Jenny Wren

house on hill demo (1)

For Gracie

Many and many years ago, too many to count if you counted a long, long time, there lived a family on a hilltop. This was where hills and woods made friends so that it was hard to tell where one started and the other ended.

This family grew things. They grew strong tall sons and daughters, with six daughters and seven sons, each son tall and strong, and each daughter buxom and beautiful. They all had hair the color of corn silk and eyes the blue of the summer sky. In the evening they would talk and laugh and the daughter’s eyes would flash like lightning in a summer storm and the son’s smiles would echo the feeling of peace they felt at the end of a long hard day of work.

The mother smiled as she looked on her family and said, “We have all the family we could ask for.”

And the father said, “Not yet.”

The land they owned was fertile and the family grew richer as the children grew older, and the father cut down more trees to add to their tilled fields and orchards. And his sons grew crops and his daughters picked fruit and the family became every year more prosperous.

And the mother said, “We have all the land we could ask for.”

And the father said, “Not yet.”

And, for a wonder, in the autumn of their days, they had a seventh daughter. She was not the bouncing big blonde baby of her siblings. She was small and wizened, with brown hair and brown eyes. And her mother called her Jenny Wren and she loved her.

Her father dismissed her as of no value. She didn’t grow things. She had no golden beauty like her sisters. But he was wrong. Hers was a hidden loveliness, like a tree in a woods, unseen until you come upon it. Her smile was like the sun on the leaves, shifting and light with the play of words in a conversation. Her voice was as gentle as the breeze, carrying you away with the pictures she painted of fox and otter, squirrel and chipmunk as they made their way through the underbrush.

woods

She knew the woods like her mother knew her sewing basket, like her father knew his property, like her brothers knew their fields and her sisters knew their orchards. For the woods were her world and the trees her friends.

And as the boys grew and wanted wives, the father looked for women with something more than sweetness to offer, and added gold to his coffers and land to his holdings.

And if their households weren’t peaceful, he still counted it a bargain worth making.

And as his daughters grew older and more beautiful, people said he sold them on the auction block the same as any slaves. And the sky-blue eyes of his girls that had flashed as bright as any summer storm turned cloudy and sad. But the father counted coins and was pleased.

And the mother said, “You have done enough.”

And the father said, “Not yet.”

treasure chest

Jenny grew up quick and quiet, and she listened to the quarrels of her brothers’ homes and saw the unhappiness in her sisters’ eyes. And she spent her time under the trees of the old woods. And her harvest was the nuts and berries and the herbs that grew wild, and her basket was always full when she came home in the evening. And her mother’s stews were more flavorful and and the family table had more variety thanks to the foraging of Jenny Wren. But when the mother said the same to the father, he had no praise for his youngest daughter.

Then the father craved more than money and land, so he leveraged his gold for power and influence until he was known far beyond the hills of the property. And when he raised his voice others listened, until others had to listen.

And the mother said, “You have said enough.”

And the father said, “Not yet.”

Then one summer the mother found it harder to cook and clean, so that Jenny Wren spent less time in the woods and more time at her mother’s side. And then the mother took to her bed and Jenny Wren stayed inside and nursed her. She tempted her with tidbits that she cooked and told her stories of the woods and the animals that lived there. And all her other children came and sat at her bedside and brought their children and told stories and laughed and talked until the old homestead rang like it had when they were young. And the mother smiled and was happy with the harvest of her life.

And while the father was away using his influence to get things done that he wanted done, the mother sighed and gently slipped away. And her children cried.

The more you love, the more you are loved.

The father came back for the funeral, which he made sure was held with all pomp and respect, for after all she was his wife, and he was an important man. Then he went back to using his power and his children went back to their households and managing the farm. And Jenny Wren went back to her woods and mourned the mother who loved her so and the father who never learned to know her. And so it went on for many years.

But nothing stays the same forever, as those who live a long time know, and one day the father was talking to those he perceived as important when he was stricken. And suddenly no words came out of his mouth and he had to stop where he stood. His body betrayed his will and all of his wishes were for naught. And so he came home again, a broken man, no voice and not much movement, except for his right hand.

watercolor-winter-pines-646x300

And it was winter at the farm and also in the father’s heart.

His children came to see him, duty calls with nothing for them to say except talk of the harvest and the farm. And the father turned his head away even then. And so one by one they stopped coming. And they hired a nurse and a man from the next town to care for him and went back to their own homes. And so it went all the winter long.

The less you have to give the less you get.

The father faced the wall and said nothing and barely moved, except to eat. And every day Jenny Wren came and sat by her father’s bed and watched him. She saw him turn his head away and she said not a word. But one day, near spring when the birds were returning, she laid a feather on his pillow where he would see it when he woke up. One feather.

featherIt was a simple white feather, no colors or special features, but for someone who had been staring at a bare wall all winter long…

The next day before he woke up, she added a few seeds from the big maple tree outside. Nothing unusual, just the little samaras that float down from the tree every spring trying to create new maple trees. But while the feather had just sat there, she noticed that her father was moving the winged seedlets around with his good right hand.

maple-seeds-feather

And Jenny Wren smiled.

The flowers were coming up in the yard, so the next day she brought a few daffodils and an iris in a glass and set them on the table by his bed. She clunked the glass hard enough for him to hear, then slipped out the door but lingered almost out of sight to see what he did. And he turned to look at the noise and stayed facing the flowers. And her smile came again and stayed.

And every day she brought in some of the outside to her father’s room. It might be a spreading branch of forsythia announcing spring in a large vase sitting on the floor or a bunch of pussy-willow opening their fuzzy blooms near his bed.

And she never said a word.

Until one day she walked in with her daily offering and he was waiting, watching for her. And he nodded to her and smiled. Just a bit. And it looked, just a bit, like the sun coming from behind the clouds after days and days of rain.

And Jenny Wren smiled back, and suddenly the father understood something of what the mother had always understood, and a tear rolled down his cheek. He couldn’t stop it. He didn’t try.

And so every morning before his nurse came she opened his bedroom curtains and cranked the casement all the way out and announced the day to him. She told him of the weather, clouds and the birds singing outside. She described the orchards and fields and what her brothers and sisters were doing.

And after the nurse fed him and the man dressed him and put him in his chair she came back. And she worked with him, helping him move his arms and legs. She talked to him of simple things and made him laugh and try to answer her, day after day. And the spring slowly moved onto the land. And his unyielding mind began to respond with movement and words. Slowly, oh so very slowly. And his heart started to remember what it had forgotten in what he had thought of as his prime.

And for the first time since she died he missed his wife.

The more you learn the more you can learn.

And one day Jenny Wren came in and said, “It is time.”

She had the man move her father in his wheeled chair out to the very heart of her woods and leave them there together in a clearing. Then she said, “Here your not moving is a good thing. You will be still because you must, and I because I have taught myself how.”

And as they sat quietly, all the stories she had told came to life before his eyes. Here a squirrel grabbed a last few nuts from a hole in a nearby tree, chattering at them as if unsure that its cache was safe. There a robin built the perfect nest for his lady love, choosing carefully from the collection of yarn and thread Jenny had scattered on a nearby branch. A shy baby rabbit peered around a tree before scampering up to grab a tender lettuce leaf, waiting until hunger tempted it beyond its fear of the new extra-large human. Jenny Wren they all knew from many past visits, but her father was an unknown.

bunny

At the end of the afternoon, she brought him back. When he protested she only said, “It is too early in the year to stay longer, but you can come back tomorrow if you like.”

That night he felt hungry for the first time since his illness, and the food had a flavor and freshness he hadn’t tasted in many years. And he fell asleep and slept well, looking forward to the next day.

And so Jenny Wren took her father through the woods, all the places his chair could go. They parked by the river and watched the otters play all day long. They hid along a pond and saw deer, does, fawns and twelve-pointed bucks come to drink, the parents watching for predators while the babies played. She showed him where to pick wild asparagus and how mulberries grew near the small streams and springs.

They visited with his sons in the fields and his daughters in the orchards, seeing the planting and the growing, watching and taking part. And what had started on his children’s part as wariness soon turned to welcome as the father gave praise and withheld judgment, so that their visits were greeted with pleasure.

And Jenny Wren made willow whistles while the bark was moist and flexible enough to slide right off the old willow tree’s branches– one for every grandchild the father had, and every whistle played a different trembling note. The children all came one night and the grandchildren gave a concert on their whistles with Jenny as conductor and the house rang with laughter again.willow cropped

And soon the father grew strong, and he left the chair at home and roamed on foot by Jenny Wren’s side. And he didn’t just listen to her stories, but told some of his own, and the conversations they had became rich with thought and a new appreciation on both sides.

And Jenny Wren said, “Will you go back to the city to wield your power again?”

And her father said, “Not yet.”

And throughout the summer Jenny Wren took the harvest of field and orchard and mixed it with her gleanings from the woods that she showed him how to gather, and created meals that made him say with a chuckle as he pushed away from the table, “Jenny girl, you want to make me grow fat.”

Then when the fall returned and winter started to show its hand again, Jenny Wren and her brothers and sisters sat down with their father, and Jenny Wren said to him, “This time last year you came home a broken man. Now you are well again. What are your plans? Have your ambitions returned with your health?”

And her father said, “Daughter, now I understand what my wife was always trying to help me understand, and what you have understood since the day you were born. I have family enough, land enough, riches enough and power enough. But then, I always did.” And he held his children close in his arms, in his eyes and with his heart.

The more you love, the more you are loved.

The less you want, the richer you are.

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8 thoughts on “Jenny Wren

    1. This is beautiful, and like I said when you read me the first part “It reads like poetry”…great job. I couldn’t stop reading it until it was done….I kept trying to pull my self away,,,but the reader in me kept saying “NOT YET”.

      Like

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