Grandma’s Little Secret
Rebecca watched the light November snow swirl around in her mother’s grave as the casket was lowered to its final resting place. She focused on the snow. She couldn’t think about the casket and what it meant. She was only twelve after all. She had never known her father. He was a soldier and died when she was a baby. Now her mother was gone—killed in a car crash.
Her grandmother, Naomi, stood by her side. Rebecca didn’t know her well. She lived way across the country in Minnesota. While she had visited for a week every summer she could remember, she didn’t know her well. Now Rebecca was going to have to live with her. Not only did she lose her mother, but she was moving away from her friends. She couldn’t even cry. She had an emptiness in the pit of her stomach and just felt numb.
There had been a memorial service, of course. All her mom’s friends and her own friends had been in attendance as well as her only living relative, Naomi. It was cold and most of the attendees did not linger at the grave. Soon only Rebecca and Naomi remained.
They spoke very little as they walked to Naomi’s rental car. They had cleaned out the apartment and packed Rebecca’s things already. Their next stop was the airport. While Naomi was technically retired, she had a busy life to get back to.
Naomi for her part, while grieving the loss of her only child, was worried about Rebecca. She knew that so much loss at such an early age would be difficult. So, she let Rebecca sit in silence as they rode to the airport and again as they flew back to her home in Minnesota. There would be plenty of time to guide her through the grieving process when they got home.
* * *
Naomi’s home was a 160 acre farm in central Minnesota. The majority of the farm was gravel hills covered with ancient oaks. However, there were a few fertile valleys where she grew food for her animals and a 12 acre pond that was clean enough to swim in and deep enough to keep fish through the winter. Naomi loved the farm and her life there. She felt a deep bond with her animals and even with the ancient oaks. She had hoped that the beauty and serenity of the place would help Rebecca adjust to the loss of her mother and the other major changes to her life as it had helped her many times in the past.
However, as the long Minnesota winter turned to spring Rebecca was not doing well. She was not doing well in school and had not made any friends.
As Naomi walked from the barn to the house she noticed Max, her dog, waiting at the end of the long driveway for Rebecca to get off the school bus. Max, while technically a mutt, obviously had some Sheltie and Blue Heeler ancestors, as he had the shape of the Sheltie and the multi-colored eyes of the Blue Heeler, but the size and black color of a Lab. Naomi had adopted him from a shelter and taught him to herd. People said Naomi had a way with animals that bordered on the supernatural.
Rebecca got off the bus and ignored Max as she walked to the house. Rebecca shuffled slowly down the driveway, her dark mood in clear contrast to the beautiful early spring day. Naomi was tempted to watch the whole scene, but she had bread in the oven and as a special treat had made cinnamon rolls—extra gooey. She had formulated a plan.
Rebecca could smell the fresh bread and cinnamon rolls before she opened the door. While her mood was dark, as usual, she did like it when her grandma baked.
“Hi Rebecca, sit down at the table. I thought we’d have a treat.” Naomi said cheerfully.
“OK” said Rebecca as she hung her book bag and jacket on the pegs by the door.
“Beautiful day, don’t you think?’ Naomi said.
“Ya, it’s OK I guess” Rebecca was noncommittal.
As they dug into their rolls Naomi said, “I’m worried about you.”
Rebecca had felt something like this was coming. She knew her Grandma was worried. She could see it in her face and hear it in her voice, even though she had never actually said it. She knew it was coming and she had been dreading it. She just sat quietly and focused on her roll, hoping to endure until Grandma got tired of trying and left her alone.
“You have been moping around since you got here.” That felt like an accusation. Rebecca stopped eating and slumped in her chair. “I know you feel bad, but as far as I know you haven’t even cried once, have you?”
“No. . . . . I’m just kind of . . . . . numb,” Rebecca said quietly.
Naomi went on. “I’m not accusing you of anything, just stating a fact. I don’t want you to feel bad just because I noticed. I know it has been hard for you, losing your mom and moving way out here in the sticks with me. I know this, but I didn’t see any other choice. Did you?’
“I’ve been thinking, trying to find a way to help you get through this. I have tried to make a comfortable home for you here. I have encouraged you to try some different things to maybe have some fun, to forget about your pain for a moment. Nothing seems to work.” Naomi paused briefly before going on.
“So, I’ve decided to tell you a secret. I’m going to tell you a story, a true story, but you have to promise never to tell anyone.”
Rebecca was a bit dubious but responded, “Ok, I promise.”
“As you know, I grew up on a farm. It was a lot like this one. I guess maybe that’s why I fell in love with this one the moment I saw it. Anyway, my dad had horses—not riding horses like Sadie and Bert. These were purebred Belgians. Their back was as high as my head and as wide as this table. I wanted to ride them but Dad said it was too dangerous. Besides, he needed them for the farm work.”
“Didn’t he have tractors?”
“Nobody had tractors back then.” Naomi replied.
“How old are you anyway Grandma?”
Naomi chuckled and replied, “You’d be surprised.”
“Anyway,” she went on. “I begged and begged. So, one Christmas day when I was about your age he offered me a deal. He said if I could prove I was able to take care of a horse by taking care of those Belgians he would buy me a horse to ride for my birthday in April.”
“I was overjoyed. I worked every day after school cleaning out their stalls. I fed them every morning before school and again when I got home. It was hard work but I did it. I worked through the winter and spring. On the morning of my birthday I went to the barn as usual and there she was.
She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I named her Jasmine. I rode her everywhere. We had a big patch of woods and I most especially loved to ride her on trails through the woods.
Way in the back of our farm was a big hill. There were no trees on this hill and you could see for miles. There was a big rock on top of the hill I called ‘The Dragon Head’ because it looked like a dragons head. Before I got Jasmine I used to walk out there and sit on this rock where I could see the river two miles away. Sometimes I would read there and sometimes I would just sit and dream. It was my favorite place in all the world.
I still went there after I got Jasmine. I would sit and read and she would graze on the grass around Dragon Head. I loved those times—almost as much as I loved galloping across the hay field on the way home. Jasmine loved to run and I loved her to run. It was like flying.
I had hoped that you would love riding as much as I do. It would be something fun we could do together. Would you be willing to try?”
“Maybe” Rebecca replied, still a bit dubious about the whole conversation. Also, she was kind of scared of the horses and was beginning to worry that this conversation was leading to her being forced to take care of them.
“We’ll see, I guess. Let’s just put that to one side for a bit while I finish my story. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, galloping across the hay field. One day we were going back to the barn at a full gallop and Jasmine stepped in a badger hole. I went flying and hit the ground with a thud. I was a bit bruised but mostly OK. But Jasmine had clearly broken her leg, the bone was sticking out of her skin. I ran to the house with tears in my eyes.
I told Dad what had happened and he told me to stay in the house and ran out. He was back in a few minutes for his rifle. I knew what that meant. I threw my arms around him and begged him to stop.
He put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. He said, ‘It’s the only thing to do. If we don’t put her down that leg will get gangrene. That will kill her. It’s a slow painful way to go. Now let me do this. It’s for the best. You stay here.’
I went to my room and cried on my bed until I heard the shot. My heart broke. I cried until I fell asleep. I had only had Jasmine for a few months but I loved her and she loved me. I was crushed. I still went to that hill almost every day and sat on the Dragon’s Head. I usually brought a book, but often I just sat and cried.
I was sitting there one sunny autumn day. The trees were turning and the view was breath-taking. I started thinking about how great it would be if I could be riding Jasmine, galloping across the hay field again and I started to cry again. Then I felt it. I could swear the ground moved. Then I heard a deep voice say ‘What are you going on about?’
I don’t mind saying that scared me. I couldn’t see anyone around. I slid off the rock and looked around and still couldn’t see anyone.
‘Who’s there?’ I said. Then I saw it. Right there on the side of that big rock was a great big eye. I was petrified. I just stood there, tears drying on my cheeks. Then the rock started to move. The Dragon’s Head was really a dragon’s head!”
“Oh, come on Grandma. I thought you said this was a true story.”
Naomi smiled and chuckled a bit, then said, “I did say that. Tell you what. When I am finished with the story if you still don’t think it is true, we’ll just say I made it up. But I really want to finish this story. I’ve never told it to anyone before and it feels kind of good getting it out.”
“Well, OK. But you should know I’m not buying any of this.” Said Rebecca, reaching for another roll.
“So, there I was looking a real dragon in the eye and too scared to move or even scream.
Then he spoke again. ‘Fear not. I will not harm you. Long years I have rested on this hill–hiding really. I have been alone for centuries. Then you came. I came to treasure those times when you sat on my head, reading or just enjoying the view. I hadn’t realized how lonely I was. You see I am the last of my kind. Dragons live a very long time but they can be killed. We were hunted and I am the last.’
We just stared at each other for a while. Finally he said, ‘What is your name?’
Somehow I found the strength to reply, ‘Naomi. What’s yours?’
‘You may call me Cedric. I have been known by many names, but I like that one the best. Now tell me, what has you so sad?’
‘My horse died.’
Cedric thought a bit then said, ‘You mean that beautiful pony you used to ride up here?’
‘I see. What a pity. She was young and strong—and fast as the wind. I used to watch you race across the meadow. What happened?’
‘She broke her leg and had to be put down.’
‘I see. So sad.’ He paused for a bit, clearly thinking. Then he went on. ‘I don’t understand. She was a beautiful horse, but she was just a horse. Why all the tears?’
That remark made me mad. I forgot my fear and said, ‘She may have been just a horse, but I loved her.’
‘I see.’ He said again. I was getting fed up with his calmness. I was about to tell him so when he said, ‘What did you love about her?’
I was surprised to hear that question. I hadn’t really thought about it before. Finally I said, ‘She was beautiful and gentle and fast and she loved me. I loved just being with her, but mostly I loved riding her. When she ran it was like flying.”
‘I see. It seems to me that you are making yourself miserable trying to hang on to the past when Jasmine was alive. Most present moments are OK. Maybe it would help you to feel better if you fill some present moments with joy. Perhaps if you could ride again?’
‘Maybe.’ I replied. ‘How could I do that? Dad won’t let me ride the Belgians and we don’t have any other horses.’ This guy was really starting to bug me.
‘You could ride me. However, it wouldn’t be like flying; it would actually be flying.’
With that he stood up and shook like a wet dog, dirt flew everywhere. Then he opened his wings. They were huge. He was huge and his eyes started to glow red. While my fear had gone away while I was angry, I got scared again when he stood up. I backed away.
‘Where are you going? You’re not scared are you?’ Then, I swear, he started clucking like a chicken. ‘Little Naomi is a chicken. Scared of the big nasty dragon.’ Then he started clucking again. I was having a rough day and I wasn’t going to take that kind of crap from anyone.
I stepped forward and said, ‘How would I ride you?’
‘Well, you could tie a rope to my horns and sit on my head. We would have to fly at night. I’m still hiding. I must say I think I would enjoy it, I haven’t flown in years. Are you up for it or are you . . . chicken?’
I was a bit angry at this point so I looked him in the eye and said, ‘You’re on.’
‘Alright, come back after dark. Bring a rope and wear a jacket. Oh, and of course you can’t tell anyone.’ With that he laid back down and closed his eyes—looking once again like Dragon Head Rock.
I don’t mind telling you my mind was spinning as I walked back to the house. I had met an actual, real dragon—and he didn’t eat me. He talked to me and even offered to take me flying. I had trouble believing it but you can bet that when the sun went down I conspicuously went to my room and not so conspicuously out the window. From there I went to the barn to get a rope out of the tack room and off to the hill and my ride.
When I got to the hill Cedric looked like he was still sleeping. I was starting to think I had imagined the whole thing when his eyes snapped open and he stood up. He stretched like one of the barn cats and yawned. That’s when I realized he could swallow me whole if he wanted to and I started having second thoughts.
‘That feels good, I have been lying there for hundreds of years. I might be a bit stiff.’ He said, stretching again and flexing his wings. He looked at me and said, ‘You look scared again.’
‘Well,’ I began, ‘I got to thinking, dragons are supposed to be fierce and dangerous. Just now, when I saw you stretch I thought you might eat me.’
Cedric started laughing, a quiet chuckle at first then building into a hearty guffaw. He started pounding the ground with his fist. He rolled over on his back, holding his stomach and kicking his feet. He was laughing so hard tears were rolling down his cheeks. ‘That’s rich.’ He said. ‘Me eat you? If I eat you who will I talk to?’ He laughed some more. It was over the top, really. Finally, he kicked a tree and knocked it over with a crash. ‘Woops,’ he said. ‘Better get a grip. It just feels so good to laugh again. Just remember, you can’t believe everything you hear. I have never eaten anyone who didn’t deserve it.’
He got to his feet and walked to me. He put his chin on the ground and said, ‘Climb aboard. Tie that rope around my horns and around your waist. Make sure you tie it good and tight. I wouldn’t want you to fall.’
I did as he told me. As soon as I was ready he flapped his mighty wings and we were flying. It was scary and exciting at the same time. We climbed higher and higher. I could see lights all down the valley. Then he roared and started laughing again.
‘I haven’t done that in a long time either. I love to fly and I love to roar. Hey, do you want to see something?’ he said.
I was completely dazzled so I said ‘Sure.”
He opened his mouth and blew a flame at least a hundred feet long. ‘I bet your pony couldn’t do that.’ He said.
With the mention of Jasmine I instantly felt guilty having so much fun without her. I said, ‘Don’t talk about her like that.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be hurtful. But if she loved you don’t you think she would want you to be happy and have fun?’
I thought about that a bit and said, ‘I suppose you are right, but let’s not talk about her anyway. OK?’
‘Splendid. Want to do something really fun?’
‘Sure.’ I replied.
He folded his wings against his body, pointed his head toward the ground and plummeted like a rock. I screamed.
‘Hold tight.’ He said. When we were nearly to the tree tops he opened his wings and leveled out. We were flying so fast I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I had to see. So I opened them just a crack and the wind blew the tears from my eyes straight back into my ears.
Then he started flapping his wings again and said, ‘That’s probably enough for the first night.’
We flew back to the hill and landed. When I got to the ground I looked up at him and said, ‘Cedric, bend down here.’ When he did I threw my arms around his big, giant head and hugged him. Then I kissed him and said ‘Thank you.’
He chuckled and said, ‘It is I who should be thanking you. I have been hiding here so long I forgot what a joy it is to fly—and to roar—and to laugh—and even to breathe fire. Most of all, I forgot how wonderful it is to have some company. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance Naomi. I, Sir Cedric of Britain, Ireland and the Lesser Iles, Bringer of Wisdom and Terror, friend of Merlin, Alfred the Great and Charlemagne am at your service. Be discrete and we shall have wonderful adventures.’”
Naomi paused her story long enough to take a bite of her roll and a sip of coffee and then went on. “And we did have wonderful adventures. Plus he was wonderful to talk to. He was thousands of years old and had seen so much of history. I learned so much from him. I came to love him very much. I hated to admit it, but in many ways he was an improvement over my poor pony. We flew as often as we could for over a year and a half.”
In spite of herself, Rebecca was starting to enjoy the story. She was still pretty sure Grandma was making it up, but she liked the story so far.
“One day Dad and I were out in the cow pasture bringing the cows in to be milked. There was a cow grazing by the edge of the woods. I went over to get her when a wolf jumped out of the bushes. He was growling and foaming at the mouth and was clearly stalking me. I screamed and froze. He was still about fifty feet away, but I knew I couldn’t outrun him. We knew there were wolves in the woods but mostly they left us alone. This one clearly had rabies.
Dad shouted, ‘Hold still, I’m coming.’
I could see he had picked up a stick and was running toward me. Then it happened. There was an ear-splitting roar. I looked up to see Cedric diving from the sky. He landed between me and the wolf. He roared again and picked up the wolf with his mouth. He crunched him with his teeth and swallowed him whole. Then he turned around and winked at me.
‘Get away from that thing,’ my dad shouted. He was panting when he got to me. He grabbed me and started pulling me away from Cedric. He brandished that stick and shouted to Cedric, ‘Keep away.’
Really, I don’t know what he thought he was going to do with that stick, but he was protecting his daughter. I started to protest. I tried to tell him Cedric wasn’t dangerous, that he was my friend. He wasn’t hearing me.
Cedric looked at us with a cold expression in his red eyes and flew away.
The next day there was a gathering at the church. Cedric had been seen, not only by my dad but some of our neighbors.
‘That thing is a menace. It could have swallowed us whole just like it swallowed that wolf.’ Dad told the crowd.
‘What was it?’
‘I say it was the Devil.’
‘Devil or not, something that big has to have a big appetite. It will soon be eating our livestock or even our children.’
I tried to protest, but no one listened to me. They were scared and often fear can quickly turn to violence. Soon they developed a plan to hunt Cedric and kill him. I was heartsick. I had to warn him.
Later that day I was told to stay in the house while they hunted my friend, but as soon as I could I snuck out. I ran to the hill and Cedric was there as usual.
‘Cedric wake up.’ I said. ‘They are coming for you.’
‘I was afraid of this.’ He whispered. ‘I acted rashly. I saw the wolf and was afraid you would get bitten. You would die. I couldn’t allow that.’
‘You must fly away.’ I said.
‘To what end?’ He replied. ‘It will be the same everywhere. People fear us, though many of us have served mankind through the ages. I’m tired of hiding—tired of running. It goes against my nature.’
‘But they’ll kill you.’
‘I suppose they might at that. I’m pretty tough though. I don’t think these farmers pose much danger. But I suppose it wouldn’t end there. The army would eventually get involved. People can be pretty persistent. Then again, if I fly away I would lose my only friend. There might me another way.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, if you haven’t already figured it out, dragons are magical creatures.’
He paused and I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
Then he went on. ‘It has been said that a dragon can live in the human heart.’
‘How would that work?’
My essence would enter your heart and I would stay there—away from prying eyes. We could still be friends. The only problem I see is that I wouldn’t be able to leave. It would kill you.’
‘Would it hurt?’
‘Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not even sure it would work. It could just be tall tales I’ve heard.’
We just looked at each other for a while. I was thinking. I didn’t want to lose my friend. I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt either.
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘Let’s do it.’
With that he rose into the air. I could hear the shouts of the search party. They had seen him. Whatever was going to happen had to happen fast. He started to glow. Soon he was just a glowing ball. The ball started shrinking and getting brighter. When it was about the size of my fist and so bright I could hardly look at it, it flew at me. When it hit me in the chest I passed out.
When I woke up I was in my bed. My whole family was there.
‘She’s awake.’ My brother said.
My dad, who had been dozing in a chair, leaned in and said, ‘Foolish girl, what were you doing out there? That thing could have killed you.’
‘But it didn’t,’ I replied.
‘Thank God for that. I don’t know what I would do without my beautiful Naomi. But next time I tell you to stay in the house, you better stay in the house.’
‘I’m sorry Dad.’
‘Well, no harm done I guess. You’re OK and we can’t find that beast. Did you see where it went?’
‘No, I saw it and I guess I fainted.’ I felt a bit guilty about lying to Dad, but it was necessary.”
Naomi took a sip of her coffee and they sat quietly for a bit. Rebecca was clearly thinking, taking it all in.
Then she said, “That was quite a story. I still don’t believe it. I’m not a baby. But it was a good story. I don’t understand why you thought it was so important to tell me this.”
Naomi smiled and took Rebecca’s hand. Naomi’s hand seemed hot. Rebecca almost pulled back, but instead looked into her grandmother’s eyes—which were glowing red.
“The point”, my dear girl, “is that all these years Cedric has lived in my heart, just as your mother still lives in yours if you’d only look.”
Rebecca tried to pull her hand away, but Naomi held tight. She stood up and pulled Rebecca into her arms and held her tight. She said, “Cedric was right, most present moments are OK. Your mother would want you to be happy. I love you girl, just as your mother did. You will see if you just look into your heart.”
With that, Rebecca started to cry.
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