Misty never did write that letter, but you’re not going to believe what happened after she left. Keep in mind, I’m writing really fast. Out my bedroom window I see the moving van in the driveway, and my mom’s mad at me for sleeping late. You would’ve, too, if you had spent the day running back and forth between centuries,I’m tempted to tell her.
So I don’t have time for this, but I need to get it down before I lose it. You’re gonna die when you find out what I’ve got on my dresser—I’m looking at it right now. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s just that I can’t stand knowing the rest of the story when you don’t.
After Misty and Lizbet leave, I’m standing there in my playhouse, feeling worse than I’ve ever felt in my life. I can’t hardly look at Lizbet’s cradle. Misty’s sleeping bag is bunched up on the floor. She’s gone, and I’m like: There goes the best friend I’ll ever have.
Then I think about the letter.
I go to the shed and get the garden shovel with the pink flowers on it, the one I used to dig up the stones back before I met Misty. I’m wondering about a million things. Did Lizbet make it? How did Misty explain the oranges to her parents? Did everybody live happily ever after? I have all these questions nagging at me, and it feels funny that the only thing I’ll ever know is what Misty chooses to tell me.
I get to the tree. The hole I dug on the day I first found the stones is filled in, but I can see where it was. Good thing the moon is bright, because it’s creepy out here. Imagine being by yourself in your yard, after midnight, which I’m pretty sure it is. Seriously, close your eyes and try it. If you’re any good at it, the hair on the back of your neck will stand up, and you’ll be looking behind you all the time like a spaz, which is what I’m doing now. I try not to think about the spot that Lizbet’s pa dug for her grave. (Even worse, wondering if she’s in there.) It’s right behind me as I dig, and I feel it like a living, breathing thing at my back.
You can probably guess, I’m digging fast. Pretty soon, I’ve got the wooden box in my hand—I didn’t cover it up too good when I threw it back in the hole. Dig deep, Diamond. Of course, Misty would bury that letter way deeper than the box, to make sure I find the stones first. Just think if I had found the letter before I found the stones. The whole thing would have turned out different. Now I’m wondering if there would have been a letter if I hadn’t found those stones. I’m making myself crazy trying to figure it all out, so I tell myself to shut up.
Shut up, Diamond.
I keep on until my shovel clangs on something hard. Now’s the part where I have to dig around the thing to get it out, which takes a long time. Turns out, it’s a saltine cracker tin. I look inside, and I see something packed in there. Surprise number one: whatever it is, it’s packed in the grocery bag that Misty carried the oranges in.
I take the package out. Inside the grocery bag is an envelope, with a wax seal on the flap. There’s something else, too, but it’s all wrapped up in cotton, so I can’t tell what it is. It’s killing me, having to pick which one to open first. The letter wins. I tear the flap on the envelope and slide a folded sheet of stationery out.
I open it.
Inside, there’s lavender flowers all around the edges. The handwriting looks like a grown-up’s, the first clue that Misty didn’t go straight home and write to me. I guess there was no hurry, seeing as she had over a hundred years to get it done. Just so you can know everything, I’m going to copy the whole letter here, word for word:
February 2, 1957
Dear Diamond Joy,
In this long overdue letter, I am writing to thank you for saving my life. After recovering from scurvy, I have gone on to live 72 happy years, and I expect I shall have a few more. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about the debt I owe you for being so brave.
Misty told me the whole story. She told me about the stones, and how they brought her to you on that first day you met. She told me how poorly I was doing, and how the two of you nursed me back to health in your little playhouse. My ma and pa were so frightened at the thought of losing me, but according to Misty, they believed a miracle had been bestowed upon our family. Apparently, it took many weeks for me to recover, but there was no doubt that you—and your oranges—saved my life.
Misty told me so much about you. She said you were the funniest girl she ever met. She said you were kind, and that you had a happy face. She spoke of you often throughout the rest of her life, which tragically ended too soon. We lost Misty to scarlet fever when she was only 26 years old. I’ll never forget her telling me that your name was the most perfect one for you. She said you sparkled, and that you radiated a boundless joy.
So you can imagine my surprise when a young man named Allen Joy rode into our town in 1902. He was so handsome! All of the girls were in love with him, but he picked me. We were married in the small white church that was part of the community that grew around us in the late 1800’s, long after Pa had staked his claim and built us the two-room cabin we were living in when you came to visit. By the time I got married, Pa had built us a larger home in the same location, so Allen and I lived with my parents until they both passed away. We had such wonderful times there as a family. Allen and I had two boys who grew into fine men.
Our sons’ names are Thomas and Henry. Thomas is an explorer; he makes his living in the shipping business and lives for the most part in Europe. But Henry stayed with us. He married a wonderful young woman—Julie Stoker Joy—and they have four boys: Allen, Carter, Timothy and James. Our house was too small for all of us, so Henry built another—much larger—one. To think, all of this started in a tiny log cabin in the woods of Wisconsin!
When the boys grew up, Carter remained in the family home. Carter married Kathleen Armstrong, and they have three children: Samuel, Margaret and Ruth. I no longer live in the house. After Allen passed away, I went to live with my son, Henry, and his wife, Julie, in a much smaller place, closer to town.
By now, you are probably fitting together the pieces of the puzzle. I do not know when you were born, but I do believe you live in the house that Henry built, as Misty described it to me. The house is white, with a porch that spans the front. The pillars are big, round columns, and when you walk in the front door, you can go up the stairs to the left or into the parlor on the right. Straight ahead you will find the kitchen. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms. I imagine your front bedroom window is full of cherry blossoms in the spring, as Henry planted a sapling underneath it shortly after he finished the house.
Does this sound familiar to you? All signs point to one conclusion. I believe I am your grandmother, some generations back. At this point I do not know how many, but I suspect you could figure it out.
I am an old woman now, Diamond Joy, and for this long life I’ve lived, I am most grateful to you. Isn’t it marvelous that you, too, are alive because of me?
Life is a mystery, and I feel blessed to have shared this wonderful mystery with you. You are forever in my heart, my dearest grandchild.
All my love,
Elizabeth Joy, née (Lizbet) Dance
P.S. The enclosed gift is from Misty. She made it during the time I was recuperating from scurvy. She kept meaning to write you a letter, but she was afraid that when she did, it would feel too much like good-bye. My only regret is that she didn’t find out who you were before she died.
So here I am in my backyard, holding this letter. I hardly know what to do. It takes a long time to get what it’s telling me. I feel like I need to sit down, so I do. Then I stand up. It’s like I’ve got a million flies buzzing around inside of me, not letting me think.
If what this letter says is true, Lizbet is my great-something grandma.
No freaking way.
She was a baby. I start doing the math. Lizbet had a great grandson named Samuel. If Lizbet is Grampa Sam’s great grandma, that must mean she’s my great-great-great grandma, and Misty is my aunt, way back.
So that’s why the stones brought us together.
Lizbet, Misty, and me are family!
The whole time I was there, I had this feeling about both of them. Like I knew them, even though I didn’t. And can you believe it? Lizbet was Grampa Sam’s great-grandmother! I would give anything to go back to 1957 and ask her everything I could think of about my grampa as a little boy. I bet he was like me. Maybe a little like Misty, too.
My cheeks are wet, and I didn’t even know I was crying. I can’t believe Misty hardly got to be a grown-up. It seems so unfair. But knowing her, she would have been okay with it. Not me, though. I wonder if I could have gone back and saved her, like I did with Lizbet. Then I have this unbelievable thought, the kind that can make your head explode if you’re not careful:
If Lizbet had died when she was a baby, I never would have been born.
By saving Lizbet, I saved myself.
I mean, what if I hadn’t--
Forget it. You figure that one out. I’m way too full right now.
I pick up the cracker tin, which I had dropped without even knowing it. I take out the thing that’s all wrapped in cotton. I unwind it, like a mummy, turning it over and over as I do.
When I’m done, I’ve got a rag doll in my hands. I’m staring at her and she’s staring at me, all lit up by the moon. She’s wearing a dress made out of the same fabric as the baby blue one I borrowed from Misty. She’s got an apron on, too. I touch her light brown yarn hair, the most beautiful color you ever saw.
Misty made a doll that looks just like me. She has a smile stitched on her face, and blue button eyes, like mine. I finger her hair, the ruffle on her apron. There’s even a pocket on the apron, like the one I had. It also looks like something’s in the pocket. I wiggle my finger in there and pull out four stones. More like pebbles. I look at them up close.
Vleo. I wonder what that means. I move the pebbles around in the palm of my hand, spelling out what Misty is trying to tell me.
There’s the proof, scratched out with Misty’s knitting needle. She told me she would send me her love, and she did. I’ve got it right here in my hand, but I feel it in my heart.
So now I’m sitting on my bed, the sheets stripped, my Diamond doll in my lap. On my dresser is a picture of Lizbet, in a silver frame that stands up by itself. It’s been on the top shelf of our curio cabinet for as long as I can remember. She’s an old lady in that picture. She’s holding Grampa Sam, a toddler, and they’re standing by the cherry tree in our front yard. Behind them is our house. You can see my bedroom window—at least part of it—up in the corner. In yet another weird thought, I imagine my face up there, peeking through the curtain.
Mrs. Dance’s wooden box is on my dresser, too. Hard to believe Mrs. Dance is my great-great-great-great grandma (count ‘em, there’s four), but she is. Other than my furniture, everything else in my room is gone. But Lizbet’s picture, the stones, and Diamond didn’t get packed in a box. They’re coming with me. I want to make sure nothing happens to them in the move.
After all, who knows? The stones might still work at my new house. Not that I would ever use them again. Too risky. I’m just going to put them away, in the back of my new closet. I’m definitely not going to use them again.
But you didn’t hear me swear it, if you know what I mean.
Stu’s under my window on the front porch stoop, probably driving the movers crazy. The moving van is loading up, getting ready to take everything away from me.
“What?!” I stick my head out the window, even though my dad told me never to do this.
“You should see inside the truck! The guys let me walk up the ramp and go inside!”
“Yeah! But Dad told me to get off, so you don’t get to.”
I see my dad, bossing the movers, telling them to “go easy.” Two guys have Mom’s mirror between them, all taped up in brown paper, and they’re balancing it as carefully as Mr. Dance did when he took Lizbet from me. I wonder if my dad knows he’s got a twin, back in the 1800’s. Well, maybe not a twin, but close. Wouldn’t that be a weird thing to find out about yourself?
“Too bad. I’m busy anyway,” I tell Stu.
“Doing what? You should come down and see this truck. Maybe you can go in when Dad’s not looking.”
“I’m getting my stuff.”
“What stuff? It’s all supposed to be in your boxes.”
“Things I’m going to keep with me in the car.”
“That stuff I told you about. From Lizbet.”
“Oh, those. I still wonder how all that happened. I think about it all the time.”
“Maybe you and Misty fell into a wormhole.”
“Yeah. Einstein made them up, where you can connect two dots at different times and go from dot-to-dot, totally skipping time. But he was never able to prove it.”
“Little brother, you are so smart.” Stu looks at me funny whenever I say that, like he doesn’t know who I am. Maybe he thinks I morphed into somebody else in the wormhole.
“I said you were smart, but I’m not sayin’ it again.”
“Yeah, well you’re such a know-it-all I bet your big head won’t fit back in that window,” he says.
If I squint, and pretend Stu is a lot younger and has baby fat on his cheeks, I can sort of see how my brother looks like Timmy. Hmmm. Now that I think about it, he doesn’t look anything like Timmy. I’m just making that up. But I remember how good it felt to be nice to Timmy, and I’m sort of liking how it feels to be nice to Stu, too.
“Let me try.” I tap my head against the open window once, twice, three times. “Nope, not this way.” I drop my chin to the sill and rock my head from side-to-side. “Ouch. I guess I’m staying here. Have fun in Virginia.”
Now Stu’s laughing, doing that snorting thing he always does. “You’re such a dork!”
“Could ya send up a tuna sandwich if I lower a bucket? I don’t know how I’m going to eat like this.”
“Come down, would you?”
“In a sec.”
I pull my head in and shut the window. I turn, slow, to torture myself by taking one last look at my room. This will be the hardest, giving up my bedroom so another kid can move in. I wonder, when we leave Wisconsin, will we be leaving the Dances behind, too? I mean, do your ancestors find you wherever you go?
I bet they do.
After all, I found them, didn’t I? I like to think we have an invisible string that keeps us together no matter what, but I can’t know for sure that’s true. I mean, if I hadn’t found the stones, I wouldn’t be here to even think about that string, let alone be tied to one end of it. But here’s something I’ve thought about at least one million times, probably more.
I’m glad I didn’t quit. Saving Lizbet was the right thing to do. Sometimes I wish I knew who I would’ve turned out to be if I hadn’t thrown those stones, but I need to get over that, since I doubt I’ll ever know.
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STORY CLUB CHAT TOPICS:
Would you have been brave enough to dig up the letter in the middle of the night? How do you think Diamond felt?
How does it make you feel about the story, now that you know the Dances were Diamonds ancestors?
Do you think Diamond did the right thing by changing history? Would you have done the same thing?
Leave your thoughts about this chapter in the comments below!
SPEAKING OF KIDS: Musings, stories, and tips about teaching, reading, and parenting.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT KRISTI CROSSON
Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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Gertrude Warner Book Award
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