whistlestop caboose

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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Living on thin air

[a work in progress - return tomorrow for the completed story] [April 24, small typos corrected]

This is for Tara, part of the "Moonbeam Drawer" series (Use search this blog to find others). It could be fiction, but then again much fiction is like real life and real life has so much fiction that sometimes it is hard to know what's what. Any resemblance to real people is probably intentional, and I hope they find their way here.

There were once five brothers and four sisters, who started life under the same roof, which had been put on their house by their father before they were born. They ate the same meals prepared by their mother for the more than 40 years it took them all to grow up. They drifted away, all but two of them.

This is the story of a roof, but not the one built by Alberghettini, Marcel, as the father was known.

Everyone in the valley was known by last name, first name because at that time people knew your clan first and you as an extension of it, only secondly. There were few families, but they spread and put down roots far and wide and deep, like the weeds that Alberghettini, Marie-Antoine, one of the daughters, spent her childhood forking out of the rocky soil. She vowed to live somewhere with soft, rich soil and to stay far away from gardens when she grew up. (She did: she moved to Hawaii where she watched with great satisfaction as a neighbor, Christopher, developed a garden business and she joined the Immaculate Housewives club).

The Alberghettini family lived in Switzerland, in the Valais, a region of high mountain peaks and narrow rushing rivers that ran continually down to the great Rhone River. From its start as a glacial drip, the Rhone tumbled and flowed steadily to Lake Geneva, where it chilled and stirred the deep waters. At the other end the water gathered its forces and flowed in a narrower channel, with great beauty and elegance, down to the Mediterranean.

The Alberghettini children learned about this in school. Some of them felt that so much travel and constant movement was too abstract. They filed the information away as something you should know. Adults were filled with such knowledge, possibly useful and then again, maybe it wasn't. Alberghettini, Jean-Louis, was far more interested in knowing the mountains intimately. They were easier to live with than his large family, crisscrossed with the stress points of too many relationships in too small a space. Jean-Louis was the oldest child, the first son. He became a mountain guide. From his vantage point, often in the clouds, he could ignore the taunts and comments he had heard as a child, about his family coming from elsewhere and not really belonging. They had left Tessin, which his family continued to call Ticino, nearly 300 years ago.

The second youngest child, Francine, loved her parents' house more than any of the others. It may have been because the wooden chalet, more than a century old, had so many stories hidden in it, of lives and loves, won and lost, disappointments and hopes. To her, the chalet was a treasure chest filled with secrets.

"Tell me about the roof," she begged her father often, when she was little.
He had had little time for the older children, but his two youngest, afterthoughts as the neighbors called them, arrived at a point in his life where he could put down his tools and tell stories.

He humored her.

"My grandparents built this house, and my parents lived in it after them," he would begin. He recounted the tale of the many children taking their cows up to the middle alps, or mountains, in June, and up to the higher alps, later in the summer. There he and his brothers would stay, sleeping in a hut, looking after the animals. Nights were cold, days were hot, and there was time to dream. The dreaming was their salvation, for the house could not be divided among all of them, and in each generation there would come a day when the father would ask them to pull sticks. The one with the shortest would get the house, and the others would wander off to follow their dreams. One went to Paris where he joined his cousin, Caesar Ritz. He earned a fortune and fame in the hotel trade.

Marcel drew the shortest stick and inherited the house. But the family had had little money, for times were tough and Switzerland was still a poor country, living in the economic shadows of its strong and rich neighbors. One day, the roof fell in, literally, and Marcel and his wife and their new baby were covered in debris and dust.

He climbed up and began to repair the roof and soon several cousins and brothers were helping him, for it was clear that the roof would have to be replaced. Marcel suddenly paused and looked up at the view of the peaks high above.

"We will put a window in this roof so my children can always see the sky and the mountains," he declared.

The men thought it was a foolish notion and an impractical idea, and they told him so. No one put windows on top of a house. Heavy snow would cover it and then break it. There was no way to build a window strong enough. Children should learn to love the mountain, yes, but they should also learn to keep their heads to the ground and to their books. Too much dreaming was not a good thing.

Marcel persevered, and his second youngest daughter, Francine, loved that roof and its special window for children. She dreamed her way through childhood and when it came time to draw the shortest stick, it went to Francine. She thought she would grow old doing nothing more than looking out the window, but she thought it might be wise not to mention such a lack of ambition to the others.

Jean-Louis, the first child and son, was taunted again by his childhood friends, though they had all long been adults. No other family drew short sticks foir the family home: their property was divided equally, with the oldest son getting the most valuable piece of property.

He had been a mountain guide for some years and knew the softness but also the wildness of the Alps around him. He loved the mountains, but his knee had been bothering him for some time and he began to think about spending more time at home rather than on the mountain itself.

He began to dream about the view from the window his father had made when he was just a small baby, the window that was designed for him to dream about the mountains.

"Francine," he said one Sunday as the reduced family melted raclette cheese from their cows over thick slabs of bread. "The house will be very big for you." Most of the family had by now moved away to seek a better life. Their father was dead and their mother, old and frail, was content to sit outside with a hot brew made from Alpine flowers.

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