“When the boats came back after the long summer all the people came down to the shore to meet them. Your great, great grandfather was there, tall and with an armful of presents for the family. He was the first to step out of the boat and wade ashore.”
Turnip and Meadowsweet smiled politely. They had heard the story so many times. Uncle Rolf stroked his beard and stared out into the waters of the estuary. He was telling the two children the saga of when their ancestors returned from the first visit to the land they would call England.
Then he would retell the story of how the whole Saxon tribe left their home and went to live in England, leaving out what he thought were the battle scenes unsuitable for the children.
In truth, Turnip, his nephew wanted to know every detail about the fights. Turnip’s sister Meadowsweet was more interested in what the people wore for the journey across the great ocean.
“Why was my grandfather a two greats?” Turnip interrupted.
“What?” Uncle Rolf asked.
“You said he was a great, great grandfather. Did he do something special to get called great twice?”
“It doesn’t mean that,” Uncle Rolf answered, looking flustered that his story had been brought to a halt just when he was in full flow.”It means…” Uncle Rolf stammered… “It means he was born a long time ago.”
“How long?” Turnip persisted mischievously.
“About as long as…” Uncle Rolf tugged at his beard, searching for an explanation.
“As long as a donkey’s tail,” Turnip called out, desperately trying to hide a giggle behind his little hand.
Uncle Rolf considered this, looked thoughtful, then suddenly realized he was being teased. He tried to regain his adult dignity as best he could, coughed a few times and said pompously, “I think it would be better to continue the story another day. Why don’t you two go down and play by the river.”
“Oh, please, Uncle Rolf, do go on with the story,” Meadowsweet protested politely.
“Don’t push your luck,” Turnip muttered very quietly so the slightly deaf Uncle Rolf did not hear him, at the same time digging his sister in the ribs with a small but sharp elbow.
“Stop it!” Meadowsweet squealed.
“I have stopped the story,” Uncle Rolf said, now confused.
Turnip tugged at his sister’s sleeve.”Bye, Uncle Rolf,” he shouted back, as he ushered his sister down the slope toward the river.
They ran excitedly through the tufted grass, which grew sparsely on the poor soil. This was what they wanted to do. Get away from the adults for a while and play pretend games.
Even though they were very young they were still expected to help their mother and father. That meant feeding the three pigs and ten chickens, collecting wood for the fire and, the worst job of all, helping with the digging of the ditches. All the people of the tribe were involved in this work. Without draining the marshes, there would be no pastures to feed the sheep and cattle and rich soil to grow the crops.
But just at the moment, all those thoughts were flowing out of Turnip and Meadowsweet’s minds. They were heading for the river and some time to themselves.