“What did you like best?” The little girl asked her expectantly.
“Feeling safe,” she answered, stroking the light floss on the girl’s arm. The girl snuggled up to her grandma, secure as a cat.
She said this, and held the little girl firmly. What do people want? They want safety. They want warmth and security. And a little hand wants a larger one to hold.
* * *
When the light held, it wasn’t difficult. But as the days grew shorter, she would stand beneath the elm tree, far away from the street light over by the First National Bank, and wait to see the familiar headlights. She would wait, and every week, as the days grew shorter, her dread increased, until she would stand there, waiting for her father’s car, praying with each one that passed that she would soon be home.
Sometimes cars would slow down, and men in low brimmed hats would appraise her. In her Brownie uniform, she felt especially exposed. The elm tree could not hide her --- in fact, in merely highlighted her condition. This tree, with its arched boughs and its tall recesses, did everything to cast her out into the gathering dark. The black branches bore a ring of dried leaves at their crown, and in the cold wind their shaking sounded like damp, hard exhalations.
She made several vows during those dusk vigils beneath the elm tree. She promised that she would be a good girl if God would deliver her safely into the hands of her father. She promised God that if she was ever a mother, she would not let her children wait on a corner in the darkness for a car that was supposed to come on time, but always came late. She would become a great Mother Bird with spreading wings that she could heft over her head and then settle gently on the children beneath them. In those nooks, between her warm body and her strong wings, she would protect them from all harm. She would be soft and protective, but she would kill to defend if she must.
* * *
They walked out to the gazebo, hand in hand. There were daffodils to be picked. Along the way, she snapped up a long curly willow branch. She sat down on a rock and stripped it of leaves.
“Come over here, and I’ll show you something.”
The little girl sat on her lap and watched.
“What are you doing, Grandma?”
“Sit and watch,” the woman answered. She took the leaves off the branch, then with the sharp tip of her nail, stripped off the wet, green bark, revealing the gleaming white beneath. The little girl fingered the smooth wood.
“Isn’t that pretty?” she asked her. The girl nodded. “I can use it in a floral arrangement. You can help me take off the bark. But for now, let’s pick some flowers.”