Over the river and through the woods….
Sean staggered almost headlong into a snowdrift. He sat up and rubbed his face; stung from the icy bite of the powder that seemed to merge with his tears. He looked around and noticed it was even darker than only a few moments before as clouds drifted between the sun and where he sat. He stood up and wiped the rest of the snow from his cheek. A bit fell down between the ripped collar of his hoodie and chilled his chest.
Oh, how the wind does blow!
The walk was only meant as the respite from the anger and even screed that came from his foster parents. Whatever good intent they held when he joined their family was lost when the compensation from the state was outweighed by their ignorance. He bit his lip as he looked around. He must have walked at least five miles through the woods, but for all he knew he could have been walking around in circles. Turning completely around, he could only see the grey and dull green of fir trees, with nothing in sight. But then he noticed a dim light off to his left.
It stings the toes…
He plodded through the deep snow; tripping more than a few times on limbs of fallen trees hidden underneath the thick blanket white. He had returned to crying, but who could blame him. Even at fourteen, it’s very painful to feel unwelcomed and even disliked by people who should care, even if the care is only fostered by a check from the state. He wiped his face, but it did little at this point to remove anything since by this time the ice had caked in the pores of his mittens and they were adding more pain than they removed.
And bites the nose…
After about twenty or so minutes, he stepped out of the thick pile of snow into a wind-blown clearing in front of a rustic looking cabin. He walked tentatively up to the door, hoping at least to find someone at home. Maybe he could make a phone call. But whom to call? The family probably was happy he was gone. His social worker? On Thanksgiving? Maybe just ask for a cup of tea and then be on his way, wherever that was supposed to lead. He sighed and knocked on the door.
As over the ground we go…
The door opened and a kind looking old woman stood with her hand on the door frame. She smiled and without a word opened the door wider and used her other hand in a broad gesture to welcome him in. As he stepped into the cabin he noticed the scent of rosemary; a steaming pot was hanging over the fire in the hearth... He looked at her and she smiled again.
“You must be very cold? Here, let me take that and you can warm yourself by the fire,” she said, pointing to his sweatshirt. Her voice was as soothing and he felt safe. He took off his hoodie, almost reluctantly at first, considering what he wore underneath, but her look disarmed his fears even as tears spilled from his eyes.
“So sad, dear one. I’m sorry.”
The first time anyone ever uttered those words to him in his life; they urged more tears from him, but they were healing. She took him by the hand and led him to a large rough-hewn wooden rocking chair that sat just to the side of the hearth. Pulling it over, she helped him sit down in front of the fire. Kissing him on the forehead, she smiled once again.
“I knew you’d come,’ she said, as she walked over to a tall dresser on the other side of the room. She pulled out the top drawer and produced a brush and hand mirror. Walking back, she stood behind him and began to brush his hair. He winced at first; the suddenness of her gesture coupled with the foreign feeling of being valued sent him into a crying jag. She leaned forward and held him while he shook in her arms.
“There, there….it’s going to be alright, dear one. You’ll see.
Over the river and through the woods….
“I don’t understand….” Sean looked up at her. She was crying as well, but her tears were pleased and not sad at all. She smiled and resumed brushing his hair. It all felt like a dream or a fairy tale.
“I know what you’re thinking. But it’s really alright. You’re here, quite by accident, and not at all by accident really. Providence for us both, I suppose.” She continued to brush his hair. It had gotten longer in the past several months; another argument on top of too many times of rejection and hurt.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. He shook his head in confusion. He wished it was a dream because it was so real and so wonderful, but even then he cursed the moment; fearing it would go away just like all the other dreams he had. Hope continued to fade in his life day after day, and the long walk could just as well have ended in a river bank or snow drift. He continued to shake his head until he felt a gentle hand lift his chin a bit. He looked into her eyes once again, but instead of just welcome and relief he thought he saw recognition.
“They don’t love you. The real you. They never have, and I have loved you since your mother handed you to me when you were born. I prayed you’d find me….all this time. I couldn’t …they wouldn’t let me see you…All the families who never loved you.”
“I….I don’t understand….”
“Look out the window….” The woman pointed behind her at the window by the door. He rose and walked unsteadily toward the front of the cabin and looked out. To his left, he saw the barely visible outline of his footprints in the blanket of white that seemed to grow as the snow began to fall once again. He turned back and shrugged his shoulders, which caused the blanket she had wrapped him in to fall to the cabin floor.
“Look again,” she said with a soft laugh. He shook his head in confusion and she raised her right hand; palm up in encouragement. He turned around and looked out the window once again. The snow was still failing, but the clouds had parted, leaving the white field bathed in moonlight. He looked to his left once again, and he could see some dimly lit houses in the distance. One of them from where he had departed only a few hours before, but to his right, he saw a brightly lit house only perhaps a short walk from the cabin.
“Go ahead, Sean,” she said. He turned at the mention of his name. He didn’t recall mentioning who he was. And he had not even asked her who she was either, but she smiled at him again as if he had known her all his life.
“I….I’m afraid.” He said, casting his gaze to the floor. He stared at his feet; only minutes before shod in worn canvas sneakers, but now barefoot. The floor seemed to grow warmer and he noticed the feel of carpet beneath his toes. And as he raised his gaze a bit he felt as if he was wrapped once again, but instead of a blanket, his warmth and comfort came from the woman who embraced him.
“Don’t be afraid, dear child. You’re almost home.” She used her hand once again in a broad gesture at the doorway, which was now open. The snow had stopped and the view through the doorway was almost dazzling. White and silver and pewter and strangely bright grays and even blacks reflected the moonlight, causing the yellowish light to dance and twinkle. He found himself growing light headed and almost unable to stand, but the woman smiled as she gently ushered him through the door…..
Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandmother's house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandmother's house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for 'tis Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.
“There you are,” the kind woman smiled as she looked down.
“ Mamó?...... I had a dream. I dreamt I had to travel a long way in the snow to get to you….”
“It has been a very long journey, but now you’re home”
“Where…where are Mom and Dad?”
“Oh honey…. Your Dad? I don’t know…. And your Mom? You don’t remember? It must be.....”
“Mm.....Mom died…..when I was born…..I remember you told me.... She gave me to you, but they….they took me away….”
Crying is so hard when old memories arise like the dark chill of a moonless night, but in the clear light of the woman’s presence, peace came back quickly.
“There’s that smile…. I was so afraid for so long that you’d never smile again, mo stór. But now?” The woman sighed and pulled back just a bit, removing the eclipse-like glare as the overhead light softened.
“They said I could sneak in and kiss you before they take you back up to your room, but I wanted to be the first to say hello to my new granddaughter.” The woman began to cry softly, but with a smile that broadened as she leaned close to kiss her grandchild.
No longer Sean, although Sean would always be a part her, the boy would finally be happy as Shavon Aulinn. She looked up at her grandmother and felt every bit of love the woman had blessed her with so many years ago and she began to weep; soft but happy sobs echoed her grandmother’s crying even as the woman kissed her on the forehead.
“I’ll be by later, mo chailín,” Shavon’s grandmother said as she squeezed the girl’s hand.
“I am so grateful for you, mo chroi. So thankful!” She smiled again as the girl drifted back into a very lovely sleep.
Some journeys are circuitous and we often feel like we’ll never arrive. Like when we were little and we asked if we were ‘there’ yet. But even in the most arduous of journeys we can find hope, and that leads us to believe that things will indeed be better. For some, the magic of the trip comes from the kind touch of a friend or the kiss of a loving family member when all others have left the sojourner to a lonely road. And some find magic in the skill of a caring doctor and a thoughtful nurse. And it’s for those moments, even if they are for someone else and not myself where I can embrace the joy that blesses others and I can be very grateful.
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