Sultry weather continues, records matched and broken, schools closing early to prevent children’s illnesses from the heat, and then there’s the dryness. The lawns are brown, the gardens gasping and as if the rag-weed wasn’t sneezle-happy on its own, add to it clouds of dust every time a car goes by! Whew!
Whatever did we do before air-conditioning? It was not a pleasant experience, as I recall, but we did survive. Beyond that, I’ve chosen to delete those memory-cells. Subject closed.
In not too many weeks though, we’ll be digging out the woolies and restocking the woodpile, and yes, commenting on record-breaking cold. Oh, perish the thought! Ah well! Gotta love New England! And if you don’t like it now, just wait a minute.
In case you were wondering, little Tina did find her way back to The Village. And just as she’d followed someone into Big Woods, it was, yet again, a fellow-traveler that helped her get back. This time though, there was no hiding. She asked for help.
In her rush to follow the sounds of the bell that she heard tolling on Sunday, she wasn’t taking the usual care to stay undercover. After discovering a well-worn path, she scurried along at top speed when all of a sudden she heard something behind her. Rustling leaves and crackling of underbrush had her stopping to listen, ducking out of the path momentarily. As soon as she went on her way again, she’d hear a twig crackle or some dry leaves crinkle—she was certain she was being stalked.
Quickly, she darted under a large thorn-bush and waited, and just as quickly the rustling and crackling stopped. So there she was, afraid to proceed, and paralyzed with fear.
“You alright there, Missy?” A voice spoke from behind her. She startled, just about fainting from fright, and spun around to look. There sat a portly chipmunk gentleman, smiling at her just inches away. She nearly sobbed with relief.
“Oh sir! No. No, I’m not alright at all! I’ve lost my way and can’t get home, and something is following me!” she squeaked nervously, “...and I’ve been lost for days... and I just want to get back home.”
He pursed his mouth thoughtfully, one pudgy hand twirling his whiskers as he perused. “And where’s home, might I ask? And what is a youngun like yourself doing out here in Big Woods alone?”
“Oh sir! It’s too long a story to tell you. Please just help me find my way home. Oh, home is in The Village at Hare Hollow…” she added, realizing as she spoke that yes, it truly was her home now. “Please, can you help me?”
His black eyes sparkled in the sun, and after he straightened his dapper bow-tie and adjusted his overalls, he held out a helping hand. “Come then… let’s be on our way! And by-the-way, I'm Mr. Chipson... and your name is...?”
“My name is Tina, But sir, what about whoever is chasing me?!” she held back in concern.
“Worry not, little one. I know lots of tunnel entrances between here and The Village. You just trust me. If I see or hear anything, I’m going to pick you right up and dart into one of those tunnels. So don’t be scared.”
She took his hand.
True to his word, he led her right to Big Rock Schoolhouse. Nothing bothered them as they walked on together, and it wasn’t far at all. Who knew home was just that close, and she’d been just that little distance all along.
She thanked him graciously, then fairly flew to Miss Winklesnout’s humble cottage nearby. Standing at the door she paused, considering—would Miss Winklesnout welcome her back? Or would she be so hurt and angry she’d turn her away? And whatever would she do if that was the case. Where would she go? With sinking heart she raised her hand to knock when suddenly the door opened and there stood the lady herself, her eyes wide with disbelief.
“Tina! Oh Tina! Is it really you, my precious girl?!” The schoolmarm, holding out her arms, dissolved into grateful tears. Tina melted into the offered embrace, overcome with thankfulness and relief.
“Oh Miss Winklesnout, I’m so sorry for running away. I was selfish and ungrateful, and I’m so sorry. I thought if I could just get back to my old home, where I came from, that some of my relatives would be there and I could be with them. I thought it would make me happier, but I was so wrong. There’s no one and nothing there for me. If you don’t want me to live here anymore, I’ll understand completely, but please tell me where I should go.”
The schoolmarm listened quietly. Tears still glistened in her own eyes as she gently brushed Tina’s away. Searching for how best to deal with this, she pulled Tina back into a warm embrace.
“My dear girl… you will always be welcome here. This is your home. I am your guardian, but more than that, I have come to love you like my own daughter…” she began. “You must tell me though, when things like this bother you. We can talk it over and find a solution together. Please don’t ever go off on your own like that again. You could’ve been…” the worried schoolmarm couldn’t finish for the tears that threatened again.
She shut the cottage door and beckoned toward the kitchen.
“Come, my sweet girl. Let’s go make some chamomile tea… you must be hungry. How about a fat slice of teaberry bread slathered with acorn butter to start…?”
Tina slid into her chair at the table and watched as Miss Winklesnout poured the tea. “Thank you…” she spoke softly and the simple expression had never meant so much to her before.
“How can I ever make it up to you… what I’ve done…?”
“Hush now, little one. You are weary, in need of a warm bath and lots of good food. Best of all you are home. Let’s put the past in the past and just move forward from here, shall we?”
That late-afternoon, Tina bathed in the pretty pink tub—formerly a Rubbermaid mini-bowl—repurposed of course! Miss Winklesnout poured pitcher after pitcher of warmed-on-the-stove water until it was up to Tina’s chin. She soaked in the lavender scented water and then scrubbed until she squeaked—her skin that is—then after a vigorous rubdown with a terry-towel, she put on her ruffled blue nightgown. Oh it felt wonderful to be clean and have clean clothes to put on!
Miss Winklesnout made sunflower seed pancakes with gooseberry syrup for supper, but before Tina could finish, her head drooped onto her arm on the table. Even the clatter of her fork falling to the floor didn’t wake her.
The schoolmarm watched her sleep for a little while, marveling at the miracle of her safe return. Then ever so gently, she gathered the little girl into her arms and carried her off to bed. Tucking her in snuggly, she uttered a prayer of thankfulness to the One who saw them through all these days of upset.Life’s lessons are often painful, the journey rift with bumps and bruises, tears and misunderstandings often in the search for what we think is something better, but when we can come through with humility and recognition of a Greater Plan than ours, then go forward with gratitude—well, it’s a happy day for sure.