A story remembered by Lily Montgomery
When I was little, my grandmother used to tell me a story every night. In the beginning, the stories were beautiful and calming. But the older I got and the older my grandmother got, the scarier the stories became. The last few stories she told me before she died were unnerving and burned themselves into my memory. Yet, they’re not the only stories I remember. I remember some of the sweeter, more beautiful ones as well.
I was already lying in my bed, waiting for my grandmother to start telling me one of her daily bedtime stories. My five-year-old self lay looking at my grandmother who sat in her favourite armchair in my room, impatiently and excited. She held no book in her hand, had nothing out of which she could have read the story she was about to tell me. My grandmother didn’t need anything of the likes. She knew every last one of her stories by heart.
‘Calm down, dear,’ she said, shaking her head slightly and smiling. It was the second time she tried to make me shut up. I was too excited, too curious about what she would tell me and couldn’t stop myself from asking questions. ‘You will find out what story I will tell you tonight as soon as you stop asking questions. It is quite easy, my dear. You have to stop talking and only start listening instead. Can you do that?’
I nodded and tried very hard not to ask anything anymore. It was rather difficult for me.
‘Very well, then.’ My grandmother nodded as well, thinking for a moment. ‘Let me tell you the story of the little wolf. I’m sure you will like it very much, my dear. But remember, just listen and don’t talk.
There was once a pack of wolves which lived in a forest in the mountain range high up in the north of our Kingdom. They were six adults, four females and two males, and four whelps. One of the male wolves was the alpha-male, the other one his old and sickly father. The alpha-male’s father was only accepted by the pack and not a true, proper member of it. He was too old to hunt and too sick to walk fast and far. He only lived and travelled with them because he was their leader’s father.
But the old wolf didn’t just lie around all day because he was so old and so sick. He also helped the four female wolves with their little whelps. The old male cared for them and played with them, or, rather, he tried to do so. There was only one little wolf who truly liked the old one. That little wolf was the only little girl of the pack. The three little boys, on the other hand, were unsure about the old wolf, which was the grandfather of all four whelps, and only accepted him in the way the adults did. The old wolf’s help was not common for their kind and thus he was considered an odd fellow amongst his own and amongst other packs. Yet, the little wolf girl played with him and walked with him whenever she could. She took care of him as much as he took care of her. They were best friends. The little girl loved her grandfather dearly.
On some days, the mother of the little wolf girl wouldn’t allow her to walk with her grandfather, no matter how much she wanted to. Since the old one behaved more than just unusual for their kind, the other female wolves of the group already started to wonder about the little girl and her mother. They laughed behind the mother’s back and thought the girl to be weak and too sentimental. For them, she and her mother seemed like old wolves without a true will to survive, unusual for their kind.
You have to understand, my dear, although wolves accept their elders in their packs, they do not spend as much time with them or care about them in the way the little wolf girl did. Sometimes they will even abandon them if they become too much of a burden for the pack.
One day, when she wasn’t allowed to walk with her grandfather, her mother told the little wolf girl just that. The little girl couldn’t understand why anybody would do such a thing. She would have never left her grandfather behind. Her mother started to grow angry with her. “You are behaving like a foolish little girl,” she said to the little wolf, “and you should stop it right now”. She told her that her father, the alpha-male and leader of the pack, was already thinking about when it would be best to leave the old male behind. He didn’t like his daughter’s behaviour and wanted it to stop so she could grow up to be a true wolf. As you can imagine, dear, the little wolf was shocked and couldn’t believe that it was true. She couldn’t believe her father would leave his own kind behind.
So the little wolf girl ran up to her father and asked him for the truth. He told her, with an angry and lecturing look on his wolf face, that it was entirely true, would happen soon and that she shouldn’t look so sad about it. “That’s the way of life,” he said to her, sounding rather harsh.
The little girl grew sad and angry. She ran back to her grandfather and told him everything she had just heard. But instead of reacting in a similar way as she had, the old male only smiled a sad smile. He had already expected something of the likes to happen. “Do not worry, little girl,” he told her, “I will be just fine. I am already old and have seen many things in my life. And, most importantly, I know even more things than I have seen”. When she insisted to go with him once the time would come, he told her not to. “You are still a young wolf,” the old one said, “and need to stay with the pack in order to learn and survive. Although you are very special, you are still but a wolf. And a wolf needs a pack”.
The little wolf girl was so sad and angry that she did not speak to anybody for days. Her brothers laughed about her and made fun of her. Yet, she didn’t care and ignored them. Her mother tried to calm her down and get her on the right track. Yet, she didn’t care and ignored her.’ My grandmother smiled at me. ‘I myself know a little girl who can get that cross with somebody.’ She winked.
I smiled back at her, more than aware that she meant me, but didn’t say a thing. Stay quiet and just listen, I reminded myself over and over again. Otherwise you won’t hear the rest of the story.
‘Anyways, one morning, about four days later, the little wolf’s grandfather was suddenly gone. Nobody knew where he had gone or when he had left, even the adults seemed slightly surprised. They had planned to leave him behind somewhere and not to be left behind themselves. Still, the alpha-male said that it would make things a lot easier. This way nobody needed to think about the right time or place to leave him anymore. The other adults agreed. Not one of them mourned the old male, not one of them questioned his actions. Nobody except for the little wolf girl.
The little girl tried the whole day to get the adults to go and look for her grandfather. But nobody wanted to do so. She got more and more worried with each passing hour, until she finally decided to run away and look for him herself that night. The little wolf didn’t care about what her parents or anybody else said. She loved her grandfather and didn’t think it was right to just leave him like that.
So when everybody else was asleep, she left the pack behind and went back the way they had come from. Or at least she thought it was the same way. Rather quickly she got lost in the forest. The night was dark and there were noises coming from each side. Although she shouldn’t have been afraid since she was a wolf, the little girl was frightened. After all, she was only a little, young wolf. With a small voice she kept calling out for her grandfather and went farther and farther into a part of the forest she didn’t know.
The pack had had to leave their home behind and travel to another place because of a rival of her father. He hadn’t been able to fight him, had even lost an eye in the attempt. Still, they had been lucky that they had been able to leave. Usually they wouldn’t have been allowed to do so, but the rival had thought the pack to be some kind of joke. One of her older brothers had said it had been because of her and her grandfather. The little girl thought about that as she walked through the forest carefully.
Just as she had finished her thoughts and walked around another tree, she reached a clearing. The stars and the moon were twinkling above her and she was fascinated by the way they made the softly falling snowflakes look. The little wolf girl was so fascinated she didn’t notice the giant bear, which had been woken by her calling for her grandfather, approaching her.
With a weird smile on his face, the bear asked her what a little girl like her did alone in the forest at such a time. “I am looking for my grandfather,” the little wolf said. But the bear hadn’t seen any old wolves in a while. “Oh,” she didn’t know what else to say, her hopes diminished. Yet, the bear said, “I could help you find him, if you just come with me”. The little wolf girl wasn’t sure what she should do. She had to think about it for a moment. What kind of bad things could happen to me? What kind of bad things would a bear do to a wolf after all?
Just as she decided to go with the bear, they both heard something from between the trees. The little wolf girl’s grandfather stepped forwards and growled at the bear. The bear only laughed at the old and sick wolf, but started a fight with him anyway. The little girl was scared and almost couldn’t watch her grandfather and the bear rolling around on the forest floor. One or both of them were whining. Her heart beat faster and faster. Finally, the bear escaped the claws of her grandfather and fled into the forest. Despite his age and his sickness, the little wolf’s grandfather had won. But he was badly wounded. The little girl worried about him. Yet, he only told her again, what he had already said to her four days earlier, “I will be just fine. I am already old and have seen many things in my life. And most importantly, I know even more things than I have seen”. Although his wounds were hurting him badly, the old wolf took his granddaughter back to the pack.
The sun was already rising, when they reached her family. Everybody was awake. Her mother looked utterly worried and, although he was mainly angry, her father did so too, at least slightly. When they saw the little girl and her grandfather, they were all surprised. Her mother ran up to her and embraced her, telling her about how worried she had been and that she should never do such a thing again. “Are you alright?” her mother asked, finally letting go of the little girl. She told them she was fine, but that her grandfather wasn’t in the slightest. The girl’s father stepped closer and noticed the wounds all over his own father’s body. He asked them what had happened and listened closely as his daughter told them the story about the bear.
When she was done talking, the others were surprised by what the old male could still do. The alpha-male told him that he should come with them again since he had proved himself valuable. But the little girl’s grandfather denied the offer. “I am too old to go through something like this again,” he said. “I have decided to go my own way for as long as I have left”. The little wolf girl was sad about his announcement, especially since she knew how bad his wounds were. But she didn’t say so. Instead, she embraced her grandfather and told him that she wanted to be just like him one day. The old male wolf smiled one last time at his granddaughter before he turned around and left.’
By the time my grandmother was done telling me the story of the little wolf, I was slightly shocked.
‘But what happened to the little wolf girl and to her grandfather afterwards?’
‘Well, the little wolf’s grandfather spent his last days on a cliff in the mountains. There was a waterfall near that cliff in which the water was still running underneath the ice and many little birds kept him company,’ my grandmother told me, a smile on her face. ‘He had found it on the day he had spent away from the pack. It was a peaceful place and the old wolf was happy. When his end came, he wasn’t scared but just as brave as he had proven to be during the attack of the bear.’
I took a deep breath, imagining the old wolf and his beautiful cliff. It did sound peaceful to me, yet it left me somewhat sad.
‘And what about the little wolf girl? What became of her after her grandfather left?’
‘The little wolf girl stayed true to herself. Even as an adult she still behaved in a rather unusual manner for her kind. Normally, male wolves are the alphas, the leader of a pack. But she since the little girl grew up to be strong and fierce and was loved by everybody, she became an alpha herself. As the alpha-female of a pack, she told her children and theirs as well about her grandfather and thus his legacy lived on.’
My grandmother got up from her armchair and walked towards the door. I protested. I wanted to know more about the little wolf girl’s life and about what had happened. And I wanted another story. But my grandmother denied me both.
‘It is already too late, my dear,’ she said on her way out of my room. Just as she stood in front of the door and reached for the doorknob, she seemed to have remembered something. She turned around again. ‘I almost forgot. What did this story teach you, dear? What did you learn today?’
I had already expected her to ask me this. She always did so after each and every one of her bedtime stories. Yet, I still had to think about my answer for a moment. What did it teach me? What did I learn from the little wolf girl?
‘It taught me how important it is to be myself and not to think somebody to be less valuable because of his age or because of how sick he appears to be,’ I said, when I had finally figured it out.
My grandmother smiled before she turned around again and left my room. I was alone in the darkness, my five-year-old self lying in my bed. That night I went to sleep, anticipating the next story, the story of the little wolf in my head.