Small, bare feet slap on wet fallen leaves. The musty sent of the woods fill the air. The soft sunshine falls dappled on the ground, making intricate and lacy patterns on the dark earth. But the little girl trotting briskly through the woods pays no mind to these things. She has her mind attuned to one thing. She had a very important job to do.
The girl picks up a twig the size of a pencil. Mama taught her to write her name in English that morning and she wanted to see if she remembered it. She thought English quaint, and hadn’t an inkling why she should learn it. She formed the letters carefully, spelling out her name in the damp dirt. Emily. She continued on her quest.
After Emily wrote her name in English for the first time, her mother declared her old enough to pick the berries for her amazing blackberry pie pie. Emily was elated! She had only picked berries accompanied before. She was going to get to carry the special berry basket her Grandfather had made in Sweden. Grandfather made it himself, with the wood from a Swedish pine. It carried the mark of a master craftsman, and was treasured by her family.
Though there were berry bushes near her yard, her brother always took her the long way, to a secluded glen deeper in the forest, where the blackberries grew thick and juicy. It was their little secret. She was proud of herself for remembering the way, and began to skip merrily, until she spotted the lush dark green bushes.
The glen was surrounded by tall, concealing trees, and soft kisses of light fell over everything. It was one of the prettiest places she knew. Emily happily plucked the purply-black berries. Only the flawless berries for Mama’s blackberry pie. Emily could taste it. The buttery crust, with the juicy sweet-tart filling. The pie left the taste of pure bliss in everyone’s mouths. It was always a happy day when Mama made pies. The very notion pushed the little girl to pick faster, and soon the berry basket was full of fat jewels.
She looked around and realized with dread she didn’t recall how to get back. She began walking, with the hope she would remember. The friendly woods suddenly seemed ominous and dark. Her walk turned into a run, then a panicked sprint. Branches caught her dress, and bushes scratched her bare legs. She slipped on a thick patch of fallen leaves, and landed hard on unforgiving dirt. Poor, young Emily curled up into a tight ball. She knew she couldn’t find her way back. She wanted to go home, and not to the cabin in the woods. She wanted to go back home to Sweden. She missed her Grandparents. Grandfather always had something to carve or weave or sand. His old, wrinkled hands were always busy. He had taught Daniel to carve before they had left. Grandmother was full of love and wonderful cooked things. In fact, Mama’s pies were originated off Grandmother’s recipe. It pained Emily to think of her beloved Grandparents. They wrote letters, but it wasn’t the same.
Her grandparents refused tickets for the big steamer ship. They had no extra funds after the rest of the family left, and the day Grandfather would borrow money would be the same day the world fell to pieces. The reason they were here was because of her mother. She used to dance to violin music in the town dance hall. Mama’s dancing was so beautiful. Her gracefulness and rhythm were the envy of the village. Everyone wanted her to dance at their celebrations. Papa sold firewood, and with the money from Grandfather’s carvings and Grandmother’s baking, they were able to live a well off life. There was always meat to eat, and quality toys to play with. They lived in a nice house in a good part of town. Those were the golden years of Emily’s young life. Then, one day, Mama got very sick. She was too sick to dance anymore. It was so miserable watching a free bird trapped in a cage like that. Mama’s dancing was her passion. She was lost without it. They lost some money, but all the funds were spent on medicine for Mama. Mama just could not get any better without the warm comfort of dance. In a last, desperate, attempt to get her health back, they traveled abroad to a warmer place. Sweden was cold. The air didn’t nip your nose, it latched on with the ferocity of a hungry wolf. Mama had regained her health and danced again, but they weren’t coming back to the cozy house. All they could do was send money to Emily’s grandparents, in the hope that they would use it for tickets to come over to America. Thinking of her past life gave Emily sharp pains of loss and loneliness. Overwhelmed, she cried fat tears.
She thought of her Papa, his face always rippling with a grin. Mama, with her long blond hair, always styled up, and blue eyes. Emily was the spitting image of her dear sweet mother. Big brother Daniel, whose brown eyes glimmered with mischief. The beloved family hound they bought last year when they first came from the only land Emily knew. Would she ever see them again?
A sound made her ears sharpen. Snap! A breaking twig. Emily, startled, shrank back from the clatter. She, though young, knew the peril of the woods. Frightening images raced through her mind. Now she really would never see her family again! But it wasn’t a bear, or a mountain lion, or even a snake. A small deer paced out. Emily guessed it was young, because ivory spots still shadowed the tawny brown coat. But the most unique feature was the collar on its neck. It was brown leather with a blue glass teardrop pendant. Emily gazed curiously at it. She thought she had seen a collar like that, maybe in one Grandmother’s old illustrated story books. She didn’t know if it was possibly the magic collar or just the sight of another living creature, but she began to speak to it.
“Hello”. She breathed, not really expecting an answer. “I’m lost. Could you help me?” the deer began to stalk away. “Wait!” Emily yelled. She ran after it. She felt somewhere in her tummy that the deer could help her out of her bind.
The creature set the pace at a lively trot, and poor, short-legged Emily had to sprint to keep up. As she chased the swift animal, she recognized her surroundings more and more. There was her brothers “secret” fort (which they all knew about) but Daniel didn’t know that. Her swing made of rope with a hard oak seat. The deer was leading her home! She could see the wire fence she ripped her favorite knitted sweater on. The empty chicken yard. Now that had been a funny story!
Her papa, upon arriving in America, had needed some quick money. He thought he could raise some meat chickens to sell to the butcher. Papa bought five dozen fertile chicken eggs and hatched them. There were so many! One day, the fat chickens escaped from their yard! All five dozen! She recalled, with a giggle, how funny it was to watch Papa corral the chickens like they were cows! They had gone to market a week later, and the chickens made enough money to get some wood for the cabin they had been building. The cabin they live in now.
Now she could hear her parents calling anxiously. How long had she been gone? She looked back in time to see the deer back up into the forest. A beam of honey colored sunset refracted off the blue pendant, transforming the light blue. She blinked, and it was gone in an instant. Emily’s parents rushed up to her. “Are you okay?! Where have you been, we were looking!” demanded Mama. “I got your berries, Mama.” Emily said with a smile. The wooden basket was still miraculously snuggled in the crook of her arm, though she had probably dropped it along the way. It had all of the precious berries inside. Her father let out a great rolling laugh, and carried her into the house in his big, strong arms. After she took a warm bath, and ate some even warmer soup, her family’s thirst for knowledge was finally quenched. Emily recounted her story in great valor, exaggerating just the tiniest bit when it was appropriate. It almost sounded like one of the bedtime stories her Grandmother used to tell so long ago. At the bit with the young deer in it, Papa and Mama both wore looks of disbelief on their faces at the almost unbelievable climax of their daughter’s story, but didn’t say a word. When she had concluded the wonderful story, she let out a rousing yawn. “I think it’s bedtime for young little adventurers, Emily,” Papa crooned.
Later, when she was snuggled in her warm bed, she felt sleep tugging impatiently at her. But she had too many thoughts to think to give in quite yet. She knew her parents didn’t believe the part about the deer. But it was fine. She knew it was true, and that’s all that really matters. She pulled the down comforter closer. The night had turned a bit nippy, with the warning of a cool autumn. Emily’s thoughts drifted back to the deer. “It must be my guardian angel.” She thought to herself. If she ever was in danger again, it would be there to help her. She knew it in her heart.