The Elves of Woodhaven
The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast
Chapter 2: Mammy and the Kids
Mammy was sitting in the rocking chair. Her thick hands were gently rubbing her belly. ‘Another child,’ she thought. She and Pappy were blessed indeed. They were still very young as far as elves are concerned and this would be their fourth child already. If their good fortune continues they may end up with a brood of twenty. A large family would guarantee Pappy and her years of happiness. Her fingers gently caressed the hard swollenness of her stomach.
Hum and Kiddo, her second and third, were playing in the pen that she kept for them by the front picture window. Mammy lifted a lazy, contented eye towards them. Hum, a chubby boy with very pretty features was busy with his dolls. He was somewhere in a make believe world that his rich imagination could concoct in an instant. She marveled at the way that he could so engross himself with only a pittance of material objects.
Kiddo, her waifish child of slender build, showed a leanness in amusing himself. He always looked toward others for his stimulation. The child was basically a good kid but if his whims were not satisfied he would be quick to cry out his protests. Kiddo at times could be a real strain on Pappy and hers tempers. But then when they were brought to the fulcrum where just one little whimper could set them off into a parental fury, Kiddo would suddenly change and become a dear angel like his brother Hum. How do you discipline a child like that?
She felt a kick inside of her. As she winced from the pain of bone against bone, she wondered what this child was going to be like. Her first three had shown such a wide divergence of personality. Ho, the eldest was a born leader. He was trustworthy and dependable and always was seeking to please. His one problem was that he tended to be somewhat bossy and stubborn. If he was convinced a certain thing was so it took a lot of explaining to make him see it otherwise.
Hum, he was the dreamer. He had a predisposition not to concern himself with things at hand. Often he would get so mixed up in his personal fantasies that he would neglect even to eat his dinner. It was a wonder that the child was so plump. She and Pappy now and then would query Hum to what games he had inside of his head. But Hum would only give them answers that they had difficulty trying to comprehend. Someday some very important ideas would come out of Hum’s head, they were sure of it.
It was still a bit too early to determine what kind of character Kiddo would become. The toddler was barely speaking his first words but if one could go on infantile behavior Kiddo was going to end up being a demanding adult that would be quick to temper and also quick-witted in the ways on how to manipulate others. She hoped that she and Pappy would be able to iron out these un-elfish characteristics out of their third. A wood elf is magnanimous, gregarious and altruistic. Thus far Kiddo was showing a paucity in all three of these traits. ‘Oh well,’ Mammy sighed to herself. ‘In every family there must be a black sheep.’
If Kiddo is the black sheep that meant that she did not have to worry about the one inside.
Her heart jumped. Would she ever get used to that blasted clock? Sometimes she thought that her brother Egbert had given them that timepiece out of some dark sense of humor rather than from good intentions.
The cuckoo clock sat on the mantle over their gray brick hearth. The noisy little bird that resided within the walnut-veneered box was telling her that it was four in the afternoon. Soon Pappy and Ho would be returning from their stroll in the olive groves that overlooked their fair little town of Woodhaven. They would be hungry and asking for supper. Her midday leisure had come to a halt. It was time to go to the cellar and pick out some potatoes and vegetables. Today, perhaps it should be broccoli. She would make green stomp, a favorite of Pappy’s, even though the children did not care for it very much. ‘Sometimes you’ve got to satisfy the old man instead of the kids,’ she muttered to herself as she pulled herself from the rocking chair.
“Ah!” she cried out. There was a sharp pain in her spine. Her back was not altogether used to carrying the additional weight of pregnancy. “And I want to have twenty kids?” she sighed. She was hunched over like a tree in the wind. Her arms were not quite long enough to reach the sore spot along her tailbone.
Kiddo began to cry out. The child was probably aware that his Mammy was about to start supper. To Kiddo, the first course of every meal was a long bout of wailing his declaration of hunger.
“Oh Kiddo, please hush!” Mammy whispered. The pain in her back was not subsiding. The child’s ministrations only compounded and aggravated her misery. He did not relent to her plea. His bawls became louder and raspier.
Even Hum started to take note. The volume and shrillness of Kiddo’s cries had retrieved him from his reverie. He looked at his younger brother. There was concern in his dark, glowing eyes. His face began to contort in its own preamble to tears. “Mammy!” Hum sobbed. “Baby’s crying!”
Mammy tried to straighten her back. She had to tend to her young ones. It was no time to court her own bodily woes. Slowly, her spine straightened. Each inch gained was a fit of agony. But then her back passed some crescendo point. It realigned itself into its normal position with very little tension or pain.
She exhaled deeply, thankful that she attained her old self again. Kiddo had not once let up in his protestations. Hum had also joined his younger brother in a weeping harmony. Together their cries drove out all the aspects that had made this home a cozy and affable place.
Mammy knew what to do to appease her children. She set to this task at once, placing a honey-dipped nurser into Kiddo’s gaping mouth. Right away Kiddo’s crying became muted and then ceased altogether. His mouth began puffing in and out as he worked the nipple all around, his tongue savoring every sweet drop of the honey coat. Mammy did not have to do anything for Hum. The child was content now that his blaring brother stopped his cries.
Mammy patted Hum on the head. “You are never difficult to please Hummy my boy!” she cooed.
The child inside her had become still. It too now had found peaceful contentment. Mammy rubbed her belly with a slow circular massage.
The moment of stress was gone. The qualities of coziness and serenity had once again come into existence to color the insides of the little home.
Mammy went downstairs to the cellar. The larder was at the back of the damp, earthen-floored basement. It was always dark down here owing to the fact that the cellar had no access to windows and ventilation. It was great for mushrooms. She and Pappy always were in the running for blue ribbons at the village’s fall fair. But it was also great for spiders and mice. Unlike most elves, Mammy could never quite abide by these creatures. They scared her.
She lit the candle that they kept at the top of the cellar steps. The first match failed to ignite. Someone had been using them for toy boats again. The second one sparked with a loud crackle. The flame grabbed the wick the way a frog’s tongue seizes the fly. She ambled down the creakity old steps, her back telling her that everything was not quite okay as yet. Pappy had been promising to put in some new step boards for months now. The cellar’s dampness had set the wood into a chewy paste that gave with the weight of her step. But there were so many things to tend to that he could never find the time to go about this particular chore.
When she opened the door to the larder, she could understand why Pappy could not get to the steps. In the candlelight, she could see an abundance of food. There were dozens of jars of jams, jellies and marmalade made from mixtures of the bountiful fruits that grew here. The floor and the shelves were neatly stocked with a series of bushels containing potatoes, yams, green onions, tomatoes, beans, maize, eggplant, melons, apricots, apples, pears, peaches, plums and just about anything else that can grow from a tree, a vine, or in the earth. The only thing that could not be found in this larder was meat or any meat byproducts. They wouldn’t even eat fish although elves like fishing. When they go fishing, they use some of their magic so that the fish would bite the end of the line and engage in a tug of war with the elves. Elves love tug of war but they don’t like to hurt any living thing, so it wasn’t really war to them.
The only type of food that comes from animals that elves would eat was milks, cheeses, and honey. An elf would not even eat an egg for an egg has the possibility of becoming a bird. Elves honor the potentiality of any egg, even a rotten one.
Mammy set about her task. She pulled out the pouches of her floral apron and began to fill them with the items that she needed to make her green stomp. She counted out ten big round potatoes and felt each one plop into her pouch. With each drop, her back trembled. The weight of the potatoes added to the baby inside of her was making for a tremendous strain. She took out two bunches of broccoli, each head a savoring emerald delight. She selected a handful of the blue ribbon mushrooms. She broke off a clove of garlic. She also picked green peppers, onions and parsley. Pappy liked his food spicy. In this he was no different from any other wood elf. They all preferred to have zest in their meals.
For a dessert, Mammy chose a pineapple. Pineapples only grow in the New World and are terribly expensive to come by on this continent. But thanks to a certain elfin adventurer named Gabby Gibbon, who had sailed with English merchants on the Pacific Ocean and had visited the tropical paradise of Hawaii, the whole village of Woodhaven had more pineapple than all the neighboring counties combined.
Pappy would roll back his eyes from being stuffed. The children would just have to make do. Eventually they will acquire a taste for elfin food. All elves do.
Mammy started back towards the cellar steps. She was so loaded with food that the only place that she could carry the candle dish was in her teeth. She knew that this was a silly and even more a dangerous thing to do but she decided that her back would take precedence. It might not be able to take the strain of two trips up and down the stairs. If she were careful she would have no problem.
She was just about at the foot of the stairs when she felt something scurry over her feet. A spasm of panic shook her heart. It had to be one of those dratted mice. The thought of one of them was so distasteful to her. She had to get out of the basement.
Her pace was now hastened. The stairs were ahead now. She began to amble up them. She could not see the individual steps because of her load of vegetables. Her hefty belly did not help matters wither. The candle dish at her face blinded her to everything else in the musty basement. All that she could see was the golden flame flickering before her nose.
Her feet had to feel their own way. She prayed that they knew what they were doing. She promised herself that until she has the baby, Pappy would be responsible for securing the fruits and vegetables from the cellar larder. No expectant mother should be expected to go into such a dank, inhospitable place.
The breath from her mouth grew loud as she ascended the steps. She had a feeling that she was going to fall. The feeling made her light-headed and that was exactly what happened. Some melted wax slid down the dish and began to burn her lips. She wanted to scream but if she did that the candle dish would fall to the steps. She was in no condition to try to put out an incipient fire. All that the poor lady could do was to endure the scalding wax. It was a painful trauma that seemed to come to no end.
But at last, Mammy made it to the top of the stairs. She dropped her cargo of broccoli, peppers and whatever. Her hand swiftly removed the dish and its column of wax. Her lips were so sore that she could barely pucker them to blow out the candle.
Without picking up the scattered greens, she waddled like a duck in a hurry to the looking glass in the water closet. Tears came to her eyes as she saw the bulbous bubbles upon her lips. They were red and blistering. How could she have been so stupid as to think that she can carry a candle dish in her mouth? Her lips had agonizingly suffered from her ignorance. Reaching into the medicinal cabinet, she pulled out a salve made of a dried compost and the muck from the bed of the creek that ran through the heart of town.
Applying it to her lips, she experienced a prickling, cooling sensation. The sting from the burn had deadened quickly. It was a miracle salve that the wood elves had been using since beyond memory for all forms of minor burns and skin irritation. It had to be a miracle salve for it came from Miracle Creek. Many an elf elder would attest that the magic of their people stemmed from that narrow, bustling stream that divided Woodhaven almost exactly in half.
Mammy sighed with relief. The bubbles on her lips would remain until nature slowly eroded them away. It was disfiguring, no doubt, but at least there was no pain.
Just as she left the water closet, she heard the sound of footsteps upon the back porch floor. That would be Pappy and Ho. She started to pick up the vegetables that were strewn about the floor. Her back was threatening to stiffen again.
Chapter 3: Mammy Tells A Lie
“Boy oh boy am I hungry!” Ho remarked in a singsong tone. “I wonder what Mammy has fixed us for supper?” The elfin boy was digging his fingers into the backs of his shoes. He always had trouble taking them off. He couldn’t understand why he had to take them off in the first place. Many of the other kids in the neighborhood did not have to take off their shoes when they entered their homes. Some like Lenkey Batwad were even allowed to go to bed with their shoes on if he wished.
But Mammy always said, “Shoes are for the outside where you can roam far and wide. Inside it is stocking feet so that everything will be nice and neat.” If Ho ever brought up the liberties of Lenkey Batwad, Mammy would ask him where he thought those little fleas in Lenkey’s messy hair had come from. Ho didn’t know and he never could understand what those bugs had to do with Lenkey’s feet.
“I’ll give you a hand with those shoes, Sonny,” Pappy said. The elf father put his hands on the soles of Ho’s leathered shoes. He yanked hard and puffed. The one shoe came off and then the other. It always amazed Ho how the other shoe could come off without being tugged. ‘Elfin magic,’ he guessed. Someday he would have it too.
“These shoes are getting too small for you Ho, my boy. You are starting to get big!”
Ho was disconcerted by the remark. He furrowed his bushy eyebrows in a querulous expression. “But I thought that elves were supposed to be small? It is only men that get big.”
“Relatively speaking my boy and seeing that I’m your Pappy, I guess that’s the only way that I can speak to you!” Then without pausing Pappy called out, “Mammy, we’re home!”
“What’s for supper Mammy?” Ho cried. “We’re starving!”
Father and son walked through the door together. They saw Mammy stooped over by the cellar steps. She was picking up vegetables that were scattered everywhere.
“Are we having a tossed salad for dinner, dearie? Or did you have a little accident?” Pappy joked.
He did not bother to listen to Mammy’s reply. His two excited baby boys in the playpen took his attention away. Both Hum and Kiddo were close to ecstasy upon seeing their Pappy. It was like he had been gone for years and years and not just for a few afternoon hours. It was like this every day when he returned from tending to the olive groves. No puppy could show as much glee at its master’s return as Hum and Kiddo displayed at the return of Pappy.
He took both of them into his arms and hugged them deeply. “Ah, my little ones!” he cooed. “Missed your Pappy, did you? Well, I missed the two of you too!” He kissed each on the forehead. Kiddo babbled his delight. He did not have words yet. Hum hummed. He had words but he always hummed for Pappy ever since Pappy told him what his name meant.
“What have you done to your face Mammy?” Ho bellowed. At the sound of Ho’s voice, Pappy let go of his two young sons. He looked over inquisitively at Ho and Mammy.
Even from as far away as he was Pappy could see the bubbling sores on Mammy’s lips. “Have mercy,” he groaned. It was one of Pappy’s expressions when he was surprised. Others were much more lewd than this one.
Mammy, for her part, covered her lips with her trembling hands. Pappy and Ho got home sooner than she expected. She had not the time to think up any story to explain the burns on her lips. She did not want to tell the truth for the truth would make her look silly. The bubbles on her lips were silly looking enough. There was no need for her to become sillier.
Pappy was beside her now. He gently took her hand away from her mouth. She at once lowered her head so that he could not see the burns.
“Dearie, why won’t you show me your face? I am your husband,” Pappy said. He had lowered his own head so that he might be able to steal a glimpse of her lips.
“Don’t look at me!” Mammy mumbled. Her hand was shielding her mouth once more.
“What happened Mammy? What are those things on your lips?” Ho implored. He had gotten underneath so that he might be able to look at his mother’s lips. But Mammy’s big protruding belly blocked his view.
Now, Mammy was like most elves. They loved the truth and proudly spoke it as often as anybody cared to listen. But sometimes the truth was not the appropriate thing to say. Sometimes other things, besides the truth, should be said instead. Mammy felt that this occasion was one instance of the latter case. To tell the truth now would only bring on a proper scolding from Pappy. You should never carry a candle dish in your mouth. You will only get burned. Well Mammy was burned and she could do all the scolding at herself by herself, thank you. She did not need to be reminded that she had done a very silly thing.
“I burned my lips,” she said. It was the truth but not all of the truth. She hoped that Pappy and Ho would not ask her to explain more.
But Pappy and Ho were elves. It was in their nature to be inquisitive and curious. Together, as if they shared one brain and one voice, father and son asked, “How did you burn your lips?”
Before Mammy had a chance to think about telling the truth or not, she said, “I was rummaging through some of the stuff that Great Uncle Hickory had left us when I came across the corn pipe that he used to smoke all of the time.”
“Ah!” Pappy sighed. “I remember Uncle Hickory and his pipe well. I remember when I was a child no older than Ho here when he had taken me fishing at the spring waters of the Miracle River. It was quite a long hike up into the mountains. By the time we got there and got our fishing poles out old Uncle Hickory was so tired that he fell asleep with the pipe in his mouth. A fish, a big trout I suspect, grabbed hold of the line and jerked it so hard that the pipe fell from his mouth. How Uncle Hickory slept through it all still amazes me but before I knew it his clothes were all afire. I didn’t know what to do except to push him into the stream. Kerplop! Uncle Hickory fell into the water. His clothes were doused and he looked like a soaked muskrat. He got himself out of the stream. He was as angry as a bear for the light in his precious pipe had gone out.”
“Well, I wish that the light had stayed out in that pipe for me!” Mammy said. “Then I wouldn’t be brandishing lips that look like a toad’s back!” She felt that her little white lie would not be chased by the truth any longer. Pappy’s story of his great-uncle Hickory made it easier for her to make up her own. “I just decided to see what it was like to smoke a pipe. I placed some of the tobacco in the bole that my brother Egbert left here the last time he visited. I struck a match and the next thing that I know my lips were in a frightful burning pain.”
“You should not smoke Mammy. It’s not good for you,” Ho said, shaking his stubby finger at his mother.
“I know that Ho. For as soon as I could, I threw that corn pipe as far away as I could in yonder field.”
“Smoking is not good for anybody. Look what it did to poor old Uncle Hickory,” Pappy added.
“That’s why dinner is not ready,” Mammy went on. “I was busy applying the miracle salve to my lips.”
“Dinner need not be clockwork Mammy. We have all the time in the world to eat.” Pappy patted Mammy on her back. He felt Mammy’s swollen belly between them. “It seems that one dinner will soon be ready to come out of the oven!” he joked.
“Oh Pappy!” Mammy purred.
“I’ll give you a hand with dinner, dearie,” Pappy said. “Someone in your condition should not have to be fixing dinner for those that can do it for themselves.”
“I’d sooner you tend to the cellar steps Pappy. They are in bad need of repair. I almost fell through them today.”
“If the steps you want mended so I will mend.” At once Pappy let go of his embrace of his wife and went to the back porch where he kept his tools.
A moment later he was back with hammer, saw and nails. “Ho, my boy,” he said. “You help your Mammy with supper. You’re old enough to start learning how to cook.”
Pappy went to the basement. A few seconds later the sounds of happy and content sawing and hammering issued from the cellar. Pappy, like most elves, enjoyed carpentry.
Chapter 4: Ho Is Sent To His Room
“What are we having for supper Mammy?” Ho asked.
“Green stomp! Yuck! I hate green stomp!”
“It is the food that makes elves elves,” Mammy replied. “Green stomp is good for you.”
“How can it be good for me if I don’t like it?”
“Goodness and liking don’t always go hand and hand Ho.”
“But when you like somebody aren’t you being good to that person?”
“Not necessarily Ho. I like you even though you think I’m not being good to you by making you eat the green stomp. Someday Ho you will learn to love green stomp and you will complain on those days that we don’t have it for supper.”
“I’ll never like green stomp! Never! Never!” Ho screamed, his temper getting the better of him.
“Ho, don’t be like that!” Mammy snapped.
“Mammy, you’re mean to me! You’re a cruel mother! You don’t like me at all!” Ho shouted so loud that both Hum and Kiddo got upset. Baby Kiddo began to wail while toddler Hum started to whine.
“Now look at what you have done Ho! You have disturbed your brothers. I hope you are ashamed of what you just did!” Mammy ran to the playpen and tried to comfort the crying tots by making cooing sounds.
It was not working. Both children were hungry and they could not understand why dinner was taking so long. Mammy felt the pain in her back and now her lips were beginning to smart. Everything was going sour. She was at the edge of a tantrum.
Ho started crying out again about how his mother hated him. That was all that Mammy could take. “Ho!” she shouted shrilly. “Get up to your room! You are not going to have supper tonight!”
“But Mammy!” Ho bawled. “I shall go hungry if I shan’t eat!”
“Ho go to your room now!” Mammy said sternly. She knew in the back of her mind that Ho would not go hungry. After an hour or so she would go to his room with a big plate of green stomp. He would eat it ravenously because even to him green stomp is better than no supper at all.
With his head hung low, Ho skulked off toward his bedroom. This was the back loft of now a not so cozy little home. As he walked away he heard Mammy once again try to appease Hum and Kiddo. He heard Pappy stop hammering in the basement and come upstairs to see what all the fuss was about. Ho knew that there was no doubt that his father would be coming to his room to give him a lecture about being nasty to his Mammy. Ho shuddered. He knew that Pappy would never hit him but sometimes he made it seem like he was going to.
The boy scaled the timber ladder to his loft. He had been climbing on his own for about a year now. He knew that it was nine rungs up. He could climb this ladder with his eyes shut if he so wished. But he never dared to. One missed step and he would go klabatz against the hardwood floor below. Like most living creatures he did not like pain.
His bedroom door stood at the landing of the timber ladder. He was about to enter it when he noticed something nestled against the wall underneath the framed window that looked out upon the cobbled lane outside.
It was a big old chest of cedar and brass. That chest had been there for almost a year and a half now. He had gotten so used to it being there that normally he didn’t even notice it any longer. What made him take note of it now was because Mammy had been talking about it just a little while ago. This was the chest that kept all the worldly things of dear departed Great Uncle Hickory.
For no particular reason, Ho decided to take a look at the things inside the chest. Downstairs, everything was quiet now. Mammy and Pappy must have silenced the kids. The only sounds that Ho could hear was Pappy hammering in the basement, Mammy singing to herself as she toiled in the kitchen, and Hum humming. Everything was peaceful again. Everybody was happy again – everybody but him, that is. He had to go without supper. He won’t be content until he gets some food into his tummy and that won’t be until tomorrow morning. Right now, tomorrow morning seemed as far off as next year.
The chest opened with a creak of its hinges. Oiling those things must be on Pappy’s list of household chores. Mammy certainly kept Pappy busy of late. It seemed that his work was never done.
Ho had opened this chest many a time in the past. He knew exactly what there was to be found inside of it. On the top would be Uncle Hickory’s wooly green sweater complete with all of its stains, soils and burns.
Ho had never met Uncle Hickory but he imagined that the grand old elf must have been a sloppy person judging by the condition of his clothes. Pappy’s story about the fishing incident helped to further Ho’s impression of Hickory’s slovenliness.
Under the sweater was to be found thick cotton trousers that the moths had taken an immense fancy toward. Beneath the trousers were britches and drawers. Why these were kept was a mystery to Ho. Perhaps when somebody leaves this world those that remain behind have to cling to anything that will invoke memories of the departed.
Also to be found in the chest were trinkets, candlesticks, lucky coins and a collection of sketches that Hickory had made through his life. Apparently Hickory had a special talent for drawing. His sketches were mostly comical caricatures of the rich and famous. His drawing of J.S. Bach playing an organ grinder with a troupe of monkeys was still considered by the inhabitants of Woodhaven as the funniest bit of art to ever come from a pencil’s tip. Of course, this drawing of old J.S. was not to be found in the chest for it was proudly displayed in the foyer of Town Hall. Yet there were other drawings in the chest that Pappy felt were every bit as good as the one of Bach. If Pappy believed this why would he keep them in the chest rather than hang them up about the house? Ho always meant to ask Pappy about this but he always fell short of putting it to the question. Pappy had his reasons and Ho had to respect them.
Yes, Ho knew everything that was inside the chest left to Pappy’s care by Great Uncle Hickory. He had seen everything hundreds of times. He did not expect any surprises.
But there was one in there for him. For when he lifted the big lid, his eyes fell upon something that he did not expect to see.
There, on top of the soiled wool sweater and the moth-ridden cotton trousers sat Great Uncle Hickory’s corn pipe – the very one that Mammy had said that she chucked into the field this afternoon. How could this be? How could it have gotten back into the chest?
Had Uncle Hickory’s ghost retrieved the pipe from the grassy place it had been cast? Perhaps Uncle Hickory wanted to keep his things together. Or maybe the pipe had come back on its own accord?
Strange things do happen in Woodhaven. There was more magic here than anywhere else in the world. Yet even though the bizarre happens here all the time, Ho had a sneaking suspicion that in this instance it was not due to any ethereal reason.
But how could he explain why the pipe was here in the chest and not out in the field as Mammy said that it was? Something was not quite right.
“Ho! Ho!” Pappy called from the cellar.
“Ho come down and have your supper!” Mammy shouted.
Ho was startled. This corn pipe mystery had made him forget that he was being punished. He quietly shut the chest. His eyes never left the pipe as it disappeared under the lid’s shadow. How did it get there?
“Ho, are you coming?” Pappy’s voice snapped.
“I’m coming!” Ho replied as loudly as he could.
He went downstairs. After apologizing for losing his temper, he ate all the green stomp Mammy gave him. In his mind he pretended that it was blueberry pie. He did not dare mention anything about the corn pipe. He was in Mammy and Pappy’s good graces again. He was not going to risk getting punished again. For if Mammy and Pappy knew that he had been looking into Uncle Hickory’s chest they would know that he was not in his bedroom as he should have been. It was best to forget about the pipe. For now, at least.