Clearing the Dust

COLD WINTER NIGHT

“And together

Laura and John

made it down

icy jacketed

Boundary Bald Mountain,”

says Pa.

We hear this story every winter

as the heat

from the crackling fire

lights and warms

our faces.

“Just one more story,”

I plead.

“Tomorrow

is another day.

The night calls now

for 13-year-old Beth Swain

to go to bed.”

“But the stars

shine too brightly,”

I balk.

“Never mind, Missy Beth.

You can hide

under the blankets.”

So warm, so cozy.

Disappointed,

I step on the creaky wooden floor of our little log cabin

off to a dreamland

of thoughts.




SUNRISE

Softly, slowly –

the sparkling bright sun

rises

as a small ray of light

seeps through the cracks

of our cabin.

Quiet, peaceful

Until….

Little Litty pounces –

my tiger-pawed

youngest sister.

Upon the bed she hops

hoping to open my eyes.

She wins.

Then strange sounds

I hear coming from outside.

What or whom could it be?

Rustling through the snow

the whinny of a horse

rings through the air.

Litty and I

step in sync

to the window.

A shiny golden mare

and

a man who dismounts

with a letter addressed to Ma.

Hattie, Jessie, Dick, Nelson, Jack and Litty

who are my sisters and brothers

and I

all rush to the door

like a stampede

of wild beasts.

Ma shoos us away.

We mumble.

We glare.

Curiosity weighs on our minds.



MORNING VISITOR

BOOM! BOOM!

Comes a heavy knock

on our small wooden door.

Pa opens it.

We see a mighty man

wearing

worn brown boots,

an old deerskin jacket,

and a big furry hat.

“For you

all the way from Newfoundland.

It’s been a long journey.”

He hands Ma the letter

and she motions him to the table

as if to say

“Please make yourself at home.”

Ma puts the letter down for a moment.

She sees the man is cold.

She puts up a kettle of tea

on the rusty metal hook in the fireplace.

We all gather ‘round the table.

Then Ma puts out some biscuits.

The visitor

with his giant hand

comfortably reaches out for one of them.

After a warm cup of tea,

Pa beckons him to a small room

to rest.

NEWS FROM AFAR

Ma picks up the letter

and examines it.

“Newfoundland,” she says.

I glance over and see it is from Grandpa Abner.

He never writes.

This can’t be good.

Ma opens the letter slowly.

She looks at the date.

It was written nearly three months ago.

Minutes pass.

Ma is silent.

Tears stream down her cheek.

A sad moment

A sad thought

THE LETTER

My dear children and grandchildren,

I hope this letter finds you all well.

Unfortunately, this will probably be my last message to you.

I am sick and dying.

Although Newfoundland is far from

your home in Maine,

please come for my belongings.

Enclosed is the key to my house.

With enduring love,

Abner

WHO WILL TAKE THE JOURNEY?

Pale cheeked

Wet cheeked

“We must leave immediately,” Ma says, hastily.

“Darlin’, you ain’t leavin’ that chair.

Somebody’s got to stay here

to care for the young’uns,”

decrees Pa.

“This is a job for a man.

A big strong man.”

Ma looks at Pa

with frustrated eyes.

“I shall concede,”

she replies.



LATER THAT EVENING

This evening,

when dusk falls

I help Ma clear the dishes.

But my mind is not clear.

What would it be like without Pa?

What would it be like without his shield?

What would it be like to journey with him?

How could I say I wanted to go with him?

How could I say I wanted to come along?

I crave adventure.

I crave the unknown.

How could I make him agree?

How could I convince him to let me come along?



CONVINCING PA

“Please Pa,

Won’t you take me with you?”

I ask,

as I take my place at the table

near the fireplace.

“Well, dearest Beth,

you know Ma would not approve,

for you have many chores to do

to keep this household in order.

What would Ma do without you?

And besides it’s a long voyage

and

a ship’s no place for a girl.”

“But Pa,

you know there’s no reason to have taught me

how to rig

and how to hunt

if those skills will never come to use in my life.”

“Darlin’ Beth,

that’s a clever reply

but it’ll take more than that

to convince your Ma.

I’ll see what I can do.”



MA AGREES

“Alright, alright

I’ll let you go.

After all

you are 13

and it is time

for you to venture out.

This trip will feed

your sense of

curiosity and adventure.

Not many girls

get this opportunity.”

So lucky.

So exciting.

So daunting.

PLANNING THE TRIP

“Big ship, I tell ya.

Big whaling ship.

The Voyaging Lady is her name,”

comes Pa’s booming voice,

as he pokes the fire.

“Big ship, I tell you.

Big whaling ship

But she wouldn’t go

without the unbreakable

Captain John Edward Williams.

Ma, better get a knittin’ –

for those cold winter nights

will be a comin’ –

and those blistery winds

will be a blowin’ –

and my darlin’ Beth

the waves will be a crashin’ –

and dry you must stay

so slickers we will be a bringin’.

SETTING SAIL

“Hoist the sails!

Get ‘em rigged!

We’ve got a mighty wind a blowin’!

Clean the deck!

Scrub that grime!

And watch for whales!

They’ll be a swimmin’

And a jumpin’

in that boundless sea of water.”

“We hear ya, Captain.

We hear ya.

Ten whole times during the first bell.”

“Heave ho!” grunt the sailors,

as Pa and I enter our tiny quarters.

Clammy, musty, grungy

Worried, nervous

I question,

Will we make it?

MEALTIME

The revolting smell

of fish, filth and foul air

fills the ship,

while my stomach growls

waiting to be filled.

Pa and I step into

the captain’s quarters.

It is the first time

I see the face of Captain Williams,

ruddy and wind-burned,

loudly slurping rice and beans-

taking big bites of salt horse

with his crooked yellow teeth.

A roach floats

in the small cup of molasses

set in the middle of a worn wooden table.



THE VOYAGE

WHOOSH! WHOOSH!

The water and wind team up

to make us wet and cold

and to move us closer to our destination.

WHOOSH! WHOOSH!

The water rushes over

the sides of the deck.

The curved crests

of the waves

remind me of the claws

of a great black hawk.

KEE-OCK! KEE-OCK!

screech the herring gulls

as they soar above us.



ARRIVAL

“THROW THE ANCHOR OVER!

HOOK THE LADY TO THE SHORE!

ALAS, MATES!

WE’RE HERE IN ST. JOHNS!”

The clanking and clonking

and hustle and bustle

are heard outside our cabin door.

Pa and I rush out of our cabin

Taking our small and simple trunk.

We’ve been travelin’

for days and days.

It feels like a lifetime.

I have made friends with the crew

so I feel sad to leave,

but I am excited

about the journey that lies ahead of me.

I wonder.

What will Grandfather’s house be like?

What will we find there?

How had he lived his life?

I will soon find out

or will I?


THE WARPED WOODEN DOOR

My sea legs and Pa’s

carry us off the ship’s gangplank

to the lively fishing dock

where we find

a horse and buggy

to take us to Grandfather’s house.

We pass open fields

and houses that freckle them.

I’m almost lulled to sleep by the rocking of the wagon,

but my excitement forces my eyes to stay open

as we near Grandfather’s house.

Abruptly, we turn onto a winding road

which leads us

to a shabby little house.

The horse stops.

The driver,

with his strapping arms,

helps us out

and places our trunk

on the ground

as we look at

the warped wooden door in front of us.

We’re here at last.

Pa takes out the key

that Grandpa sent,

leaving the trunk

where it was set.

Pa turns the key

in the lock,

lifts the iron latch,

and pushes the door open.

We enter

a lonely and sad atmosphere

with a stale smell and a drab look.

Lying on a table in front of us

we see a note

written on dusty, old paper:

To My Dearest Family,

who is here to inherit my belongings-

Please make yourself at home.

You will find what I have left you

in my bedroom

Take what you wish,

for no one else will.

May peace stay with you.

I remain yours,

Abner

THE BEIGE WINTER JACKET

After infinite dreams

and a breakfast of gruel,

we resume rummaging through the house

where we left off last night.

Rifles, quilts, family portraits,

Grandma’s spectacles –

And what’s this?

A jacket.

A beige jacket.

A heavy, beige, man’s jacket.

My curious hands

grope through the big, comforting front pockets.


THE CRUMPLED SHEET OF PAPER

In a pocket

I feel a piece of paper –

a crumpled piece of paper.

Curiosity bites at me.

I must find out more.

I know your life has not been a breeze

But nothing does come with ease.

For days and days you haven’t had a lot

But this treasure, I promise, will put food in your pot.

The cliffs of Freshwater Bay are no easy task,

But lying there is a treasure for you to unmask.

Left unfound, it will be there to bask.

Halfway down the cliff is a lone oak tree.

The branches curve like the crests of the sea.

“What can this possibly mean?”

I ask,

as I try to decipher the note.

We think.

Silent.

We think.

Hard.

This is not Grandfather’s handwriting.

Pa asks,

“Did he solve this riddle?

Is the treasure in this house?

Or must we find it?

What is the treasure?”

We think.

Silent.

We think.

Hard.

“We’ve searched the house

and we’ve found nothing more than

rifles, quilts, family portraits,

Grandma’s spectacles

and a beige jacket,” I reply.

“This note might be part of what he’s left.”

Pa agrees.

“This journey is ours.

Dear Beth, we must start our search

tomorrow at morn.”

DIRT AND CLIFFS

The sun rises

above the rippling blue waves,

as we climb up the steep cliffs

of Freshwater Bay.

My knees get

scratched and bruised.

Pa’s sweaty hands

cling to a projection in the cliff,

a large jagged rock

planted in the brush.

His hands begin to slide,

but he manages to anchor his feet

just in time.

We continue climbing.

The winds continue howling.



THE MAZE TO THE TREE

We reach a landing

in a cluster of trees.

Pa says,

“We shan’t find a lone oak tree here.

We must move on.”

I pull my hat down over my ears

and make sure my jacket is buttoned.

This is not going to be easy.

I must be prepared.

As the wind continues to scold us,

we trudge on.

We twist and turn

between tall tree trunks

as the wind stings my reddening cheeks.

I smell sea salt

and peer at the vast sea below us.

As I begin to look straight ahead,

I see something

like the claws of an eagle,

like the the crests of the sea.

Pa looks through his binoculars

and shouts,

“That’s it. That’s it.

We’ve found it, Beth.

The lone oak tree.”

We trek down,

my high spirits pushing me.

Pa’s grim face

suddenly glows with a smile.

I try to lower my expectations.

What if this isn’t the tree?

What if the treasure is no longer here?



X MARKS THE SPOT

Once again my expectations rise.

We have indeed reached the lone oak tree.

My eyes reassure me that this is the place.

The lone oak tree

whose branches curve like the crests of the sea.

“Where are we to start?

This could take us years,” says Pa.

“We don’t even know what to look for,” I say.

Suddenly I see a lightning bolt

and hear the anger of thunder.

The sky darkens

and abruptly begins to pour.

With no other place to go

we take shelter under the tree.

Rain and tears pour down my cheeks

drenching the ground.

The water and wind recognize us

making us cold and wet.

We are soaked and saturated.

As the rain wipes away the earth on the ground

I see something.

Not a gnarled root.

Not an eroded rock.

Not a knotted twig.

But a protruding corner of what looks like

an unmasked treasure.

WHAT IS IT?

We use our hands

to unmask the treasure.

Dig, fling, yank!

“Here it is!”

he says with his eyes closed

and a satisfied look on his face.

I’m impatient and curious as usual,

so I jerk open the lid of the tin box,

about the size of a bread box –

and like any other

impatient and curious

13-year-old,

I wonder what it will be?

At first I see nothing.

I look again,

and see,

tangled up, hidden in a corner –

a locket.

WHOSE LOCKET?

“Here? Why? How?

Abner’s been looking for this for years.”

“Don’t leave me clueless.

You know I’m a curious girl,” I say.

“This belonged to your Great Grandmother Josephine.

Beautiful Josephine-

Blue eyes, dark brown locks

and long, delicate arms

made to caress.”

”That makes this heirloom

even more special,”

I say.

The thick dirt

makes it impossible

to see what I think will be

intricate engravings,

but even with the thickness of the dirt

I am able

to find a place to pry the locket open.

Our gray surroundings

turn golden

as I peer down

at a blurred image

of a handsome young woman

holding a fine-looking newborn child.

“That’s your Great Grandmother Josephine,

holding a young Grandpa Abner.”

We treasure the locket

on our long journey back home.

HOME AGAIN

I sit in the flowered armchair

and think about

the sounds and scents of Newfoundland.

It seems so far away

and summer has come,

but the locket around my neck

leaves fond memories.

And this evening it will happen.

The locket will be cleaned!

I will soon see its beauty in detail.

I spin the clasp around,

undo it, and remove it from my neck.

I hand it to Ma who

in a nostalgic voice says,

“Josephine.

Beautiful Josephine!”

I don’t know what to feel,

I think to myself,

for I have never had something this special.

My six siblings and Pa gather ‘round

our old wooden bowl

to watch Ma clean the locket.

Little by little,

the dust begins to clear.

We all gaze

as details become more apparent

and we begin to realize

the value of the piece.

The oohs and ahs continue.

“Am I dreaming?” admires Pa.

“Not that I reckon.”

“Looks like gold, if I’ve ever seen it.”

“Could have some value.”

“Could trade it in for a pig or two.”

WHAT TO DO?

Days go by

as we speak of this matter.

“We could sell it,

but would that be betraying our family?”

“It really could put food in our pot.

“Nothing bad about that!”

“It would really help us out.”

“But it’s a keepsake, an heirloom!”

“What to do?”

“I would wear it forever,” I beg.

“We need more time to think,” adds Ma.

“Night falls on us

and we must all go to bed,” declares Pa.

“But the question is too grand

for us to set it to rest ‘til tomorrow,”

I plead.

What to do?

What to do?

What to do?

“Tomorrow is another day.

The night calls now

for 13-year-old Beth Swain

to go to bed.”

“But the stars

shine too brightly,”

I balk.

“Never mind, Missy Beth.

You can hide

under the blankets.”

So warm, so cozy.

Disappointed,

I step on the creaky wooden floor of our little log cabin

off to a dreamland

of thoughts.

What to do?

Sydney Allard
Age 12, Grade 7
Biting Writing
Gold key

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