Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Songbird

Some hearts are born to do certain tasks, and so it was with the songbird. She had been brought into the universe to sing her song so that others could hear and benefit.

Not that the songbird ever noticed, for each morning she would fly to the top of the highest tree and sing her heart out – that was the way she had been made and so it was the most natural thing for her to do.

One cold winter’s day an old woman happened to pass the tree, when she was on her way back from the cemetery where she had placed flowers on her husband’s grave. She was tired, as we all get tired and so she sat below the highest tree for a rest. She closed her eyes and wished that they would stay closed for ever so that she could meet again with her love, but then it happened – she heard the songbird and the sweet music warmed her heart to the world once more. The old woman raised herself from her rest and decided she would try another day, for one never knew what was around the next corner.

The snows soon melted and the winter became the spring and still the songbird sang her tunes. One afternoon as the flowers were coming to life, a fearful lad from the next village was on his way to meet his love. He stopped below the tree to think about the love of his life and of all the things he wanted to say but was afraid. Then the songbird sang her song and the lad realized that the world was a world of once chances and that if he didn’t tell his love now, he may never get another. He skipped to his love’s house whistling the tune of the songbird and spilled his heart out.

A child from several mountains over was struck with an illness and the only doctor who could help the poor child lived over the tops of several mountains the other way.  So her father carried the child over mountain, down valley and over the next mountain until he was so crippled in pain he could not go on. By chance he happened to sit beneath the highest tree just as the songbird started to sing and as he rested, he realized if there was that much beauty in the world then he could carry his sick child the rest of the way to the doctor.

And so the songbird sang and sang and helped each and every one who passed the tree.

The next year when the warm winds came to the hills, the songbird gave birth to her own little songbird. She had waited all her life for such an event. She would fly into the forest and bring back food, singing her tunes and she knew that one day, her own little songbird would sing a tune of their own.

One day when the songbird was out looking for food, a wind came and blew so hard that the little nest and her baby were blown down from the highest tree.

When the songbird returned to her tree, she saw her little one lying on the forest floor, eyes closed and no longer breathing.
That was when it happened, the songbird lost her song. She could no longer sing, there was nothing wrong with her just that her heart no longer wanted to - and so the forest became quiet.

When the old woman heard of the troubles of the songbird and how she had lost her song, she decided to visit the little bird. She sat with the songbird and caressed her and thanked her for all her songs.

Then a strange thing happened, the songbird let out one note – one pure and beautiful note. The old woman told the lad who was once fearful and he too visited the songbird, and thanked her for her tunes and suddenly the songbird sang another, different beautiful note.

And so it was that all the people who the songbird had helped came to visit, and each brought a musical note back to the songbird.


And although it took some time and perhaps the tunes were not as heartfelt as they once were, the songbird was able to sing again and the universe smiled. 


bobby stevenson 2014

The Glass Red Rose

                                                 photo from Dunrod Hill (gm7something.wordpress.com)

There was an old road, they called it ‘the Roman road’, which led there once upon a time. The farm, like the family, used to stand proud and shiny as it looked hopefully towards the loch. There’s nothing much of it left now, just a shell that keeps the wind and rain from the lonely hill-walker. But a long, long time ago, probably before you were born, something magic happened on that farm; something truly wonderful.

I suppose I should start by telling you about Sean. He was a lad who was always looking for adventure and excitement. Yet being much younger than his brothers, he found life on the farm a little lonely and so, after his chores, he would take to the hills with his imaginary pals and become the hero of the latest book he was reading.

If I recall correctly, the storm that started all this came on a dark Saturday afternoon in April. Sean would have been eight by then but like the rest of the family he knew the hills better than the back of their own hands. He had finished up his work on the farm for the day, had got washed and was ready to set out for another adventure as The Lone Ranger.

“Just you hold your horses,” said Annie, Sean’s mother. “Your father wants to speak to you.”

Those words usually meant that the school had reported to his parents that he hadn’t turned up again. Sean normally hid his books at the bottom of Dunrod Hill (but he was particular – he only went absent on those hot, sunny days) and then he’d spend the time jumping around the rocks at the top where he’d round up the bad guys. He’d pick up his stuff at the end of the day just about the time he should have been coming home from school. So what if he couldn’t add up? He loved the freedom and hated being in class.

His father, Alex, came in to the kitchen looking worried.

“We need everyone to help. One of the sheep is lost on the hill and we need to bring it in before the storm,” he said.
Each of the family was given an area, and since Dunrod was the Lone Ranger’s domain, naturally Sean was given that hill to search.

The climb up Dunrod was steep but there was an old wall on the left side which a person could grab on to. It didn’t help that the storm was bringing in the darkness quicker than expected. The wind had picked up too and so by the time that Sean reached the summit of Dunrod, it was taking all his strength just to walk.
He searched around the top of the hill and down a couple of the gullies but there was nothing. Then Sean thought he might try the small pond in the lost valley. The sheep never usually made it that far but as the Lone Ranger, Sean had caught a couple of cowpokes rustling down that way.

As he approached the pond, he could hear the bleating of a sheep and sure enough there was the lost animal, one leg stuck in-between two rocks at the edge of the pond. The wind and rain was burning Sean’s face but he managed to crawl down to the side of the water and pull the sheep’s leg free.

Somewhere out there, the storm had torn a large part of a tree away and sent it flying in the direction of Sean. So as he tried to stand, the tree hit the back of his head and knocked him flying into the pool. Sean was out cold and face down in the pond.

The man had been standing a little distance off and waiting for his moment. He walked over to the pond and pulled Sean from the pool. He laid the boy on his side and forced every last bit of water from his lungs. Sean coughed and spluttered and eventually fell into a sleep.

When Sean came to, he was lying on his side and a blazing fire was warming his face and body. The man sat at the other side of the fire, just smiling. Sean lifted his head.

“Just take your time, you’ve had a shock,” said the man.
“Who are you?” Asked Sean.
“Just a pal, who happened to be passing.”

Sean could see the man was wearing a uniform, probably an army one but not one he’d seen before. The light from the fire caught a glass red rose pinned to the man’s lapel. He must have been in his twenties, dark hair and had a pleasant face.

“When you’re warm enough and you’re ready, I’ll take you home,” said the man.

“What happened to the sheep?” Asked Sean.
“She’s safe, outside, don’t worry.”

And the funny thing is, Sean felt safe too.
Soon they were making their way down Dunrod Hill with the man holding tightly on to the sheep.

There were two farms at the bottom of the hill, Sean’s family’s and the MacIntyre’s.

“Which one?” Asked the man and Sean led the man and the sheep over to the left farm. It was dark as they approached Sean’s home and though they both struggled, they managed to place the sheep with the rest of the flock.

“Are you coming in?” Asked Sean to the man.
“Better not, I’m already late.”
“Fair enough.”
Sean noticed the man staring in through the kitchen window.
“What’s wrong?” Asked Sean.
“Nothing, just watching your mother and father. They seem like a happy family.”

Sean opened the door to the farmhouse and turned to ask the man again to come in, but he had disappeared into the night.
Sean’s mother gave him the biggest hug then scolded him for being gone for so long.

It was the following year that Sean’s mother died and Sean and his family helped each other get through their grief. Sean went to school less and less and eventually spent all of his time helping on the farm.

One winter a huge war started, and so Sean’s brothers went off to fight in foreign lands. The war lasted for several years and so came the day when Sean was to go off to fight as well. His father was going to miss him dearly, not only on the farm but in their closeness.

The morning that Sean left for the war in a far away land, his father had packed a haversack for the boy. He put in some bread and cheese for the boy to eat on his journey. The father kissed his youngest and wished him well. Sean never saw his father’s tears as he marched down the Roman road in to the town and on to war.

Not far outside Glasgow, Sean felt a little hungry and pulled out the food his father had given him. A letter also dropped out and Sean picked it up. It read:

‘My Darling Boy, you’ll never know how proud I am of you or how much I’ll miss you. When your mother left us, you were my little soldier who helped me. Now you’re going off to fight a war. I know your mother will be watching. Before she died, she asked me to give you this on the day you left home. I won it for her at the Fair in Greenock. It was my first gift to her. I miss her and all my family. I’ll miss you. Love, your father.’

Sean slipped the little trinket on to the palm of his hand. It was a little glass red rose.

He pinned it to his lapel.




bobby stevenson 2014 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Me and Buzz and Smilin'


Like I’m always tellin’ you, Buzz thought he was born with a tongue that had been stolen straight from the mouth of an angel and that nothin’ and no one could resist the stuff that floated out of that great big pie hole.

Except for Beccy Swizzle that is. Buzz could be havin’ one of those days when he could make a blind man smile and then he’d get to Beccy Swizzle and she was like a cold day in Minnesota.

“She ain’t got a heart, that one” said Buzz after his twentieth attempt to get Beccy smilin’.

“Maybe she ain’t got a brain, too,” he said, a little unkindly. 

I’m thinkin’ that if she didn’t have a brain she’d be doin’ nothin’ but smilin’, the way Farmer George’s boy does ever since he was kicked in the head from Daisy the bull. Yeh, you heard right, a bull named Daisy. No wonder he kicked people in the head. Anyhoo I’m getting’ all confused now, what was it we were talkin’ about? Oh, yeh, Buzz and Beccy and the smilin’.

I heard from Tommy Kinder, who’d heard it from Beccy’s Maw’s best friend, that Beccy came from a family of folks who were missin’ muscles in their faces.  You could tell them the saddest story that a man (or woman) could ever tell and that family would just look at you mean, like.

So if this was true, then Buzz didn’t have a snowball’s chance of making Beccy or anyone with that blood, smile. And yeh, you can guess I never told Buzz that little bit of the story. I just bet him 5 bits that he couldn’t do it.

“You see if I don’t make her smile,” he said, real honest and mad, straight to my face.

I hate to take a man’s five bits but a bet’s a bet. Except I knew Buzz would never have the five bits to give me. Even if he did, his Maw would steal it out of his britches before he was awake. 
That was the kinda Maw that she was.

Buzz felt that he needed to warm up to compete with Beccy and her sour face; the way one of those runners does in competitions. So Buzz would start the day smiling, and that included at school when he got into trouble from Miss Hoster for smilin’ when she was tellin’ the class all about her cat and how it had been hit by Old Creeky McGuire’s tractor.

He smiled even when he was eatin’ and I reckons, you should get some sort of medal to be able to do that stuff. Buzz is real talented in ways I ain’t sure if God meant him to be.

Anyhoo, Saturday morning and the dead faced Swizzle family are out and about goin’ here and there but you’d bet that they’d just come from a funeral or were goin’ to one.
Buzz stands right in the middle of the sidewalk and grins the biggest grin he’s ever grinned at the Swizzles. Boy, I didn’t know anyone’s mouth could go that wide (apart from the wide-mouthed-frog we got in our back yard).

You can see from the look on Beccy’s paw’s face that he ain’t too happy with Buzz threatin’ his kinsfolk with a stupid grin, and so Beccy’s paw steps forward to ask Buzz to move. But Buzz thinks that the paw is goin’ to hit him and steps back off the sidewalk, and tumbles face down into some horse manure.

Well, I ain’t so sure that the Swizzles do have a muscle problem in their faces,‘cause the way they laughed, you would have thought they were gonna burst.


And Buzz, well he wasn’t smilin’ anymore but I did give him his five bits, ‘cause he sure earned it. 


bobby stevenson 2014

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Goodlands



Everyone knows where Goodlands is.
It’s not too far from where you’ve been and not too close to where you’re going. It’s the kinda place where you find what you’re looking for, one way or another.

And so it was on that Saturday, “Jalopy Saturday” as the Sheriff called it. “Always frightening those damned horses, what with all their tooting, and smoking and noise of those infernal combustible engines.”
Saturday was one of those days when The Big Man upstairs had painted the sky an azure blue from one horizon to the other.

“Hey, it feels good to be alive,” said folks to each other. Well not in so many words but in their looks and smiles, each knew what the other meant.
As you perambulated up the boardwalk, waving to friends and neighbours, you could smell the cooking and baking coming from Mrs Lent’s open window. It sure did make the nose feel that it had a reason for living on those kind of days. That was followed by the sweet sound of musical tunes which lifted the spirit, coming from the old Bakelite radio that sat in Mrs Well’s front room. I tell you that radio always smelled as if it was just about to burst into flames. It never did, because things like that just didn’t happen in Goodlands.

Saturday was the day that the pastor made his weekly trip to the bakery on the corner of Cherry Street and Chew Avenue. I’m thinking that calling Chew an avenue, was a name too far for the founding fathers, ‘cause it barely stretched from here to there.
For some peculiar reason of which I have no understanding, everyone in Goodlands would go to their front door on a fine Saturday morning and wish the pastor all the best on his trip to Sankie’s Bakery. Then, when he’d filled his arms with enough bread to feed a biblical crowd, he’d turn around and walk back up to the church with all the folks still standing at their front doors wishing the pastor well with his meal.

If you didn’t know Goodlands, you’d probably think they’d all gone Johnny Sidebar (he was the man who really discovered electricity but fried his brains before he had a chance to tell the world and ran out of Goodlands and into the Birkmire Desert. He was never, ever seen again). Although some folks tell of lonely howling that can be heard on Moonboys road on a quiet night.

Like they good folks say, you don’t have to be crazy to live here, but it really does help.
Old Sheriff James was out on his porch, rocking and rolling on his chair, shaking his head at the way the jalopies were careering around town.

“Never had such stupidity in my day,” he’d sigh. “A man knew where he was with a horse.”
Now don’t get me wrong with the picture I’m painting here. The sheriff was a good man, sure enough. He was just coming to the end of his time on this earth and new-fangled stuff always looks out of focus to each of us who have lived high on the hog in earlier times. We all have our season, and the sheriff’s was nudging up against winter. His leaves were falling from his tree and he knew there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Sure it was sad in its way, but everyone had to make way for what was to come, and life made sure that happened by making folks uncomfortable in the newness of things.
The ‘old days’ wasn’t really a place, it was a way of thinking, of doing, a place where everyone thought that manners and morals had been better. Things weren’t really getting worse in Goodlands, just different.

No one, and I mean no one, came to this town and wished they hadn’t. It had a sap in its veins and it was a sap that oozed happiness and sunshine.
You see there are some folks who think that such places don’t really exist, but they do I tell you. Everything you see in a town has been a dream once in a head, and if you can dream nicely, then Goodlands is what occurs.

Now I don’t want you to say to me that I’ve been sitting too long out in the sun, ‘cause I ain’t. I think that if you’re passing one day, you need to come to Goodlands and have a look at the pastor or the sheriff and you’ll say, hey, kid you were right. This is the happiest town this side of the mirror.
I said that everyone gets what they need in Goodlands, but that don’t mean, it’s what they want. You can come to Goodlands and get advice that you weren’t keen on hearing. No sir, but it will be a truth that you needed to hear. Something that puts you on a straight path for the rest of your journey.

That was the funny thing about Goodlands, no one remembered just why they came to the town in the first place but they were all pleased that they had.
Now I ain’t saying the place was magical or anything, far be it for me to be the crazy one but there were little miracles that popped up here and there, enough to make you go – ‘well, I’ll be………’.

‘Cause that was the thing, no one came to a bad end in Goodlands. There was no hospital and the doctor used to spend most of his days playing cards with the sheriff. People only left Goodlands in two ways; either they had decided that they were in the right mind to move on to somewhere else, or they just got plum tired and decided it was time to close their eyes.

Seriously. Old Man Peters, last June watched the pastor and his bread for one last time, then just said, “I’m ready” and closed his eyes. The doctor, who was holding a straight flush, came over said, “yep, he’s gone,” and then went back to his cards. Now, he wasn’t being mean or anything, he just knew that Old Man Peters had chosen that time as his end time and that he was ready to leave.
Sometimes your eyes just get tired of seeing everything and everyone and when you’re tired of Goodlands, (as a wise man once said), you’re tired of living.  

The big miracle on that Jalopy Saturday was when little Susie Cartwwright wandered away from her mother and walked on to Main Street. Desmond, the painter, couldn’t see her and would have probably knocked little Susie into a million pieces with his bright red jalopy - but like I say, no one dies in Goodlands, not unless they want to.
It was like this, as the pastor was wandering back up the street with his arms full of the warmest, freshest bread, he saw the danger that little Susie was in and threw a stick of that French type bread. It hit Desmond right between the eyes and stopped him in his tracks. Little Susie’s mother, grabbed that little girl by the hand and pulled her back on to the boardwalk.

Susie’s mother thanked the pastor but as he says, “It’s all part of the plan, Mam, all part of the plan.”
And you know what, he just might be right.

On those warm, endless summer evenings, just as the sun is turning blood orange and the insects are starting to sing, you can stand in the middle of the street and look up at all the open windows. Friends shouting to friends in apartments across from each other.
“How’s life Mabel?”

“Why, just deevine, thanks for asking, Melanie.”

Music and smells, and arguments, and love, all flowing out of the windows into the street and making you feel warm, somehow. But why take my word for it, why don’t you come down some night and listen?


bobby stevenson 2014