Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Helga and Her Own
Her name didn't help really. The word alone conjured up all sorts of imaginings. Yet it never seemed to bother her. Helga always knew who and what she was.
I am Frederick. You might not think owls are aware of the goings on with people, but my family can tell her story almost as well as she can. Our family has lived on this land as long as Helga's . Our stories tell each others.
Coming from their old country to this land could not have been easy. So long on the ship, that's where Helga was born. Then the long trek to these hills going into the depths of the woods, farther than anyone had dared. Yet far enough that field and stream and meadow all opened up to only them.
As Helga's grandfather, Benjamin, walked the land while his family set up camp for their first night on their own he saw my grandmother. He outstretched his arm and my grandmother flew to him landing on his forearm and our lives and ways have been intertwined since.
Helga grew and her friends were us - the community of woods, fields, streams and meadows. She was entertained for hours with rabbits and birds. She learned to walk with Wolf pulling her up on her feet, running and exploring with Coyote and napping with Deer.
Now Grandfather Benjamin always went to town alone until the house was built. He brought back Rooster and hens, cows and horses, goats and mules, seed and tools.
Grandma Esther started literally weaving a home. Her and Helgas mother, Jeanette, started making the things that made a structure a home. After mornings of helping with house timber and seeding, they worked in the kitchen garden, wove warm clothes for the coming winter, braided rugs and pieced quilts. And in the earliest hours of morning and the twilight of night the women made lace. Long strands of lace - knotting the wholeness of their lives together.
Finally, the house was done just before harvest. Grandma Esther and Jeanette bundled up Helga to all go to town with Grandfather Benjamin. There was so much to take in the women and Helga were both fascinated and afraid.
As they were coming out of the dry goods store with thread and material they heard a woman screaming, "My Son, please, help my son!"
Helga's family all ran to the woman and the limp body of her young son. The mother could not stop screaming so Benjamin took the child, listened to his chest, turned him upside down and slapped his back. Out came a piece of hard candy. Then Benjamin breathed life into the child. The townspeople had never seen such a wonder.
Grandma Esther and Jeanete now took the child and spoke softly in his ear. His eyes opened wide. Esther took some powder out of a bag in her purse and put some under his tongue while Jeanette rocked him and sang soft songs from their old land.
Esther then gave the same powder to the hysterical mother. Benjamin had found some water and encouraged her to drink it all. Little Helga sat beside the mother patting her wrist. She sang softly also and placed a small piece of lace in her hand and the yound mother almost immediately regained her composure.
As the woman took her son and started thanking the family they nodded and went on their way. There work was done here. Then the townspeople started. "They are a God-send.", "They are witches." But the small family continued to load their wagon and make their way back home, deep into the woods.
Now through the years all of them gave an explanation of that day. Benjamin could hear a whistle sound in the boy's throat so he knew there was something lodged, it had to come out. His breath he hoped would make it easier for the little one to breathe. Ginger under the tongue was a shocking taste and stimulated his system to wakefulness. Everyone knew that right? The songs were lullabyes and folksongs, anything soothing they had thought of in the moment. Helga's words were, "There, there." to the mother. And Jeanette's words to the boy were, "Your momma needs you!", not chants and incantations. The lace was a heartfelt gift, from a little girl to a woman in distress, not a magick charm. But no one heard - good or bad, they were witches.
The ladies' lace sold well in town for many felt it carried protection and luck. Their crops sold well, as people started the rumor of magickal food. When needed some found their way through the woods to Benjamin's house. They came with sick children and animals, questions on how to grow magickal good and man women wished to make magickal lace. The family obliged, but always tried to explain these things were quite ordinary.
Helga loved us best. Those with fur and feather and fins. She helped with many of us in sickness. My father sat on her shoulder while she tended to us and even though it was not always to his liking, he would have rather napped, he stayed there as she tended to the furried and feathered of others brought to the farm.
She never married. She always lived here on our land. So when Benjamin and Esther and Jeanette had all gone back to the earth, that was the town's sole conclusion, she was a witch, good or bad.
She continued to care for all that found their way to Grandfather Benjamin's house, but she had a special gift with furried, feathered and all babies - they trusted her and felt her love. She showed anyone interested how to grow the rich food of Benjamin's legacy and kept herself by selling lace and teaching others how to make the same. She even tried to teach the simple ways of curing others, but they all still saw it as magick.
Some townspeople, or others who homestead in the woods befriended her and became good neighbors through the years. Although I must confess some never got used to "so many critter's under foot, inside and out."
A kindly woman neighbor woman found Helga slumped in her rocker on the porch, my screaching helped bring her. Ginger under the tongue and breaht forced brought no results that day.
Today the neighbors wil return her to the earth and I will go with her - the last of both our families. Her leaving from a weakened heart and I from a broken one.
That is how Frederick the owl told me his last day. And these are their stories now, their lives, their legacy.
(to be continued)
Traci K. Couch, writer