NOT the tale-telling kind that’s not-so-friendly (can even be quite a bit nasty sometimes) – Ted Bear Esq. tells tales about himself and his family, with lots of love and loyalty and the strongest wish to share with you and your family.
Let’s go, readers… no matter how big or small you are!
Copyright note: This is a children’s book solely created by Christine Larsen and so is fully protected by All Rights Reserved copyright. If you are reading this elsewhere than here or Wattpad, it has been taken without my permission and I/Wattpad can take legal action.
She’s not crying ‘cos I’m hogging our chair… truly! (T.B.Esq.)
A Few Words from Christine
Ted Bear and I have been best mates since I was two and he was new.
I had only barely been a doll person until I met Ted, but he won my heart on that birthday when we met and has owned the oldest part of it for over 7 decades now.
He holds one little girl’s secrets and the tears (both happy and sad), and even after all this time, never, ever told anyone else a single one. What a champion!
Straight after deciding he wanted his story told, he naturally chose me, the person who’s known and loved him best in this whole wide world. It’s been yet another joy to share with my best mate, Ted.
(Trumpet fanfare…. drum roll… 21 gun salute)
– a LOT of words from Ted Bear Esq.
Hallo – Ted Speaking (haarr-haarrumph)
Telling Mum what to write is a tough job, but someone had to grin and bear it – that is, tell Mum what to do about anything. It’s a challenge I’m up for after all the years we’ve shared. There’s a stout heart beating strongly beneath this hairy chest. Plus, I have the added support of small friends at Mum’s computer… there’s Guide Dog Puppy in a red coat, True Blue the Aussie Koala with his Anzac Day badge pinned to his jacket, another Guide Dog Puppy in a blue coat, and most importantly, the best assistant I’ve ever known, Charlie the One-eyed Crows supporter (he’s made from a gumnut with a knitted ‘Crows’ cap, and poor fellow truly only owns one eye). Although they’re only little chaps, you know the saying about good things in small packages? Well these kids are simply the best.
I’m sure it’s already quite clear to you – like a great wine, I am ageing beautifully. There are the odd niggles – a bit of thinning hair here, a suggestion of sagging there… ah well, I try to accept the wear and tear always trooping along with the ‘getting of wisdom’… it happens, even to nobility. Mine not to reason why. Mine but to bear, or cry… ( haar-haarumph! That’s enough now!)
These days I find I need glasses more often than not. My vision problem began when I found my arms were too short for comfortable reading. Did they shrink, do you think? Funny – I didn’t feel my arms getting smaller. It began to disturb me as it worsened each time Postie Bear brought me important mail from far away friends and I needed to squint and twist my head every which way to read those precious words.
‘Twas quite unbearable for a while, until Mum bought spectacles for me. At first I felt a bit weird. Kind of different, you know? And sort of ashamed and scared. What would others think about Ted Bear Esq. in glasses? Snigger? Whisper behind my back? You know… ever had those feelings? I thought maybe there’d be people who wouldn’t like me anymore. It felt gross, and made me SO unhappy. Trust Mum to gather up all the Small Knitty Gritty Kids – and Gran and Grandpa too – to sit together on the lounge and talked it through.
They’ve all been SO kind. I had armfuls of hugs from small people telling me how much they loved me, with or without glasses. I could hardly bear it, and must admit to the odd sniffle. And as if their caring wasn’t more than enough, the Small Knitty Gritty Kids went without all manner of things to give me warm and special scarves for the coldest nights.
Sometimes I wear the pure wool scarf we inherited from my Mum’s Dad. The one he loved and wore heaps, many long years ago (bit of an honour actually). It’s all brown and cream and SO cosy when I’m sitting there – on guard – watching over Mum through the night.
Then, for a change, and if I need a lift of my spirits on dreary Winter days, I wear the gorgeous pinky, purply one – thanks to the overwhelming kindness of the Small Knitty Gritty Kids. Who else would have guessed how mean those chilly nights can be as you sit perfectly still… for hours, and hours? And understood how stiff a neck can get after it doesn’t move… for hours, and hours? The Small Knitty Gritty Kids could – bless their small loving hearts. What a family!
If you haven’t seen our group snuggle photos before, you probably don’t know story-telling is my way to thank them for their kindness. They love it, and are SO quiet and still you could hear a stitch drop. And THAT IS QUIET… I promise you.
THIS is the face of Experience… having a brainstorm!!
I wasn’t always old, you know. Once upon a time I was but a cub – it’s true! My Mum and I became family when she was two, and I was new. We can’t remember anymore what our first words to each other were… but most definitely we fell in love at first sight. I didn’t know then that I would be exactly what she wanted. I didn’t know she had never really been in love with dolls, and for the rest of her life would prefer cuddly kids (and animals, too).
I still have my chair from brand new. I call it my chair, and these days it truly is – although it actually began life as one of Mum’s later birthday presents. Don’t quote me, but I think it was her 5th birthday. In those days, we both fitted into our chair in a traditional cuddly kind of fashion. The good news is, as Mum outgrew our chair, I didn’t – and like Goldilocks, I found it to be just right. Funny how me and my chair still fit as well as ever we did.
I share my chair most days with two likely lads. Greengrass is the youngest of we three bears by many years; he’s a quiet sort of a chap who mostly listens – and learns – many pearls of wisdom from Postie Bear and myself, (Ted Bear Esq.) while we reminisce. Greengrass truly knows ‘listening is as important as talking’.
Actually, it’s a curious thing with Greengrass. I firmly believe he’s an old soul (you know, like he’s lived before… in another time and place?) It’s maybe hard to understand this, because Mum only made him less than a decade ago. I think she stitched her formidable history (or two? or more?) into Greengrass when she created him. Strange thought… isn’t it? And yet it truly seems possible to me‼
And Postie Bear? He is chock-a-block full of postman stories involving much whistle-blowing, and bearing tidings of great joy (and sometimes sorrow) – and dog stories – never-ending dog stories. Like ALL postmen, he has a million of them.
His feet are extremely thankful his postman days are done. You will often hear him say – “Those modern posties don’t know they’re alive… zipping and zapping every which way on their motorbikes. And all the protective clothing for bad weather days! Hurr-hum-hh… Now back in my day…”. He can go on for hours about this subject.
And then there’s THE Letter… the one Postie Bear insists he didn’t write – but look at the signature! Need I say more?
Dear Mrs. Brown We would like to thank you for using our service. We received your letter that was posted today and we are very happy that you think Australia post staff are that intelligent that you do not need to address it. Sadly I have to inform you that none of the hapless post office employees are gifted with such astute mental powers nor do the slackers have any telepathic powers that would allow them to read your mind so I am sorry to say that you will have to please address your letters in the future.
PS: a bloody stamp would not hurt your cause either. Regards Postie
They’re the good memories. And the bad and the ugly? I think we won’t go there or dwell on things like that – not here, not now. It’s one of the things we old fellows share amongst ourselves sometimes, late at night – the way good old friends tend to do. You see, the three of us choose to live our lives by the old saying – It’s OK to let your stuffing show… now and then. We prefer to do this in private, baring our chests only amongst ourselves, you know?
Now and then, at most special times, visitors stay for a small holiday. We love that. We always say “ALL VISITORS WELCOME – ESPECIALLY OUR ‘SPECIAL’ FRIENDS”.
Jemima is a favourite. She’s a little lady in a faded pink baby jump-suit. Jemima belongs to my Mum’s grand-daughter, Cirena. They were both born in 2000. Jemima is a most special old friend, despite her young age. She’s been coming on holidays for most of her life, and for lots and lots of overnight stays. I don’t see her through the night time, because Cirena always loved to take her to bed to snuggle with, all through her darkest hours. Jemima and I had the same job – to make sure no bad dreams drifted in to our two Mums’ sleeping minds.
I love the way Jemima hugs me… bless her little heart. Maybe she wrote the saying – Hugs are even better than chocolates. It’s always good to be together again, and we have SO much to talk about. You can’t imagine how many things happen in our lives in between visits. We have many different friends, Jemima and I… mainly because our homes have often been far apart.
And the other special friend who visited Greengrass, Postie Bear and me a few times, is a young fellow called Billow. He’s a seal and he comes from Queensland. Oh, don’t worry… he didn’t have to swim all the way to South Australia. No, no, no… he came by plane! Huh? I know… I could hardly believe it at first, either. But the answer is simple. The first time he came to visit, he came with Cirena, and I believe she had Billow tucked safely under one arm and Jemima under the other, never letting them go for anyone. She had no doubts about the saying – Everyone needs someone to hold onto – and no way would she be visiting the Lost Children desk at the airport.
Mum and Dad once went for a holiday to Tasmania and came back with Captain Chas. (I think Mum found those two weeks without me totally unbearable and just had to have something furry and bearish to cuddle.) So Captain Chas and I get together fairly regularly to swap seafaring yarns and sing a sea shanty or three.
I wear my Riverboat Captain cap so that Chas doesn’t mistake me for a scurvy, lily-livered landlubber. We say Ahoy Matey and Avast there and Hoist the Jolly Roger, and we pretend our toy boat is an evil black pirate ship with lots of gold swirls and curls, and many great cannons poking out each side. In our dreams, we two scallywags (or scoundrels… whichever you prefer) – sail the Seven Seas once again. We shout Heave Ho to make our crew put some muscle into hoisting the sails to go to sea, and Avast when we want to stop.
Much later, when we’ve said Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Rum a heap of times, and had a slurp or two, we seem to always end up doing a lot of aaarrrrgghh… ing in between loudly singing –
‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor… ‘, and the next verse – ‘Put him in the longboat until he gets sober… ‘
Well-ll-ll, all I can say is… Shiver Me Timbers
But wait! There’s a completely ‘other’ side to me, rarely revealed to the public, so shhh… we’ll just keep this between you and me, OK? You see, sometimes, on really sunny days, I concentrate on getting in touch with my feminine side and spend time with the ladies – Gertie Galah and Rosemary.
The first thing you should know about Gertie Galah is that she’s really beautiful – all pink and grey and white. And she has this cute little white topknot of feathers on her head, that can stand up tall when she’s alarmed or sometimes when she’s just being nosy. But when she’s comfy and quietly thinking, or smiling, or maybe settling for the night, then her topknot lies down nice and smooth.
Gertie is a really funny gal… she makes me laugh a lot. Some humans say Galahs are the clowns of the bird world. I agree. I’ve seen Galahs doing some really funny things. I wonder if you’ve seen them when a light rain falls, after many long, hot and dusty days? Galahs love to crowd onto telegraph lines and have a shower. They spread their wings, and whilst hanging on tightly with their curly claws, they swing around on the lines a few times, and then stop when they’re upside down… high above the ground. This way, they catch as many raindrops as they possibly can, and then flap their wings furiously, to get rid of the excess. (After all, you wouldn’t want to be waterlogged for flight, would you?)
I have seen Gertie doing this high wire act, too. Around and around and around she would go… where would she stop? I didn’t know. I was quite dizzy, just watching her. But she had no fear. Like all the rest of her family and friends, she only wanted to ‘come clean’. After that, each and every feather must be lifted and ruffled and run through with that tough curvy beak, until they all lay smooth and flat (and of course, squeaky clean once again). Then, at long last, the Galahs sit in the sun to dry out completely.
Gertie tends to squawk more than talk… well – that’s how it sounds at first. But when you be very, beary quiet and listen most carefully, you can hear her words. (This is easy for a Teddy Bear – it’s our basic personality.) Humans are different. More often than not, they have problems understanding why they have two ears and only one mouth – “All the better to hear you with, my dear” (as a famous Wolf once said). We Teddy-type bears have no problem with this, OR any other loyalty and caring and loving type things. You may have noticed this about us.
Oh yes… and Rosemary? She’s what we sit on in the great outdoors – Gertie and me. Although sometimes she’s a girl in other houses – Rosemary is a bush at our place. And although a bush by any other name would smell as sweet, it’s a lovely name for a special gal who shares her sweetness with anyone who brushes past, or indeed lingers, as Gertie and I do.
Long ago when I was just a whipper-snapper, I was a devoted football fan, cheering loudly for a South Australian footy team fondly called the Eagles, and their colours were blue and gold. Then Dad came along and things became complicated. His team were the Redlegs, and their colours were red and blue. Then South Australia created its own State football team. Now all our problems were solved, and we all felt happy. This proud team is called the Adelaide Crows and their colours are Red and Blue and Gold… how fortunate is that?
Mum went a bit crazy in those early years as a dedicated supporter. She knitted a l-o-n-g scarf, and crocheted a knee rug – and then another – finally joining the two together for a double knee rug for her and Dad to snuggle under together and keep warm between cheering at the big matches. Then she crocheted two cushion covers to sit on and soften the chilly concrete bench seats at the footy oval. She says cheering and cursing the umpire usually kept them heated nicely most of the time, but on particularly wintry days, her handiwork was most welcome.
Mum lent me her best footy cap on game days when she couldn’t go to the matches. She crocheted one huge eye and sewed it to the cap to show what a ‘one-eyed’ supporter she was. She made one for Dad too, and sitting beside each other, bundled under their rug, they look like a two-headed, one-eyed alien. The first l-o-n-g scarf had to be replaced because Mum insisted on having it looped through the car and flying out from both back car windows each time the Crows won. The scarf I get to wear for photo shoots is the new you beaut model in a wonderful silky and feathery yarn that looks like it glows… truly it does.
Crow Bear and Crow Clown and I love to cuddle up in all the gear in front of the TV on a chilly Saturday afternoon, and cheer them on. Don’t know if the Crows can actually hear us, but our house gets quite rowdy each time we’re on a winning streak. We three are actually fervent footy fans, in case you hadn’t noticed. Learned it all from our Mum. We like to think the Adelaide Crows are comforted by the old saying –
When all the world’s against you, Ted is on your side (…as are Crow Bear and Crow Clown, too.)
There are other truly grand people I fully support who aren’t footballers. They would be my own sweet family. Every now and then, my girl Betsy comes visiting this beary loveable old critter (uhrr yes, that would be me), and she brings my grandies… to crawl all over me.
Love ’em to bits… I tell them stories from last century and they are SO impressed by my yesterdays. Well-ll-ll, to tell the truth, Betsy hangs on every word, but the grandies soon lose interest and begin fidgeting and whispering and squirming. It’s time to suggest they go play outdoors, and before you can say hugs are even better than chocolates, they’re out the door and off to start another great adventure.
Luckily, we live on a farm and they can shout and sing their blessed little hearts out, without worrying about disturbing the neighbours. Betsy and I don’t have to worry about them being in any danger from the farm animals – those cows are far too big for our tiny bambinos. They scare the little tykes much too much to come anywhere near them… not even anywhere near their paddock fence.
To tell the truth, I’m not too sure about those great critters either. I reckon a few licks from a cow’s rough tongue could turn me into a skin-head, just like that! (As I say those words, I would snap my fingers if I could, but I don’t have any… just two velvety paws that actually stroke very nicely.)
Even the hens Mum and Dad love are a bit of a worry. They have scary pecky beaks, and talk about beady eyes? Well-ll-ll, chook-lovers ought to study those hens up close and personal, that’s all I can say. And people who are not in love with bears reckon we have beady eyes? It’s not true. Some bears actually have buttons for eyes. Sad really… I believe their eyesight is particularly bad, even though they are nowhere near my advanced age.
Now here’s a tough one, even for an old hand like me! You see, there are places Mum publishes my tales, where we can make a picture story (and I absolutely require a pictorial record to cover ALL I do in an average day!).
Other places, however, can only show the front cover – no pics inside whatsoever. Ah well… their loss! The thing is, I’ll have to make a condensed version for those poor unfortunates. Sigh… another challenge!
Haarrumphh – deep breath (or three) now... OK!
Time out for sunshine and stretches
First things first – I L-O-V-E to greet the morning sun through the bathroom window. Warms those creaky old joints that stiffen overnight. Normal bear wear and tear, I guess.
See the wide open spaces behind me? Fresh country air… I LOVE my sunburnt country.
Time to quickly check emails and Facebook and what Mum wrote about in the wee small hours. She’s an insomniac (no, no, no… not a maniac – it means she wakes up and can’t go back to sleep, so she sensibly writes for a few hours, instead of fretting over her sleeplessness). Sometimes I think she’s a show-off with her touch-typing skill, when I’m restricted to paw-patting one key at a time… but truthfully (shh, don’t tell her this), I’m basically overawed at her speed for an old girl (on the keyboard, that is. Not so much in other times and places). She loves to tell people she’s seen the model typewriter she learned to type on in museums, often asking staff if they need an antique operator, too.
No escape… First draft
Because home is a farm, we only have mail delivery three times a week. Pretty neat timing actually, providing exactly enough effort for Postie Bear, my personal postman, to trot all the way up our drive to the road and letterbox, and return… hopefully with something in hand. This particular pic is us reading a treasured card from Mum’s grand-daughter. I suspect Postie Bear gets a charge out of reading special mail, just like me.
Time to make sure Wilfrid Wabbit has his carrot fix for the day. It’s important for all rabbits, but most especially Wilfrid. You see, he was born with weak eyes, causing the poor little blighter to have to wear specs already… and he’s only a little guy yet. Hopefully, enough extra carrots should solve his problem well before he gets to his ‘terrible teen’ years and becomes besotted by the Playboy Bunnies. He will HAVE to have 20:20 vision to be able to say, “All the better to see you with, my dear”.
Here’s another old geezer I hang out with on sunshiny days. This one’s Farmer Dan. He reckons he’s a lucky duck whenever we have our get-togethers to discuss the weather (and whether it’s going to rain because our corns are aching; and definitely there’ll be a frost because a huge mistiness ringed the moon last night; and rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning – a shower is coming from the west), and planting tips and times (above-ground plants should always be planted in the morning, and underground chaps during the afternoon. Hmm, dunno. We’re not convinced about the last one, Farmer Dan and me). Our truly best stuff, after we’re warmed up, is to stretch the truth beyond its limits about absolutely everything, and tell the odd smutty joke (not dirty ones… that’s not the style of old-time bushmen). We simply concentrate on humour and enjoying the lazy luxury of fine times in the sun, doing nothing more energetic than chin-wagging. That’s us alright… Farmer Dan and me.
Sometimes if the sunshiny moments get too warm atop the Rosemary bush, Gertie Galah and I seek a shady place up a leafy tree somewhere. She really is a tonic – my ‘giggling Gertie‘ – keeping me in stitches with her tales of all the things she sees when she flies far and wide. Great stories to share with the Small Knitty Gritty Kids, later on… before their bedtime.
Sheesh, my Mum owns a l-o-t-t-a books. I get exhausted looking at the line-up, let along reading them all. And all those stacks of books in front of even more books. Phew! How DO her eyes stand up to it? There are times Dad gets exasperated in charity shops and at clearing sales having to tear her bodily away from any books for sale. Then she reminds him she’s pretty cheap to run, compared to dames who want jewels and pearls or maybe ‘just one more pair of shoes’.
As the daylight hours are ending, and before the Small Knitty Gritty Kids nod off, there’s time for one more Bedtime Story. I know I’ve already shown you this pic, but what can I say? They’re the BEST family in the world – and you may have noticed, I’m a tad proud.
This isn’t the prettiest picture of me you’re likely to see, but I have many old-fashioned virtues, and ‘Honesty is the Best Policy’ is an important one. The truth is, I L-O-V-E a nightcap or three before bed. Smoothes out the cares of the day and makes me all warm and fuzzy… you know? Some may turn up their noses and say, “Pardon?”, but I reckon if it’s the worst I do in this world, it’s not too bad.
Cheers! Skaal! Prost! Sante! Cin Cin! Here’s Mud in your Eye!
Speaking of advanced age, I can’t miss the chance to pass on some ‘cultured pearls of wisdom’ from the two sweetest antiques I’ve ever met, Gran and Grandpa. They are old souls too… I just know it. When I’m with them, I feel like a playful young cub again – forever young and all that stuff – so I take my specs off and pretend. It’s actually their fault for encouraging me… but look at them. Can you blame me for being putty in their hands?
Their plain, old-fashioned good sense and down-to-earth way of looking at Life’s problems is such a comfort when times get tough. With their never-ending supply of wise sayings and thoughts for every situation you can imagine, they simply soothe the soul.
Look at these ones especially for bears they picked up somewhere along the way –
There’s no such thing as too many kisses.
One good cuddle can change a grumpy day.
If the heart is true, it doesn’t much matter if an ear drops off.
Bears do not like to be lent. Save to very small children in very great distress.
I’m sure I’ve already used a couple in my story already. You don’t need to tell me – I know. It’s because I quote them SO often nowadays, talking to the Knitty Gritty Kids and any other small folk. You can use them too, if you wish. They can lift a chap up on a ‘down‘ day, and work exactly like that great line – you are the wind beneath my wings. Try one… go on! You’re going to feel better… truly.
Now I’m getting beary weary and it’s time for a last brush of my teeth before bed. Mum’s right about ‘brush twice a day to keep the Dentist away’ – I haven’t needed one in years and years!
Looking at the clock now… Good! Time for one more short bedtime story for my darlings. Except this night it’s less a bedtime story than a discussion about me having another bite of the cherry, so to speak, with Mum making this story – yet another one all of my own. Now it’s their turn to be revolting – clamouring for me to tell Mum she can’t rest those tip-tapping fingers yet – she simply MUST tell more about those little rascals, the Small Knitty Gritty Kids… or else! (Or else what, I’m not sure. Bit hard to go slow when your every move is already almost a non-event! Maybe they’re thinking to ration their cuddles. Now that would be DREADFUL!)
It’s looking as though a little pillow talk with Mum has become No. 1 on my ‘To Do’ list! (mmm… haa-rum-ph… phew… y-a-w-w-n-n-n… hmm… in the morning, I think – when we’re both fresh as daisies!)
Don’t you love that time of night when you’re all snuggled down under the covers, warm and cosy, and you go into a sort of dozy, dreamy state? Not quite asleep, but only barely awake – and you think of many things – and some are absolute brainstorms, and others are just sifting through the happenings of your day. Here’s a ‘thinking bear’s’ thought. I believe the words ‘barely awake’ came into being from the fact that bears never close their eyes… and the original words were ‘bearly awake’. See? Just like that saying that Gran and Grandpa taught me – Someone’s got to keep their eyes open all the time.
And whether this next memory was in my dozy time or actually in my dreamtime, I’m not sure… but it was as if it were all happening for the first time. It went like this –
Mum and I were pretty young… can’t remember the exact year. It was Christmas Eve and we were in bed, trying to go to sleep so the night would pass quickly and we would wake up to find our presents at the end of the bed. They would be in the pillowcase we put there, waiting impatiently, just like us, for Father Christmas to sneak in and fill up.
But, we perfectly understood that we absolutely MUST be fast asleep, or else that jolly old man would NOT be laughing, and would not come while we were awake, and might not even come at all, if we took too long to drift off. (Of course, for those of us who live ‘Downunder’, we are very quite close to the end of his list.) We tried… honestly we did, but sleep just would NOT come.
We thought we heard a noise in the passageway, like someone creeping. We did… and it just had to be Father X. Oh no – and us not asleep! We buried ourselves deep beneath the covers (a pretty hot and nasty place to be in Australia at Christmas time. It’s REALLY hot, in case you didn’t know!) And we sweated… and sweated, from the heat and also from the fear that we would be discovered, clinging tightly to each other and barely breathing.
Somehow, we got away with it. Father X never suspected that there were two wide-eyed and wide-awake small folk trembling in the bed, as he filled the Christmas Stocking (pillowcase, actually… all those years ago). Later, we would have nightmares about this experience, and what it would be like to wake up to NO presents at all from that jolly old gent. Whew… doesn’t bear thinking about!
As time has passed, that nightmare has become only an occasional bad dream because it had a good outcome, after all. Still, it’s well on its way to comparing with a bear’s chief nightmare… which is being left behind. OHHH…DEAR!
On that note, it’s time for sleep… and dreams about all the good Christmases and Birthdays and just generally loving times we’ve shared, Mum and I. She has not the slightest doubt that ‘a Bear is as alive as you need him to be’. We read that somewhere, and we’ve never forgotten it. SO many grand times we’ve had together… SO many dreams come true.
Think I’ll just drift o-f-f into that special d-r-e-a-m-y place … yawn (oops sorry, my paw doesn’t reach my mouth too well)… mmm – d-r-e-a-m-y pla-a-c-c-e…
I ambled my way up and down the rows and rows of stalls in the old church hall. Everything imaginable was for sale. Countless craft stalls wore every shade of colour of handmade goods. Knitted and crocheted, stitched and embroidered, beaded and buttoned; every texture and pattern imaginable adorned the long trestle tables, presumably beneath their stacked loads.
In between stalls of hundreds of books and magazines, there were smiling ladies hopefully offering used goods—kitchenware and dinnerware, pictures and ornaments, clothing and linen. That much variety goes under the name of bric-à-brac. Interspersed through all else were cake and biscuit stalls—and a myriad of jams and preserved fruits; pickles, relishes and sauces. All gleamed with their own special brilliance—a treasure trove of jewels captured inside their gleaming glass containers.
And more craft displays and… and… without warning, there he was. The Straw Man from the Wizard of Oz? No… it couldn’t be. Could it? No-o-o… I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. But he was still there, smiling broadly at me.
His straggly golden straw hair poked out every which way from his battered hat – brim turned up like a real country yokel. And straw peeked out the bottom of his sleeves, and his pants. And like all the best straw men [and snowmen, too], he wore a bright orange carrot for his nose.
And his grin! It was as if he said, “Of course it’s me. Why would you doubt it? I’ve walked the Yellow Brick Road, and confronted the Wizard, and now I can do anything I set my mind to.” But he wasn’t really saying that at all. His eyes told me how desperately he wanted to come home with me, and how, under all that ‘Straw Man’ bravado, he was really most frightfully chicken-hearted. There are many severe dangers awaiting a man of his particular makeup. I discovered he is desperately afraid of electricity, and fire, and even compost heaps.
# # # # #
Here it comes. I knew it would! “Compost heaps?? Huh? But WHY, Sarah? Why?” I just knew it. There was no way of getting past this part without yet another ‘why?’ and another explanation. I’m amazed we got by the bric-à-brac in the church hall. I hurried through that bit. Maybe that’s why I got lucky there.
I look at Mum and Dad imploringly, but they shake their heads, showing I’m on my own with this one.
As patiently as I can [although must admit to my teeth being ever so slightly ‘gritted’], I reply. “Well-ll, my laddie, you’ve seen how we build a compost heap up of all kinds of recycled vegetable matter and layers of soil and paper?” He’s nodding furiously and grinning wide as a great overstuffed sandwich. He loves being called ‘laddie’. Proud as a peacock of his Scottish ancestry, although he barely understands that bit yet. “What you don’t understand is that it heats… A LOT. And sometimes, it gets SO hot that if you were to put some straw too near it, you’d find it is possible to burst into flames.”
Now Jonjon’s mouth gapes like the Black Hole out in space, with eyes following suit. “Ooowhaa. No wonder scarecrows are afraid.” He’s quiet for fully twenty seconds before it’s, “But Sarah, he hasn’t got a name yet, Granny’s straw man.”
I roll my eyes in a fashion to put a skilled actress to shame (and can’t ignore Dad’s sudden explosive coughing fit that needs hiding behind two of his big ‘man’ tissues.) “It’s the EXACT NEXT thing I’m reading! Now SHUSH!” And Jonjon peers at my face as I frown to show him I mean business. He sinks down against my arm and purses his mouth up tight as a stuffed duck ready for the oven.
I steal a glance at Mum and wait a moment to be sure… before continuing—
# # # # #
Although my straw man gets scared even if people mention those horrific burn-type things, he hides his fears under a cheerful smile. That’s the attitude he’s had from the first day I brought him home and named him Simon Scarecrow, so he had his own name to go with his very own fresh life.
In one of the quiet moments we shared, Simon confessed he’s not fond of standing out in the paddocks either. “It’s SO lonesome,” he said, and his smile slipped dangerously low at the ends. Luckily a few tight stitches secured it or it may well have been a thing of the past as it slid right off his face.
“Some nights I almost welcome even the Crow Man, I’ve been SO lonely.”
“The Crow Man?” I ask. And Simon tells me the Crow Man visits when he’s least expected. He’s checking on scarecrows everywhere, and can appear on one side of the world or the other, just like Father Christmas. But Crow Man has no presents. In fact, if a scarecrow is NOT up to scratch and busily scaring, this Big Boss is likely to establish a supreme ‘pecking order’. Simon doesn’t want to tell me more about this.
He goes all shuddery, as it’s rumoured the Crow Man is hundreds of years old. Although Simon has no proof, this is something he’s always known. The Crow Man has magical powers that seem like some ‘other world’ stuff; the trouble is, he could be pretending… or not. He has been known to lie. But one definite ‘creepiness’ about him, Simon says, is always knowing somehow when that sorcerer is near. Simon says he ‘feels a strange tickling deep inside his head’ – and it’s always on the side where the Crow Man is abruptly standing.
Simon abruptly changes the subject, and tells me instead about times when birds with the worst imaginable table manners have perched on him, and pecked at his stuffing. He points to the pretend bird called a Robin squatting cheekily on his arm to show me this is the one he prefers. Even bugs creep on him sometimes. He shows me a look-alike Ladybird, pretending to crawl across his left shoe. The genuine one who visited him once upon a paddock night was a sweet little mother, who rested on Simon for a moment to catch her breath before she needed to ‘fly away home’. He’s such a generous fellow, he couldn’t ignore her distress and say no to her.
Another special time, Simon told me a well-hidden secret. “I’m really, really, REALLY afraid,” he whispered to me. “Especially on bleak, dark nights. Even since you ‘dopted me, I still have nightmares about big wicked winds. I’m SO scared they might blow me away, like Dorothy and her house in the Wizard of Oz.” And the poor little fellow shook so much, some of his straw came loose. I hastily stuffed the stalks back where they belonged and reassured him with my bestiest hug. “You’ll never be standing in a paddock at my place, I promise you Simon. And never be afraid about being cold and lonesome—never, ever again.” His widest smile returns as he snuggles with me; and as he looks around the loving eyes of the rest of his family, he finds extra levels of courage.
Once on a photo shoot, whilst he was sitting in amongst some great big green leaves, a flock of white cockatoos sailed overhead, screeching and squabbling all the way; and not one came down anywhere near where Simon was on guard. And later some regular crows swooped over, and they just kept on flying by, as well. What a Scarecrow! Seems Simon is also a Scarecocky.
Can we imagine the possibilities now he has so much confidence in himself? He could become a Scaresparrow, or a Scareparrot, or a Scareduck, or… or… a Scare-anything if he wants to enough, and works hard at making his dreams come true. Although there’s one thing I will discourage him from dreaming of being, and that’s a Scare-eagle or a Scare-vulture—they are a bit too extreme to take on. And Emus and Ostriches, likewise.
A most clever ancient Chinese man called Lao Tzu, who lived many centuries ago, said these words –
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
It’s like that wise old philosopher knew Simon Scarecrow and the rest of the Knitty Gritty Kids of my family and was talking about them.
# # # # #
I can’t believe it. Jonjon stayed quiet until the end of this chapter. He is deep in thought, though. And then I hear a sharp intake of breath and one hand comes up with index finger lifted toward the ceiling. Wonder of wonders! He’s going to give me a break and attack Mum and Dad with his never-ending questions.
“Mu-m-m. Da-a-d-d. I was wondering.” We all try not to do the eye-rolling bit – uhrr – Jonjon wonder about something? Yes, right! He’s oblivious to anything else but the importance of his wondering. “I was thinking. Do you suppose the soul of the Straw Man lives right way down deep in Simon Scarecrow? Do you?”
Mum raises her eyebrows like it could be possible. But Dad shakes his head [no!]. He’s a dead practical kind of chap… doesn’t have much truck with ‘churchy gobbledygook’, as he calls anything the tiniest bit spiritual.
Jonjon carries on as though no-one answered. “I REALLY think he does live on. Remember, it wasn’t the Straw Man who was afraid all the time – it was the Cowardly Lion. The Straw Man was often VERY brave… just like Simon is when he’s actually all of a quiver inside.
And just like that, Jonjon has it all sorted!
I aim a questioning glance at Mum that asks, ‘One more?’ And she nods as she lifts one finger. And smiles broadly. Her and Dad are having the best night, being read a bedtime story after such a VERY long time.
I promised myself to puff up my courage to tiptoe into the jungle of enormous cats – and to my great amazement, what did I find? A most appealing cat peeping out of the bushes—and a friend with him. A girl-friend?
Derek twitches his whiskers. “Isn’t it time to talk about cats yet, Mum?”
I’ve been keeping an eye on him, seeing his impatience grow as his tail swishes back and forth, faster and faster. Uh-oh, better give him a say before he gets too angry. I pick him up and tickle below his chin. He loves that. And I say, “OK… your time to shine, Derek.”
He stretches as tall as he can (which is not too tall at all, but shh, don’t tell him that), clears his throat and with a growl, says “Some cats are King of the Jungle, and of the animal world, too. In faraway places, a long, long, long time ago, some cats were treasured and worshipped as gods. Other people thought cats were good luck… while others said we were evil luck.” He frowned and tried for another ferocious growl. “And what’s the story about the one called Dick Whittington’s cat, Mum? You know that one, don’t you?”
I sure do, and it’s my turn for some throat clearing. “Hurr-humm. Many years ago, there was a Whittington family who lived a long way across the sea in England, and they had a famous son named Dick. He became Lord Mayor of London, not just once, but three times. And just like Mary’s lamb in that favourite rhyme – everywhere that Dick went, his cat was sure to follow. I never found out what that London-visiting cat’s name was, but I do know while he was visiting the Queen, he ‘frightened a little mouse under her chair’.
When I first met Derek the Cat, my mind jumped immediately to that rhyme. I wondered if he could be the original ‘Dick Whittington’s Cat’? Maybe not, but he surely looks like all the pictures I’ve ever seen from that old rhyme. There’s the cheeky tilt of his hat and the fluffy feather sitting cheerfully on one side. There’s the belt with a sky blue buckle, holding up trousers tucked into tall boots. And then that candy apple red cloak he wears with such style. Derek certainly looks like a born again Dick Whittington’s cat. Except Derek is not into mouse-chasing business. He’s a gentle soul, who really has no interest in harming anything at all.
Having mentioned this other famous cat, Derek and the other Small Knitty Gritty Kids cannot possibly let me move on without repeating the rhyme – AGAIN!
‘Pussy cat, Pussy cat – where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussy cat, Pussy cat – what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.’
Now they are all content – especially Derek… and his dearest Susie looks ever so proud.
# # # # #
With his head leaning against my shoulder and trusting, imploring eyes stretched to look up into mine, Jonjon has a question – “But Sarah! Cats ALWAYS chase mice. Don’t they? Sarah?” And the cheeky tyke tugs my chin around to make sure I give him my full attention. Reluctantly, I stop reading Granny’s words. Sometimes I could strangle this kid – but I guess he has SO much to learn. And I think to myself, didn’t we ALL, when we were young!
“Some cats LOVE mice,” I reassure him. “Truly! I saw a photo just the other day of a cat and mouse who grew up together. Nobody taught them this doesn’t happen in the actual world, so they just went right ahead and became best pals.”
“Ohh, I know, I know!” Jonjon has to wave his hands around like a small whirlwind. “It’s uhmm… you know? Like that picture we saw the other day of the two little boys with the same hair cut to confuse their teacher, so she wouldn’t know who was who. It was so funny, because they couldn’t see that of course she would know – one had MUCH bigger ears than the other one. Remember that one, Sarah? Silly teacher!”
I have to smile. That photo was of a black child and a white one. Neither had any idea THAT was what their difference was. And obviously nor did Jonjon. Cute. So cute.
Meanwhile, back at the story about Derek Cat and Susie…
# # # # #
“But this – make peace, not war attitude? It doesn’t mean you’re not brave, does it Derek?”
“NO WAY!” he answers, with the loudest and most disgusted miaow he can make. “I am REALLY brave – and loyal and faithful. You just ask my Susie… go on!”
I don’t have to. Derek and Susie hang out together all the time and nobody knows him better. He feels the same, and if you listen carefully, you will often hear him sing that old classic—
‘If you knew Susie, Like I know Susie, Oh, oh, oh what a girl! There’s none so classy, as that fair lassie, Oh, oh, you should see her super-chassis’
# # # # #
“Sarah, Sarah! Stop for a minute.” And Jonjon curls his hand over my mouth to be sure I can’t continue. “What’s a ‘supershazzy’??”
I pull my face out of his grip to say, ‘“Super CHASSIS’, Jonjon. It’s the umm… well-ll… body of the car. It’s the frame underneath the outside shiny part.”
“But why talk about a car when it’s his girlfriend Susie he means?” His face creases up like a tatty paper bag. “Doesn’t he mean her?”
I flounder a little. “Uhrr… I think it means she has an impressive bone structure beneath her pretty face and uhrr… body!” And I hastily get back to the reading before another ‘WHY?’ can follow the deep intake of breath and Jonjon’s squeezed up lips. “Now shh… and listen to the rest of this chapter. CAN you do that?? P-l-e-a-s-e?” Jonjon looks shamefaced and stays quiet to allow me to continue reading.
# # # # #
Derek knows all the verses, and it’s plain for all to see that Susie just adores hearing her name in song. (Shh-hh… please don’t tell her he didn’t write it especially for her. She believes she is the only Susie in the world). This is easy to understand when you think of the other song he loves to sing to her about the love of two special people—
‘If you were the only girl in the world, And I were the only boy…’
It IS love. The level of their commitment is clear by the huge smile on Susie’s sweet face (and his too, but Derek’s small mouth shows he’s giving some serious thought to this subject. Huh?)
Uh-oh, surely Derek is not embarrassed by all this love-type talk? I do believe he’s blushing, and he sounds flustered when he says, “I just don’t enjoy talking about our feelings, you know? They’re private. OK?” and he changes the subject.
“You haven’t told them about the thing little cats like me can do that big wild cats can’t,” and he’s grinning again.
I have to chuckle. “The purring bit?” I ask, and he nods his head so hard I fear one of those wonderful feathers may fall off his hat.
“Well… they say big wild cats can only purr on their outward breath because their throats are made to roar. BUT… little cats like Derek can purr on and on without any breaths seeming to happen at all. You are SO clever, Derek,” and I snuggle him tighter. “… and I’m SO happy you don’t roar. That would frighten both Susie and me right away!”
Derek the Cat is a most gentle soul, who doesn’t want to scare or harm anything at all. I have to wonder. Will Derek purr a path to Paradise? And take that sweet Susie with him? I have no doubt they’re bound to be a couple forever.
Now here is one of the senior members of our family—also the tallest. When he speaks with a big deep voice rumbling all the way up from the bottom of his shoes, EVERYONE listens!
Even sitting down, Harry the Painter towers over the other Knitty Gritty Kids. And although his tall hat and the glue pot on top add to his height, he truly is a most impressive fellow. Any moment the Kids get too loud or excited, Harry the Painter can make them shush and settle down to listen to his voice of wisdom and experience. Life has taught them anyone with such a kind smile wants only the best for them.
This great lumbering workman captured my heart a long time ago, when I found him sitting in an antique cot, surrounded by other toy children of all varieties—dolls and bears and other soft creatures. Big as he is, and gruff as he tries to be, he’s just a kid at heart and I’ll always be his Mum. Can’t help a chuckle as he lines up, just as eagerly as the other Knitty Gritty Kids, for his story to be told—again and again.
“Tell the one about my name, Mum,” and he pushes his ladder to one side so he can snuggle closer. What a marshmallow heart beats beneath those paint spattered overalls. I can’t help a chuckle… and another hug.
“OK,” I say and I start with ‘Once upon a time’… (All the kids love those words SO much, so I say them again) “Once upon a time, when the idea of making a house painter was first planned, someone decided his name should be Sidney Slapstick. Cute, because the name means funny stuff. And he IS comical with those paint splatters and his dilly hat!
But slapstick is a word sounding too close to slapdash – meaning NOT a splendid job—not mattering if it’s not OK. I shake my head and the Kids all appear worried at the frown I feel happening between my eyebrows.
“You see, Kids, the only painter I knew REALLY well was your Dad’s Dad, and there was nothing he ever did in a ‘slapdash’ way… “ I shake my head. “THAT Harry did a seriously professional job of every room he painted or wallpapered. He was SO proud of his workmanship – and as he always said – if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” I can’t help myself adding -“and Kids? That’s true of ANYTHING at all you do in Life. Just remember Harry and his famous words. OK?” (The Knitty Gritty Kids all nod their heads, small faces serious, as though they’re thinking about times they might have decided something was ‘good enough’ or ‘that’ll do’, when it wasn’t. Half-baked stuff like that.)
I drop a little kiss on Harry’s rosy cheek (which makes it get even rosier) and I say, “As soon as I saw this handsome fellow I knew we had to adopt him and rename him Harry – in honour of that first wonderful man we’d known and loved SO much.” (Now Harry blushes brightly– he’s SO proud to share the name of that older and much more experienced master tradesman.) The Knitty Gritty kids chuckle and chortle amongst themselves. It’s not often they see Big Harry all embarrassed and gooey – and they’re loving it!
To hide his sudden shyness, Harry looks all about himself to find something to distract everyone, and as soon as his eyes alight on that something, he gruffly changes the subject. “Do you still like what I did to your bedroom door? And the lounge door, too?” he asks. As if he doesn’t know – when I’ve admired it from every which way again and again, and thanked him many, many times.
Clever Harry—he cleaned and painted the old chipped and damaged doors in the brightest white paint and then he wallpapered inside the four fancy insets in the door. It’s a white and softest pink and grey old-fashioned pattern… exactly what I love best. See it in the picture? I doubt he could have achieved so much without his trusty ladder. He IS tall – but that old door is MUCH taller than all of us.
And another wonderful idea was in my Kitchen and family dining area. He painted down to the brick fireplace in a lovely warm and cosy colour (just like fresh apricots) and then the bottom section in a soft sagey-kind-of green and searched until he found a wallpaper strip with roses and leaves in exactly both those colours – to make a line right around the room. It’s SO charming. He always knows what will win my heart.
It’s fantastic how nothing defeats Harry. No job is too big for him. (Probably his own size has much to do with his forever positive outlook). He smiles and gets on with the task at hand. He takes tea breaks and a longer lunch break, but otherwise he works the bristles of his brush at a cracking pace, covering enormous areas in a single stroke.
I’m not sure where he planned to use the red paint in his paint pot (and dripping off his brush — “Watch out, Harry…”) Phew! I’m glad he only spilt red splodges on himself, and not on my carpet! Like his namesake, he is a superior type decorator who puts down drop-sheets to protect any area he works in.
“Sometimes you wear those funny glasses for protection for your eyes, don’t you Harry?” He nods his head so fast I fear his gluepot will fall off – or at the very least, tip over. But it never does. Harry has a marvellous sense of balance.
“I wear those glasses when I paint ceilings, so the paint won’t drip into my eyes,” he says, “…Iearned that from this Italian chap called Michelangelo who painted some big ceilings in his lifetime.” Have to chuckle. Michelangelo, a role model for Harry the Painter? Now there’s a thought! Although I find him an exceptional tradesman, I wonder if even big Harry the Painter and his tall ladder could hope to reach the soaring ceilings his hero painted?
# # # # #
Uh-oh, back here in his bed, Jonjon squirms around and grabs my chin to make me look directly at him. “But Sarah, who’s Michael Angel? Is he up in Heaven or something? I don’t know HIM… do I?” There’s that frown again.
Can’t help myself. Have to smooth that crunkled forehead. He’s such a handsome little man. And doing that small stroking gives me a minute to get my face straight and stop the laughter threatening to bubble out and over my smile.
“No, you don’t know him Jonjon. And it’s not Michael Angel! It’s Michelangelo, and he was one of the most famous painters in the whole wide world. Mum had a book with some pictures of him and especially the most amazing ceiling he painted in a church in Italy—”
“And he painted the same as Harry?”
“No. He was an artist painter Jonjon. That’s SO different from a house painter like Harry. Michelangelo painted great artworks on ceilings, as well as portraits and things.” And I could see again those wonderful close-up pics Mum showed me… and I told Jonjon how he had to lay flat on his back on planks atop the tallest ladders to do it. “It must have been terrible, Jonjon. Paint spots would fall on his face and he had to wear special glasses to protect his eyes. And his beard got all stuck together – and colourful? Wow! He’d have to stop often because all the blood would drain from his arm and he’d get pins and needles from holding it up for so long.”
I let go of the book for a moment to give him a quick hug and try for a stern face (I don’t manage too well, but at least I can make a gruffy voice like Ted – had plenty of practice at that one). “But if you don’t be quiet now, there won’t be time for me to read you one last little story tonight.” I pause to try to build some suspense. “… and this one’s a LOVE story! How about that?”
“I’ll be quiet Sarah! I will… promise… cross my heart and hope to die. Promise. Please Sarah!”
“What about me, Mum? I was the first kid you made, wasn’t I?” Bimbo’s eyes look even smilier than usual. ”And you loved me SO much you made a twin of me, didn’t you Mum?” and he snuggles even tighter under my chin.
Sweet little guy. He always makes me smile. Bimbo and Gran and Grandpa are to blame for all the rescues that followed. Knitting the hundreds of stitches of countless foreign-looking pieces, stitching them together, stuffing them, and then sewing these fat little shapes in yet another exact sequence creates a deep bond with your ‘baby’. Impossible to imagine anyone, anywhere could have loved but then discarded and deserted these treasures.
Bimbo is a TWIN. His brother lives a six-hour drive away in the city; his name is Glen, and I made him for a special little boy, Liam, when he was born. I came to love him so much, a few years later I made another for myself and called him Bimbo. Soon after I’d finished Bimbo and let him take pride of place on our bed, Liam came to visit with his Mummy.
Liam was fine at first, demolishing cakes and biscuits and his drink of milk. But he became bored with our chatter and went exploring our house. When he returned, he had Bimbo clutched to his chest, eyes bright with excitement. “Look Mummy – it’s Glen. He got here before us.” Liam’s Mummy’s eyes widened. She hadn’t known about my Bimbo.
“He’s SO clever, Mummy,” Liam continued. “I thought I left him behind, but he’s here.”
Liam’s Mummy and I couldn’t keep our faces serious. When home-time came, it took much distraction (with lollies, as I remember) to coax Liam into the car without his Glen. He nodded off on the journey home—and when he awoke dashed to his room first thing, finding yet another miracle waiting.
“Mummy… look! Look! Glen beat us home!” And there he was, sitting on Liam’s bed, waiting for another cuddle. Bimbo had been such a good sport that day, never once letting Liam know who he really was. Always true to his own sweet nature, Bimbo enjoyed the extra hugs and kisses and never complained once.
But this is here and now, and Bimbo is excited with today’s attention and eager to hear another story about himself.
“What about the time I got badly mauled, Mum? Tell that one again,” and Bimbo wriggles even more tightly against me as I give in and continue.
One night—or maybe several—Bimbo was attacked and mauled as he sat on a shelf with the other Knitty Gritty Kids, napping through the night. Ferocious, greedy moths chewed into him under cover of darkness. I stop my story to say, “If only you’d cried out. You could have avoided so much of the damage—and all that pain!”
Bimbo’s smile droops. “I know. I just buttoned my lip and toughed it out. Was that wrong, Mum?”
I shake my head and hug my silent sufferer even tighter as we remember how I didn’t discover his injuries until I came to take his photo. Whilst arranging him to capture his best angle, my heart missed several beats as I caught sight of his terrible wounds. From the front, the worst had been hidden from view.
“Where was I hurt, Mum? I can’t hardly see any scars.” Bimbo twists and strains every which way.
“Well-ll… several spots on your arms and back and leg required only small stitches, but the hands? Phew… serious surgery.” Can’t help a shudder as once again I witness the damage to his poor little feet. “TOTAL reconstruction of the left, and partial of the right. How thankful I felt to have been your creator, so I could be your Surgeon, the sole member of your operating team.” And I squeeze him tightly once again and smooth the frown from his precious forehead.
Brave Bimbo came through his lengthy, tricky surgery in style, and after the shortest time, made a full recovery. Once again, his amazing bravery sees him refusing to discuss any part of his suffering – or feel sorry for himself – or let anyone else have bad thoughts about his horrendous experience, either.
“Although you love to hear the story, over and over, don’t you, little man?” And Bimbo grins and blushes a little. Mostly, he has put it all in the past where the worst nightmares belong. Why he those munching monsters chose him, and none of the other Knitty Gritty Kids, I can’t say. Bimbo IS deliciously handsome—but edible? Hmm… I don’t think so.
Imagine starting life as a twin but sort of not, then being a meal for mothies. It’s a worry – but someone had to grin and bear it… AND survive. And that someone was our beloved Bimbo, the bravest little clown we’ve known.
# # # # #
Back in ‘reality’ land, I have to lay the book down for a moment to blow my nose. That’s the one thing about reading aloud in bed – nose-blowing takes two hands. Itches and sniffs are OK, I can manage even the odd sneeze with one hand. Jonjon takes advantage of the moment to turn back to the picture of Bimbo. He wants to find the mothie attack wounds.
“Here!” He points triumphantly to Bimbo’s small left hand, and sure enough when we look closely at the picture, some raggy looking threads are sticking out. “And HERE!!” And Jonjon gasps, and so do I as we search for what Granny described as the worst of the attack. We see only the front view, but even that is grim. There were several gaping holes and Granny says they munched out most of the back of his feet.
I whisper, “Ohh no. This was dreadful. This must have been where Granny had to amputate and create a whole new foot… AND shoe.” We’re both speechless, near tears… for a few moments, anyway. And although we have no particular knowledge of these things, we spend some moments talking about surgery in general. I’m not sure how to say the ‘anna’ word that means you get ‘knocked out’, so I just tell Jonjon you get ‘put to sleep’ for a bit and you can’t feel anything. We spend a few minutes wondering if you dream when you’re having an operation. Mum might know. She’s had babies and things. Just need to work out a way to bring that subject into an ordinary kind of conversation. I’ll have to think on that.
Despite his sympathy, Jonjon is eager to find out who’s next. I take a quick peek and am delighted to tell him it’s the tallest and most impressive member of the family. And I already know the special person Granny named him after. That’s a lovely story of its own.
“Aww, please Mum. Won’t you tell us a story for a change? Mum, it’s always us reading to the Knitty Gritty Kids–and we love that. We do.” Gran’s sweet old face looks anxious, screwed up with worry, as Grandpa chimes in, “Yes… what about us, Mum? Isn’t it our turn yet?”
How should I resist my old/new darlings? I’m putty in their hands and so I begin–THEIR story.
Despite their aged faces, Gran and Grandpa were only born a few years ago—with knitting needles, various balls of wool, a pattern and myself, a dedicated knitter eager to breathe life and character into them. I left the soul bit to a Higher Authority. With wisdom and grace Gran and Grandpa accept this end of Life.
“Age before Beauty,” they say. “The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh falters somewhat these days.” “We don’t want to ‘snuff it’ before fame comes our way… and that’s why we must be first,” they say. (And who am I to disagree?)
From Day One, Gran and Grandpa saw their role in Life to be watching over the Knitty Gritty Kids; teaching them wisdom and patience and respectful manners, too. Gran is The Good Manners Goddess. Every single mealtime (even at breakfast while the kids are still getting their eyes), you will hear Gran say…
“Sit up straight at the table, young lady. Do I have to put a ruler down your back?” “Hand over the mouth when you yawn, dear. We need not see what you ate for breakfast.” “No arguing or whining at the table–it curdles the milk.” “DO NOT talk with food in your mouth–it’s perfectly disgusting.”
One memorable time in a flustered moment, she said, “DO NOT eat with food in your mouth!” The Knitty Gritty Kids first gasped – then giggled. Gran blushed that time!
Any elbows seen on the table while eating? Gran would say, “Elbows!” and point. Luckily the kids all have short, straight arms, so it’s one less ‘good manner’ to worry about.
And where is Grandpa while she teaches all these table manners? All he has to do is smile and pass them more of Gran’s delicious cooking. This gives him an excuse to have another helping himself. Gran pretends not to notice.
An adage says – ‘Be careful what you wish for… you just might get it’. With Gran’s dedication to Good Table Manners, she started the Knitty Gritty Kids off on the right path, requesting they give thanks for a meal, and ask permission to leave the table. She believed this would ensure small folk wouldn’t leave the table and return for another mouthful, and be off again and back again, and so forth and so forth. So Gran reasoned.
But the Knitty Gritty Kids (led by that rascal, Clarence the Clown) won this round. Every meal, they all wait for each other to finish, and then chant, in the most boring, sing-song way –
“Pl-e-a-s-e can we leave the t-a-b-l-e? And th-a-n-k y-o-u for t-e-a” (or break-f-a-s-t… or l-u-u-n-c-h).
And Gran and Grandpa have to sit there and grin through gritted teeth, and bear it – because this WAS what Gran wished for… wasn’t it?
Ahh dear! Here in bed I have to stop reading for a minute. Even though I only had one ‘voice’ to do I made it a funny sing-song one in a boring little up and down rhythm, and rolled my eyes in time. And now Jonjon and I laugh so much we almost fall out of bed. I’m not sure who’s getting the most fun out of this story.
Our Granny did such an impressive job creating these two characters. Don’t tell anybody, but I believe she used a pattern for a Mother and Father Christmas and combined it with a pattern for Humpty Dumpty – and sewed all the pieces back together again!
I take two deep breaths and deliberately DON’T meet Jonjon’s eyes. I will lose all if I do. The laughing will start, and we may not be able to stop this time. With great difficulty I continue the story. And we’re only in the middle of Chapter Three, the one about the dear little Gran and Grandpa characters she knitted!
Just because Gran is in her Sunday best, don’t be mistaken, don’t be misled. Gran is a marshmallow under her well-mannered outer face. A favourite place, doing an especially favourite thing, is reading to the most needy of the Knitty Gritty Kids – Sally and Sammy. But that’s another story.
Gran reads because she makes the best voices. Big, deep, growly ones (for wolves and bears and dinosaurs), and pretty, high, squeaky ones (for butterflies and princesses and fairies), and gruff, mean ones (for monsters and crooks and other grubby characters). Grandpa turns the pages so nobody misses even one word.
Gran and Grandpa love to cuddle the kids. It’s most important when each one first arrives–always in need of so much Tender Loving Care. All will need a wash, many require some repair, and for others, total replacements are necessary–even of essential body parts. It’s all part of the gentling these precious kids deserve after the horrors they’ve endured.
Gran interrupts my writing. As always, she’s keeping a most careful eye on everything. “We don’t enjoy thinking of their time before us,” she says and her chin quivers.
“We ONLY look FORWARD — “ says Grandpa, as Gran interrupts him. Her chin is firm now as she finishes his sentence for him. (She often does that these days – reckons he’s too slow!) “… to the best and happiest FUTURE that caring and kisses and cuddles—”
“…and reading cheerful stories out loud,” Grandpa rushes in to add that bit.
Gran frowns, but only for a moment and then she continues – “… can heal their worst wounds and fill their hearts with happiness once again.” And she nods.
Humph! Is it possible I somehow filled them with Love, instead of soft toy stuffing?
I close the book amid protests and growls and pleas. And bribes?? Really? I ignore all and tell Jonjon this is the perfect place to stop. Gran and Grandpa are such a wonderful example of the saying –
‘NEVER EVER OVERLOOK MATURE EXPERIENCE’
Because I know for a fact that Granny made these two many, many years ago especially to be the ones to look after the Small Knitty Gritty Kids in the ways they needed most… even when the Kids didn’t realise it themselves. That’s what ‘grandies’ do – all the time, all over the world. They have more time to spare when all their years of hard work are at an end. And there’s nothing ‘grandies’ love more than to spend as much time as possible with their children – and their grandkids. There is so much these charmers have to give.
Jonjon and I talk about this until I can tell, despite his hugest efforts, his eyes are drooping, his tongue beginning to stumble. Finally he gives in when I promise that tomorrow night he will hear about a brave little clown who has an amazing escape from danger – out of the darkness of a most unexpected place. It all sounds scary, but I hasten to reassure him it all comes out happily in the end.
Finally he gives in to his body, snuggles down, and drifts off to his Dreamland. In my imagination he is holding the hands of Gran and Grandpa. And they are chattering and laughing as they disappear into the mists of the improbable.
“Shall we begin?” I shimmy into a relaxed position, pillows propped high, knees bent to support the book, Jonjon pressed against my side. When Mum reads to him, her arm is long enough to easily hold him AND his storybook… but mine isn’t yet. He hangs on tightly to my arm, ready to duck his face behind my shoulder if it all gets too exciting – or fearful. A few more wriggles to get comfortable, and we’re ready.
I am Sarah, reading bedtime stories to my little brother Jonjon, from our Granny’s printed book so he can see her wonderful pictures as I read. In my heart I love her handwritten early drafts more… especially after seeing her fantasies develop. “I’m just growing them,” I imagine her saying. Jonjon and I study the cover, but not for long. He is impatient to get going, to learn about the writings of this Granny – Christine Larsen. Her life ended well before his began.
Jonjon CAN read, but only simple words so far. More important to him is what he says next… “I LOVE all your funny voices,” and he can’t help a few bounces, as if to hurry me along. “Please, PLEASE, let’s start.” His small, twitchy fingers pick at the corner of the page. Knowing there will be no holding him back now, I turn to Granny’s opening words before we end up with a torn page. That would NEVER do!
Chapter 1 – Introduction by Christine
The natives became restless when they learned of Ted Bear’s story, ‘The Talebearer’ and all the extra attention the Main Character (Ted Bear Esquire) attracted.
The ‘natives’ are the Small Knitty Gritty Kids, and although they’ve had their moment in the sunlight on my website, it IS true the little darlings missed out on a more specialised spotlight being beamed on each of them. And if anybody deserves recognition and praise, these Small Knitty Gritty Kids do. Since Ted Bear squished my heart into a soft, doughy kind of shape, I’ve been putty in their small knitted hands.
Here in Jonjon’s bed I pause for a moment to sigh. Uncertain where this reaches me from, but the strangest ‘knowing’ says it’s exactly what Granny would have done on this occasion. My modest audience of one is unaware of anything but his next question, as he twists around to peer into my eyes.
“Sarah? Granny knitted them? That’s why they’re called Knitty kids?”
“Well, yes and no, possum.” (He loves when I call him ‘possum’). “Granny only made four of them herself. She told Mum that was about the limit of her patience.”
“Why?!?” (Oh, really! Does this child know any other response? Over and over he asks that eternal ‘why’.) “All those funny parts needed labelling, so she didn’t forget ‘what was what’ when the time came to piece them together! That’s what tried her perseverance to its limits… OK??”
But Jonjon is still frowning, his slim dark eyebrows drawn tight. Slowly he repeats “OK… but what’s the ‘Gritty’ bit? Did Granny mean they turned up from a sandpit?” Abruptly his face lights up like the sun breaking through the gloomiest of clouds. “That’s the ‘Gritty’ bit. I get it!”
“No, smartypants. You don’t ‘get it’ at all. Now SHH!… Jonjon. Let me finish Granny’s Introduction – and then there’ll be one from Ted Bear Esquire—”
He HAS to interrupt again. “With his gruffy voice, Sarah? P-L-E-A-S-E??” I have to smile at his earnest little face. As he snuggles down again, I read the rest of Granny’s first chapter.
Some thoughtless souls call my kids soft toys, but not me. I make them up of so many funny-shaped pieces, none of them ever becoming individual characters until bodies and souls become sewn into one. Having knitted four of the Knitty Gritty children myself, I understand how love and dreams weave themselves into every fibre of their being. This is where the Knitty part of their name comes from.
Then there’s ‘true grit’, another thing altogether. It’s a unique name for courage in the face of great adversity. It’s about hanging in there when the going gets too tough to bear. These are genuine stories from the mouths of babes—unwanted, unloved anymore; dumped on the trash-heap of life; all hope gone; rejected and dejected, UNTIL—wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles—a Rescuer Extraordinaire bearing my name entered this Black Hole and shone a light, and Hope was reborn.
After seven decades together, Ted Bear Esq. and I certainly know the value of love that lasts forever and ever and ever.
Jonjon has been bursting to speak. Easy to see by the fidgets of his fingers, clenching and wriggling and tapping them on his thumbs. But he waits until the end of the chapter. Quite an achievement in self-control. “So… the ‘wee Beasties’ are Granny’s Knitty Gritty kids?” he asks.
“YES! Just like you are being a wee beastie right now! LISTEN… instead of interrupting me all the time! It’s Ted’s turn!” Jonjon’s grin threatens to split his face right in two.
“Sarah? Sarah?” I hear the voice, but it’s a dream, isn’t it? …Until, “SARAH ANN MOYLE!” jolts me wide awake. The first was Jonjon’s, the second my mum’s. Once again I’ve fallen asleep reading a bedtime story to my little brother. As Mum’s head disappears behind the door, I’m awakened now, but flustered; searching for a reason for my unexpected sleepiness. Could be because I’m ‘thirteen going on thirty’, like Mum always says… and follows that with – ‘back when I was young’. All that yibbity-yabbity-doo can exhaust a brand-new teenager!
I drag my attention backward to the current read. And as I look at Jonjon squashing down a yawn, I realise my unexpected doze-off isn’t tiredness at all. His fidgets and head scratching and nose-picking tell me it’s boredom we share – but I have no wish to blame the book. It IS a delightful story. I loved it when I was young. I don’t know, seems to suggest I need something more… uhrr... lively, maybe? To fire up my imagination, I’m thinking. Like using funny sounds to play games with the words. Big bad gruffy voices and little squeaky, scaredy ones. Then we’ll both stay wide awake and eager. Won’t we?
This book IS wonderful. I loved it when I was younger. Maybe that’s the problem. I’ve read it so many times before that reading it aloud is SO predictable for me now. It’s not only knowing it so well, but the story doesn’t have IT for the more mature reader, like myself. I flounder about, trying to figure out an alternative. And out of the blue, there it is. Been there all along, I guess, tucked into a dusty corner of my think-tank.
“What? What? Whatsa matter Sarah?” Jonjon says as I bound out of the bed, almost falling in a tangle of bedclothes.
“SHHHH…” I hiss. “If you don’t lay down and close your eyes, I won’t be able to find the surprise.” There’s Buckley’s chance of him doing that, but it’s worth a try. For once he listens to me – and when I hint at a most special book brand-new to him though it’s old, he’s at full attention. He snuggles down with only nose and scrunched-up eyes showing. As long as Mum or Dad don’t come too close to see he’s only faking sleep, he’ll get away with it. How that little boy loves his books. Always has. Most of the six years of his life.
I sneak up to the attic and the big old oak box with its lift-up lid… just like the time I followed Mum when she went looking for one of Granny’s diaries to check an important date. Granny’s great carved Oak ‘glory box’ or ‘hope chest’, intended for storing all the linens (and dreams) of young unmarried ladies. But Granny had other treasures to keep safe from moths and mice – her precious writing books and photos. It was for similar protection, including sneaky attacks from silverfish and mould.
Memories of that secret snooping time, AND the stories Mum had shared with me when I was younger came rushing back. How I miss them since she stopped reading them to me. A tear or two fall. I didn’t break that manuscript into hundreds of separate sheets on purpose.! It slipped. And fell. And I don’t know why I started laughing. Deep inside, I wept. I hope she’s forgotten… and haven’t dared remind her. Ohh, I SO want to prove to Mum and Dad I CAN look after a book and it WAS just a terrible accident. And I need to teach Jonjon what a treasure all books are… Granny’s in particular. I’ve always loved them more than any other.
Now, as I creep up the stairs (and I know all about the creaky ones and when to only tread on the outside of a step, or even miss that squeakiest one altogether), I’m confident I won’t be caught. Mum and Dad are downstairs, satisfied I’m reading to Jonjon. And the box? The best news is that it’s not locked because that lid is SO heavy to lift, Mum knows it’s safe from little kiddies’ prying fingers. But big girls and bookworms? That’s another matter. And big girls and bookworms and curiosity and stubbornness? There is a formidable combination.
A monster heave or three, and just I’m thinking my bravado could all be used up, with a creak, the lid eases open. I’m sweating like an apple out of cold storage, but there’s Granny’s treasure – exposed to the world again at last. Rubber bands hold together a great heap of her writing books and a pile of papers. I choose a few books and one bundle, and clutching them tightly to myself, close up again, covering the lid with its patchwork cover – another of Granny’s fantastic creations. I study box and cover for some moments, finally turning away and leaving, satisfied no-one will find anything out of place. Time enough for complete honesty when I’ve proved my belief… that Granny knew how to capture the hearts of both kiddies and their ‘young at heart’ out loud readers.
Creeping back in our room at last, I find Jonjon struggling to stay awake. The added excitement and tension of my mission to the attic after his regular full-on day has topped him off. Swollen, heavy eyelids and one yawn after the other ensure he’ll take only a peek at the books before he snuggles under his quilt without further protest. His sleepy smile shows how he loves that book cover Granny created.
“See Jonjon? Just like I promised, stories for tomorrow night, and the next, and the next. But DON’T tell ANYONE, remember?” With an almost imperceptible nod of his head, his eyelids fall down and he drifts away – to that special dreamworld he adores describing, where all his fantasies come true.
I’m blessed – to hold Granny’s precious words and experience once again our loving connection. It’s a long, long time since I cuddled against her as she stroked my hair… or sat in front of her as she brushed and brushed it, over and over. I’ll always keep that little stool safe. The one I sat on, the one I always thought of as MY stool, the one she covered with her hundreds of tapestry stitches forming a flood of flowers. What an artist. How many hours must she have spent on this project alone?
But her artistry never shone more brightly than here, in her magical words. And as I open one book filled with her writing, I smile so deep inside I can’t help my mouth stretching to match. I smile at the way her words rush across the page as though they hadn’t been able to come out of her pencil fast enough. Such a difference to her long-considered and shaped writing when she wrote in greeting cards, or special letters. I know how much she prized her handwriting… her ‘penmanship’ she called it, harking back to an earlier age when things like this carried great importance. ‘A good handwriting,’ she’d say, ‘… and a good handshake. That’s the mark of a distinguished man. A man to trust.’
Still, who could forget seeing her riding high on a wave of inspiration when she’d forget everything around her, writing as if possessed. And she was. Times like that, her handwriting became little better than a scribble, sometimes only intelligible to her… even giving her pause and raised eyebrows and frowns when she came to transcribe them into her computer. I was so glad I had chosen both the hand-written and type-written copies of the same book. It had been a deliberate choice, remembering how many times she worked over the many print-outs to get to a final edition, ready for the world. I loved seeing the contrast as her stories grew.
Granny held the firmest opinions about cover pics. I didn’t always understand what the old dear meant at first, when she talked of ‘same-old-sameness’ about too many ‘so-called professional‘ covers. She’d raise a tissue to her nose and sniff, her face wearing a frown about as disgusted as I ever saw it.
“They would criticise mine, even laugh in some know-it-all circles,” Granny would say. “And I should care? I should imagine, even for a teensy minute, THEY would have a better knowledge and understanding for MY creations than I do?” She’d pause and sniff again, her face a picture of the greatest disdain; eyebrows raised to their highest above eyes that rolled round their sockets in her best mock-theatrical performance.
Back before I learned to keep my mirth silent and contained, I experienced the full weight of that look many, many times, as she said, “SARAH!’ in an unmistakable tone of voice. Awesome. There’s no other word. How I loved that old lady. How I missed her and the particular colour she brought to my Life. And to all those around her. And even many folk far, far away, who only recognised her by her words.
As I slide down in my bed, my trusty reader’s headlamp pointing its beaming finger onto Granny’s book, I find my eyes refusing to leave the cover. Ohh, I l-o-v-e that picture you chose, Granny. The thought is a mutter on the wings of a lengthy sigh… almost as if she hears me. No, couldn’t be. I shake myself.
I try to imagine when first she saw this strange and lovely photo of a stone path wending its way down from a misty and mysterious world where light filters through bare tree branches. I fancy she shivered with the crispness in the air; in the magical scene lit by the twinkle of a billion stars above. And the Small Knitty Gritty Kids would start wandering down the rough steps from their Dream-time to find their most fantastic imaginings were about to come true.
‘Born Again…’ Granny wrote. And thanks to her, each tiny woolly soul WAS reborn — by her loving hands — those special ones of the ‘Rescuer Extra-ordinaire’.
THAT was twenty years ago? REALLY? It’s as close as yesterday. And yet here is little Jonjon (oops, sorry Jonathon) a grown man now, with two small children.Wouldn’t he just love hearing me call him that little kiddy Jonjon again in front of them? I imagine it was his reminding me about being the custodian of Granny’s books that set this clearest of my memories rolling. That. And his request for me to read to his babes. C’mon sis, he said, make the voices of those darling little characters our Granny wrote so well. Make them live again. Like you did for me. Please! He knows I’ll do it… what a sucker I am for reading aloud.