This was a short story based on actual events at a cottage in Canada. This really happened, people! Even if it is told from a fictitious perspective.
Silence. There was silence all around in the quiet water by the shore. That was the way the mother rock bass liked it. She held herself still in the shallows, hovering over a small clearing in the mud which exposed the sandy bottom. This was her nest.
It was lovely. The short plants that surrounded it formed a neat hedge which protected the precious eggs inside. A large dock nearby provided shelter from predators or sun. But that was almost irrelevant as she would defend her nest vigorously against any intruder and rarely leave it unguarded.
The afternoon sun now shone down through the water, warming the bottom and leaving the mother rock bass feeling exposed. The sun baked her back and she longed for the cool shade of the dock. But she would not leave her eggs. The post was hers and she would guard it.
Suddenly the silence felt wrong. In the darkness of the deep water beyond the dock, something stirred. The little rock bass held as still as she could. Her eyes only twitched slightly as they sought the danger she feared in the dark water.
Slowly, a monstrous head began to materialize as it pushed its way into the shallows. The rock bass froze. Fear clutched her heart. It was an enormous snapping turtle – and it was coming right toward her!
The turtle was ten times her size; it’s hideous head alone was as big as she was. It’s gnarly claws plied the water of the shallows while its scaly tail swished back and forth. It was hunting for an easy meal.
The rock bass sat motionless, her tiny heart thumping. The huge turtle slowly clawed its way toward her through the water. Would she run? She thought of her beautiful nest and resolved to stay. But as the turtle came withing inches of her, her courage failed. The massive head opened its crusty, gaping mouth and it seemed like it might indiscriminately swallow her AND the precious nest. She backed off – her insides breaking with her defeat.
Just then a boom shook the shallows. A thudding BOOM BOOM BOOM stopped the coming turtle still in the water. Above, beyond the surface of the water an even larger monster appeared. And gave a shrill bellow.
“Mommy! Look at the size of that turtle!”
A leering head hung in the air above the turtle. It had a large fleshy face and a long golden mane. The creature’s long pale arms gripped the edge of the dock just above the stunned turtle. Then came more booming.
The water pulsed with the thundering arrival of more fleshy monsters, each of them leaning out over the water and pointing their clumsy claws at the huge turtle.
“Eww!” squealed a newcomer. “It’s so gross!”
“O, My!” said a large one.
“Wow!” said an even bigger one. “Look at its head!”
The turtle was was becoming nervous. The crowd of monsters was right above it – probably gathering to strike. That was too much for the turtle. It pointed its scaly head under the dock and paddled hard away from the rock bass and her nest.
The rock bass hurried back to her post. The monsters above pounded off down the dock looking for a glimpse of the retreating turtle. She let herself breathe and rest a little. The danger had passed. The shallows grew quiet again. And she was on guard, fanning her eggs and resolving again to sheild them from almost anything.
(One of my writing exercises from Canada.)
Squirrel came to her new door.
“Good morning, Stranger!” said a woodpecker, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” He thrust a basket of berries at her and said, “It was that or grubs! Ha!”
“Thank you,” she said timidly. “I’m not used to neighbors.”
“Really? Where you from?” asked the woodpecker.
“I used to live in the big oak,” said the squirrel.
The woodpecker gave a long whistle. “Whew!” he said. “Ever-body heard that fall in the storm. What a show! Bet you’re glad to be out of that old thing!”
“I guess,” she said. “It was pretty old. But I grew up there. Almost all my nuts came from that tree. And my nest was so high, I could see all the stars at night. They made me feel like I was never alone.”
“Welp, no stars here!” said the woodpecker cheerfully. “But, no big winds either. Give some, get some, I always say. “
“I suppose” said the squirrel.
“Well, I’m off.” said the woodpecker. And he left.
Knock Knock. The squirrel woke up.
Knock Knock. It was the middle of the night.
Knock Knock Knock! A hole broke through her wall. She leaped from her bed to look out the tree-hole.
“Mr. Woodpecker! What are you doing to my house?” she cried. “You know I live here!”
“Well, I, um…” said the woodpecker.
“And it’s the middle of the night! Have you no sense?” she demanded.
“I just thought….”
“You did?” she said angrily.
“…just thought maybe if I poked some holes up here, that moonlight could shine in and….” he hesitated.
“And WAKE ME UP?!” she folded her arms and glared.
He hung his head. “No. I thought it might look like stars,” he said. “Like in your old tree”.
Her mouth fell open. He stared at his feet. Then, with squirrel-y swiftness, she jumped at him and…..
“Thank you, Neighbor” she said. Her eyes sparkled.
That night, Squirrel climbed back into bed, thinking that maybe friendship has a beauty which rivals the stars. She fell asleep. And she did not feel alone.
(This summer, Jon asked me to write a little story every day about some forest animal usually and then he and the girls would practice drawing pictures about it. This is just a tiny little story about bunnies and we will never do anything with it, it was just an exercise. I guess I would call it “Rainy Day”. Here it is. )
“Mama, the water’s comin’ in!” The bunnies laughed as they ran off to fetch the twig boats that were their favorite rainy-day toys.
Mrs. Rabbit smiled. She cherished the days when there was nowhere to be but together. Putting another log in the stove, she stirred the vegetable soup and sat down to watch her bunnies play.
The water crept into the old familiar puddle by the door. The family had always thought this to be one of the best things about living here, but today! O, how wonderful! The bunnies squealed with delight! The dear old puddle had become a pool!
“Mama, look! ALL our boats can fit today!”
“Goodness, dears, I see! How fun!” Mama Rabbit replied, but quietly worried to herself whether this was a time to rejoice or to call Mr. Beaver. She decided instead to call Papa Rabbit.
When he saw the flood he chuckled warmly and said “O Ho Ho! I’ve always thought this was bound to come, some wet day!” and he happily joined his bunnies in their game.
By supper-time, even the big bed was surrounded, and all of the family gathered there as Papa read stories. Water dripped onto their heads, and the 3 oldest bunnies rode in the big tin wash-pan over to the stove to fetch soup for everyone.
Next day, Mama did call Mr. Beaver for advice, and he wisely recommended several repairs. However, as the family considered the matter, they decided that they didn’t want to change a thing.
And from that day on, each heavy rain turned the hearth into a lake, the bed into an island, and the old den into a sweeter, more irreplaceable home.
(Also, Mrs. Bunny came to be known to have the sparkly-est floors in that part of the forest.)
Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats had a whole bucket full of love poured on top of her interactive little head this past December. Our app was like a sweaty little kid in the backyard on a really hot summer day, and then Jinny Gudmundsen, Rob Ford, Jennie B and some wonderful person named Kirkus Reviews turned on the sprinkler.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the author of iPad Apps for Kids For Dummies, and the editor of the famous website Tech with Kids, which declared Kalley’s Machine one of the 20 Best Kids Apps of 2014!!! Jinny is a nationally recognized expert on Kids Tech, and writes on that subject for a little newspaper called USA Today, which you may never have heard of but which we were PRETTY STOKED to be mentioned in, people!
This is just one of the many kind things that the estimable Jinny Gudmundsen said about Kalley’s Machine: “Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats showcases a creative inventor who happens to be a young girl. It sends a powerful message to children–especially little girls–about thinking outside of the box to solve problems. By demonstrating ingenious engineering skills that would make Rube Goldberg proud, Kalley models outstanding problem-solving instincts and may motivate readers to draw similar machines. “
Well, and not only that. Jinny Gudmundsen also named Kalley’s Machine one of USA Today’s 10 Top Kids Apps of 2014! I already tried to make it clear to you people that Jinny knows way more about this stuff than you do, so if you’re about to say something like “well, what does she know? then just remember what I told you. She’s the expert, not you.
OK. Here’s a fun little exercise. Go get like five books off of your bookcase. I’m doing it, too. I will be right back.
Ok I’m back, and I only got two. Both of my books here have a list of people in the front few pages who have read them, and who said nice things about them. They’re called “reviewers”. Now take your books and look at the front of them. I bet one of those guys who reviewed your book is named “Kirkus”. And I bet that guy wrote the very most awesome stuff in that whole list, right? Well, that same guy Kirkus totally reviewed Kalley’s Machine and he gave it a STAR!!! Do you even have any idea what that means?! Have you ever even heard of a KIRKUS STAR?!! Probably not, because you never won one!! AND our new friend Kirkus (we here at Rocketwagon like to call him “Kirk” for short) also put us on this list he makes every year called Best Book Apps of 2014 !
Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats also won an mFWA Award. Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either. But my husband does. Jon says it’s pretty much the hugest honor you can get in the interactive agency world. And he’s flipping out about that one.
Kalley’s Machine is also a finalist for a ‘Cybils Award’, which aims to recognize children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose work “combines the highest literary merit and popular appeal”. FOR SERIOUS!! Highest literary merit and popular appeal!! I am not making this stuff up!! You totally thought I was and you were SO WRONG!!
We have the mysterious “Jennie B” to thank for our Cybils nomination. We think we know who our secret benefactress is, but I do believe that I am supposed to keep my mouth shut about that and so I will.
So there you go, this is my update. And before you PM me so as to gently explain that “Kirkus” is not really that guy’s first name, I will just let you in on the little secret that I already know that. I think I may have been in the house too long recently.
Last night, I was lying in bed with Kalley and she picked up a Barbie book to read. I was shocked.
I usually only allow Barbie stories in our house if someone has a fever. Since no one is currently sick, it was an obvious smuggling job. In a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, I decided to overlook the breach of protocol and give Barbie a chance.
On the first page, Barbie is a shy girl who spends too much time reading and wishes she could be good at stuff like singing, dancing and being pretty. She decides she needs “magic” to attain all of her dreams. I saw where this was going. One page in, I flung Barbie across the room and said, “Enough!! Bring me Huck Finn!” Corbett happily obeyed.
I don’t read this book to them yet, but we look at the pictures and I tell them what’s going on. They love to hear about the boy whose drunk father locks him in a cabin that has no windows. To escape from this horrible father, Huck searches the cabin and finds an old rusty saw hidden under a rafter. He secretly works to cut a hole in wall, and is able to escape. He has to kill a wild pig and fake his own death so his awful father won’t try to find him. He gets away in a canoe, and ends up living in a cave! on an island! with a runaway slave named Jim. And it only gets better.
Huck and Jim sometimes find rattlesnakes in their cave. And once Huck kills one, puts it in Jim’s bed to scare him, and the mate of the snake comes and curls around the dead snake’s body. So instead of just getting scared, Jim gets bit and almost dies. Little girls love this stuff.
Corbett and Kalley are delighted when I tell them about how the island floods and all the land animals crawl up into the trees and live there together. And how Huck and Jim paddle all over in their canoe and look up at bunnies and chipmunks and opossums all living in the once-high branches of trees. Now they want to live on a flooded island someday and I hope they do.
The girls and I talked about why Huck and Jim could only travel at night, about who Jim is running from, and what will happen to him if he is caught. We talked about why the paramount aspiration of his life is to someday be able to buy (“Mommy, did you say, ‘BUY’?!”) his family. I explained to my kids that Jim’s wife and children are PROPERTY that he hopes to PURCHASE. It’s good to lie in bed with your family and think about that for a moment. This story makes us imagine what it would be like to be OWNED.
We stayed on one particular picture last night. In it, Huck is sitting on the raft, slumped over. He looks dismal, bereft, sorry. The caption says, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself.” I put it in context for the girls.
I explained that Huck had played a trick on Jim and, in doing so, had insulted his true friend. Jim was hurt. And Huck knew that he had been wrong. If he had done something like that to Tom Sawyer, his white friend, he would have apologized immediately. But because Jim was black, Huck was utterly perplexed. To apologize to a black person would be to acknowledge that his feelings were just as real as a white person’s. And this was unlike anything that Huck had been taught all of his life. He sat on the raft, staring at the water, wondering how to reconcile his heart with his head. This new idea, that a black man may possibly feel as deeply as a white man, caused him to question the principles he had breathed in all of his life. He finally apologizes to Jim. This is huge. In doing so, he rejects the known path to righteousness and recklessly chooses a new standard of integrity.
Corbett, Kalley and I laid there in bed and wondered: how could white people think that black people didn’t have the same feelings? Corbett said, “It’s like they thought black people weren’t real PEOPLE.”
Lying in bed with my girls, I realized I was indebted to Mark Twain for bringing unvarnished truths into our bedtime conversation.
Barbie has been shipped off to the library from whence she came. We have no need for her “magic” and desolate ideals. Life is too short to waste time on the wrong stories.
Jon often reminds me that one of the goals of our company is that we tell stories that we need to hear. He wrote a series of short stories about “Kamikaze Cat” and “Careful Kitten” a few years ago, just to help me realize the futility of my overprotective instincts when our girls were babies and I was constantly sure that they would die any minute. In the stories, Careful Kitten (who was always afraid, and so did everything cautiously) usually ended up homeless or in the hospital. I got the point.
Several years ago, I made up a story (or rather a character) that I and my adorable patient (I was a nurse) needed to hear. I will call my fourth grade patient James.
James needed a nurse to go with him to school, and part of my job was to go to his house in the morning and help him get ready for the bus. Every SINGLE day, this is what I said:
“James, it’s time to do your exercises”. “James, please put on your clothes.” “James, why don’t you have your shoes on?” “James, it’s time to brush your teeth” “James, the care plan says that you’re supposed to put some vaseline on your lips at 8am and 3pm, so we really need to do that now. ” “James, it’s time for your albuterol” “Now it’s time for CPT” “James, can you please give me a finger to put the pulse ox on?” ” James I need to listen to your lungs.”
I mean, really. James and I were worn out. He was tired of hearing me tell him what to do, and I was tired of telling him. And then we met Professor Tingleteeth.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but one day I realized that James’ toothbrush was actually a very small person who just happened to stand with his arms very stiffly down to his sides, and whose hair, which was white, persisted in standing straight out the back of his head, no matter what he did to try to flatten it down. He was about 7 inches tall, and he lived in the medicine cabinet. He was often mistaken for a toothbrush, which made him very angry. He was actually a professor of Philosophy at the community college, and he was just renting the space in the cabinet until he could afford a place of his own. I quickly learned that the Professor, despite his size, absolutely loved being in charge. He relished the opportunity to tell James what to do. And so I let him. It was wonderful for all of us. I was no longer responsible for making James’ life miserable, and James thought it was amusing and interesting to be taking orders from a tiny person who looked like his toothbrush.
The Professor eventually introduced me and James to 5 of his business associates (I would call them his friends, but I am not sure that he would agree. He was usually too disgruntled about being mistaken for a toothbrush to be very friendly with anyone.) The five “business associates” were Harold, Elaine, Jerome, Nancy and Martha. They were invisible, and they lived on my shoulder, which meant that they could go with us to school. The Professor had to be at the college all day, so was of course only there to help in the morning. The five associates were reluctant to be in charge of James, so they really served as friendly advisors, (we called them ‘The Committee’) whom I would consult if a question arose throughout the day. Harold, who almost always fell asleep right after breakfast, was rarely much help, but was still nice to have around. When he was awake, he was full of hilarious stories from his Navy days.
I had forgotten about Professor Tingleteeth. One day, a few weeks ago, I was reading an article about this couple in California who is making interactive Ipad stories, and it mentioned that one of their characters is a “quirky” little person called “Mr. Cupcake”. It was as if the word “quirky” was the alarm on a bedside clock in my mind. When that alarm went off, Professor Tingleteeth sat up (very stiffly, of course) in bed.
Now that he’s back, I’ve spent some time imagining how the Professor would react to some of my current daily perplexities. James is all grown up now. But what would the Professor think about Kalley’s system of vigilante justice, or Corbett’s inexplicable fear of animatronic dinosaurs?
Last week was the end of school, and both of my girls were SO sad to leave their teachers for the summer. This inspires a story in my mind where a mom has to be somewhere in the morning, so Professor Tingleteeth is the one at home, getting the kids ready for the last day of school. It cracks me up to think about what words of wisdom a tiny disgruntled Philosophy Professor might expound to two tearful little girls as he pats their heads and sends them off to the bus.
I think I may need to hear that story, too.
I was taking a tour of Over The Rhine when the guide stopped us in front of a nondescript building. And when I say “nondescript,” I mean I can’t even remember what it looked like. It was just another neglected relic in that sadly forgotten part of our city. What I remember was what he said.
He told us that the Buffalo Bill Show had performed right at this spot. My mouth dropped open. I just stared and couldn’t believe my luck. NO WAY. I shoved my sister and said something like “I bet you don’t even know how awesome that is! ” She may have shoved me back and even if she did, I wouldn’t have noticed. I was lost in delighted reverie. I didn’t want to move.
To think that this decrepit fossil of a structure was on the site of the greatest Wild West Show in the world was nothing less than shocking and delightful at the exact same time. I imagined Annie Oakley herself, beautiful, petite, and dignified as she always was, gracefully nodding to her husband Frank as he set up her target. She would bring the gun to her shoulder, hardly even take a moment to aim, then BANG!! She never missed.
For those of you who, like my sister, have no idea how awesome Annie Oakley was, a bit of history:
Annie was 5 years old when her father got caught in a blizzard and died. Her mother couldn’t feed all of the children after that, so Annie had to go live with a family who abused her. Eventually she ran away from them by hopping on a train and found her way back home. But her mother still couldn’t feed her. So Annie took her father’s gun, went into the woods and taught herself to shoot. Bullets were too expensive to waste, so she never missed. She not only fed her family, she sold the game she shot and paid off the family farm. Her prowess earned her a reputation as the best shot in the county.
One day, a famous traveling marksman was in Cincinnati and heard about this shooter from Darke county. He decided to challenge this person to a contest, not knowing that he had just challenged a 15 year old girl. When she beat him, he fell in love with her. The make-believe Catniss Everdean has nothing on the real-life Annie Oakley.
If that tour guide hadn’t told me about what had happened in that place 130 years ago, I would have just walked on by. I wouldn’t have even looked twice. It’s practically tragic. And it happens all the time. But not on the Antiques Roadshow.
One time this lady brought in this statue to the Roadshow. It was her Grandma’s, I think. It was about 2 feet tall and halfway between a lion and a dragon. It’s mouth was wide open, showing all of it’s teeth, like it was saying “Ahhh” because it had a sore throat or was at the dentist. If my grandma had ever given me a statue like that, I would have shipped it off to Goodwill as soon as I had room in my car. I would have dropped it off and thanked that guy so many times for taking it off of my hands.
So the lady puts Ugly Dragon Guy up on the table, so Expert Man can tell her what he thinks of it. I’m at home mumbling, “I bet there’s a Goodwill dropoff center on the way home, lady,” into my ice cream. And then the Expert Man starts to talk. And he can barely get the words out because he is about to cry. And here’s the thing that just about knocked me and my ice cream off the couch: he didn’t start to cry because he thought it was so awful . He thought it was beautiful. He had never seen one as beautiful as this.
He turned it around gently, pointing out the inconspicuous details that revealed the remarkable skill of the artist. He knew when, where and why it had been sculpted. He understood what the image meant , both to the person who had created it, and the people for whom it was created. He was an Expert because he knew the story. And he cried because he loved the story.
And then he tells her it’s worth 250 thousand dollars. And I just dropped it off at Goodwill. Dangit.
I love the idea that we are surrounded by stories. A lot of them are bad. We don’t need to hear those. And we shouldn’t tell them. But the ones that are good – the ones that make you stop on the sidewalk and punch your sister – you should tell. And if an ugly dragon statue makes you cry, you should tell somebody why.