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…
Christine speaking again, because this is the only time I can get a word in edgewise with ‘HE Who Rules the Roost’.
Please sshhh now… because Ted Bear Esq. is sleeping. Don’t be fooled by the eyes wide open – that’s the way he rests… truly!
But his slow and steady breathing are the give-away. That, and the gentlest of snores… but don’t tell him that.
Because I know him so well after all these years we’ve shared, I can hazard the best guess about what he’s dreaming of. It’s his adopted family – the Small Knitty Gritty Kids. He’s feeling quite disturbed because they are restless… and upset… and pouting quite a bit.
They want a bit of that stardust/stardom treatment, just like Ted. And so they take over his dreams… and I think I feel another book coming on – the one about the –
BORN AGAIN… SMALL KNITTY GRITTY KIDS.
Watch out. I think they’re coming soon.
But definitely it’s Good Night from him and it’s Good Night from me… for now.
“Where IS Summer, this time?” Grandpa looked all around the barn, the old dairy, the stockyards – even peered into the pig pen.
His slow and easy voice showed he didn’t expect to find her there, but the child had taken up near-permanent residence in Pansy’s pen a few weeks ago. Grandpa shook his head again, as he had many, many times. That friendly pig had given birth to TEN piglets on her first ever litter. “TEN!” He snorted out loud to nobody there. “Pansy’s only a young’un herself.” And nobody there answered him.
“Summer! Summer!” he called, and muttered, where is that girl? He pushed the barn door open wide, looking out into the sunny meadow on one side… and then squinting his eyes up tight to see more clearly into the apple orchard on the other side. And there she was, laying back against the trunk of her favourite tree, safe and sound. A large sigh escaped his lips. If Summer could have seen the look of relief easing the many wrinkles of his old face, she would have laughed at him and teased him for worrying even the teensiest bit.
For many moments Grandpa didn’t say another word. The smile tugging at the edges of his mouth showed how much he enjoyed the vision of this small child, chewing on a long stalk of hay, oblivious to her world’s sounds. Summer’s one squinted eye in that small, upturned face showed her focus was on the changing cloud shapes. Grandpa approached her, unwilling to disturb such a charming scene as she traced imagined shapes with one chubby finger of her upraised hand. Despite his stealth, Summer sensed his presence and turned her head trustingly, prompting him to ask what she saw this time. He never tired of looking through her eyes. Her imagination knew no boundaries as it stretched his own far beyond his usual practical and down-to-earth visions.
“Don’t tell me the short man has come down from his tall mountain again, hey punkin’?” And as he lowered himself to sit alongside her, he took one of her long golden braids and tickled her nose with the curly ends hanging below the pink polka-dot ribbon. Summer giggled as she nodded her head so hard Grandpa thought it could roll right off her shoulders.
“And what does he breathe out this day, hey? More animals?” And he settled himself more comfortably. How he loved his little darling telling him a story, instead of the many bedtime ones he told her. She snuggled up against him just as tightly no matter who was the storyteller. But unlike their precious night-time ritual, one snuggle was all Summer could manage before she simply had to wriggle free to point skywards again.
“It’s my Knitty Gritty kids, Pappy. L-O-O-K! Up there between those two branches. See ? Where the old nest is?” And she pulled his head to her so their faces were pressed side by side, to see exactly where she peered. And though he knew he didn’t have a quarter of the imagination running wild behind those shining brown eyes, he pretended. And couldn’t believe the magic happened again, like last time when it was all about animals. Inside the warmth of her… uhmm? Aura? Was that what it was? Grandpa wasn’t sure of its name. All he knew was up close and all around his little punkin’ was this warmth and light, where strange new powers were born and flourished. Like being able to see the shapes and characters who filled her daydream world.
“LOOK! Do you see Gran and Grandpa?” Her voice was small and hushed, but her excitement was impossible to miss. “They’ve got their heads together, Pappy – same as we have.” And she planted a hasty kiss on his ear, with eyes still stretched to their limit sideways. And whether it was the ‘aura’ thing or whatever, Grandpa could see his namesake and the other one who represented his dear old wife, Clara. How well he remembered the amount of time she’d spent creating them. Knitting all their bits and sewing them together; puffing out their small bodies with stuffing; and then the faces. He shook his head to clear the image of the many attempts Clara had made to get those small mouths into the best smile, and darned eyes to match each other, yet magically, seeming to be looking at each other when they were side by side.
And now, with his Summer-eyes at work in place of his old-farmer-see-for-miles ones, more and more of the Knitty Gritty children floated into view.
“Look! Bimbo! It’s Bimbo the Clown,” he said gleefully, beating Summer by a goat’s whisker. “And I can’t even see where your Gran patched him after the terrible night of the munching moths.” For a moment, the suspicion of a tear hovered on Summer’s eyelashes.
“He was SO brave, Pappy. He never cried out when it was happening. He soldiered on. And you know he refused an anaesthetic when Gran mended him. Bimbo just toughed it out.” Summer sniffed. “But she did have to restitch his mouth to put his special smile back.” Her little body stiffened as she pointed off to the other side of the tree – “See? Past those three apples cuddled up tight. See? It’s another bravest one. It’s Molly!” Grandpa had to squint, but then he too could see a cute little mop cap shading the brightest eyes.
“Of course. She’s the courageous soul who came all the way across the sea from Tasmania to our BIG island – all by herself!” Grandpa had always been greatly impressed by this small sailor. Certainly, she had been carefully but firmly wrapped, and that was most important, but still it must have been terrifying to be surrounded by strange noises and smells, and not be able to see ANY of the culprits at all. And have no understanding of the hero’s welcome waiting at the end of her journey. Bravery above and beyond the call of duty, Grandpa muttered.
As Grandpa focussed more and more clearly thanks to Summer’s magic, he saw Simon Scarecrow, keeping crows and other troublesome winged types away. Although, Grandpa saw he let angels pass without a problem. SOME feathered friends were ALWAYS welcome.
“And Pappy… do you see Derek the Cat?”
Now it was Grandpa’s turn to nod with such vigour he nearly lost his beanie. “I know him. He’s the one who tells the story of being Dick Whittington’s cat in another lifetime, and going to London to visit the Queen.” And a sly but wide grin nearly split Grandpa’s face in half. “And if I’m not mistaken, there’s his best girl Susie, holding his hand.”
Summer wriggled. “And if we were not so far away, I’ll bet we’d hear him singing his bestiest song in the world—”
“Ahh but I love that one, too.” And Grandpa ducked his head. “… sing it to Gran sometimes, out on the porch, on a moony, starry night—” and he interrupted himself to urrhum-urrhum as two red spots appeared on his wrinkly cheeks and his voice dropped to barely a whisper. “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy…’
Summer smiled at her Pappy. Hardly anyone knew what a marshmallow he was behind the rough-tough old farmer image. But then his face changed. He wore a frown now and a questioning look.
“Just a minute. I remember last time how you told me the ‘short man’ is Scotty the Chimney Sweep, and the breaths he breathes to make all these shapes are a heap of giant sneezes from all the dust and grime inside all the chimneys he cleans, right? But how does he get up on the roof in the first place? And the tall mountain, too, on his short legs? That’s what I don’t understand.”
Summer’s face relaxed into her usual happy smile. “Ahh… easy-peasy, Pappy. Great big Harry the Painter – see him?” And she leaned so far to one side Grandpa thought she would topple right over and likely roll down the hill exactly like her beloved Jack and Jill.
“See his big tall ladder? It’s strong as forever. You know what a supercalafragalistic tradesman he is! He props it against any house, and up Scotty goes. And now he doesn’t need any help to climb the tall mountain. His legs are sturdy as tree trunks and he goes up faster than a speeding bullet! See, Pappy?”
Author’s Note: Proud to tell you this won third place in a children’s story competition – the challenge being to create a >1500 word story from a paragraph prompt –
Summer lies on the warm grass, her long braids keeping her wind hair out of her freckled face. She traces the outlines of the shapes in the clouds with a chubby finger and one squinted eye. “What are you doing out here punkin’?” Summer’s grandpa inquires as he shuffles through the yard. “Watching the animals,” she replies simply, never taking her eyes off the sky. “Animals?” Her grandpa asks. “Yeah Pappy, the animals the short man on the tall mountain makes with his breath.”
“Blue? Why would you want to be blue? Dragons aren’t BLUE!”
“No. Not the colour, my little friend. I mean ‘blue’ as in unhappy, down in the mouth, all that kind of sad puff ‘n stuff.”
Timmy tilted his head and stopped licking his lollipop only just long enough to say, “WH-A-A-T?” and “WH-Y-Y-Y??”
He scratched his head some, like he’d seen Grandpa do when he was muddled and befuddled. Timmy had never seen a sniffling snuffling dragon before and wasn’t sure what he should do. His mum always came with the tissue box when he cried – but a dragon with the waterworks would probably need a whole roll of paper towels… best nip that one in the bud, he thought. Maybe give Kaida a lick of lollipop? That could work. And Timmy held up his red and white swirly lollipop as high as he could reach. It was a super-generous gift – Timmy’s favourite – raspberry and vanilla.
Kaida’s large and grateful lick threatened to knock Timmy over, but he braced his legs. He’d been getting dragon licks since he was small, when Kaida blew warm breaths over his baby body to tickle him ever so slightly and post him off to Dreamland. He’d actually learned to walk by holding on to the pointy bits up her spine, becoming excellent at keeping his balance around her.
It all started with Farmer Grandpa, once upon a long time ago. Farmers can fix most anything, always living up to the title – ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’. This was never more useful than the day Grandpa met a dragonette in his far paddock. A dragonette, you ask? That’s a youngster, only about 60 something years old, trying hard to be a grown-up. This was Kaida and she had become separated from her mother [who was about two thousand years old, although she liked to say she’d lost track, and forget a few hundred years here and there… seems to be a female kind of thing.]
First came a severe cramp in one wing as Kaida tried to keep up with her mother, flying against a buffety wind, and that had caused the crash landing – luckily into a forest of extremely leafy trees. After she slowly fell through the branches onto a forest floor covered in ivy and mushrooms and a mountain of crackly fallen leaves, Kaida managed to stand up. BUT, to her dismay, she not only couldn’t fly [having damaged her wing] but her fiery, whooshing huff ‘n puff wouldn’t work at all. Instead it came out as a warm and gentle breeze. Her green cheeks turned a brightish pink with embarrassment, imagining how the other dragonettes would laugh and make fun of her. Maybe even her parents would be ashamed of her? She knew they loved her and would pretend it didn’t matter, but it would hurt them terribly when all the other dragonettes were playing their fire-bug games and she couldn’t join in.
Kaida begged Grandpa to help make her better – and being an excellent handyman, always ready to try anything, he wanted to help her… BUT this day it was his job to babysit Timmy, and he couldn’t possibly do both. Kaida convinced him she could let the babe lay on her tail between the pointy bits and sway him ever so slowly, while humming as she curled around him and did some warm-air-blowing. She promised faithfully [and crossed her heart and hoped to die if she lied], she would NOT eat Timmy, even though he looked perfectly scrumptious.
She said, “It’s only fair! PLEASE! I beg you…” Her plaintive tone and tear-filled eyes convinced Grandpa to trust her. With a quick look over his shoulder to make sure Timmy’s mother wasn’t anywhere near to see the risk he was taking, he found the coast was clear [and the paddock too], all the way to the barn where he placed small Timmy in a nest of hay he’d made, beckoning Kaida to lay her head close to the babe. Soon Timmy was sleeping happily in the soft ebb and flow of her loving breath. Kaida couldn’t believe the unsuspected well of love she found deep inside herself.
After several hours of concentrated binding with the strongest silver packaging tape – because band-aids were too wimpy, and gauzy-type bandages likewise – Grandpa was able to patch Kaida up darn-fine-splendid as he liked to say when he did a good job. But reviving the fire and brimstone blasts of breath was impossible. [To tell the truth, Grandpa didn’t try TOO hard. He loved that Kaida could only blow gentle warm breezes, no matter how hard she huffed and puffed.] He pretended much grief as he shared the bad news, but when she broke down and sobbed her great dragon heart out, he did feel truly sorry for her.
“I won’t belong anywhere in Dragonville any more. Even dragonettes have to fire up daily to survive there.” Kaida sniffed so hard the hay around Timmy was nearly sucked up. He murmured and wriggled, but thankfully never woke. “Once upon a long time ago, dragons were the only things flying really high in the sky – even more than twice as high as eagles and the like. And then you human beans started crowding us out with your flying dragon-things; more and more of them, flying ever higher, until some went right off into the darkest sky and never returned. These are powers we don’t understand. So we crept into the deepest caves and hid… or risk perishing if we showed ourselves to you.”
Grandpa was deeply moved. Clearly he’d decided to make this dragon a friend. After all, he murmured quietly to himself, anyone who purrs like Kaida and makes my precious grandson giggle and laugh out loud when he’s awake, and then sleep like a… well-ll-ll… baby – MUST be trustworthy. And as always, gruff old Grandpa’s heart went out to the homeless, even such as this young dragon of almost sixty six.
Turned out it was a wonderful choice Grandpa made. Kaida never ever let him down. Not. One. Single. Time. Even when tiny Timmy was teething and brought to Kaida screaming, she’d calm him down in a moment. Grandpa made sure she had the best of care and a diet rich in banana skins. He’d discovered orange peels were OK, although a bit ho-hum. BUT banana skins? They were a special treat for dragons, and he gratefully and regularly rewarded her with well-deserved treaties. And Timmy grew and flourished and grew some more, until even his mother lost all fear and came to depend on Kaida’s special care.
But now, out of the blue, here was Kaida ‘feeling blue’. “But why??” said Timmy, when Kaida lay her head alongside her shoulder and her mouth turned down at the corners. He’d been so sure the lollipop would do it. Why, he was even ready to sacrifice the whole stickful, if worst came to worst.
“Because I can’t make fire, I can’t see the brightest yellows and oranges and reds of flames. My soft huff’n puff stuff is all quiet colours, like lemon and apricot and kind of pinkish.” And Kaida sighed so hard Timmy’s best-loved cap blew off and rolled far away before he could catch it. But despite his loss and before he had time to miss it too much, he started smiling as a super thought popped into his mind.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Think about sunrise colours. They’re all those soft huff’n puff colours, and they are the beginning of a new day… a new chance for each one of us to follow a dream, or be our own new bestiest person [or dragon] we can be. Isn’t that a super-dooper thought?”
“Well-ll yes. I guess so… “ Kaida didn’t sound overly convinced. “But the bright colours? I miss them SO badly.”
“Easy peasy. They’re the colours of sunset – the END of each day. It’s like all your dreams are over, all bridges burned—” and Timmy interrupted himself, putting up his hand like a STOP sign. “BUT that is NOT sad. It just means you can go to bed and dream about all the tomorrows, all the ‘might be gonna happen’ stuff.”
And Timmy stretched out his hand to stroke the soft part of the front of her nose, where it was velvety, just like a horse’s. And Kaida smiled and made an almost whinnying sound… and decided green was the nicest colour a dragon could possibly be.
Author’s Note: I’m proud to say this small story won Second Prize in a competition for a story suitable for children under 10 years old, 1500 words or less, inspired by the picture that I used as my cover.
Exploring the vast rock pool had been such fun—surely it was only moments ago she’d been hiding in caves; slithering through seaweed; investigating all those shellfish. But the tide silently slipped out while Debbie was busy, and she’d been a naughty baby dolphin, pretending not to hear when Mother called her, over and over again. Now she was darting around, hoping against hope to find an escape, but the rock pool was slowly getting smaller.
Out in the ocean Mother cried frantically, “HELP! HELP! Someone PLEASE save my baby Debbie. She can’t live through the hours until the next tide without a feed, without me.”
The Sea answered sternly. “I follow the moon and MUST change my tides at precise moments. All who live within me must learn this and obey. THIS IS MY LAW.”
“Oh please,” said Mother. “Please don’t be such a cruel sea.”
But the Sea kept flowing away.
High above, seagulls soared and swooped, nosily dipping down to investigate, only to start arguing, pecking, squawking, and offering Mother no help at all.
“DO stop fighting and think of something!” she said. But they were too busy scavenging to think of anyone else.
Just then, shimmying through the crystal water, tentacles rippling behind like a bunch of super spaghetti, came Jilly Jellyfish. “Maybe if I spread my tentacles across the rocks, Debbie could slither over them into the sea?”
Mother shook her head sadly. “No-o-o! Your tentacles sting terribly.”
Claudia Crab scrabbled sideways onto a rock. “Oh! I’d have pulled Debbie up onto Jilly’s tentacles with my trusty nippers.”
” NO!” Mother was horrified. “Your claws would hurt her… but thank you.”
Todd Tortoise ambled slowly across the rocks. “If—I—got—underneath—her, I—could—piggyback—her—out—of—there.” And he sighed with exhaustion from saying so much.
“Oh Todd, such a splendid idea, except she’d slide off your great round back.” Todd nodded, slowly and sadly.
Another voice rang out—Electra Eel. “If I gave her an electric charge from my tail, she’d jump clear out into the sea.”
“Electra! NO! That is too shocking. Oh, what ARE we to do?” A giant tear slid down Mother’s face.
Suddenly Octavia Octopus bobbed up alongside Mother. “I could wrap one of my l-o-n-g arms around her and pull her out, but I need something strong to hold onto with another arm.”
“. . . and she would still be hurt, being dragged over the rocks.” Mother was desperate now.
Tiny voices babbled and twittered from the rock pool.
“We want to help!” said Percy Periwinkle.
“. . . but we’re too small,” said Annie Anemone.
“. . . but there must be something we can do,” said Colin Cockle.
“. . . and I know what it is,” said Lucy Limpet. “Chatter and keep Debbie company!”
And they did. And Debbie felt a little better. Still, more of Mother’s tears became lost in all the other salt water.
A sudden ‘whoosh’ overhead, and a startling splash-down announced Felicity Flying-fish!
“If I flew back and forth with news and messages, would that help?” Mother nodded gratefully.
A great shape loomed large in the sky before Patrick Pelican made a water-ski type landing. “My dear… what grave news. How upsetting and worrisome. ‘In flight’, I was thinking I might save the day by catching fish and delivering them in my humongous pantry beak. Then, my dear, she WILL survive until the later tide!” But his ear-to-ear smile drooped at Mother’s reply.
“Aah Patrick. It’s a clever plan, but you don’t understand. We are mammals, so Debbie drinks milk from me. She hasn’t even started a mashed sardine diet yet. She’s still too young.”
“Don’t cry! My nose gets all stuffy when the water is TOO salty.” The voice was long and thin. Sammy Swordfish offered to saw a channel through the rocks, but Mother knew they were far too hard. He would only blunt the points of his saw nose.
A sudden swirling sea-swell frightened Mother, until the great grey head of Winston Whale broke the surface, his nearest small black eye looking sadder and kinder than usual.
“My radar registered your distress from far away, but I feel so helpless. Here am I, strongest of us all. Strong enough to pull her to China and then Peru… but I can’t reach her. I can’t do it alone. None of us can make it alone,” and he blew a huge bubbling sigh into the sea.
“Bravo, Winston! THEY are the keywords!” The deep stern voice came around the rocks just before its lumbering owner—Sergeant Stonewall Sea-lion—oldest and wisest of them all. Twitching his whiskers, he harrumphed importantly.
“A combined air, land and sea rescue is the thing to solve this dilemma. I recall the time down at the old Antarctic, when the penguins were revolting. They were coming at us from all directions. Must have been over a thousand of them. Our strategy was—”
“Oh please, Sgt. Stonewall.” Mother interrupted, politely. “PLEASE? Another time? My baby seriously needs help RIGHT now.”
The Sergeant looked embarrassed. “Well yes. Humble apologies and all that. Bit carried away for a moment. Heat of the battle… sorry!” Harrumphing again, arranging his sternest face and most important voice, he said, “Right troops, here is my strategic plan. Every man must carry out orders without question, without hesitation. Can I count on you?” And even though several ladies were part of the crowd, they all replied as if with one voice – “YES, SIR!”
“Good! First I need you, Jilly Jellyfish.” She quivered through every tentacle with excitement and pride to be the first called to action. “You choose the longest, strongest seaweed in the pool, and hold all shorter ones back with your tentacles.”
And Jilly did.
“Next, we’ll have you, Claudia Crab, hacking off long seaweed with your nippers.”
And Claudia chopped away cheerfully.
“Todd Tortoise! Hurry, there’s a splendid chap, and position yourself beneath baby Debbie.”
At a pace barely faster than slow, Todd slid under Debbie.
“Now, where is Electra Eel?”
“Down here,” she cried, and lit up her tail so all could see her in the darkest depths.
“Listen carefully, Electra. Wrap the seaweed round and around Debbie and Todd, SECURELY tying her to his back. But CAREFUL! You must NOT shock her!”
Like a flash of lightning, Electra tied Debbie up cute as a Christmas parcel on its way to Africa—with a splendid bow on top.
A chorus of voices chimed out, “What are WE to do? There’s no job for us.” And Percy Periwinkle, Annie Anemone, Colin Cockle and Lucy Limpet cried piteously.
“Harrumph!” Sgt. Stonewall couldn’t handle tears. “Come, come now. Get a grip on yourselves. You shall encourage the rest of the troops to victory.”
They all stopped crying and started laughing, for now they were the Official Cheer Squad.
“Attention troops. I said ATTENTION!” The Sergeant roared, as everyone had become excited and far too noisy. Instantly they stopped and listened.
“That’s better! Now Felicity Flying-fish, continue your ‘fly-between’, comforting Debbie. And Patrick Pelican—hover above and direct movements from an aerial view-point.”
So Felicity flew, and Patrick hovered.
“Now,” said the Sergeant, “Octavia Octopus, put your longest, strongest arm into the rock pool; take a firm grip on those seaweed ties; and wrap your second longest, strongest arm around Winston Whale’s tail.”
Octavia’s arms clutched their grippiest best.
“NOW – PULL WINSTON, PULL!”
So Winston pulled; Octavia’s grip tightened; Jilly held the short seaweed away; the Cheer Squad encouraged loudly; and s-l-o-w-l-y, carefully, Todd Tortoise and baby Debbie emerged from the pool, up over the rocks, and down the other side—SPLASH into the deep blue sea.
Everyone cheered, but Sgt. Stonewall hadn’t finished. “WAIT! There is one more thing to do. Sammy Swordfish?”
“YES, SIR!” Sammy snapped to attention, long nose quivering expectantly.
“Saw through those seaweed ties with your grand saw nose to release Debbie. BUT… CAREFULLY, so you don’t cut her.”
Sammy sliced, and the seaweed fell away.
Debbie surged toward Mother and gratefully, greedily drank—and Mother laughed and cried as Mothers always do, and couldn’t stop thanking her friends for their marvellous rescue.
“Teamwork,” she whooped in delight and gratitude. “We ALL need each other to succeed.”
All the sea creatures cheered and splashed and flapped , while Sgt. Stonewall Sea-lion roared his approval, puffed out his great hairy chest and harrumphed as everyone crowded around congratulating him.
High above the flock of seagulls still screeched and squawked and squabbled, as seagulls ALWAYS do.
The Sea smiled, creating a warm, soft current to drift Debbie and Mother into safer, deeper waters.
He was happy to see one of his own saved, because he was not really such a cruel sea at all.
Author’s Note: Proud to tell you this won FIRST place in a children’s story competition – the challenge being to create a >1500 words on the theme Diversity (and must include at least 3 pictures)
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.
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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.
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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…
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“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’
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“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.
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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?
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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!”