Family is a word of many definitions. There’s the genetic kind, of course, but the whole idea of one-size-fits-all domestic arrangements is fading. The fluid family, as Amos Handy likes to call the people he shares his home with, is far more interesting.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont. I’m so glad you came to visit.
Cassandra tried not to fret (worry was too strong a word for how she felt) when her daughter Tupelo was late getting home from school. It was April and the plant world was on the move in the woods. In fact, Cassandra was banking on having fiddleheads for supper.
Lo, as she called her daughter, would be sure to pick some on her walk from the bus stop to the house they shared with Amos Handy.
“The girl not here yet?” he asked as washed his grimy hands in the deep kitchen sink. He’d spent the day rebuilding the carburetor on his ancient tractor.
“Not yet. I expect she’s checking out the spring beauties and the ferns.” Cassandra pushed down on the dough on her bread board, pressing it into the flour spread across the surface.
Amos chuckled. “That and checking out the frog pond and stomping in every puddle from here to there.”
The two adults shared a smile. They were both long time defenders of the pleasures of childhood, and struggled to protect Tupelo’s sense of wonder as long as they could.
A task that flew in the face of the social influences of public school. But that was a matter for a gloomy day. Sunny April afternoons were reserved for appreciating the world coming back to life.
“I think I’ll go out to meet her,” Amos said, pulling a favorite jacket—the one of many pockets—over a bright yellow and orange Hawaiian shirt, “just to make sure she’s not letting the chickens loose again.”
“I am so sorry about that. You know how she feels about cages.” Cassandra poured a little olive oil into her bread-rising pan, swept the dough into it and then flipped it over to make sure all its sides were covered.
“Hmph, I know. I just wish she understood that the chickens like it that way because the cage keeps the fox and weasels out,” Amos said as he thumped out the door.
Cassandra smiled, and hummed a few bars of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” She never minded Amos when he grumped. If anything, he loved the little girl with a passion equal to her own. He just showed it different, that’s all.
He spotted the child squatting near the ground by a moss-covered nurse log just off the cart track that he kept open with the now-resurrected tractor. She’d worn a bright summer dress over bright green leggings that morning. A pair of blue boots completed the ensemble.
“And yesterday, we did visit the home of Dearest One and he was fixing the broken leg on the table he once did make for his queen and he was giving pats at the same time to all of her children which did make him late for supper but Dearest One’s love does understand the needs of the queen so it was all right,” Lo said.
Amos stopped walking so he wouldn’t interrupt the girl’s story. He’d long ago accepted the idea that Tupelo viewed the world through a prism that gave her a perspective like no one else. It wasn’t just that the child appreciated the beauty of the forest where they lived. She was part of it, moved with it, and if you listened carefully, you learned about its invisible life through her stories.
Suddenly she looked up, and he was startled to see that her eyes were more green today than they had been the day before. “Oh Amos, you are just in time,” she squealed. “Mama does want fiddleheads for tonight. I know that. And I am allowed to pick some of these.”
She indicated several large tuffets sporting the tightly curled heads of ostrich ferns. “Will you help me carry them?”
He pulled a cloth bag from one of the many pockets in his jacket. You never knew when you might need a bag so he always kept one handy. “You pick. I’ll hold.”
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):