The Grandfather's Story
Author: Hebe Zemborain

She wrote this story especially for the Marambio Foundation.

"Grandpa... it's time."
Mariano closed the book, smiled and whispered, "I see that I can't escape even today." The children surrounded him with some screaming, pushing and demands to be closer to the chair; the noise stopped suddenly when he raised his hand and said:
"Stop the fuss, guys. Today Lelia gets to choose."
"Lelia, again?"
"John, not again. Yesterday it was your turn, tomorrow's Maria, then Lucia, and Paul ends the round to begin again with you. I want no more arguments about it, is it clear?"
They accepted with heads bowed and sat ready to listen to their grandfather.
"Grandpa, tell us about something that happened while you were in Antarctica, and it must be most exciting." said Lelia
"What is 'exciting,' Grandpa?"
"Oh, Mary, don't start with your nonsense."
"Again, John ... I don't like it when you talk like that to Mary. She's little and does not understand some words.   'Exciting' is what causes you fear or joy or surprise. Did you understand, my love?"
"Yes, Grandpa, yes Grandpa."
"Sorry. I will not do it again."
"Well, I'll have to think a little because there were many exciting things in Marambio in Antarctica. But once ... something magical happened." And the word "magical" worked the miracle: the children went silent to listen to every single word.
"One morning, I was busy doing my outdoor chores when I noticed a strange sound, a very particular one. I was intrigued to find the place from which the sound seemed to come and with great surprise I found ..."
"A tiger!" shouted Paul. A chorus of laughs erupted.
"In Antarctica there are no tigers, donkey, but there are seals and penguins," said Juan, eyeing his grandfather.
"... an albatross, trying to disengage something caught in his right leg. I approached it with caution."
"Were you not afraid, Grandpa?"
"No. Albatrosses are very friendly to man. Many sailors believe that they bring good luck; they are considered the oldest of birds and can live longer than fifty years."
"So many? Grandpa, I think you overdo it."
"No. I don't exaggerate anything. We'll research albatrosses later. Is that OK?"
"Yes, but continue with the story now."

"As I said, I cautiously approached the albatross and tried to free it. It certainly was a lot of work; the albatross had tried to disengage itself from the plastic threads, but had made a huge tangle instead. Finally, I succeeded."
"And it flew away," Lucia said.
"No. He stood still and looked at me as if thanking me. I patted him for a minute, then he got up and began to flap his wings to take flight, and soon rose high up. His enormous wings looked like a giant butterfly in the sky. After that day the albatross appeared in the camp at any time; we recognized it because there were still some threads in his leg. I called the albatross Alka."
"One day after a heavy snowfall, I went with my friend Luis to repair a building that was far from the Base. Alka came along and perched on a mound to watch us work, but just about when we were to finish our quite difficult task, Luis started sneezing and shivering. I convinced him to go back to camp because I could do what was necessary by myself. I finished earlier than expected and immediately started back to Base
because I was very tired. Alka followed me."
"I had walked a few hundred yards when I came across a scene that froze my blood: Luis had fallen into a crevice and was struggling to climb out. I had no time to go for help; I only had a rope with me so, after making a loop, I threw it to him."
"He failed to catch the rope again and again, but finally he managed to grasp it and placed it under his armpits," said Grandpa, showing the children how Luis had done it. "But then, another problem, yet more difficult, began because I had to pull the rope to raise him to the surface."
"My hands were getting numb and, despite temperatures below freezing, I was sweating as my despair grew while my strength diminished, thinking "Oh, Alka, if you could only help me...."
"When I thought it would be impossible to rescue Luis, something amazing happened, though I believed it to be a hallucination. Alka rushed past me, grabbed the rope with its beak and in a super effort flew away a stretch; I seized the moment and pulled with all my strength, and, seconds later, Luis was out of danger."
"We stayed panting on the snow until our breathing returned to normal. Meanwhile, Alka disappeared into the horizon."
"Alka saved him!" shouted John.
"Yes. Alka saved the two of us because, if I could not get Luis out, I would have stayed with him and most likely have frozen to death. Thanks to the great effort of Alka, everything went well, and you know what I believe? I believe that he wanted to show it was a grateful bird."

Grandpa smiled at the enthusiastic applause that followed the memories of his time in Marambio, Argentina's main permanent Air Force base in Antarctica.

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