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When Silhouettes Meet

Story ID:6143
Written by:Richard Laurent. Provencher (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:Retired
Story type:Story
Location:Truro, Nova Scotia Canada
Year:2010
Person:Richard & Esther Provencher
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OurEcho Preface This post deals with a mature theme or contains explicit language. While the post is not extremely violent or pornographic, it does contain language or explore a subject matter that may offend some readers. If you do not wish to view posts that deal with mature themes, please exit this post.
When Silhouettes Meet

Danger lurks as a rabid skunk seeking victims in the chill of this night, and winter a rage of snow as Grand Papa uses his reserve of strength to keep the ‘pung’ on its tracks.

Heading up the hill earlier to retrieve cut wood left aside the road came too easily. At the time snow was mere inches deep and the pace of his horses was surging power, able to secure proper footing. Not now though.

Grand Papa and Grand Mama drew closer to both grandchildren in a sleigh led by a pair of determined nostril-steaming creatures.

Their return journey on snow-piled layers was more like dealing with weighty blankets on a slippery trail. And these usually sure-footed animals began to slip and slide on ice-covered ridges from former ruts.

“Mon Dieu,” Grand Papa wheezed. “Dis weather not so nice, eh, mes enfants?”

Mumbled answers of, “Oui…Oui” carry to his ears. The children are French-Canadien.

*

Many years before their grandfather, a veteran of weather-hardened living, came from Northern Quebec. Two visits to this beautiful land called Nouvelle Ecosse convinced him to relocate.

After purchasing a thirty-five acre wooded parcel of land with ample room and resources he built his cabin for a life of future memories. Considered remote in the 1940’s he survived in comfort along with other families and their descendants.

“It is so nice there, Mon Cherie,” he promised his wife, Camille, forty years before. “Cheap too. Dere is dis hill with some fine room for a pasture, hay, some cows. A good woods too where we can chop our trees for not’ing. They can be lasting forever.”

And soon Camille accompanied her husband to this new province where their cozy log cabin commanded a scenic view of the valley. But their plan to raise a household of babies was not to be. Only one daughter was born and when she turned eighteen, she returned to Quebec.

Year’s later tragedy struck their daughter and husband, and their orphaned children were placed temporarily with relatives. Due to an abundance of space it was decided ‘les enfants’ must move to Nova Scotia and live with their grandparents. It was a land of plenty, where their garden, crops and hard work would sustain them.

Grand Mama knew two active children needed space to roam. And Grand Papa was able to teach the boy new ways of a small farm in the woods. The boy had shown a willing spirit and grew to love his grandparents.

Even Monique learned valuable lessons. Grand Mama taught her grand daughter the advantages of cooking in a simple country kitchen. She also learned about the importance of satisfying appetites for two hard-workers, man and boy.

*

“We are soon to arrive home” Grand Papa said, interrupting Camille’s thoughts. “Den we can escape dis storm.” His dear Camille was such a blessing. He looked at her through falling flakes. Then touched her cheek gently, unable to feel the softness of skin through his mitt. A returning smile produced a warm glow in his chest and he grunted with satisfaction.

“The children,” she said. “They are very cold. Watch the tracks. Our horses are having a most difficult time.”

‘Harry’ was a strawberry Roan and ‘Kit’ a race trotter saved from the Glue Factory. They were recent gifts from English neighbors for two people with the courage to take on the responsibility of raising two young grandchildren. Besides, Grand Papa’s old horse was happy to be allowed to spend his last days in a corral beside the cabin. Certainly he was not going to miss the challenge of trails in hilly terrain, a difficult journey for any beast with aging legs.

Snow continued to persist in a flood of flakes upon the four travelers. For the children it meant absorbing the wonder of a magical scene as they hurried through what seemed like a sky full of white fireflies. Grand Mama moved closer to her husband. “The weather is hard on my bones too,” she murmured, arms stretching around her grandchildren.

“How much longer, Grand Mama?” Monique asked feebly. She was a slender young girl of nine. Flowing blond hair hid under the hood of her jacket. She could barely wait to finish baking tonight since homemade cookies would bring many smiles.

Henri was eleven. It was also his duty to be watchful over his younger sister as they completed chores and played games. In Quebec, his name was pronounced ‘Ah-Ri.’ But here, school chums called him “Henry.”

Both children learned to enjoy living in the roughness of woods ever since their parents died of Tuberculosis, in Ville Marie, Quebec. The boy proved it often as his snowshoe tracks were like patterns of thread within hilly country. It was fortunate in this evening of wintry challenge. The children had bundled up in heavy coats and scarves. However the wind continued to give a jolting surprise, dropping icicle-chills down warm backs.

“Welcome to a winter storm, in the woods of Nova Scotia!” came suddenly as a shout of exuberance from Henri. It was a true message, which spoke of the rapidly changing weather conditions in this part of the province. He was also proud of his knowledge of English, a welcome addition to his French heritage.

Their log cabin almost in the center of their property was a quarter of a mile from the nearest neighbor. In a proud testimony to its construction the old cabin remained sturdy after all these years. And the extra-strengthened roof easily sustained any accumulating snow.

Everyone knew their idle Quebec heater would soon be red hot, and they could relax in its warmth. Anxious breaths exhaled impatiently for wet clothes to be hung close to its hot metal for drying. Ah-Ri might even have time for a game of checkers with Grand Papa, before retiring for the night.

Tall pine trees and birch near their home grew in bunches and provided cooking and heating needs over many years. First, the log home was built, then the barn; afterwards a shelter for storage of firewood. The hammering of any chopping axe was a familiar sound as echoes of strength against the hills.

Deer once cautious near the log cabin, now comfortably lingering as they became familiar with this new family. Often a raccoon or bear watched from the shelter of a favorite tree. Before long, wildlife accepted their new neighbors and the children bonded with natural surroundings.

“Finally,” Monique said as both horses stamped noisily in front of an almost empty wood shelter, a short distance from their home.

Everyone shook off layers of snow, scrambled from the wagon and began stacking their precious wood cargo inside. Inactive bodies had a chance to warm up through busy bending and carrying armloads to place by the heater. As usual Ah-Ri tried to carry more than his young arms should attempt.

“Wait, my little one,” said Grand Papa. “We are four here. You must let us work together in dis task.” Soon, both horses were unhitched, placed in their stalls, and given fresh water and hay.

“I go fill de ‘eater so we soon be like warm toast,” Grand Papa promised. He knew everyone had similar thoughts. Soon, it did become very warm, as melting snow-drenched clothes hissed and smoked while everyone gathered close by.

The evening progressed through various stages. From excitement over Monique’s snack of sugar cookies and Grand Mama’s hot chocolate, to ghost stories around the hot stove. As eyelids faltered, cups were returned to the sink and crumbs swept up. Grand Papa’s snoring from the couch signaled it was time for everyone to be sleeping, and to succumb to their peaceful dreams. A forceful wind whistled and grunted against the log cabin, its front door almost overwhelmed by drifting snow.

*

Henry awakened during the late night. Something did not seem right. An alertness triggered fear, and heart-beats pounded anxiously within his chest. A variety of half-completed thoughts raced through his mind. Some seemed silly. Right now he didn’t really care about how anyone pronounced his name. He smelled something. Yes…oh no, it was smoke.

On the other side of his bedroom wall, crackling sounds were much different than those within the security of a stove. Surely it was not a house fire as he was used to hearing tales about during cookouts in the woods? In school Henry also learned one should not sit up during any smoke danger. But roll off the bed.

This he did, except he forgot he was on the top bunk. Henry hit the floor with enough noise to wake everyone up. He was certain he heard their dog barking outside their home. Covering his mouth, he tried to shake his sister awake. Monique did not move, until he slapped her face several times, finally stirring her as she lay on the lower level.

“Why did you do that, Ah-Ri?” she asked.

Her brother had never done this before. He wondered if tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Hush Monique. Listen. Listen.” Henry didn’t wish to make her afraid. But, it was getting very hot in here. The word “Fire!!” escaped his lips with a thunderous shout. She completely understood the panic both now shared. Where were their grandparents? After the loud crash Henri made falling out of bed, he was sure they should be close by.

The children were choking as they crawled across the floor, bumping into furniture. It was difficult heading in the proper direction beneath a blanket of smoke.

In the next room they discovered Grand Papa and Grand Mama in a final embrace, on the floor. Nothing the children did received any movement from their much-loved surrogate parents. It was dark in their grandparent’s room until suddenly a flash of red advanced towards them.

Henry knew he and Monique must get out, and very quickly, too. He pulled his sister close and flung her onto his back like a sack of flour, surprised at his strength. Then he paused for a brief moment in prayer before making a hurried dash hoping to penetrate the wall of flame. “If only…” Henry thought, not realizing his life was but a memory in the instant he and his sister turned into pieces of burnt toast.

From her window in the barn, the milking cow watched the cabin turn from a dark cloud of anger, to bright yellow. She sensed never again would she feel the sure hands of her master, when rich milk could spill into a waiting bucket.

Barely able to bark from smoke-filled lungs, the dog tore off down the road seeking help. He too sensed never again would the laughter of children enjoy days playing with him.

*

Saddened neighbors felt it proper to leave everything as a sanctuary for lives lost that winter night. Years passed swiftly through seasons of natural outdoor growth. Whispers of conversation traveled throughout the valley. About grandparents and two children, who lived on a winding road that climbed Onslow Mountain.

The tale of tragedy was even used as a skipping rope song sung by area Elementary School children.

Their message during playtime continues to resonate through nursery rhymes in a frankness that translates the tragedy into an epic:
“Ah-Ri and Monigue,” they said.
“One, two, three and four. Fire! Fire!
Please, don’t burn me any more.”

During following seasons, as the sun goes down, there is a different message. It comes from flocks of geese landing regularly in a fallow field belonging to the old farm. The area provides a soothing for tired wings, a respite after harrowing flightS. It’s a safe haven, with sheltering trees grown thicker over the years. And the spring-fed pond provides precious moisture.

Even loons swim in silence, heads upraised, as if awaiting the familiar laughter of a family. Deer continue as regular visitors in this vacant farm, drawn to the aroma of apple-laden trees. No one desired to purchase the acreage, allowing the house to collapse into a final resting place.

Now all that is left from years of hard work is the outline of a stone foundation; yet, of memories not in vain.

Sturdy Dandelions filled in most of the vacant spots. St. Anne’s lace grew in clusters on the north side where a small porch used to be. Passing eyes noticed tiny shoots within the ancient foundation. And each season of moisture and sunshine encouraged a stubborn upward growth.

One evening during a hike with his own grandparents, a child noticed something different on the old farm. “Look” the boy said. “Four trees all together.”

Indeed, there was distinctive growth from once young shoots, reaching up from the sadness that once was. Closer observation revealed two trees each having two limbs, growing out of the foundation.

The larger was named after Grand Papa and Grand Mama. The shorter spruce was really one trunk, growing strongly in two directions. Area folks named one after Henry, a loving brother and the other for Monique.

Four silhouettes are now easily seen at dusk, a reminder of one family who once lived here.

© Richard & Esther Provencher

NOTE:
This story is based on an actual event which took place in the countryside of Nova Scotia, Canada.