Summer time for a lot of kids means vacation, sleeping in, staying up late, and having time to daydream and play non-stop.
While Ro and Jo did some of those things some of the time, most of their time during the summer was spent earning scales.
It never failed to surprise them what their parents and grandparents would come up with to make their training interesting and fun while teaching them survival and social skills.
Like today, a warm Tuesday morning and Grandma Crystal had swooshed them into the crystal ball, which in turn planted them in a huge forest. They had a compass and some mysterious directions. Their task was to get themselves out of the woods and into the small town near the woods where they would find Gramps Blaze and Nana Terri having lunch in a little diner. If they made it out of the woods and to the diner by lunchtime, they would get their scales. If not, they would have a different test tomorrow.
Ro and Jo made up their minds they would have those scales today – along with a double order of French fries with their grilled cheeses.
When they landed in the woods, Kato between them, they high fived, and Ro read the compass.
"The little town is north. We are facing southwest, so we have to turn and walk this way," Ro said, turning herself around and pointing.
"But the trail doesn't go that way, it goes more northeast," Jo said, looking a little worried.
"Maybe we're supposed to find our way to the town without depending on the trail," Ro said, and started off into the trees, following the direction of her compass.
Her broken compass.
Grandma Crystal watched her grandchildren through the crystal ball, and shook her head. They were going to end up lost.
Of course there was no need to panic, she could collect them out of the woods any time she wanted by using her crystal ball, but she decided to see what would happen. Sometimes the coolest things happen when plans go wrong.
As Grandma Crystal sipped her tea and nibbled some toast, Ro, Jo, and Kato hiked through the trees, side-stepping shrubs, ducking under low hanging branches, and listening to hundreds of birds above their heads, singing their morning songs.
Deeper and deeper into the forest they wove, until finally Ro noticed that the compass was just kindof spinning around, not reading any direction at all.
"Oh, no!" she said, "I think our compass is broken. How are we ever going to find our way out?"
Jo shrugged. Well, we know it's sometime before noon, so the sun would be in the east part of the sky…"
"Fat lot of good that's going to do us! We can't see the sun or the sky under all these trees!" Ro said.
"Should we call Grandma Crystal?" Jo asked.
"No! I want my scale! We will figure this out!"
Just then there was a crunching sound, like someone – a really BIG someone – was hiking through the trees like Ro and Jo. The children's eyes widened.
"Who would be out here in the middle of nowhere other than us – and we're lost!" Ro whispered, not at all happy to hear a stranger out there in the trees somewhere.
But Jo's eyes widened even bigger as he pointed a shaky finger through the trees. The other hand he clapped over his mouth to keep from screaming.
Ro grabbed Kato's collar when she saw him start to leap in the direction Jo was pointing, thinking she was probably saving his little furry life because there, in a little space among the trees was the biggest bear Ro and Jo could imagine. They'd never seen one in person, but he was almost as big as Sir WHIP when he was stretched large enough for them to fly on his back.
"What on earth?" Ro said, ducking behind a tree, but peering around it, trying to figure out what the bear was up to.
"Is he doing what I think he's doing?" Jo said, snickering.
"I think he's doing ballet steps!" Ro said, smiling.
The bear indeed leapt lightly into the air, splitting his legs gracefully in spite of his enormous bulk, and landed ever-so-lightly and spun around in the leaf cover on the forest floor.
And then Kato barked.
It was a friendly bark, and his tail was wagging, but Ro and Jo had never met a bear before, especially a big one like this, and they were a little afraid that he would be upset that they'd been spying on him – even though it was innocent-by-accident spying.
"Who's there?" the bear called out, surprising the daylights out of Ro and Jo.
"He talks?" Jo said to Ro.
Ro took a deep breath, and stood straight, gathering her dignity and courage, and stepped through the trees, Kato's collar still in her hand.
"It's just me and my little brother and Kato."
"Your little brother's name is Kato?" the bear asked.
"Uh, no! This is Kato – our dog. My little brother is Jo. I'm Ro."
"I am Ohkwa:li," the gargantuan bear said, bowing deeply.
"Wait! That means bear in the Oneida language! Are you Haudenosaunee?"
"I am from that area, yes. I was visiting my cousin in the Poconos and exploring the forests of Pennsylvania. How do you know about the Haudenosaunee?"
"Because my grandmother, Nana Terri, and her mom, Nana Rose, are part Haudenosaunee."
"Well, then, I'm pleased to meet you," the gigantic bear said, reaching out his massive paw with scary sharp claws to shake hands. Ro and Jo shook hands with the bear, and Ro couldn't help herself. She had to ask.
"We you doing ballet?"
"Yes. I was. I only have one CD for my little machine, and it's Mozart. The only thing I know how to dance to that kind of music is ballet."
"You've never heard any other kind of music?" Jo asked.
"There are other kinds of music?"
"Sure!" Ro piped up. "There's country, rock, pop, rap, blues, and one of my favorite kinds is Boogie Woogie!"
"What on earth is Boogie Woogie?" the bear asked.
Suddenly, Mom's Kindle Fire appeared on the ground beside Ro's feet. "Thanks Grandma Crystal," she said, knowing that her grandmother could hear her through the crystal ball, and must have wanted to help.
Ro was surprised to find that she could actually get on the internet in the middle of nowhere, but that probably had to do with Grandma Crystal watching over this whole thing.
She pulled up some Boogie Woogie on Youtube and held the little device up so the bear could see.
The bear's jaw dropped at the sight of the dancers spinning, twirling, flipping each other over their shoulders, and sliding their partners between their legs and tossing them into the air.
"That is amazing! Let's dance, tiny human girl!" Ohkwa:li said, snatching Rosie into the air.
It happened so fast Ro screamed, Kato barked, and Jo yelled, "Hey! Be careful! Put Ro down!"
The bear, sorry to have startled Ro and Jo and their canine buddy, sat Ro back on the ground. Tears formed in his eyes and he looked very sad. "I just wanted to do a different kind of a dance. It looks like fun."
"Well, maybe you could find a girl bear more your size. It would be more fun if you could," Jo said.
"There are no other bears in this whole forest. I'm only here because I got lost – I live far away in New York State, you see."
"Wait! I have an idea!" Ro said, and whispered in her brother's ear.
A moment later Jo waves his hands in circles in front of the bear, and to Ohkwa:li's surprise (but not Ro and Jo, the bear wasn't the only magical being in this forest!) he began to shrink!
Down and down he shrank until he was only a little taller than Ro.
Ro clapped, and started the music over again. "We have to be careful of your claws!" she warned in a soft voice so as not to make Ohkwa:li feel bad.
"I will," he promised, and took Ro's hand into his. He swung his furry foot out, and Ro moved hers out in the same way. She kicked out between his legs, then he kicked between hers, and then he grabbed her hand and swung her out to the side, then pulled her back in.
Soon he was swinging her over his shoulder, down to the ground between his legs and spinning to catch her and lift her back to her feet on the other side.
Jo giggled at the sight of his sister dancing with the Boogie Woogie Bear in the middle of the woods.
They danced for hours, until they were completely pooped!
"I think we missed lunch with Nana Terri and Gramps Blaze," Jo said, sitting beside Ohkwa:li and Ro who were both panting and all sweaty from their dance frenzy.
"That was more fun than I've ever, ever had," Ohkwa:li said, grinning with his big, sharp teeth. "But I have to be going because I have to find my way back to my cousin's cave."
"Are you lost too?" Ro said.
"Yes, I believe I am," Ohkwa:li admitted, embarrassed that he could be lost in a forest. He was a bear, after all.
"We might be able to help you," Jo said, and he and Ro looked upwards.
Just then fog covered the forest floor, and swirled about the children and Kato and Ohkwa:li.
A moment later all four of them found themselves sitting against the coffee table in Grandma Crystal's attic instead of the tree in the forest.
"Grandma Crystal, this is Ohkwa:li, or as he may be known from now on, Boogie Woogie Bear," Ro introduced her new friend and dance partner. Jo smiled and Kato gave a happy little yip, relieved to be back in civilization where there were water bowls, dog treats, and peanut butter to lick off Ro or Jo's fingers.
"Pleased to meet you, Ohkwa:li! I think I know just the person who can help you."
Grandma Crystal waved her hands over the magic ball and suddenly within it appeared Nana Terri and Gramps Blaze, sitting in the little diner, waiting for their grandchildren to appear. They were late. Very late.
And then they faded from view inside the crystal ball and appeared in the chairs along the wall in Grandma Crystal's attic.
"I knew something was up!" Gramps Blaze said, standing up. "Got sidetracked, did you?" he asked Ro and Jo. Kato barked, wagging his tail, and Gramps Blaze said back to his blue tick hound buddy, "I see. Well, you couldn't just leave the poor guy in the middle of a forest out of his home state, could you?"
Nana Terri walked over to the crystal ball and thought, I know just where to send him. Ro concentrated hard and picked up Nana Terri's thoughts. She opened her eyes, looked at the crystal ball and said to Nana Terri, pointing to the woods inside the crystal ball. "So he would have to walk in this direction for three miles, and then turn left. And Jo and I would have had to walk back to the trail and follow it instead of turning and we would have come out to the road, right?" Ro said, pointing to the forest inside the ball.
"Right!" Nana Terri said, and Gramps Blaze nodded.
"Good job!" he said. Then Ro transferred Nana Terri's directions into Grandma Crystal's mind.
After hugging everyone goodbye, and flipping Ro over his shoulder just one more time, (he couldn’t resist!) Ohkwa:li shrunk even smaller until he fit inside the crystal ball.
Once in there, the swirls of fog inside the ball changed into a forest – but not the one Ro and Jo had been in earlier, where they'd met Ohkwa:li – this was a different forest in New York State, where Ohkwa:li and his family lived.
He looked up and waved, not actually being able to see Ro, Jo, Kato, Grandma Crystal, Gramps Blaze, and Nana Terri, but knowing they were there just the same. Then he turned and hurried into the trees on his way home for supper.
"Speaking of supper," Gramps Blaze said, and then snapped his fingers. Suddenly everyone was at the diner.
Ro and Jo got grilled cheeses with their double order of fries, and snuck Kato a double cheeseburger under the table.
They got giant sundaes for dessert as Nana Terri and Gramps Blaze heard all about the Boogie Woogie Bear adventure.
"So, you not only get your "follow-directions-out-of-the-woods" scales, because you figured out how you would have gone if the compass hadn't been broken, but Ro, you get a dancing-with-a-magical-bear scale!" Gramps Blaze said, handing over the scales. Ro and Jo clapped, and Kato let out a tiny little excited yip.
"Shhh!" Ro shushed him. He wasn't supposed to be in a restaurant, but he was part of Team RoJo, after all.
Nana Terri and Gramps Blaze laughed and clapped at the telling of Ro and Jo's tale, from the beginning.
As soon as everyone was finished with their ice-cream, Gramps Blaze snapped them all back home where Ro entered their adventure into the Family Journal just before she turned in for a good night's sleep. She knew she and Jo needed their rest – who knew what adventures they would have tomorrow!
TD – 7/9/2016