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.”
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.
Ta-ta-ta, dee diddle dee da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a! (Pretend drum roll, because my arms are too short!)
Harrhumm… LADIES AND GENTLEMAN. YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE!
It gives me the greatest pleasure to introduce you to a most famous group – the like of which you’ll rarely see in such numbers and diversity. You know about the Beatles, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck? And hurrhum – Einstein, Thomas the Tank Engine, Elvis Presley? Not to mention Smokey and the Bandit, and Mantovani – ahh… the list could go on forever.
Few can compare to the trials, the tribulations, the rejections and desertion these helpless and hapless small children have endured among the heaps of unwanted and no longer loved little rejects of Life.
Here are their stories – direct from their private, hidden retreat in the country these days, their safe place to fall, a home they never wish to leave. For humane and educational purposes they agreed to only a few photos and for our Mum to write the precious tales they’ve shared.
PARDON? Did you say you wanted to learn some of their names? (sigh) OK! If you insist! There’s about sixteen (or more) of these little critters, so I’ll only tell you a few – to whet your appetite. Check these out – Gran and Grandpa, Bimbo and Clarence (the clowns), Simon Scarecrow, Harry the Painter, Bert the Chimney Sweep, and Sally and Sammy – the disabled kids. Not a cast of thousands, but each has a story they’ve entrusted to our Mum, and I’m not alone in thinking they are each rather special. But what can I tell you? With a mentor and kind of Father figure like ME, how could they go wrong??
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN- (l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g pretend drum roll)
THE SMALL KNITTY GRITTY KIDS!
“Oh, oh, oh... it’s beginning.” Jonjon is all but jumping out of his PJs, he’s so excited. “The voices, Sarah. Will there be voices now? Will there?” Now his bounces are so enthusiastic I’m in danger of dropping the precious book.
I nod enthusiastically… nothing less will do. Still, I warn him, if I don’t get some quiet, I won’t be able to continue. Well, that fixes everything. He freezes – same as he does in his beloved ‘What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?’ game he plays with his pals.
And the voices I use now are most tricky. They have to be old as I can make them, but ‘stroft’. ‘Strong’ and ‘soft’ all at the same time. It’s a tough ask, but will impress Jonjon no matter how they come out. How lucky I saw that funny glinty shine in Ted Bear’s eyes when I opened the book to HIS page.
Could it be he’s given me some kind of magical powers… like Granny and I are the same, sort of? As though I know exactly how she felt when she wrote her precious words? That’s how it feels. STRANGE indeed… but kind of lovely and warm. I feel her smiling – truly I can.
I’m inspired to do the best job possible just for her (and it won’t be much of a chore doing this for Jonjon, either).
“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.
This story began as an entry in a children’s story competition and when unsuccessful there, moved on to be accepted by another anthology of women writers. It is now part of an eBook with proceeds going to a specified charity, but copyright remains with me.
And so , here it is for you to enjoy – for free. Do hope you and yours share many happy hours learning about my Small Knitty Gritty Kids. Will you be tempted to learn more about them? They were so much fun to create, and each one of them have the most amazing tales.
I hope it won’t confuse you too much that these are being read as bedtime stories by the author’s grand-daughter to her small brother. I’m hoping they are divided clearly enough for your reading pleasure.
Please stay patient with the tweaking I will probably continue to do as I add more chapters. It’s one of the ‘norms’ of this authoring business… to keep finding things to change or improve!
This night Mum brings another pillow and sets it up at the head of the bed with Jonjon and me.
“You’re going to be right here with us, Mum? Really?”
“How come, Mum?” Always love Jonjon’s curious face – all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ever eager for an answer.
“Well-ll-ll, I thought Ted Bear was overdue for a kiss atop his head. And as I straightened up, his eyes twinkled again.” And so did Mum’s. They always do when she mentions Ted. She loves him exactly like Granny did, she always says. Made a promise to Granny, she told us… to always care for him.
“… and that twinkle spoke to me and I just found myself drifting towards your bedroom.” Now a little chuckle escapes. This is not the first time Ted Bear has had that effect on his beloved family. I see it takes quite an effort for Mum to pull her face straight and serious.
“Now back to this bullying conversation I promised. OK?”
Jonjon’s face puckers. “But where’s Dad? Isn’t he going to be here, too?” He relaxes again when Mum tells him Dad will be in to kiss us all goodnight on his way to an important meeting he must attend.
“Ohh…OK!” His reluctance to accept this is obvious, but then Mum puts her arm around Jonjon and talks lovely to him about laughing at him last night.
“We weren’t laughing at you being stuck in a rubbish bin,” she says, with a kiss on his forehead, where she continues to stroke his fringe off his face.
Jonjon’s bottom lip juts out like a gutter on a house. “Maybe you weren’t,” and he turns to me. “Sarah? You were laughing. What were YOU laughing at?”
I have to give him a little peck on that smooth cheek – just have to – it’s flushed with his crossness and just a touch of embarrassment too. “I was laughing at my mind picture of a little boy falling out of a teapot spout.” And I can’t help it, I start giggling.
“SARAH!” Mum warns, but I see the twinkle in her eyes. “Jonjon was just lucky there was no really mean intent behind his ‘bullying’ episode. Sounded to me it was a bit of push and shove that accidentally went bad.” She raises one eyebrow and Jonjon reluctantly nods his head as he says, “BIT of a push? But…—”
“I know. BUT – it could have ended up much worse. You could have hit your head badly on the wall behind those bins. I remember that tall brick wall. That could have been really bad.”
Jonjon nods enthusiastically. “I could’ve needed stitches – lots and lots of them. Doctor would prob’ly need a sewing machine. My head could’ve split right down the back,” and he rubs his head as if to make sure there’s no crack there.
Mum sucks in her cheeks for a moment, takes a couple of deep breaths, and continues, “Exactly! People don’t always think about how easily a harmless prank can turn serious. I was thinking of damage to your little spine too, precious.” And she snuggles him tighter and smiles lovingly over his head at me.
“But tonight, if Sarah would like, I’d love to read to you about one of Granny’s best-ever rescues – a brother and sister this time!” She pauses [and raises her eyebrows questioningly as I nod back vigorously]. Her voice ramps up several levels on the excitement scale, and so does Jonjon’s enthusiasm. Yesterday’s bullying is all but forgotten.
“A brother and sister, Mum? Like me and Sarah?”
“Well-ll, sort of. But these two look as if they’re actually twins, and their names sound like it too.” As Jonjon draws breath, she hurries on. “They are Sally and Sammy – and they were not only deserted and lost when Granny found them, they both also had a terrible disability.” She wasn’t quick enough this time to avoid Jonjon’s question.
“A dissa… uhrr disha… erm – dishwasher?Huh Mum?”
“DIS-A-BIL-ITY. It’s when someone doesn’t have one of the abilities most of us have – like walking and talking, seeing and hearing… all kinds of things like that.” And she holds her hand up to stop Jonjon. “Sally and Sammy have no eyes and they were bullied terribly because they are blind.” Jonjon’s eyes are huge and his jaw has dropped wide open. Have to admit, so has mine.
“Mum? You mean deliberately bullied? Someone was THAT cruel?” I can’t believe Mum is nodding her head. She tells us things Sally and Sammy shared secretly with Granny sometimes when no-one else was around.
“One time, some of Sally’s so-called ‘friends’ told her they’d make her pretty, and pretended to put makeup on her face. But instead they made her cheeks and nose bright red as a clown and smeared lipstick so her lips looked huge and horrible. Then they wrote STUPID on her forehead, and smeared cream all through her hair, telling her it was hair-setting-gel to make her hair pretty and curly, and not to touch it until it was dry.”
I hardly know whether to cry or be really, really angry. I can see Jonjon’s face showing the same, and then he says, “… and Sammy? What did they do to Sammy?”
Mum looks even sadder and says, “They stole his hat and tossed it to each other, turning him every which way until he was so giddy he fell down. And it seemed there was at least one mean person every day to stick out a foot as he passed, to trip him over.”
Jonjon’s bottom lip is trembling and a tear or three hover on the lower rims of his eyes. Right in the nick of time Dad walks in to say his goodnights and encourage Mum to get on with reading the story before it gets too much later. When he leaves the room, she raises a finger at Jonjon and says, “See? It’s more than time for the story now.”
# # # # #
Of all my rescues of kids and critters, there were two small characters who have to take top place on the ‘true grit’ list – Sally and Sammy.
It was an ordinary kind of a day and I was just killing some time really, having a half-hearted wander around a not too clean charity shop (that also smelled disgustingly stale and full of old unwashed clothesy sort of odours). I had already decided there was nothing I wanted from this place. It really just wasn’t nice at all.
As I walked by, I glanced idly into a large old chrome shopping trolley full of dime a dozen soft toys in quite nasty states of disrepair. It was so icky, I didn’t even feel like rummaging through them – until I spied a couple of brighter ‘knitted’ arms or legs or something. So I bravely took a plunge and a grip and came up with… Sally!
You’ve probably noticed in the picture, she has a basket on her arm. A basket full of mushrooms. Well-ll-ll… that was IT for me. I’m a mushroom gatherer from forever ago – when I was just a little girl and would head off over the paddocks with Mum and Dad and other family and friends. Oowhaa… mushies in gravy on toast… yummo! So I just HAD to rescue Sally.
And then, as I headed towards the door, I happened to glance up at a high shelf, and there was her brother… and surely he was her twin? Same coloured blouse on her as the shirt on him; same floppy farmer-type hat with a red band, but most importantly (and worst) of all – they were disabled kids. Blind from birth, it would appear. See – no eyes.
What sort of small Mother could have abandoned children with such huge needs of love and support? Bad enough to live in a big, black world – but one with no loving comfort of warm arms, sweet whispers into their ears, lots of little kissies and stuff like that? And they’d been separated from each other – dirty, despairing, down-trodden and destitute. Simply heart-breaking.
After their cleanup, I seriously considered Surgery – eye implants, maybe. But alas, I’m no Fred Hollows (the world renown eye surgeon who restored the eyesight to hundreds of thousands and trained a number of teams to carry on his work when he no longer could). I must say, I’m thinking even he may have had to put this case in the too hard basket. But for another, much more important reason (or so I felt) . . . I needed to respect their dignified acceptance of their condition, and do nothing more than heap kisses and cuddles on them.
As time has passed, I’ve been satisfied with this decision. Sally and Sammy have taught the other Knitty Gritty Kinds SO many lessons about respect, and appreciation of the type of courage and determination these two demonstrate – every single day. And there’s stuff like tolerance and understanding – but most of all about love and caring and trying to help Sally and Sammy live their best possible Life.
I understand they had a chat with one of Ted Bear’s mates, Wilfrid Wabbit about the possible value of a carrot diet improving their eyesight. Wilfrid can’t say for sure. He was born with weak eyes and already has to wear specs, although he’s only a youngster yet. BUT, he has his carrot a day and believes his vision will be 20:20 before he gets to his ‘terrible teens’.
Although their favourite food in the world is bananas, as you see in the photo above, and they raid the bowl often, they are giving thought to the question of carrots. For now, their major problem is they sometimes they find themselves in unusual places, like this time – in the fruit basket! (And they love to say they don’t know HOW on Earth they arrived there!) I guess I should tell them off for sitting in and on the fruit, but look at their smiley faces. They are having such a good time – I don’t have the heart to stop them. And they do love bananas SO much.
When all their sprucing up was done I was able to more clearly see what was peeking out of Sammy’s hat. (Oh… how I love the sound of their names together.) Yes… so Sammy has a small mouse who’s chewed a little hole in his hat and is checking out the world around him. Sammy is such a sweetheart, he has no hassles about being the chauffeur for mousey – nor – the little Red Robin who lives on his shoulder. She makes him feel like singing that old song –
When the Red, Red Robin,
Comes bob, bob, bobbing along…
And Sally has a small buzzy-bee on her hat. She doesn’t mind him either. I understand they’re the best of pals.
In this photo, you see them sitting in their Dad’s chair. They just love that it’s really, truly OLD – like about 180 years! They love to sit there and see if they can absorb the memories of nearly two centuries. It makes them feel quite young again. We feel exactly the same whenever we have a few quiet moments sitting in it.
Some years ago, an old friend restored this chair to a beautiful state, telling us that it was now up to us to give it the patina (or warm, welcoming glow) that only daily sitting in it can produce. Having been rescued and restored themselves, Sally and Sammy REALLY take any opportunity they can to help with this chore – always ready to just hang out and chat to each other in the special chair.
They tend to bumble about quite a lot because they never managed the white stick business – and a seeing-eye dog is out of the question so far, as they haven’t yet found a dog small enough (or trained for this special job).
What’s a Mother to do with a pair like this?
Just love them, I say.
# # # # #
“Just ONE more, you ask?”
“Ohh pur-l-e-a-s-e Mummy lovey, lovely Mummy.” Have to chuckle. He’s such a terrible little crawler when he REALLY wants something. But Mum’s not fooled. Happens she’s nice and warm and cosy and enjoying the stories just as much as we are. And of course, where do you suppose I learned to do all the cutesy voices?? Well-ll-ll…
“Sarah?” she asks. No pressure… I’m ready as can be to read the next chapter. SO many funny names. I loved this one.
Clarence was not even tinily funny when I first met him. To be honest, he was filthy and had some raggedy spots. Even worse, he smelled awful. He was in a shopping trolley amongst a stack of other rejects of the toy variety. How my heart ached to see all those needy and worthy small people. How I wished I could rescue them all. I’m sure each one was a truly worthy character. But I could take just one this time – and I chose Clarence the Clown.
Poor fellow, he needed a strong wash cycle in my washing machine to even begin to get his act together. Mostly I can hand wash my rescued treasures, and my Knitty Gritty Kids were extremely grateful for the tender loving care I lavished upon them. Clarence had needs far greater than the worst of my small lost souls – with dirt deeply ingrained; there was just no choice but a sturdy mechanical wash cycle for him. And yet… his sense of humour is such that I swear I heard him shout ‘WHEE-EE-EE’ and ‘YIPPEE-EE-EE‘ as he whirled around at great speed in the Spin cycle. His comic spirit and eternal quest for new adventures are simply irrepressible.
Clarence tells me his name was inspired by a poem by Archie Langford. He says he fell in love with it when he read the first rhyme –
I remember when I joined the circus
A circus of great renown,
I wore baggy clothes and a little red nose
And they called me Clarence the clown.
And when he heard the ‘other’ Clarence’s first job was following elephants and horses with a bucket and spade, it all came rushing back to him. NOT the happiest of memories! Especially when he heard the last job the ‘other’ Clarence had was the exact same one the Ringmaster threatened him with right before he left. Even talking about it caused him to shake so hard he nearly lost his bright pink pompom on his hat. He absolutely refused to be the cannonball clown, to be shot out of the mighty barrel. His balloons would NEVER survive… and he feared, nor would he.
Clarence overcame his sadness about all the things he couldn’t do well, like juggling and sawing ladies in half and trapezing up in the great heights of the Big Top. He tried his hardest to fold balloons into clever look-alike animals, but they looked more like tornadoes-turned-twisters, and usually he got his hands tied up in knots instead. That was when he decided to use his balloons to hit people. Gets rid of a heap of crossness, Clarence told me.
Interesting, that crossness bit, because I often wonder about him having a dark side – a slightly ‘off’ type humour. It was those eyebrows made me suspicious at first… and it is my imagination, or do I see an overly mischievous glint in his eyes? Hmm… when you consider one of his pet loves is to bounce his balloons on the other Knitty Gritty Kids’ heads, you have to wonder! See poor Bimbo’s face? He looks as if he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry; looks like he’s thinking, That’s enough Clarence. Enough! STOP IT!
Strange thing, this… You wouldn’t think Clarence would be guilty of any bullying-type behaviour, after having been a victim himself – way, way back in Clown Technical High School. He told me about it one stormy night long ago, when he was cuddled up because he was still a newbie then, still afraid we’d send him on his way just like others had before. Sometimes he would act up quite badly, just like he was ‘testing the waters’ – trying to see if we still loved him when he was naughty. Took a while to learn we would love him always – BUT – he did have to learn to live by our house rules.
I guess it’s no wonder Clarence is a bit of a rebel – often a bit too cheeky for his own good. When I found him, he looked as though he’d had a pretty rough time of Life already. Must be hard to be funny if someone has broken your heart and not wanted you anymore… must take a lot of pretending you don’t care. It’s taking some time, but Clarence IS learning a lot about the healing power of love and togetherness from the rest of the Knitty Gritty Kids. They understand. Each one of them has been through their own particular stresses and trials.
# # # # #
Beside me in bed there’s been a bit of squirming and scrunching up of small knees, jabbing themselves into my leg. Now Jonjon tightens his mouth and in a wobbly voice, says, “I was bullied, too.” And he ducks his head and sniffs loudly, although there are only crocodile tears and no true runny nose problems. I stretch my neck to look up under his downturned face and see he’s peeking out below his eyebrows to see how Mum or Dad are looking, hearing this news. Will they say anything?
Dad turns his head to one side and his face looks doubtful. You can see he wants to believe Jonjon, but this is the first he’s heard about any problems of the bullying kind. Mum nods. She suspected something the other day when Jonjon came home from school, she says. Now she asks if I knew anything. Happened this time I didn’t, but I’d been feeling a tad confused by a difference in his attitude, too. He was a little quieter, maybe. A few unexplained deep frowns crunkled his brow… stuff like that. But he never confided in me and just brushed me off like a pesky mozzie when I asked if he was OK. He’s kept it all dammed up for too long. His puckered up face clearly shows he wants to tell us now. I like that about Granny’s stories. The magical way they help kids open up about their own problems.
“It was Janey Walker. She started calling me names about being the butcher’s kid and saying mean stuff about you, Dad!” Jonjon’s face reddens and glowers with anger, remembering the hated words. “And… and… she shoved me, and then I shoved her back. And we did that a few times, but you know how big and solid she is – suddenly she was doing all the shoving, with each rude word she said, and I didn’t see what was right behind me, what we were getting closer to with each shove!”
“What?” I can’t help interrupting, trying to picture the fight scene and two ‘gangs’ of kids cheering these two on.
“The row of rubbish bins, that’s what!” Jonjon’s voice is indignant now he has the full attention of his audience. “She gave one humongous shove and sat me kerplonk right inside one of them. And… AND… she’s a GIRL!!!” I steal a quick glance at Mum and Dad. Their faces reflect the same horror my face feels like it’s showing. At the same time they seem to be tightly hiding a smirk at the picture his words draw, just as I am.
Once again, he grabs my chin and turns my face to be almost nose to nose with him. “But even that’s not the WORST, Sarah! I couldn’t get out again. My bottom was stuck tight DOWN and my legs were right UP in the air.” I have to fake a sneeze and a cough… there’s no other way to get through this moment. I notice Mum and Dad seem to be in the self-same predicament.
I can’t stop myself from saying, “Just like that little teapot, short and stout, your gang had to tip you over and pour you out!” I can’t help it. I explode into gales of laughter. And once again, Mum and Dad share the same problem. Luckily, the humour of the story has hit Jonjon too, and before you know it, we’re all rolling about the bed like a pocketful of monkeys.
Mum’s the first one to recover… sort of. She sucks in her cheeks. The twinkle in her eyes shows she’s not tinily fooled by Jonjon’s ploy to stretch out his bedtime. His story is correct – he doesn’t lie – but he IS playing it out to its utmost. “We’ll talk more tomorrow night about bullying and ways to handle it, OK? But for now it’s time for sleep because you’ve shared your worries – and you know the old saying?” And she waits for Jonjon and I to chant together – ‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved’.
“EXACTLY!” she says in her best ‘no-nonsense-you’re-going-to-sleep-RIGHT-now’ voice. As I head off to my own bed and Dad yawns and stretches his arms wide, Mum smooths Jonjon’s ruffled hair and kisses each pink cheek – one to chase away bad dreams and the other to welcome only good ones. A firm tuck-in, a kiss from Dad, and it’s lights-out… and a repeat performance in my room.
The spiel that introduces the anthology says it beautifully –
The phrase ‘strong women’ can refer to countless things, from historical achievements, to self-made business women, to the strongest mothers out there. Strong Women is an anthology just about that, from the authors of the magazine Mom’s Favorite Reads. This collection of stories, featuring new and award-winning authors, span from a martial arts detective, to a girl working in a haunted café, all the way to a lady who takes down the queen of demons with a blessed baseball bat. You’ll be thrown into action, laughs, and even some chills.
Proceeds of this anthology go to help continue to keep Mom’s Favorite Reads free for everyone. The volunteers who keep this magazine running donate countless hours writing, editing, and producing this magazine. Help support them and in return get a great collection of stories.
I am proud to be a part of this worthy anthology.
BUT BEST OF ALL (as far as I’m concerned), at last, I can put the whole story up here for any and everyone to read for free – and because it’s on this pretty site, I can include all the pictures. Here is the cover to hopefully tempt you to enter into my word of –