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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)

TITLE: Touch the Sky
By Ann Grover


I found the faded photo in an clothbound copy of The Golden Road by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Aunt Nina is sitting on a camp chair, her lips slightly parted, as if she’s going to say something, perhaps about what she sees across the lake, or maybe to reprimand me for snapping her photo. A teacup is balanced on her knee, and she’s holding a pair of binoculars.

Aunt Nina.

I hear her voice.

“Rosemarie?” A gentle tap on the screen door. “Ready to go?”

I scribble the answer to the last long division question in my math notebook and tuck away a map of India. “I’ll be ready in a minute, Aunt Nina.” I clamber up the stairs to stuff clothes in a backpack.

“Don’t forget a rain slicker.” Aunt Nina always says the same thing. I disregard the recommendation, preferring instead to fill the bag with crayons, sketchbook, jars, and books. The advice was more for my mother’s benefit anyway.

I toss the bag in Aunt Nina’s red Rambler station wagon, and we are off, stopping first at the gas station, so an attendant can pump in three dollars’ worth of gas, more than enough to carry us on an adventure and back. Aunt Nina checks the oil herself, because even though the uniformed attendant looks sharp, Aunt Nina doesn’t trust him to do right with her vehicle.

“Where are we going, Aunt Nina?”

“Wherever the road takes us.”

The lake is the best, with its smooth stones and whispering waves, the honeycombed pieces of driftwood, and the forest that presses the shoreline. An icy spring runs into it, making it less popular with swimmers and campers, but not so for Aunt Nina, who thinks bathing in glacial water is good discipline and a tonic for the spirit. A bit fey, is Aunt Nina.

“Set out the chairs. Fetch dry tinder.” I think Aunt Nina has developed a strict regime because she lives alone. Or was it the other way around? Which was borne of the other?

I ponder the circular question as I unload the station wagon. Soon, a fire is roaring, and I know as soon as the fire dies a little, she’ll bury potatoes in the ashes and bake biscuits in a skillet. Already, she has a kettle boiling for tea. She hands me a steaming teacup, and I stir in sugar. The tea tastes smoky, exotic and tangy.

“The binoculars, Rosemarie.” Aunt Nina points to an eagle, gliding effortlessly on an air current, almost motionless, suspended. The moment became suspended.

“Exquisite,” she exclaims. I set my tea cup on a stone and fetch my sketchbook. My attempts are fledgling, primitive, but Aunt Nina applauds each stroke. She knows something of sketching, as she does about almost anything -- eagles, campfires, and car oil -- and I revel in her praise.

“The potatoes are ready.” I can hear the faint whistling and popping sounds announcing their doneness and smell their mealy warmth. Aunt Nina drags them out of the ashes with a stick, then stabs them with a fork. The outside is crispy, charred, the inside flaky and creamy white. Melted butter runs down our chins.

We wash up, and I drag out the ground sheet, quilts, and pillows. Aunt Nina refuses to use a tent or bedrolls because they’re too confining. She can’t touch the sky.

“The book, Rosemarie.” There’s a stash of books in the Rambler, but I know the one she wants. The constellation guide.

“Remember the story of the dragon, Rosemarie?” Aunt Nina asks after we’re tucked under the quilts in our flannel pajamas and woolen socks.

“The dragon that gnaws at the roots of the sacred tree, Ygdrasil, that covers the world?” I sketch a wild dragon in the twilight, Draco devouring a tree.

“The Norse version. Tell me more.” We talk into the darkness of stars and mysteries and eternity. It rains, and we move to the Rambler and nestle in the quilts to read The Golden Road by candlelight. A breeze sifts through a slightly opened window and ruffles Aunt Nina’s hair. I lean into her as she reads, “a shadow of change was over it.” It is fitting.

By Christmas, Aunt Nina is dead of an infection. I have no chance to say goodbye, but she wouldn’t have wanted it, since it’s such a “hopeless sort of word,” anyway.

The book still smells of smoke. I slip the photo back inside.


Quotes - Lucy Maud Montgomery. The Golden Road, 1913.

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This article has been read 908 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 04/24/08
What a wonderful woman—you've made her come alive. Well done.
Dee Yoder 04/25/08
Every child should be so blessed to have an "Aunt Nina" in her life. The descriptions, the characters, and the setting made this story so real, I could nearly smell the campfire.
Debbie Roome 04/25/08
Loved the description of the potatoes. You brought the scene and characters to life.
Laury Hubrich 04/26/08
Wow. What wonderful memories here. Makes me wish I had had an aunt like this to do fun things with. Great job although sad at the end.
Loren T. Lowery04/28/08
This is so good. It brought back many, many memories and through your words I re-tast, smell, feel and re-live everything with this wonderful family.
Jan Ackerson 04/28/08
Outstanding characterization--you've made Aunt Nina likeable but not in the least bit sweet. I love people like that.
Chely Roach04/28/08
This was one of my absolute favorites this week. You can taste the earthiness of the campsite, the food, and the relationship between the two. Simply marvelous.
Willena Flewelling 04/29/08
I would LOVE to have spent a weekend at a quiet, wooded lake with Aunt Nina! And your writing is so clear, uncluttered and descriptive that I felt as if I was right there.
Debbie Wistrom04/29/08
I felt like a stowaway. What a day, what fond memories your MC have to cherish. Loved how the title fit in-it shows much of the wonderful aunt.
Sara Harricharan 05/01/08
I didn't get to read this yesterday, but glad I didn't miss this. I liked this quirky Aunt Nina and especially the name Rosemarie. Very nice-lovely descriptions! Congrats on your EC! ^_^
Beth LaBuff 05/01/08
Congrats on your EC!
Dee Yoder 05/01/08
Congratulations on your EC!!
Sheri Gordon05/01/08
Congratulations on your EC. This is very good--I want an Aunt Nina. Nice job with the topic.
Loren T. Lowery05/01/08
Ann, once again congratulations on placing with this wonderful piece. It is an honor to share the EC with such talent as yours. Loren
Sally Hanan05/01/08
Beautiful work Ann. Yet again you manage to make everything so real and up close, and you always choose the simple things to do so. You have a gift of teaching others how to appreciate it all.
Julia May05/01/08
This is a wonderful story and you told it so well. Congratulations.
Sharlyn Guthrie05/01/08
Exquisite! There are so many lovely elements in this piece. One was "pondering the circular guestion." COngratulations on your well-deserved EC.