The story is told of a time of hunger – not uncommon in those years before great mechanized farms, 24 hour slaughterhouses, and supermarkets larger than your grandmother’s village – a time of drought and famine, when the creeks and streams failed and brave hunters returned with nothing but their bravery, a time when mothers fed their children with tears while they themselves went without.
The story is told of Winter Oak, a widowed mother with three young children: Laughter, Hope, and Joy-on-the-River. Their father had been killed the winter before, and ever since then the resourceful and clever Winter Oak had kept them fed and clothed with the strength of her hands, the dexterity of her fingers, and the nimbleness of her mind. She gathered food and flowers that could be eaten, she tanned leather, and sharpened knives. And Laughter, Hope and Joy-on-the-Water grew the way that all beautiful children do.
But with the drought and famine and the hunters returning home with nothing more than dry throats and empty packs, there was little food for anyone. Even the resourceful and clever Winter Oak struggled to find food enough for her children.
One evening as Winter Oak was cooking the last of their food and dividing it into three small portions (one for each of the children and none for herself) she heard a knock at the door. Outside stood a strange women in a tattered gown and shoes worn through. Her grey hair and wrinkled eyes were those of a woman with faded dignity and dim-remembered beauty.
“Please,” she said to Winter Oak, “have you any food to share with an old woman?”
Winter Oak looked at her children, Laughter, Hope, and Joy-on-the-River, and at the three little mounds of boiled grain she’d prepared for them. Then she sighed and invited the woman inside to join them for dinner. Winter Oak divided the boiled grain into four even smaller portions and called them all to eat.
After the meal, brief and unsatisfying as it was, the stranger woman thanked Winter Oak for her kindness and left. She went out into the dark night and was not seen by anyone else in the tribe.
This is end of the story as it is told, as brief and unsatisfying as the final meal Winter Oak fed her children and the mysterious woman. In other stories, the strange woman would be revealed to be Mother Nature herself, or a messenger spirit sent from the 7 Horned Lamb, and she would bless and reward Winter Oak for her kindness and selfless giving and would give her and her people a blessing of food and the promise of the end of the drought and famine. But not in this story, not as it is told. Whether she was in fact Mother Nature or a ministering spirit, I cannot say. The mysterious woman was never seen again.
Winter Oak died not long after, but Laughter, Hope, and Joy-on-the-River struggled on.