extremely hot day, it was cool. The fire started to die down and was just the emblers of red coals when Great Uncle Henry excused himself to go to bed. Anna stared at the fire until the last sparks disappeared leaving the room in total darkness. Anna’s mind wandered over the things her great uncle had said about her grandparents and their life in the village as they were growing up. It sounded like they had a happy childhood, but her grandmother and grandfather always wanted to see other parts of the world. Now with modern technology, it was possible to learn about other cultures without traveling. Anna shivered as the air became chilly. She tiptoed across the hallway towards the ladder. When Anna rached the loft, she opened the shutters and gazed at the dark star filled sky. Anna curled up on the bed and took out her grandmother’s journals and began to read.