Sunday, February 26, 2012
Ptarmigan Feathers (Part Three)
In the morning she woke to the sound of her mother at the cook stove, clattering the lids. The smell of bacon frying came wafting up through the heat register in her floor, and she could hear the coffee pot perking. Nora had come down in her nightgown and her woolie socks and stood wide eyed and joyous in the warm room. The daylight was beginning to chase away the night. The windows were frosty from the cold. The stockings were nobbey and bulgy with hidden surprises. She knew she had to wait for the others to come downstairs before she was allowed to look, so she sat in the kitchen and mother fixed her a cup of coffee. It was a small dab of the strong black liquid , two sugar cubes and the rest thick golden cream from yesterdays milking. It tasted warm and delicious and it made her feel grown up and special to be here so early in the morning having coffee with father and mother.
When father had finally woken up the older boys and her sisters, who were already too old to be excited about Christmas morning, Nora felt as though she would explode if they didn't hurry up. First they all took down their stockings. Noa had a candy cane and an orange. Everyone in the family always got a candy cane and an orange in their stocking. If you were careful, you could make the candy cane last all day, slowly licking the minty sweetness, letting it sit on your tongue and then wrapping the rest carefully and putting it away until later. And, oh, that sweet, juicy orange! Christmas was the only time she ever got one. Sometimes her mouth would water just thinking about that cold juicy sweetness in your mouth, some of it running down your chin. You pulled the sections apart and ate them slowly, one by one. When she had been handed her present from under the tree, Nora had no idea that the square box of a package would open up to hold such a beautiful doll. She had been speechless with joy. She just sat there gazing down at it as if she didn't dare touch it. She did not see her fathers tears as he watched his small daughter fall in love with her very first baby doll. When she looked up with her luminous eyes, he had already wiped his tears away and was joking with mother about how they were spoiling her.
Now Christmas was over. Night was falling on the little Michigan mining town. The snow had been piling up. It was snowing for the fifth day in a row. John tried not to think of those
other Christmases any more, those cold, dark, hungry ones back in the old country. They were so far away and the years had been filled with many good and wonderful things. He tried, and often succeeded, in pushing those old memories to the far recesses of his mind. Tonight a feeling of sadness came seeping over him as he sat in his warm parlor watching Nora play with her doll. His mother was there, too. She lived with him now. She was very old, and her mind had crept off to places where the young and the not so young ,could not follow. Now she sat in her rocking chair, twisting her frail, shriveled old hands in her lap, rocking back and forth, back and forth, and crying.It was what she did, every night when the bustle of the day was over and there was time for rest and quiet. Usually, John read his paper then and didn't hear her if he concentrated on the daily news of his beloved adopted country. Nora looked up from the new doll and stared quizzically at her grandmother. "Gramma Lizzie," she asked kindly, "why do you always cry? What's the matter?"
Elizabeth stopped her ceaseless rocking and her hands stilled in her lap. Her voice was old and quivery and it held an edge of desperation. "I want my baby," she said. "Oh, I want my baby. His name is Seth Michal. Do you think you could find him for me, little girl? John caught his breath. He continued to look at his paper, but his thoughts had simply vanished into those old, quivery words.He felt frozen, unmoveable from his chair, unable to speak. He should stop this right now. Intervene some way. Somehow protect Nora from what might come next.
Nora jumped up and came to stand beside her grandmother. She laid her small hand on Gramma Lizzies thin and trembling arm. " But where is he?" she asked, puzzled and troubled. " Where is Seth Michal?" John waited with his heart in his throat. He had a sudden vision of Lainey, laying in that bunk on the ship, her face streaked with tears, sobs wracking her young body, feeling again , her heartbreak just as though it were now, not all those years ago. Lainey had been gone for many years already, sleeping in American soil, her last wish that she could somehow know what had happened to Seth Michal. How he had wished that his mother would have opened her heart and talked to them about it all but she never had. Elizabeth was rocking again, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Her frail hands were held out to Nora, who with some great wisdom beyond her years, had taken them in her own and was rubbing them gently. " I left him there, there by the school," she said. "by the cellar door. It was cold, but I had to leave him.When you find him, you must get him warm, right away." Her eyes were clouded over with blindness, but you could see that she was looking at something far away, something that no one else could see. Nora looked grave and trustful. "When I get bigger, Gramma Lizzie, then I'll find him for you," she said with all the confidence of her young heart. "Don't cry anymore. I'll find him and bring him back to you."
John covertly watched his mother. She seemed calm now, and content, just rocking and waiting for Nora to find her lost baby. Nora didn't seem troubled by this at all. She wasn't frightened by this seemingly bizarre disclosure, but was gentle and kind to her grandmother afterwards.The little episode had seemed to ease Elizabeths last days, and it wasn't long afterwards that she ,too, slept quietly away and was buried there in the family plot. Sometimes John would go there and stand with his hat in his hands, the wind ruffling graying hair, and he would say out loud to those quiet stones, " Orphanage? School?" Of course, there was never any answer, only the stillness of time that has stopped and answers that no one would ever know.
Nora hardly remembered that little girl promise to her Grandmother. She grew into womanhood in that little house on the corner lot. She watched her brothers go off to fight the war, her sisters marry and have children. She married the one man, the love of her young life, that nurtured and kept her until they became old themselves. Everyone who knew them was shown a shinning example of man and woman, husband and wife.When she had barely started her family, her father had died. She had moved away, but brought her children back many, many times to that snug and safe little house. The children loved going there. To them it was old fashioned and quaint. It was always filled with the good smells of bacon frying in the morning, and coffee and cinnamon rolls in the afternoon. Noras daughter, Lily, especially loved it. The way the sun shone warmly in the windows, the cool dark basement with its piney smell from the wood pile in the corner, and the clean ivory soap smell of the sauna that they used on Saturday nights. The way the stairs curved down from the upstairs bedrooms to the parlor. Lily and her sisters would sit on a pillow and slide down, whumpity, whumpity, whump. Giggling and laughing as grandmother came running to see if one of the babies had fallen and gotten hurt.
When she grew older, Lily would curl up in the big soft chair by the bookcase. That was where she had first discovered Hiawatha.The book was old and musty smelling, like old leather bound books are. Inside , her mothers name was written, for it had been her mothers book when she was going to school. Lily read Hiawatha many times over the years, and it always brought her back that musty whiff of long ago and she felt again the warmth of the afternoon sun shinning through the window on the shoulders of a young, impressionable girl.
Lily could never understand why, when she grew up and left home, she began to be troubled by a terrifying dream. How often she would struggle , fighting to wake up before the dream ended. Then, wide awake, she would lay there with her fists clenched, tears would slide down her cheeks and her mouth would be dry and her heart racing. She would get up and walk around, persuading herself that it was only a dream and none of it was real. The dream was always the same. She cradled a baby in her arms and would be wandering around her grandmothers house. The house was abandoned and lonely. You could tell that no one had lived in it for a long time. Some of the windows were broken. The doors hung sagging and crooked. There was trash and leaves and debris strewn over the once immaculate floors. She would go to every door and look in the rooms, searching for something and finding only emptiness. Trembling, she would go to the basement door. As her hand reached out to open it, the terror would come washing over her. She would know that she had to wake up, because if she opened that door she would would find something too horrible to contemplate. She could feel herself struggling to shake away the sleep, and the dream, so she wouldn't have to know what it was.
Lily had never told anyone about this dream. It was somehow too personal and too awful. Six months or so after having the dream, she would hardly dare to go to sleep at night , because she knew she would soon have the dream again. It was frightening. She had been having this frightening dream for many years now. She was a librarian, who loved her job, there among the shelves of books, and the people who loved them. Every once in a while, she would find a book about dreams and read it , hoping to find some clue to her own personal nightmare, but she never found any release.
Nora was now an old, old woman. She was visiting Lily who lived clear across the country from her. They sat, one spring evening in Lilys cozy country kitchen, laughing and reminiscing about days gone by. Nora was telling Lily how her father had never wanted to go back to his old home, about the dark and the cold and the hunger that he had always talked about. She told how they had somehow managed to scrape up food, how he had snared Ptarmigan to get them a little meat. How Aunt Lainey had made a ptarmigan feather pillow. "Someone in the family still has that pillow," she said. Lily was fascinated, asking gently probing questions about those far gone times. Suddenly Nora remembered that cold wintery night when she was small, sitting there playing with a new doll while Gramma Lizzie cried in her rocking chair. She laughed a feeble laugh. "You know, I never did find Seth Michal." she said, half to herself and half to Lily. Then she told Lily about the the baby who had been left behind because he was too small to make the journey to America. How when she had gotten old and mixed up , Lizzie had cried and wanted her baby. Nora told Lily how she had asked her where he was and she had said that she had left him by the cellar door in the cold.
Lilys heart seemed to stop for a second. Her breath caught, her mouth felt dry. Her hands shook in her lap. For a long time, there was only silence in the kitchen. Lily could not speak about the unspeakable dream. She only said, " Mom, do you think I could see that ptarmigan feather pillow? "
All night Lily pondered the story and the dream. Why, so many generations later, would she be given the task of finding Seth Michal? It didn't seem as though it would be possible. Maybe it was only a freak coincidence. There was no way, after all this time that anything could be done about it. For weeks she went around in a sort of a daze, trying not to think about it, but not being able to think about anything else. Finally one night when she closed up the library she went to the computer room and sat down wearily in the big chair at the nearest computer. Almost without knowing what she was doing, she was online, finding out what she could about the city where Lizzie and Johnny and Lainey had sailed away, leaving Seth Michal behind. On a long shot, she found the city library, asking for help in finding a needle in a haystack. Then she went home to bed, able to sleep soundly for the first time since she had heard about Seth Michal.
Much to her surprise, the next evening, after hours, in the computer room, she had gotten a messsage from a most kind librarian from that far away country, saying he was intrigued by her story, and he thought he could help her. His name was Larry, he said. For months Lily spent every night on the computer, learning everything there was to know about her ancestors homeland. Things had changed drastically since the days when Johnny had been struggling to leave and come to America. No one there now knew anything about the cold and the dark and the hunger of those old days. One night, Larry was excited. He thought he had found a clue. He didn't want her to get her hopes up, but he had met an old woman who had told him an interesting story. He would check things out the next day, to see if they matched up.
That night when Lily got home, there was a package for her on the front porch. The mailman had left it there with the rest of her mail, because it didn't fit in her mailbox. Lily carefully undid the wrapping. She stood humble and silent as she lifted out that old, old threadbare pillow. It was clumsily made with childish stitches, but none the less, it had stood the test of time and had not come apart. Lily ran her hand over the fragile softness of it, and she could feel, beneath her fingers, the ptarmigan feathers. Feathers caught by a long ago boy to keep his family from starving, and sewn into a pillow by a young girl to while away those endless winter days and somehow stave off the dark and the cold ad the hunger. Lily stood there looking at it for a long time. Then she went to the phone to call her mother and thank her, and which ever old aunt had taken the time to dig it out of some old trunk and pass it on to her. Lily wrapped it in tissue paper and put it on the bureau in her bedroom.
Later that week Larry called her. She had never talked to him before, but she felt as if she had known him forever. He was ecstatic. He had found an old cemetery with a small gravestone. When he had scraped away the moss, he had read, "Seth Michal" " He was loved." "You really need to come," he said. "The lady that took me there is very old. She doesn't have a lot of time. You really need to come and talk to her." Lily sighed. This was exciting, but she had no plans of going so far away, where she didn't know anyone. Maybe it was just coincidence. There was probably more than one person who was named Seth Michal. She needed time to think this over, to see if she could get time off of work, to decide if she rally dared to do this thing. What if it was just a waste of time and money? What if she was just setting herself up for a big disappointment?
Finally, Lily was too tired to think any more. She went to bed, drifting off thinking about the feather pillow. This was a dreaming night though. She woke when her hand was already on that doorknob, shaking and crying and terrified. This was her answer, she thought. I will just have to do it. I don't know why. I just know that I have to try to find out what happened to Seth Michal. She didn't tell anyone about this. She just told her mother that she was going on vacation for a couple weeks. She was going to Europe. She had always wanted to go. And yes, she would go to the old country and see the place where it had all started.
Passports, tickets, luggage, cell phone, purse., Lily had everything gathered together in her room.Giving a last glance around, just making sure, her eyes fell on the pillow, wrapped in tissue. She hesitated, then picked it up and put it in her suitcase. She had to open it up and make room to stuff it in, then zip it back up. She loaded it all into her car and drove to the airport. Settled in the big plane, she leaned back and relaxed as they took off, flying high and far from everything that was familiar to her. It was scary, but it was also very exciting and adventurous. The flight was long and boring, but she couldn't concentrate on reading, and she couldn't sleep. Finally, they were landing at Heathrow, and from there she got on a smaller plane to her destination.
Once there, she got her hotel room and settled in. This was to be her home away from home while she was here. She hoped it wasn't just a wild goose chase. Larry was to pick her up in the morning and they would go searching for Seth Michal. The morning looked as though it would be a beautiful, warm summer day. Lily waited nervously in the lobby for her long distance friend. She was watching the people coming in the wide front doors. Then, suddenly, she saw him. He was quite tall, his hair was blonde and shaggy around the edges. He had told her that. He had on a white shirt, and Levis. He was take your breath away handsome. He had not told her that. Somehow, she had thought because he worked in a library, he would look studious and nerdy. He walked purposefully, with long strides, because he had long legs. He was a head above most of the other people. He looked straight at her and smiled. It was friendly and genuine. Then he was standing in front of her, offering her his hand. "You must be Lily," he said. "I'm Larry."
She had wondered, what if he's horrible? What if she felt like she didn't trust him?Then what would she do? But she found she didn't feel that way at all. He was easy to be with, all business, getting her out to his car in the busy parking garage. Wanting to know what she thought they should do first. They decided to go somewhere and have coffee. It's always easier to make a plan over coffee. The coffee was good. Strong and hot and it gave her a feeling of peacefulness, as though things would go the way they were supposed to. Lily and Larry talked like old friends, laughing and people watching, and suddenly surprised at how much time had flown by. First they would go see the delightful little lady who had shown Larry Seth Michals grave. Her name was Sylvia, Larry said. She had agreed to meet them at a park near her house, and they found her sitting there feeding the pigeons some crusts of bread.
Lily thought this was the tiniest lady she had ever met. Her hair was pure white, pinned up in a knot on the top of her head. She wore thick glasses, but her eyes sparkled and shone with an inner light. She had a walker and a warm sweater over her shoulders, though it was a very warm day. She was so glad to see them. She introduced herself to Lily, shaking her hand with a firm clasp. She said she had been so glad she had met Larry. He was now one of her good friends, and since he had come into her life, so many interesting things had happened. Lily and Larry sat, one on each side of her, this tiny bird of a woman, and she told them her story.
Sylvias mother had been named Kathleen, her father Ian. She had been named for her mothers friend, Sylvie, whom she had always referred to as Aunt Sylvie. Aunt Sylvie had never had any children of her own, only a foundling that had been left at the school house where she was the teacher, and she had had him for a few months, and then he had died. Kathleen had told her daughter the story many times, about finding the little boy in the manger at the Christmas pageant. About how much Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Peder had loved the little boy, who had had a note pinned to his blanket that said "I am Seth Michal. I am too small for the journey to America. Please take care of me." She told how Sylvie and Kathleen had gone to the cemetery on Sundays, just to sit, and feel comforted. How Kathleen had used the first money she had earned to put up the stone for Seth Michal. How Kathleen had taken her small daughter , Sylvia, there every so often and told her about the old times, and the old people. How she had gone there herself, after her mother was gone, just out of habit. How she wasn't able to go up there anymore, now that she had to use the walker, and how she was sad that there was no one to carry on the tradition. How happy she was that she had met Larry at the library, and he had taken the time to listen to her old prattling, and then had offered to help her go there one more time. The three new friends talked away the afternoon , there in the park. Larry suggested they go for supper and then call it a day. If they wanted to go to the cemetery, they could go the next day, when he got out of work.
Lily and Sylvia agreed to the plan. By the time they had finished with supper and coffee, they were both tired. Larry brought them home, making sure Sylvia got safely into her house and dropping Lily off at the hotel. Lily thanked him for the good day, and ran up to her room. She sat down on her bed with a sigh. Everything seemed to be falling into place. She felt a little dazzeled and weary, her mind reeling with all the things she had seen and heard. It didn't seem posible that she was really so close to finding Seth Michal. At long last, maybe her dream would be a thing of the past. When she finally curled up, clean and happy, she fell asleep instantly and slept dreamless and easy the whole night through.
Morning came, then, bright and sunny and warm. Lily had breakfast in a little cafe and then walked down to the waterfront. Everything was bustle and business. She could smell the salty, brackish smell of the sea mixed in with the smells of tar and fuel. The noise was deafening. a cacophony of sound whirled around her. People shouted and whistles blew. Engines roared to life and things creaked and groaned. Still underneath it all, she could hear the slap, slap of the water against the boats and docks, and the waves against the shore. She wondered, was this how it had been when her family had come here, waiting to board the ship that would take them to America? She wondered what they had felt, standing there on that cold December day, uncomfortable in their heavy new clothing and stiff new shoes. For a moment she felt the excitement and sense of adventure that they must have had.
Lily was sitting there on a rocky wall overlooking the harbour when Larry came looking for her. When he hadn't found her at the hotel, he had a hunch she had gone down to the waterfront. He stood watching her for a minute . She wasn't at all what he had pictured her to be. A middle aged American who was not married should be very chic and modern, with a brisk manner and a certain hardness to her. That was what he had expected her to be like. But she was nothing like that at all. Her blonde hair hung in a long braid down to her waist. Little curls softened the plainness of it and framed her face with a gentle and childlike look. She wore a long dress and comfortable sandals. She wore no jewelery or makeup, and her skin looked soft and glowing.Larry felt he could easily fall in love with her, even though he was quite a bit younger than she was. She was quick, and serene, and somehow you felt peaceful being around her. Her voice was very quiet. Sometimes he had to lean down to hear what she was saying.
Larry sat down beside her. She looked up at him, but her eyes were far away, and it took a minute for her to come back to the present. "I thought I might find you here," he said, smiling down at her. "It is quite intriguing here, isn't it? Have you found any clues?"
Lily laughed, her face lit up from within. "I think I really did. I was getting a perfect picture of them all standing here, waiting to start on their journey." "Do you think I'm being silly?" Larry was thinking how lovely she was, but he didn't say that. He understood her getting into the feel of things. That was what she would need to do, to go on with her quest. "Well, let's go find Miss Sylvia. She's probably wondering where we are."
And, she was. So small, slightly bent over, her hair in the neat white bun, her eyes sparkling with the joy of life. They got her walker and her sweater. She had packed them a big lunch basket and had a thick red blanket for them to sit on. She said she felt as lively and gay as a young girl, with these two friends to take her off for the day. They were all happpy as they sped away to the country in the noontime sun.
Sylvia chattered as they drove along, telling them stories about every thing they saw. When they came in sight of the little wooden church, she suddenly got quiet. They pulled up into the church yard and they all sat, silent, gazing out at the beautiful spot. The building had the warmth and softness of having been there for a long, long time. The grass grew green around it, still, and the daisies nodded their heads in the breeze. A flock of sheep grazed a little way off and lambs frolicked beside their mothers. The cemetery was up a slope and it sat small and peaceful in the June sunshine.
"Lets eat first, suggested Sylvia, "and then we can walk up afterwards." They spread the blanket and got the basket and Sylvia out of the car. The three of them feasted on the wonderful lunch, and the coffee in the thermos was hot and strong. Larry saw Lily glancing up the hill. "Getting cold feet?" he asked. "Sort of," she answered. " I so want this to be my answer." "Let's go then." They walked slowly, one on each side of Sylvia. She was deft at using her walker, and plodded along at a steady pace. When they got to the gate, they let Sylvia go in first. She led the way, going directly to a small mossy stone. A few flowers grew there, their faces lifted to the sun. Lily knelt down and traced the letters with her finger. "Seth Michal." "He was loved." Five small words. Four generations had come and gone. The little stone and those five small words were all there was. Lilys finger made a smudge across her face where she wiped way a tear that slid down her cheek. She stood up. Her head was bowed. Larry could see that she was murmuring a silent prayer. When she looked up again, she was smiling. A wisp of wind blew a strand of hair into her eyes. She turned her face the other way and let it blow the strand back again. She looked at Larry and Sylvia. "Thank you. Thank you so much," she said. Sylvia took them on a tour, showing them where they all were, The first Sylvie, Peder, Kathleen, Ian, her other family and friends.
"Was there anything at all to identify him?" asked Lily. "Except for the note pinned to the blanket?" Sylvia was silent for a moment, thinking back. "He was wrapped in a little blanket. It had been newly made, but it was from used fabric. It was filled with feathers. My mother always said that Sylvie felt it had been made by a young girl, because of the stitching." Sylvia let the memories flood through her mind. "I still have that blanket," she said. "We have kept it all these years."
Lily had that same heart stopping feeling that she had had when her mother had first told her the story of Seth Michal. She felt she had to catch her breath and swallow. Her hands were shaking. "Would you let me see it, Sylvia?", she asked tremulously. "Of course, dear," said Sylvia, gently touching Lilys arm. "I should give it to you. I don't have anyone to pass it on to. You should be the one to have it." "Before you leave, I'll have you over to my house and I'll give it to you." For the second time, Lily felt the tears well up in her eyes. It seemed too good to be true. She was amazed that there was really someone so kind and gracious as this tiny, lively old lady and this handsome young man, and that somehow, they had all been brought together.
The days flew by. Larry had taken some days off of work, and he took her around the city to see all the sights. When Sylvia felt up to it, they took her with them. She had a way of making even the mundane things fun and joyous. It seemed they were always laughing, sometimes until they cried, over her stories and quick wit. Lily wanted to go out to the small town where her family had lived, so they planned a whole day for that. Sylvia said she would stay home that day. It was more of a trip than she felt up to.
Larry and Lily left in the cool, smokey dawn and drove out of the city. They left the noise and the dust and the mass of humanity and buildings behind. They crossed small rivers and drove by lakes, blue lakes that reflected the sky, and cradled boats. Lakes that had small islands and brightly colored houses along the shore. They came to the hills and saw the snug farms and orderly, prosperous looking gardens, the barns and the herds of contented looking cows.
On a map, they found where Lilys family house had once stood. It was somebodies lush green pasture now. They parked the car and walked to the neat and trim farm house. They told the lady of the house about Lily coming from America to find her roots and asked if it was all right if they hiked around for the day. The woman was kindness itself, and she asked them in for coffee and sandwiches. She gave them a lively history lesson about the place, and said that she had known where that first house was, and had heard of Lilys people. Lily wondered if there were still ptarmigan in the hills, and, yes, they were still out there. There were several trails that they could take, and with luck, they would see some.
Larry and Lily headed out for the hills. The day was perfect. Warm, with a nice breeze dancing around. They walked with out saying much, stopping to pick handfuls of sweet juicy berries and drinking from a clear cold stream. By late afternoon they were in the woodlands. Sitting on the crest of a hill, they could see for miles around . In the stillness, they heard a rustling in the leaves. Lily laid her hand on Larrys arm to warn him. They looked at each other, waiting. The bird walked gracefully along the edge of the trees. She was soft and beautiful, more brown than white now, in the summer. She stopped and gave a soft click. Lily could not believe her eyees when she saw the single row of teeny chicks that toddled after her. Breathlessly they watched them walk out of sight into the brush, the mother giving her comforting click, clicks, and the little ones answering in tiny pee-peeps.
Lily stood up, stretching luxuroiusly. She had kicked her shoes off. Her bare feet were hidden in the warm grass. Larry lay stretched out, watching her. Her braid was tied with a ribbon. He wondered what it would look like if she shook her hair loose. He thought it would shine like spun gold in the summer breeze. The wind swirled the hem of her faded denim skirt. She seemed lovely, and alone. Larry got up to stand beside her. She was gazing off into the distance. He wondered what she was seeing. He knew that she was not seeing the hills or the trees, or the far away lake. She was seeing the long ago days. Her eyes beheld the past, glimpsing two long ago children, seeing for the first time, what a small bit of meat there would have been when one had snared a ptarmigan. Perhaps she could feel a pang of that long ago hunger, and he saw her shiver in the warmth of today. He knew she was feeling that long ago cold. Could she see, too, that long ago woman who had been here before her? Was she feeling her loneliness, her joy, her pain?
Larry touched her hand. It felt icy cold. "Come back, Lily," he said. The wind took his voice and flung it over against the hills. "Back, back, back, " came the echo, the last "back" was only a whisper. Lily turned toward him, slowly bringing her eyes back to the here and now. She looked down at her hand in his, and gently removed it. This time the tears spilled out of her eyes, welling up slowly and then glittering on her cheek. Larry took out his handkerchief and wiped them away. "I want to stay until the stars come out," she said. "I feel like I haven't found it all yet."
So they sat there on the hillside, talking abut this and that and anything. They watched the sun set in a pastel sky, and the first stars begin to shine through the duskiness. A fingernail moon rose over the distant echoing hills. In the darkness, Lilys eyes were shining like the stars. She had stopped talking and seemed to be patiently waiting. What was she waiting for, he wondered? What did she still want to find in this warm, whispering night? He put his arm around her and pulled her close to his chest. She nestled in against him. The stars were winking down on them now. Suddenly, one shot across the sky, leaving a trail of disappearing diamonds behind it. He felt Lily catch her breath in delight. He had forgotten that there was supposed to be meteor showers tonight. Unknowingly, they had picked the perfect spot. They watched the sky rain stars for a long time, and then walked hand in hand back down to the world in the clear, white night.
The ride back to the city was silent. Larry knew Lily needed to think things over. To process all the story and sort out fact from fantasy. They parted for the night, Lily to dream peacefully and Larry to lie awake wishing he could make her stay, now that her search was over.
The day before she was to leave, they went to Sylvias house one last time. Lily brought the ptarmigan feather pillow with her. Sylvia handed her a rather small , tissue wrapped package. Lily unwrapped it, and sat for a long, long time. She was touching it softly, for she already knew it by heart. The familiar worn, soft colors, the familiar slightly crooked stitching, the familiar feel of the feathers within. She took out her pillow and together the two women sat marveling over the sameness of them. They marveled over the miracle that had brought these two pieces together again after all these years. Lily held the soft blanket against her face. It smalled faintly of lavendar. "I have brought Seth Michal back to you, Lainey, and Gramma Lizzie," she whispered, "and you needn't worry. He is very loved."
It was hard to say goodbye to Sylvia, that sweet old woman who had treasured a faded blanket for so many years, and shared its story to an unknown person from far away. Lily knew she would never see Sylvia again. It felt like they had always been friends, sharing their past. She dreaded having to leave. Sylvia hugged her, looking into her eyes, the old eyes clear and joyful, the younger ones filled with tears. They didn't say anything. There were no words to convey what was in their hearts. Lily turned back in the car as they were leaving, to see that tiny white haired lady waving them out of sight.
Larry sighed. Lily looked at him. "Yes, Larry, I have to go. I have my job, my family, my friends, my life, at home. I can't stay." He didn't say anything, just drove her back to the hotel. Then he said, "I guess I just wish you would, but I know you can't. I'm just thankful that I got to meet you, to spend this time with you. You will be a beautiful memory that I can keep in my heart. Maybe we can get together again some day. "
At the airport, they stood at the gate, niether touching nor talking until Lily had to get on the plane. Lily reached up and brushed his lips with her fingertips. "Goodbye, Larry. I can't possibly thank you for what you've done for me. Don't cry, Larry, please. Not until I can't see you..." She turned and walked out of sight. She didn't turn back. Her back was straight and her steps were firm and fast. Larry stood at the window while the plane backed out and taxied out of sight. His eyes were blinded with tears. "Goodbye, Lily," he whispered to the air around him. "Goodbye."
In the plane, Lily settled into her seat. Out of her bag, she took the ptarmigan feather pillow. She buried her face into its softness, and she cried herself to sleep. The pillow was making another trip to America. Both times it was washed with the tears of a girl, one because she had lost Seth Michal, the other one, because she had found him.
I am almost sad that Seth Michals story is finally complete. The Christmas morning story and the story of Gramma Lizzie crying in the rocking chair are as much word for word as they were told to me as my memory can tell them. I hope you can feel as "there" in that old time parlour as I did. I am also the dreamer of the dream. I knew that I could never really go back and find any of this out, but I do know, that once I wrote Seth Michals story, and gave him some love and happiness, I have never had that dream again. I don't want him to be a forgotten piece of our history, so think about him sometime, and smile, and know that we are all loved.