Secret of the Family Tree: Digging Up Old Roots

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Chapter 11: Faces and Memories From the Past

“I heard Kitchet say that after Grandpa received a phone call that he left the house to meet with someone,” Zen said, retelling Samantha what he heard outside his window. “Then he told Aunt Mayra that when he spoke to Grandpa in the hospital, that’s when he found out the call had something to do with the day Ameara and Nanna died. That’s when I ran to wake you up.”

Piecing together Zen’s account of the conversation, and what they both heard, Samantha knew there was no mistaking it: their grandmother and Great-grandmother were murdered. “But why, why would anyone want to kill them?” She and Zen were standing outside below his window, in the same spot where they had overheard Aunt Mayra and Kitchet talking.

“They could’ve gotten caught up in a robbery,” Zen replied.

“Yeah, maybe, but Aunt Mayra sure seemed pretty upset about not having told our moms the truth.” Samantha peeked around the side of the house towards the kitchen door, making sure her mom and Aunt Sam weren’t coming out. “I knew something was off when I saw the dates in the cemetery. What do you think really happened on the day Grandma Ameara and Great-grandma Nanna died, and what do you suppose Grandpa actually told our moms?”

“I don’t know, Nancy Drew, but I know how we can find out. We can just go inside and ask them.” Zen started towards the kitchen door, but Samantha stopped him.

“Zen, no,” she squealed. “We can’t tell them Grandpa lied to them. Besides, then we’d have to admit we were eavesdropping on Kitchet and Aunt Mayra.” Samantha didn’t want to be known as being a little snoop, especially by my own family, even though she knew to be a detective she had to be nosey, or a better word she liked to call herself, curious.

“I wasn’t going to tell them anybody lied to them. I was just going to find out what they knew about their mother’s death.”

“Well, let’s wait for the right time. It would seem strange just asking them out of the blue like that.”

“You know, Samantha, our moms have a right to know their mother and grandmother were murdered. And I’m getting the feeling, Aunt Mayra is not going to tell them, so it’s up to us.”

Samantha heard seriousness in Zen’s voice. Seriousness she’d never heard in an always-non serious Zen, and she knew he was right. Of course, he’s right. If anything happened to my mom, I’d want the truth. And hey, it’s my grandmother and great-grandmother where talking about. I want to know what happened to them! “I agree, but first we need to find out what actually happened before we say anything to them.”

“How we gonna find that out?”

“There are many ways we can find stuff out.”

“Okay, I’ll follow your lead, Miss Drew. Where do we begin to look? It’s been over twenty years since their deaths.”

“It was a murder, so it would’ve been in the papers. We start by looking in old newspapers.”

“I’ll search on the internet for news, but wait a minute…don’t you think our moms would’ve at some point checked the newspapers about the deaths of their mother?”

“Why would they, if they didn’t expect foul play?” Foul play, Samantha repeated the words to herself in her head. What an odd set of words. Foul, meaning stinking, rank, rotten. These words put together with a word meaning to have fun just seemed off. Then again, murdering someone is off.

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” Zen said shaking his head in agreement. “Hey, I bet from the newspaper articles we can get the name of the detective who handled the case. Maybe he was the one who called Grandpa Innis to tell him he finally solved the murder.”

“How do you know it was a male detective? It could’ve been a female.”

“All right, don’t get bent out of shape. My point is if we can find the detective, we can clear this all up quicker, instead of just relying on newspapers and the internet.”

“Now you’re thinking like a detective, Zen.”

“Yeah see and I didn’t even have to read all those mystery books.” Sighing, Zen looked down at his feet. He rubbed the tip of his sneaker over a rock peeking out through the snow-covered yard. “Here I thought I would be having an adventure searching for wonderful treasures.”

“We can still do that. Grandpa said the marvels are right here on this property. What’s stopping us from solving both mysteries?” Zen didn’t look up. Then it dawned on Samantha what was really bothering him. Aunt Sam reminded Zen over breakfast he had to return to Hawaii for his father’s art showing. Craig would pick Zen up on his way home from his business trip, which he was leaving for early tomorrow morning.

“Sorry you have to leave today, but you’ll be back before you know it, and we can compare notes on what we’ve found out.”

“I know. I was just hoping I could stay. With all that’s been going on, I forgot about Dad’s art exhibit. But, I promised I’d help him while mom has her meetings with her editor.” Shrugging, Zen gave Samantha a halfhearted smile. “Besides, the good thing about going back home is I’ll be able to use a computer. It sounds like Uncle Craig won’t have his up and running for a while.”

“That’s right, and you can get some surfing in before you leave,” Samantha said, giving him a jab. “I’ll do my part by digging through old newspapers at the library.”

“Yeah, good luck with that.”

“We should set a time before you leave to check in by phone, you know just in case something important comes up.”

“Promise you’ll let me know if you find any of those marvelous, miraculous, and magical things.”

“I promise.”

Above their heads, a window opened. “Hey guys,” Sam yelled down, “come on up and see what we found.”

Up in the attic, Anna and Sam were looking through old photos. “Zen, take a look at this photo of your mom with her front teeth missing. Isn’t she cute,” Anna said, passing around the photo.

“How old were you, Mom?”

“Six, I think, and oh look, I’m wearing my favorite dress. I insisted on wearing it every single day.”

“I remember Mom having to wrestle it away from you to wash it,” Anna said.

The attic was one big open room that spanned the upper section of the house. The exposed beams were high in the ceiling. Several windows faced the front, and back of the house, keeping the space well ventilated. Three old sofas, a couple of armchairs, along with several trunks, and wooden crates were stacked neatly in corners. Zen sat in a leather chair, at a roll top desk, happily rummaging in the compartments, while Samantha sat on a large rug with photos scattered in front of her.

“This is a nice photo, where was it taken?” Samantha held a photo in a silver frame of a woman with light brown wavy hair, who she recognized as her grandma Ameara. She was sitting in front of a Willow tree holding a book with Anna and Sam on either side of her. She wore a flowered dress, and around her neck hung the pendant that now belonged to Samantha.

“That picture was taken in front of my mom’s ‘special tree’ as she called it,” Anna said, standing over Samantha. “Remember our picnics under the tree, Sam?”

“I do, she loved that tree and so did I. Its branches hung down like long curtains. She would tell us the most wonderful stories imagined while sitting under her tree.” Sam came to sit next to Samantha on the rug. “You know, most of the stories I write for children are from the tales my mother told us. Like my first book, The Music of the Core People.”

“Really, I didn’t know it was because of Grandma Ameara that you decided to write,” said Samantha. “Tell me more about the story of the Core People. Who are they?”

“The story my mother told, was of a race of people who made their homes inside the Earth.”

“Inside the womb of Mother, that’s how she used to put it,” Anna interjected.

“Yes, that’s right,” agreed Sam. “Inside Mother’s womb, they played Mother’s music, which keeps the harmony in nature. In my book, I use the backdrop of her story, and added two little girls as my characters hunting for the opening into the Core People’s world. Junzo sketched a drawing of two little girls with their ears pressed to the ground trying to hear the music. The drawing reminded me of you and me, Anna. Remember we used to do that?”

Anna threw her back her head, laughing. “I do remember. I also remember getting into trouble for telling you the Core People were going to take you away underground.”

“That’s funny, Aunt Anna.” Zen joined in laughing.

“I didn’t think it was funny at the time,” Sam said, making a face at her sister. “I was afraid to go outside, thinking hands would reach up and grab me.”

“Aunt Mayra told me and Zen that we could hear music in nature. She said it was their way of talking to each other,” Samantha shared.

“That’s exactly what Mom told us,” Anna said, kneeling by her sister and putting an arm around her shoulder. “I’ll have to re-read your book, Sam, and then I’ll pass it along to Samantha—that’s where I remember seeing those symbols.” Anna picked up the framed picture again. “There on the book Mom’s holding in this photo.”

“What symbols?” Sam asked.

“The moon, sphere, and stars that are on the wooden frame in our old bedroom, are also on that book.”

Samantha brought the photo closer to her face, trying to see the symbols. All she could make out from the image was that her grandmother was holding a book.

“Mmm…I don’t recall a book with those shapes,” Sam said.

“I remember, because I use to trace my finger over them. The cover felt so soft.”

Yes, this is the opening I was waiting for.” You know, these symbols are on our family’s headstones in the cemetery,” Samantha said, handing the picture back to her mom. “I also noticed the date that Grandma Ameara died, was the same for Great-grandma Nanna. What happened, Mom? I always thought Grandma died from getting sick. Were they both ill?”

A loud thump came from the corner of the attic where Zen dropped the lid closed on a trunk. “Sorry, I didn’t know the lid was so heavy,” he apologized, while boring a hole with his eyes into Samantha.

“No, they died in a car wreck while driving home together, Samantha,” her mom softly said.

“Anna and I had helped Dad make lunch that day, because we were going to have a picnic,” said Sam. Looking at her sister, she then said, “Funny, I still remember first crying because it was getting too late to have a picnic, and then crying because Daddy said Mom and Grandma were never coming home again.”

Shuffling through the photos at her feet, Anna picked up one and handed it to Samantha. “This is your great-grandmother, Nanna Muaura Fairland.” Nanna was standing in front of a fireplace that Samantha recognized as the fireplace in their living room downstairs. She’d seen many photos of her grandma Ameara, but this was the first image she’d ever seen of her great-grandmother. Nanna appeared regal wearing a fitted gold dress, which highlighted her tall frame. Her skin was flawless dark ebony. She stared at the photographer through thin almond-shaped eyes.

Coming to sit with them, Zen said exactly what Samantha was thinking. “She’s beautiful, and so tall. Maybe I inherited some of her tall genes. There’s hope for me yet!”

“Nanna was very tall. When she walked, she glided like this.” Sam came to her feet, demonstrating her grandmother’s movements by moving across the floor in slow sweeping motions. “Remember, Anna, we used to try and copy how she walked.”

“Yes, I do. She had strange eyes too. They would change colors, no kidding, as you were looking at her, her eyes would change from brown, to green, and even blue. She told me it was her little trick. When she spoke, she turned her head to the side, and you saw how long her chin was from her profile,” Anna recalled. “Mom said, most Fairland women were tall, but your grandmother Ameara must have inherited her height from her father, Grandpa Jack, because she was pretty average height. I guess so did, me and Sam.”

"Oi, where is everyone?” Craig called out.

“We’re up here,” Sam called back.

Bounding up the stairs with Junzo and Kitchet behind him, Samantha’s dad was all smiles as usual. “The space is perfect. It’s right out the back of the flower shop.”

Craig’s voice faded out of earshot, as Samantha and Zen stood off in a corner of the attic. “Hey what gives?” Zen asked. “First, you tell me I can’t ask them what they knew about the death of their mother. But then you go off and do it.”

“I know…but that was different,” Samantha said.

“How so, how was it different?”

“Well, you were just going to march in the kitchen and ask out of the blue. When I asked, they were already on the subject of Grandma Ameara and stuff.” Samantha could tell that Zen felt slighted. “Look, it just fell into place, okay. Come on, we should be happy we now know what Grandpa actually told them.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“What are you two kidlings up too?” Kitchet asked, coming up behind them.

“Uh, um,” Samantha couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Oh just digging around,” Zen said, grabbing a handful of books from an open crate. Ya know, Grandpa Innis said to look for marvelous, miraculous, and magical stuff.”

Where does he come up with this stuff?

“Well, I think you should start outside,” Kitchet said, eyeing them doubtfully before walking off.

“See how he looked at us?” Samantha whispered. “You think he heard what we were talking about?”

“Nay,” Zen said, casually tossing a hand in the air, “he would’ve said something,”

Shaking her head, Samantha couldn’t get over her cousin’s ability to lie so quickly and calmly under pressure. I’ve got to learn that skill if I’m going to be a good detective, she thought. Then, from behind Zen’s head, she noticed large flapping wings outside the attic window. The wings belonged to the black butterfly with red spots. The same butterfly she saw with the Kitchets. It leaned its head toward the glass, and if Samantha didn’t know any better, she’d swear it was spying on them.

“Zen, look at that butterfly, outside the window.”

“Butterflies aren’t out—” he said, following her gaze. “That’s the biggest butterfly I’ve ever seen.”

Maybe sensing it was caught peeping, the butterfly slowly floated down and away.

“Come on,” Zen said, bolting for the attic steps.

“Where are you guys going?” Sam asked.

“Outside,” Samantha answered.

“Zen, we’re leaving in an hour to catch our flight,” warned his dad.

“Okay Pop.” At the bottom of the attic steps, Zen shoved the books he still held into Samantha’s arms. “Here, you can have these. I know how much you love them.”

“Oh, you!” Running past her room, she tossed the books onto her bed, and then caught up with Zen, before he left out the front door.

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