Sit a while and listen for I have a story to tell. It might surprise you. It will delight you.
Long, long ago in a land beyond the Mists of Time lived an old man. In fact, he was more than old. He was ancient. So old was he that his memory stretched to beyond the Beyond. Can you imagine that?! I can’t, that’s for sure.
The Ancient Man, for that’s what we should call him now we know how very old he was, lived in a humble little wooden hut in the middle of the forest. If you were to peek from behind a tree, you would see a curl of smoke rising out of the chimney. It made the air smell like Christmas. If you were to sneak up on tip toe very quietly and peek in through a window, you would see him sitting slowly rocking in a rocking chair. Curled up on his lap was a black bundle of fluffy fur. It was hard to tell just what it was for all you could see was lots of fur . If you listened carefully though, you would hear it purr, so it must be a cat.
The Ancient Man sat, eyes closed, gently stroking the cat behind the ears, smiling and quietly humming a tuneless song. He was puffing a meerschaum pipe made of bone. Tendrils of smoke curled up around his head. But that could have been my imagination. He looked very content. On his feet he wore a pair of knitted, grey woollen socks. To keep his feet warm of course. For as you know, old people always complain of having cold feet. So ancient people must have very cold feet.
Just as I was thinking about cold feet, the Ancient Man opened his eyes. They were a very bright, sparkly blue. Looking straight at me, he said, why don’t you come in and sit a while ? Now how did he know I was watching him in my thoughts ? ‘Tis a mystery to me. But ancient people seem to have a way about them that makes them mysterious, I think. Before I could blink, there I was, inside his one room hut.
Warm and cosy, it felt very peaceful. He pointed to the floor by his rocking chair, inviting me to sit on the rug. Lazily, the cat opened its eyes, yawned, and looked curiously at me. Then it went back to sleep. Cats are like that. A mind and a way of their own.
The Ancient Man cocked his head to the side, smiled at me, and said, I want to tell you a story. After all, that is why you are here, isn’t it? Up until that very minute I didn’t know that was what I wanted, but he was right of course. It was the very thing I was looking for. Slowly, he took the pipe out of his mouth and laid it down on the pipe rest on the little table next to him. Clearing his throat, he closed his eyes. I waited for what seemed like an awful long time. His breathing changed. It became deep and slow. I thought he’d gone to sleep! That’s what old people seem to do a lot after all, isn’t it?
I hear you thinking you know, he said, startling me. You seem to have a lot of opinions about old people and what they are like. Well, let me tell you, that you could not be more wrong! Just because you see me sitting here in my rocking chair having a quiet pipeful with the cat on my lap, doesn’t mean that is all I do you know. You happened to come at just the right time to catch me resting. It’s a good thing you came now for you see it is story time. No sooner had he said that, than the room was full of children. They sat on the floor around him with their legs crossed watching the Ancient Man expectantly.
Good, good, he said, nodding his head as he looked at each child in turn. Smiling broadly, he said, This is a new friend joining us today from far, far away. Please make him welcome like we always do. And with that they all smiled, clapped their hands in rhythm and said Welcome friend! We’re so happy you could join us for story time!
Today our story is about a time very, very long ago, when I was a little ‘un just like you. Hard to imagine that, isn’t it ?! Life was very different then. I lived in the country on a sprawling old farm that was surrounded by forests and off to one side there was a clear freshwater lake filled with fish. It was summer, the sun shone warmly, the grass grew tall and life was good. This particular day I had no chores to do. That didn’t happen often as there was always something to be done on the farm. We all had our jobs to do. But it was my birthday and the day off was my gift.
The day started as early as every other day. There was no sleeping in. Life was too busy and full for that. My mother had made me a special bowl of hot oatmeal porridge flavoured with cinnamon and honey. Cinnamon was expensive and hard to get so she saved it for special treats. I can still taste it when I think about it! Then she cut me two slices of bread from a newly made loaf, buttered it, wrapped it in a cloth and put it in my rucksack. Next went in a huge chunk of shop bought cheese, an apple and a bottle of fresh water. All these delicious foods were special treats I only had once a year on my birthday. I was going to the lake for the day. Waving goodbye, I ran as fast as I could, eager to get the day started.
Having reached the shore, I threw my rucksack on the ground next to my clothes. Buck naked, I dove into the cool , clear water. It was exhilarating! I swam and cavorted in the water like a dolphin until exhausted, I flopped on the grass at the edge of the lake to let the warmth of the sun dry my skin. As I lay there, I watched the clouds drifting above. They looked for all the world like dolphins at play! Laughing with the joy of seeing them swimming in the sky above me, I clambered back into my clothes. The morning had flown by. I was hungry.
Grabbing my rucksack I headed down the side of the lake to an area where there was an outcrop of large rocks. I knew just the spot for my picnic lunch. A large, flat rock right at the very top had a perfect nook in the middle that allowed me to snuggle in, rest my back against it and survey the world at my feet below. This was my land, I thought. My kingdom. By now I was not just hungry, I was ravenous. Wolfing down the delicious but simple meal prepared for me by my mother, I relished in the burst of earthy flavours dancing on my tongue. A long draft of cool water quenched thirst. The meal, morning’s activities, and the warmth of the sun soon had my eyes drooping. I curled up in the nook and fell asleep.
Such dreams I had! The cloud dolphins called me to join them. Together we rode the wind waves of the sky. I cannot find the words to describe the feeling. To this day I can vividly remember the feel of it, the joy and wonder of it. I don’t know how long I slept, but when I awoke the sun was low in the sky. It was time to go home. That birthday was the best of my long, long life.
Finishing his story, the Ancient Man fell into a deep sleep, a smile of contentment lighting his face.
The other children and I had sat enraptured throughout the telling of the Ancient Man’s birthday. That day long gone lingered on in us all. Quietly, we slipped out of the hut, leaving him to his rememberings. I returned to my thoughts.
Written for: Bedtime stories for grandparents
© Raili Tanska
Images – Pixabay