Contest #22 shortlist ⭐️



Have you ever been up high on a mountain when the clock strikes midnight on the night that the year begins anew, so close to the stars that it seems as if you can almost reach out and put one in your pocket? If you haven’t, my dear, I daresay you have not lived. Perhaps I shall take you up there one day - to Mount Marmalade, that is - but I think that telling you a story will do just fine for now.

Where on earth do I begin? Let’s see here . . . Oh, don’t mind me . . . My memories seem to have gotten a bit foggy with age, but it’ll come to me as it always does. Just hold on - I think I got it . . . Yes, yes, it’s all coming back now. Here we go. Are you ready?

All right, then. It was the thirty-first of December, I believe, just before the year 1943, and Dora, our nanny, was in the kitchen baking a dozen marmalade pies. Don’t ask me why Dora made marmalade pies for every New Year’s Eve, but it was one of her traditions, and most of the time traditions don’t warrant questioning. You just do them because people did it before you and it would be downright rude not to continue it. Besides, the whole neighborhood went crazy for those pies, especially my daddy. Dora had to smack his hand away from them plenty of times while they were still cooling, always scolding him for being so impatient. He was such a rascal, that daddy of mine.

But Daddy always knew how to make us laugh - my brothers and I. There was never a day that went by that Daddy didn’t find some way of putting smiles on our faces, by telling banal jokes that made us roll our eyes yet somehow never failed to materialize grins, or making up extravagant tales of princesses and goblins or superheroes and villains. There was one story that I loved so much that I made him tell it to me every night for a whole three months straight, and not once did he so much as sigh or give off any signs that he was weary of the old tale. Sometimes I would ask him if he ever got tired of telling the same stories, and he’d respond the same way each time.

“Beverley,” he would say to me in his gruff, croaking voice that fooled you into thinking he was tough, but truthfully he would never hurt a fly, “There’s nothing that a smile can’t do on even the darkest days.”

I never really understood what he meant until I grew as old as he was back then. Now I know that he would tell us the same tale a billion times over if only it meant he could see the looks on our faces as he did so, our expressions a mixture of wonder and awe not only for his words, but for him. To us, the hero was not the prince who saved the princess, but Daddy himself, for never failing to leave us each night with a happy ending that would fill our dreams with adventures and visits to other worlds. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he knew that, and that’s why he kept telling those crazy tales.

Truthfully, I think I see what he was going on about, with that smile thing. Have you ever told someone a story and their eyes light up as they listen, like an eager child staring into the candles on their birthday cake? I daresay you haven’t lived until you have. Or perhaps you were the person hearing the story, which is almost just as good.

. . . Mount Marmalade, you ask? Oh, how could I forget? That’s why I’m telling you this story, after all. Why, it wasn’t a mountain at all! Now that I think about it, it was only a tall hill - rather steep, mind you - but when one is roughly the size of a Shetland pony I suppose anything can seem gigantic in comparison to yourself. You would know, wouldn’t you? Or, at least, you have once. We’ve all been children, no matter how old we get. That’s the beauty of getting old, you see, because although your face gets wrinkled and your vision gets blurry, you still have the memories of when you were a child licking cake batter off a wooden spoon, or picking a bouquet of wildflowers to bring home to someone as a gift, just to see the moment’s joy in their faces. In my case, that was always Dora - she loved daffodils, and I picked her a bunch at least once a week to place in her little vase on the windowsill where she cooled her pies.

There I go again, getting distracted by memories. Memories are such funny things, I tell you. Like portals to times long gone. Times long gone . . . oh, that reminds me! On this particular New Year’s Eve just before the year 1943 came along, Daddy told us this poem out loud, by a Rupert - no, Robert Burns fellow. What was that poem called, again? Let me think for a moment. It’s on the tip of my tongue, I almost got it . . . Ah, yes. Auld Lang Syne, it was called. I told you I could figure it out.

Being half Scottish, Daddy had learned poetry and songs from his grandparents when he was a boy, and recited them to us at the most peculiar moments. We had grown used to his breaking out in song even in the middle of the Sunday market crowds, which is why when he began reciting this Robert Burns poem as we trekked all the way up to Mount Marmalade, no one batted an eye. But it had come to be something special later on, and to this day I do not look back on it without getting teary - oh, in a good way, of course! What else, in such a tale as this?

But before I get into that, let me tell you about Mount Marmalade, the place of heaven on earth itself, as my brother, Clyde, had called it. Mount Marmalade was cleverly named after - you guessed it - Dora’s marmalade pies, which were so delicious that if you knew what I’m talking about, it’d make your mouth water just thinking about it. After all, what better name to give to a place where I bet you the sun and the moon could meet on their way down and put aside their differences, than Dora’s honeyed concoction that could make even the devil sweet? Boy, could I go for one of those pies right about now.

Mind you, we only went up there once a year on New Year’s Eve, though I couldn’t tell you why, because to me it was just as good any other day of the year. But it was a tradition, and like I said before, it’s no use questioning a tradition. Usually, we went up in silence with nothing but our panting audible among the sounds of night creatures lurking nearby, but on the night before 1943 hit, Daddy decided to recite that Burns poem, and we all just listened as we always did when he thought it a suitable time to speak prose.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” he began, and my ears perked up at the sound of his voice muffled by my earmuffs. “For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne.”

That was another thing that Daddy did that I never understood, and to be quite honest with you, I’m not sure if I do now. I always thought that he told us that poem to symbolize the memories of times long gone that the past year had given us, but perhaps he meant something much deeper than that. Daddy always had a way of making us puzzled, just as much as he had a way of making us smile. I think those are the best people to be around - you’ll never get bored with them, trust me on that.

Once we reached the top of Mount Marmalade, my brothers and I began bickering about which constellation was which - we never could get along even on the holidays, but that’s siblings for you. That’s when Daddy told us that legends say that if you stare deeply enough into the light of a star on the night when the year becomes anew, that star might just take a liking to you and fall right into your pocket. Well, that shut us right up and got us straining our eyes to look at every star in the sky, trying to see which one would loosen up and drop into our grubby little hands. I just kept thinking, how would Dora like it if I brought her home a star instead of a bouquet of daffodils this time?

We never did catch a star that year, and I wasn’t so fortunate to ever do so myself, but my daddy told us plenty of stories of people that managed to do it, and I think those are just about the luckiest people to have ever lived. If I go before I’ve caught a star, I daresay I wouldn’t have lived at all, but when one is old enough to remember the time when ladies shrunk their waists down to pencils with corsets, I suppose anything seems better than what you’ve done.

I don’t remember much about the actual countdown, or if we even had one at all, but I believe that’s because I was too busy looking up at the night sky with my pockets wide open. Maybe Daddy shouldn’t have told us that legend, because I think we may have taken it a little too seriously. But like always, there wasn’t even an ounce of weariness in his eyes - only the relief of seeing our smiles.

On the way back, we passed the daffodil meadow and I picked out a fresh bouquet for Dora. She was just as surprised as if I’d given it to her for the very first time, and I loved her for that. Sure enough, there were three ooey-gooey marmalade pies sitting right there on the windowsill where Dora placed her new bouquet. Those marmalade pies tasted sweeter that night than they ever had before - Dora must have put some extra sugar in it to keep us awake for longer. Daddy couldn’t even resist digging in before the prayers were finished - but that was just Daddy being the rascal that he was.

For every year since then, I spent my New Year’s Eve trying to pocket a star at Mount Marmalade, and not a soul would have convinced me that it was a strange tradition to have. My old legs don’t work as good as they used to, but I always make sure that I’m up on high ground every time the year begins anew, because discontinuing tradition is awfully rude, you know, and that’s just how my daddy would have wanted it. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, after all, and never brought to mind? Not as long as I’m up there on Mount Marmalade with my brothers and my daddy, even if it’s just in my silly little head.

I ought to take you there someday, shouldn’t I? It’s just over the bridge and past the daffodil meadow - you’ll find it, should I never get the chance to take you to ol’ Mount Marmalade. You’ll find it someday, and you haven’t lived until you do, I’ll tell you that much.

December 31, 2019 07:12

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