Where are my stories?
By Meyer Moldeven
The original 1987 edition of this work was published by the author independently as an all-thumbs illustrated paper book titled: ‘Write Stories To Me, Grandpa!’ An expanded second edition, ‘A Grandpa’s Notebook,’ also paper, followed in 1992. They have since been edited, new material added, and posted online as free ebooks and as selected vignettes, stories and memoirs . Immediately following are representative reviews of the original and second editions.
BOOKLIST Book review journal of the American Library Association, (November 15, 1987) ‘Moldeven, a 70-year old [now 92] grandfather turned author and publisher sets a wonderful example and shares many practical lessons on keeping in touch with grandchildren in these times of mobile families. When it is impossible to see or talk to grandchildren as often as one would like, Moldeven suggests writing them stories. His book offers general tips on getting started along with 25 sample stories. -snip—
This encouraging, easy-to-read guide for grandparents (near and faraway) can also be used as a resource for senior citizen’s projects.’
The Rocky Mount Evening & Sun Telegram, August 23, 1987 Rocky Mount, North Carolina ‘This book was written for grandparents, primarily; but parents and teachers will find the techniques and stories of value in relating to young children –snip- It has the additional virtue of promoting activities that encourage the grandchild toward reading and writing skills, strengthening ties, and establishing values, easily taught through family history and traditions.’
New Era Magazine, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, December 10, 1987 … ‘A totally delightful how-to book of stories he created not only for but with his faraway grandchildren … -snip- …' he got the children to describe the characters, and tell him a little about them. I got several nifty ideas for stories for (and with) my own nearby granddaughter. –snip- … 'keep[s] … [a] grandparent creatively and happily involved with his or her grandchildren.’
Friends of Parks and Recreation, Vol 3, Nr 1 (published by the National Recreation and Parks Association, Arlington, Virginia) Review of Second Edition 1992. ‘…the book’s encouraging style] can help the reader break through personal doubts and other communication obstacles… .
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART ONE: WE LEARN FROM EACH OTHER
Table of Contents
First Letter to a Distant Grandchild
How My Stories Began
Grandpa Too Far
Think a Story
Grandparents in the Virtual Classroom
PART TWO: FIRST STORIES
Grandpa Takes a Walk
Dooby and Katrinka Have an Idea
Dinosaurs? Having a Birthday Party?
PART THREE: REACH FOR THE STARS, GRANDPA!
A Bagel? In Space?
Stobey and Slutter Fly to Super-Rock Playground
Swinging from a Star
Visitors from Planet Earth
Sir Lumpalot and Kick-Pow
Into the Stranger’s House
Bingbang Babbaloo Battles Burpers
PART FOUR: LORE
Stories to the World
It’s Only a Safety Pin!
[see also http://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/greatgrandpa-stories-stuff-and
The United States human population recently passed 300,000,000. Of that total, more than 60 million are grandparents and their numbers keep increasing. Enormous changes have taken place in longevity and lifestyles since today’s older adults were, themselves, grandchildren. Experts estimate that, at the other end of the scale are thirty to fifty thousand living centenarians in the United States, up from a 1980 estimate of fifteen thousand. Also, centenarians are not as feeble as they were a mere generation or so ago; disability rates for the elderly have been falling since the early 1980s.
Life expectancy at birth in the United States has increased by nearly 30 years since the turn of the 20th century, from 47 to about 76. On the other hand, families are more widely dispersed, successful interaction by grandparents with their distant grandchildren, whether for geographic reasons or barriers of circumstance, increasingly searches for ways to innovate and improvise. Technology, especially electronic communications, is entitled to credit for successes.
On the other hand, a vast store of practical knowledge as well as a culture’s lore languishes in almost every family, especially among its elders, more than ready to be passed along to succeeding generations. An important source for initiatives and models by grandparents to meet the needs, and the yearnings, of this era’s grandchildren and the young generally are in the observations and experiences of a society’s elders. It is not up to our young grandchildren to say what in we elders’ experiences might be useful or enlightening to them. If it was up to them, how might they draw it out of us? A paradox indeed.
This is not a child’s storybook, although most of the stories, vignettes and essays may interest youth from toddlers to young adults and, from other perspectives, parents, grandparents, older adults generally, and teachers. The book’s intent is to demonstrate one grandparent’s approach over the years to foster understanding between generations in the context of family, school, community and culture, and to suggest models.
FIRST LETTER TO A DISTANT GRANDCHILD
Don’t let that blank sheet of paper intimidate you. Here’s a model that you can rework to suit your situation:
‘Grandma and Grandpa now live in a house that is very far from where you live. We’ll still see each other as often as we can, but sometimes the wait will be just a little bit longer. One way for us to visit is by telephoning. Another is by our writing letters and emails that Mom or Dad will read aloud to you. I’ll start my writing to you by telling a little about Grandmas and Grandpas.
‘Grandmas and Grandpas are older than mothers and fathers. They usually have gray hair or white hair. Sometimes, Grandpas have no hair at all, but that’s all right because then Grandpas won’t need to use a comb and hairbrush every morning.
‘Grandmas and Grandpas like to take grandchildren to the zoo to see the elephants and the deer and the monkeys. They also like to take grandchildren to the park to ride on the merry-go-round, and to the lake to throw breadcrumbs to the ducks and the geese and the swans.
‘On the way home from the zoo or the park, Grandmas and Grandpas take grandchildren to the bakery. There, they stand at the counter and smell the fresh bread, and buy cookies and cakes for desserts.
‘Grandmas and Grandpas like to play games with grandchildren, listen to grandchildren tell what happened in the park and at school, and answer questions. They especially like to read stories to grandchildren from big books with lots of pictures.
‘Grandmas and Grandpas like to hold grandchildren in their laps and hug them. Grandpas also like to shake hands, or pat grandchildren on their heads. That is a little bit about Grandmas and Grandpas and Grandchildren.’
During a talk I gave to a senior citizens group a woman in the audience remarked, ‘I’m a volunteer helper in a class of first graders at (naming a nearby school.) I haven’t given it much thought until now, but I’ve come to realize that some youngsters see their grandparents regularly, others rarely, and still others see their grandparents not at all. For a few, grandparents live too far away, and other youngsters don’t know where their grandparents live or even if they have grandparents, but saddest of all are the kids who don’t know what grandparents are.’
Grandparents and grandchildren are natural allies, but when their homes are too far apart, or other barriers intervene, their alliance weakens. Everybody loses, including the youngsters’ parents - the generation in the middle.
HOW MY STORIES BEGAN
I live in one city, my grandchildren in another almost a thousand miles distant. During one of my visits I took my, then, three-year-old granddaughter for a stroll. We paused to examine a spider’s web spanning a space between two shrubs. A rain shower had passed shortly before and droplets festooned the web’s strands and rainbow-sparkled in the morning sunlight. Standing there, both of us bent forward peering into the web, I wove a story that transformed the sparkling strands into a carnival and the spider into an acrobat. Granddaughter’s eyes widened with wonder.
We continued on and stopped at a house to observe a cat on the porch playing with a yellow ball. I wove another tale, this time of a cat and a strange ball that bounced too high and disappeared into a cloud. Again, my granddaughter’s expression showed her pleasure in hearing grandpa’s story. For the remainder of my visit, and during subsequent visits, I told her, and when he was old enough, my grandson, of the world around us and how we hoped to, some day, live all together peacefully on Planet Earth.
Visits, in either direction were infrequent. Adult-oriented telephone calls usually left only brief moments for talking to grandchildren. Long distance calls just didn’t generate the right ambiance and enough time for the relaxed talking and easy listening that goes naturally with a grandpa story. Then, too, at the close of an adult telephone conversation the youngsters are usually busy at other things, and sometimes grandpas just don’t do well as talkers.
In my situation, I filled the gap with hand-scribed and, later on, typed stories. The letter-stories lengthened our telephone chats to devising plots for new stories, flesh-out characters, settings, and scenes. There are no better aids to a grandparent-grandchild telephone or email story conference than our faithful friends Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
In my situation, one letter-story followed another, often illustrated with pictures from discarded magazines. When I couldn’t find a just-right illustration, I laboriously sketched an all-thumbs grandpa original. It was an enjoyable experience for me, and feedback from the family showed it was enjoyable for my grandchildren as well.
Some years ago, during a discussion on intergenerational communications one of the men present said that he wanted to send a scenic picture postcard to his distant grandchild but didn’t know what to write in the space provided for that purpose. He said he had been a salesman but, in this situation, he was at a loss for words.
I asked what he had done earlier that day. He mentioned several ordinary activities and added, as an afterthought, that he had strolled along a nearby beach.
‘What did you see during your walk?’
‘Seals and pelicans on the rocks offshore. Big waves rolling in. One of the seals slid off the rock and into the water. The tide was out, and I explored a tide pool. I saw a….’
He stared at me for a moment, grinned, took his pen from his shirt pocket and made notes on a slip of paper.
Grandparents generally accept and enjoy the many roles into which they have been cast. One of the many is that they are the grandparents of all their grandchildren, not just of one that they chose to be their favorite. Favoritism invites disaster.
A young mother of two posed the following dilemma to an Internet discussion group devoted to family relations and child behavior. I altered the text slightly, primarily to ensure the writer’s privacy. She wrote:
‘Since the birth of our second child our family has received lots of warm wishes. Yet, often, in offering congratulations, well-wishers remarked along the lines ‘You must be happy to have a boy now.’ This confused our older child, a four-year-old girl.’
‘Of course, she is a much loved and cherished child and we could not love her any more if she were a boy. And we are very happy to have our new son, but would have loved a second daughter just as much. But the casual remarks about having a son are secondary to my concern about my parents’ relationship with our children.
‘My parents reside within easy driving distance and we are a close-knit family. Rarely a week passes that my parents and we don’t do something together. They are my daughter’s primary baby-sitters and are very generous toward her.
‘However, I am starting to see that there will be a difference, based solely on gender, in my parents’ treatment of both children. When my son was barely a week old, my father said that he was looking forward to taking him fishing. When I remarked that my daughter had a fishing pole and, due to the age difference between her and her brother, would be a more appropriate companion, still no invitation was forthcoming.
‘When my father invited my husband fishing the following week, my father grumbled at the suggestion that they take my daughter along.
‘My son is now two and a half months old, and my father is looking forward to participating with him in Little League, soccer, etc. Again, both my husband and I chimed in that the same activities are also available for girls. Silence.
‘What really disturbs me is that after these rebuffs my daughter sometimes quietly says to me, ‘Mama, I am proud we both are girls.’ I don’t know where she gets this from, but she’ll often repeat it several times and in more of a forlorn tone than an enthusiastic one.’
A GRANDPA TOO FAR
You telephone your son or daughter who lives in a distant city. He or she now has her own children. You chat with your son or daughter in the usual fashion. Closing, you ask to talk to your grandchild. The youngster comes on line.
‘Hi,’ Grandchild says.
‘Hi, there! Know who this is?’
‘Right, Grandpa. How are you, dear?’
‘Good. What are you doing?’
‘Playing with my toys.’
‘What did you do yesterday?’
‘Went to the park.’
‘…have a good time there?’
‘That’s nice. Well, I’m sure glad we had this little chat. Aren’t you?’
The following morning at day school the children talk about what happened over the weekend. It’s Grandchild’s turn.
‘Oh, I played with my toys and went to the park and I talked to my grandpa on the telephone.’
‘What did you and grandpa talk about?’
THINK A STORY
If you can think a story, and if you can write a letter or express your thoughts orally or visually, then you can combine them into an email or snail mail letter to a grandchild. The more often you do it, the easier it becomes. If the mechanics of writing, typing, or drawing is the problem, then audiotape. The point is to interact and communicate with a grandchild so that the youngster knows that you care, and that caring is normal. Grandchild will readily grasp that Grandma or Grandpa wants to share, and that sharing is fine.
The type of communication most desired by my grandchildren until their fifth or sixth years, and under the circumstances of the distance between us, was the letter-story; nowadays, in many households the computer and the cellphone. The written stories evolved out of our infrequent family get-togethers. Occasionally, an idea for a story called for follow up negotiations over the telephone to clarify plots, scenes, and characters. My grandchildren liked the stories, and both they and I enjoyed the discussions that preceded the writing. The give-and-take stimulated our imaginations and creativity, and often provided me with opportunities to pass along family history.
Today’s youngsters know more about the world than children of previous generations, one of the many benefits of our expanding telecommunication capabilities and greater education and travel opportunities. Youngsters get their view of the world from what they see, hear, and learn from and about their families.
Letter stories, anecdotes and lore give grandchildren a better view of their grandparents, and about what older adults believe. The process, if positive oriented, contributes toward the grandchild’s maturity, and offers them encouragement, values, models and incentives. There are tens of thousands of homes across the world where treasured possessions, tangible and otherwise, were created or acquired by the occupants or their forebears. You have them in your home as I do in mine. In time, those possessions: properties and artifacts, along with their histories, will move along to your children and grandchildren. In every culture, ‘grandpa and grandma stories’, along with ‘mom and dad stories,’ are part of that inheritance.
When youngsters know that Grandpa or Grandma wrote a story expressly for them, that more than qualifies the story for the special collection of treasures to be shared with close friends, presented at school as a show-and-tell, and eventually absorbed into the treasured memorabilia of childhood.
A fun way to open lines of communications while visiting grandchildren, be the youngsters residing nearby or far away, is the audiotaped, email or cellphone interview. Living nearby, the grandchild knows grandma and grandpa, they’re part of everyday life. Far away is different, geography creates gaps.
The one-on-one interview builds self-esteem and confidence in a youngster. It’s an excellent learning experience, and creates a record of lasting memories for the family’s archives.
An interview structures a conversation. Men are often as reticent as women are eloquent: women are much more socially oriented than men and communicate easier. However, the interview technique can be a starter to work through Grandpa’s reserve. It quickly engages the participants in a dialogue and is as much fun for one as for the other.
Vague questions by adults should be avoided; they’re confusing.
Let’s set up an interview.
Grandma and Grandpa plan to visit Son or Daughter and the Grandchildren. The visit will include a Grandpa or Grandma interview to be conducted by Grandchild and the give-and-take will be recorded, audio and/or video.
In arranging the visit, Grandma or Grandpa discusses with Son or Daughter what they have in mind. It’s fine with Son/Daughter and they agree to prepare Grandchild, including general subjects to explore and preliminary questions. It’s a fun experience, but don’t insist on having an audience present that might make anyone uncomfortable.
When all concerned are ready (recorders checked and set up, the date, time, place, names, occasion, and whatever else considered prefatory has been recorded in advance) Grandchild opens with the first question. In this example, Grandpa is being interviewed.
In responding, Grandpa avoids the simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer even when such might suffice. Sure, Grandpa could respond with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Grandchild’s question, ‘Grandpa, is your first name ‘Tom’?’ Wouldn’t it be more fun if Grandpa transformed his reply into family lore with ‘Yes, it is, and let me tell you how I got that name. The Sunday after I was born, my Dad hooked ol’ Dobbin to the sleigh to take us all to….’ and he’s off and away into another bit of Lore Americana, or wherever.
Unless agreed to in advance, questions and answers are serious. Knowing what a young grandchild likes to talk about is important and can focus the interview.
Youngsters, though, have minds of their own and might well pop an unexpected question. Using ‘we’ or ‘us’ and encouraging inputs from Grandchild keeps the interview from becoming one-sided. Grandchildren pile up their experiences and feelings for an anticipated interaction, and an interview will provide speaker or listener with opportunities to talk about them and themselves.
Grandpa creates opportunities. For instance, in answering a question, he closes with: ‘That’s how it worked out for me; now, how about you? Did you ever?’ and the switch is made.
The interview can go in one direction then the other for as long as both want it to. In the give-and-take Grandchild learns a lot about Grandma and Grandpa, and everyone involved in the game broaden their awareness, and renew and revitalize family traditions and values.
Expect spontaneity and deep probing by youngsters when they are the interviewers. They are interested in the origins of people and things, depending on their ages, of course, so be ready for such questions
What are stars in the sky? What keeps them up when everything else falls? Why is the sun? The moon? Who made them? Why? Where do eggs come from? Did I come from an egg? Well, then, where did I come from? Is that where you came from? Where is a baby before it’s born? Why did (Grandpa/Grandma) die? Where is (he/she) now?
For many of us, our lives are keyed to significant events, transitions, locales, or something that has importance to ourselves or to our families. For me, the important events and episodes happened to be on a time-line by location: the places where my family resided over the years. I spent the first twenty-five years of my life in the city where I was born and raised. Afterward, a few years in a distant city, then on to another and still another, each invariably distant and different.
After I retired, I took the time to make notes on as many important events that I could recall, and keyed each to a geographic location. I gave each episode a title or sketched a brief outline that would stimulate my memory to the place and help me to talk about it. My list began with city A: my preschool and school years (with several sub-headings because those times had been chaotic); the Great Depression, the first job, etc. City B: why I was there; the job; etc. I continued on to the next and the next.
When I finished my initial list of ‘cities’ or ‘countries’ and numbered them I found that I had more than one hundred events, episodes or time periods. I arranged them so that one followed the other as they had occurred or were otherwise linked. That became my outline.
I took the list along when I visited my grandchildren (my daughter had briefed the family beforehand about Grandpa’s list.) Evenings, relaxed at the table after dinner, Grandson or Granddaughter would call out, for example, ‘Grandpa! Number 67!’ I made a big deal out of hauling the list from my back pocket, carefully unfolding it, locating the number and reading the title aloud. Then, on to chin-rubbing, head scratching, ceiling staring, and after enough ‘C’mon, grandpa! Get with it!’ from all directions I went into my act, narrating in words, tone, gestures, and body language the events of oft-told ‘Number 67′, or whatever number they had chosen.
They would listen, spellbound and cut in with comments and questions. To them, it was their family history and often, drama, and they really want to know. Invariably, the story was followed with reminiscences by their Mom and Dad who added variations, details, interpretations from their memories, and spin off comparable events in their lives, often long into the wee hours.
Autobiography became living history-the occasion of the telling is now an event not to be forgotten-and the finest kind of intergenerational communication.
An old, old man lived in the home of his son. The son had a wife and a young son of his own. At meal times the old man sat at the kitchen table. His eyes were dim and he barely saw; his ears were dull and he barely heard, and his hands trembled. He had difficulty holding his spoon as he tried to feed himself broth from a bowl. Now and then a few drops fell from his spoon on to the tablecloth, or the bowl tipped too far, spilling.
His son and his son’s wife were disgusted at the sight of him. Finally, one day, after the old man’s trembling hand caused the bowl to fall to the floor and break, they gave him an old wooden bowl, and made him sit with it out of sight behind the stove. At mealtimes, they put food into the wooden bowl and left the old man alone to manage as best he could.
One evening, after dinner, they were all in the sitting room. The old man’s son noticed that his own young son had gathered few pieces of wood and stored them in a corner among his playthings.
‘What have you there?’ The youngster’s father pointed to the wood.
The child looked up. ‘I am making wooden bowls,’ he answered quietly, ‘for you and for Mommy to eat out of when I am grown, and you are both very old.’
I received a letter from a woman of Japanese ancestry who read the story. She wrote that her father, who had passed along to his children much of the lore and tales of old Japan, had told her another version:
In many villages of old Japan, the townsfolk suffered deeply and, often, the extremes of hunger and cold. It was vital to the survival of the able- bodied that those who were in their final hours of life be taken to the nearby foothills and left there to die. This sorrowful task belonged to the senior son.
So it was, indeed, that a dutiful senior son, at the appropriate time imposed by illness and tradition, wrapped his dying mother in the family blanket reserved for such sad occasions. He lifted her gently, cradled her in his arms, and made his way to a sheltered place among the nearby foothills’ rocks and underbrush.
Lowering his mother to the ground, he kneeled beside her and tenderly made his final good-bye. She listened silently, breathing shallow, eyes closed. Finally, he stood, bowed deeply and, tears in his eyes, turned to leave.
‘Wait, my son.’ Her voice was barely a whisper. ‘Do not forget the blanket. The day will come when it will be needed for another and, in time, for you.’
Occasionally, among the letters I received, was one that reflected deep disappointment and anguish. The writer had tried to contact a grandchild - or a grandparent - who was too faraway geographically or beyond a barrier of circumstance. There were no answers.
A man in his eighties wrote that he had a couple of dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren scattered around the world. Not one had written to him or telephoned, either on their own or in response to his letters and gifts. He was a widower, lived alone, and was the only remaining grandparent. He wanted his grandchildren to know that he was still alive. He had much to offer them, he said, about the family’s history and traditions.
‘Should I just give up?’ he asked.
I suggested that he, as the only living grandparent, persevere and to not accept defeat. Whatever the past might have been, his advanced years called for him to be nonjudgmental, empathic, and healing. I suggested that his grandchildren have or will have families of their own and, in time, will also be grandparents. As elders, they will reflect on their lives and, with a perspective vastly different from their youth and middle years, recall that Grandpa, in his advanced years, had tried to reach out to them as a grandparent in deed as well as in name.
In remembering, they would better understand their own roles as grandparents and their needs as elderly. Through their remembering he will become the ‘grandpa’ he had sought, long before, to be. Persistence, I reminded him - not giving up - was vital to his well-being if not to his life. To stop trying would be to accept defeat. The elderly do not take defeats lightly; at some point the added weight accelerates their downward spiral.
What he was doing for his grandchildren, I wrote, might have profound effects long after he was gone. Grandparenting is both here and now and for the long haul, and it influences grandchildren across their entire life span, not merely for the few years that grandparents were right there to offer guidance and hold them close.
Grandchildren rarely realize it when they’re kids - very often not even well into in their middle years - but the grandparents in their lives are forever. Most adults finally figure it out in their latter years. In time, grandkids figure it out, in their turn.
A woman wrote to me about her pre-teenage daughter’s repeated but futile attempts to communicate with her grandfather. He was in his eighth decade and resided in a distant state; the youngster was his only grandchild. Intelligent and caring, she had written to him regularly, sent holiday cards and gifts, and baked and mailed cookies. He did not acknowledge.
When Grandpa did telephone, not often, he spoke briefly with the youngster’s parents but avoided talking to her. He had not visited for a long time, lived alone, and was a loner with few friends. The mother’s letter did not mention a Grandma, and appealed for a suggestion.
I responded that the parent review grandfather’s wellness and what his self-image might be in the light of his past. Had he always been as withdrawn as he now appeared to be? How had he related emotionally to his family when his children were young? Had the family been close, or had Dad been distant even then toward his children and their mother? If he had been a close and caring father, when did changes occur that were significantly different, as currently displayed toward his only grandchild?
What might have brought the changes on? Advancing age can be an important factor: changes that occur during a person’s eighth decade and beyond can be ravaging, especially if health had seriously deteriorated or a great personal loss experienced. If such was the case, Grandpa might feel strongly not to impose his difficult problems on Grandchild?
‘I don’t know if Grandfather can be changed,’ I wrote. ‘I do believe that Grandfather needs your understanding and your compassion, and the same from your spouse or partner. Equally, but perhaps not aware of it, he needs the understanding and compassion of his Granddaughter. She keeps reaching out to him; I conclude her sense of compassion is strong. Compassion will not be a burden to her; to the contrary, reaching out strengthens her sensitivity and her developing maturity.
In closing, ‘I address to Granddaughter the ’suggestion’ you asked for: ‘Granddaughter, keep trying. Grandpa might not respond, but he hears you. Do not default; do not ever, ever give up.”
GRANDPARENTS IN THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
The following exchanges illustrate email interaction and communication between elementary school students in one community and older adults residing nearby or in various locations throughout the country. To ensure privacy of the children involved, I use first names only. Many older adults participated in this program, however, quoting from their letters, except where the remarks are most general, might be inappropriate, and so are not included. The manager of the school project is the teacher.
From the teacher:
I am a teacher in Southern California (land of many lost families) who is very desirous of establishing an intergenerational link (or many links) for my class.
I think a large part of the problem our children and our society face is a sense of ‘rootlessness’. I plan to devote a considerable part of my curriculum for this school year to developing a sense of self, family, community, national identity and global citizenship. I want my students to start knowing who they are, why they are that way and that they can influence the conditions they experience.
I plan to use telecommunications as much as our school’s limited resources will allow. I would like to communicate with other classes all over the U.S., especially from areas where ethnicity, cultural values and religion are known to vary from the majority. I would also like to involve as many age groups as I can. I will be interacting with college students, high school and middle school students as well as with all levels of my K-5 school.
From an older adult:
I would be pleased to work with your students. I have been quite close to (a high school) intergenerational project and believe that this sort of thing could help a lot of kids.
…another adult wrote:
I will be honored to interact with your youngsters. Being an old newspaper reporter I write in short sentences. Being a little not-yet-grown-up myself I understand and speak their language. My grandmother gave me a vivid recounting of her trip from Missouri to Colorado in a wagon train. And her first trip back in a Model T and many other stories. I’ll be glad to share. I love young, open, inquisitive minds.
To which the teacher replied:
You are wonderful! Thank you so much for being willing to interact with my students. I think your perspectives and insights will really enrich their understanding of the world and of life. I will do most anything to help my students expand their thinking and I really appreciate your willingness to help me!
One more adult…
I am fascinated with your project; it sounds and feels just right. I am a seventy-year-old retired physician who is enjoying his retirement. I believe we are all witnesses to our time; we are all making history which succeeding generations will read about in their texts. Real immortality, I believe, is in the passing of ideas from one generation to the next, in holding out our hands to help or to be helped-the gestures are much the same.
Shortly afterward, from the teacher
Ready or not, HERE THEY COME! Thanks for your patience. I hope you enjoy their introductory letters.
Hi my name is Jessie. I am in the fifth grade. I am a girl. My teacher is Mrs.— . By the way, she is the best teacher there ever was and she’s great at making it fun to learn!
My favorite color is purple. What’s yours? Do you have any pets? I have two dogs. I like to read about the past and the future. My cousin wants to be a Doctor. I want to be a Lawyer and yell at people. Allen says I’m good at that!
I’m ten years old. My name is Daniel. I love to draw and play football. I really love football. What do you like? Do you like to draw? I do. Maybe I can draw you a picture. I have a turtle and a dog and a snake for a pet. Do you have any pets? Write back please….
How do you do? My name is Joey. Please tell me more about yourself and the newspaper business. My favorite sport is basketball. I like to play Nintendo.
Hi. My name is Aubrey, and Amanda and I are sharing you. This is so exciting talking to you online. I’d like to know about you and your great grandparents. Oh! and thank you so much for the postcard, too. I know we are going to have so much fun online. Thanks.
The teacher added: That’s all for now! The children look forward to hearing from you all.
From an older adult
Thank you for writing your very nice little note to me. I think it was very well done and makes me want to write more. Mrs. —- sounds like a neat teacher; I’m sure she is proud of you. My favorite colors are violet and purple-my wife likes those colors, too. We have a dog and a cockatoo that is getting old. All he does is scratch. He is hard of hearing, which makes for interesting times.
I’m glad you like to read. The past gives you some idea about how other people did things, and gives you a clue of what to do in the future. The present is where we are now. We all make our own futures, which quickly, too quickly, become our pasts.
Actually, (as a lawyer) yelling will lose you more cases than you will win. Lawyers have to be able to argue, that is, discuss the pros and cons of a case. It takes reasoning ability and a calmness of spirit and a love for justice. I’m sure you are good at a lot of things. You sound full of vim and vigor and enthusiasm. That’s great!
Please write to me what you are doing, about what you like to study and whatever else you would like. I will try to be more prompt in answering you. These last few days were hectic for me.
It’s nice to meet you this way. I’m glad to hear that Mrs. —- is your teacher. She sounds great. I’m in good health, thank you for asking. I have three grown boys, but no grandchildren yet. We have an old dog that thinks he is our boss. We really like cats better, but our dog is too old and set in his ways to tolerate any cats.
My youngest son and his girl friend have four cats between them. I like being a retired physician. I don’t have to attend emergencies and I can get all the rest I want. When I go to the hospital it is to get medicines.
I like your goals, they are very nice. If you change your mind as you get to look at different professions, that’s OK. Whatever you decide, go for the best. A neo-natal nurse is a very good kind of person to be. I think I will be proud of you.
Thank you for writing to me. I will look forward to your reply.
It was a pleasant time I had reading your letter to me. Thank you very much. Football and drawing are favorites of yours. I like football also. In fact, I did play football in high school and college. I was a fullback, but never got to handle the ball. In those days the fullback was like a guard or a tackle. All he did was block for guys who carried the ball.
As for drawing, I’m not very good. In fact I’m terrible. Freehand drawing, that is. What I do instead of drawing is use my computer to do graphics and illustrations.
As you work with computers during your school career I’ll bet you’ll love some of the creative things you can do with computer drawing programs. My favorite drawing software is called ‘Arts & Letters’. It has a lot of pre-drawn illustrations. These are called ‘clip art’. I can, for instance, call up an illustration of an airplane. Then I can do all sorts of interesting things to change how the airplane looks. It’s a lot of fun.
As for collecting things, I like funky menus. The funkier the better. Last month I was in a place in Wyoming where the menu was printed inside an old newspaper. The newspaper had stories that actually were in newspapers from the late 1890s, when trappers and explorers were just pushing into Wyoming territory. I got so interested in reading all those stories the waitperson had to come by twice to get me to order. The menu was in the middle of the foldout old paper. So if you ever run across a funky menu, send it my way. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Thanks, and let’s keep exchanging information. I enjoy hearing all about you, your school and your friends. And what you like and don’t like. Turtles? Snakes? My goodness! I’ll pass on both of those. I live in an apartment and no pets are allowed. But for several years, until he died, I had a cat, properly named BearCat. Bear hated to ride in the car. It was an annual battle of wills between Bear and me to get him his shots at the vet. I miss Bear.
From the teacher, addressed to all who interacted with her students:
My students have so enjoyed the exchanges we have had so far. I hope you will continue to write to us!
My students are afraid you will forget about them and asked me to remind you that we are here and we love your messages. If we owe you letters, please forgive us; we will remedy that as quickly as we can! If you ‘owe’ us letters, please write.
I leave you with this somewhat apt quote from LIVE AND LEARN AND PASS IT ON (a lovely little book given to me by a former student):
‘I’ve learned that young people need old people’s love, respect, and knowledge of life, and that old people need the love, respect and strength of young people.’ (The writer was 85 years old.)
An elderly person wrote and asked, ‘How do we get to write to children?’
To which the teacher replied:
Writing to the children is easy! Just jump right in and do it! They are really ‘into’ this now and will snap up your request. I would like to start having them each (29 of them) choose a particular friend here so I still need a larger pool of adult writers.
What others have done is simply write and post a brief letter telling about themselves, some idea where they live, their interests, anecdotal family history that children might relate to, work background, etc.
Thanks for your interest. We hope to hear from you soon!
An elder, whether he or she is a biological grandparent or not, can be an excellent show-and-tell for a youngster. If you haven’ tried it, give it thought, the experience is one of the best antidotes for boredom. The experiences range from the hilarious to the poignant. They deserve to be shared.
During a visit to my distant grandchildren they invited me to accompany them to school to tell a few stories. On the appointed day, waiting in line with my granddaughter to enter her classroom, she glanced around to see if I was still there. Seeing me, she waggled her thumb at me over her shoulder and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, ‘That’s my Grandpa. He’s my show-and-tell today!’
Acknowledging students’ stares and giggles with dignified bows to left and right, I trailed along into the classroom, was graciously received, told stories, responded to questions about how the stories came to be, and asked questions in return. I then repeated my performance in my grandson’s class. Both sessions went quite well.
During the storytelling and the discussions that followed, the youngsters were fascinated: they were sharing their thoughts with someone who really wrote stories and, equally important, they were talking with an elder and a grandpa (grandpa-surrogate) who had come to visit with them from beyond their everyday routines. I was reminded once more that grandparents were nearby for relatively few children, the reasons include circumstances as well as geography. For most, grandparents were distant, deceased, or unknown.
Some time previously, a friend invited me to accompany him to a children’s day care center in his city. He, along with several other elders, visited the center occasionally to interact with the youngsters. Conforming to the center’s schedule, we arrived about half an hour before lunch. The children, about 25 three-to-four year olds, were still in the play yard. With permission from the play yard supervisor, we circulated from one group to another and participated in their activities where we could safely do so.
After a while, the attendant assembled the children to return indoors, and we followed. Inside, the youngsters and elders took seats in a circle, the elders spacing themselves about equidistant from each other. To my surprise, it was story time, and we elders were to be the storytellers.
The first storyteller told of a voyage she had taken as a child with her parents, and the second described a winter sleigh ride along a country lane. My friend, a retired aerospace engineer, spoke of airplanes and spaceships and stars in the skies. Throughout, the youngsters concentrated on the speaker, asked questions, voiced opinions, and, in many ways expressed their wonder and interest. The adults were getting as much from the telling as the children.
I had been engrossed in observing the reaction of the children to the stories being told and I was unprepared for my part. Suddenly, it was my turn. What could I say that would have meaning to these young children? Searching my memory, I recalled that, when my children were young, I had often baked bread for our family. My story would be about baking braided bread, and I would pantomime the process and have all present join in.
The children, and the adults as well, quickly entered the spirit of the story. When, with elaborate motions, I drew forth baking pans and supplies from an imaginary cupboard and placed them on a phantom work table, they did. When I cracked pretend-eggs into an enormous bowl that wasn’t there, they did. Together, we vigorously mixed the virtual ingredients, dumped, floured, and kneaded the lump, centered it on the ghostly table, and raised our arms grandly above our heads and touched fingertips high up to match the height to which our magic dough had risen. Solemnly, we pounded the lump flat, cut it into thick strips, and rolled each chunk into a branch. Watching closely as I solemnly went about it, each child braided their three symbolic branches into their personal loaf, placed it in the shadow oven, and drew it out a moment later, sniffing the fragrance of freshly baked bread.
Faces reflecting their deep concentration, the children were involved. Elders and youngsters had shared an experience, and it had been good. Having worked up our appetites, we were also ready for lunch.
I’ve told this story on several occasions. Preparing for one telling, I rolled three packages of play dough of contrasting colors into eighteen- inch strips, wrapped each in the clear plastic used for food storage, and secured the plastic with adhesive tape. At the proper moment in the telling, and in elaborate pantomime, I withdrew each colored length, one at a time, from a briefcase beside me. Youngsters crowded forward, eyes wide and riveted. I held each colored wrap aloft for all to see, and continued with the game. The contrasting colors made the braiding process clearly visible and more understandable.
I was invited by the Resource Teacher of a local elementary school to participate in their Authors and Illustrators Invitational. Each appearance would be a one man or woman show: a visiting writer or artist and an audience of children. Arrangements fell into place and each of the five sessions I conducted found me in the school library, seated in an ancient wooden grandpa-style rocking chair, with twenty-five to thirty second-to-fourth graders spread out before me in a half circle with their listeners on and tuned in.
To each group I told a story or two, and encouraged questions about how my stories came to be. Planet Mars was the setting for one story (told here under another heading), and I mentioned that the plot and characters had been created by working out details with my grandchildren. Discussing collaboration in writing a story got us into long distance interaction between grandkids and grandparents. With another, middle school group, I dragged out one of my book-length manuscripts and explained the why and how of manuscript preparation and independent publishing and what might happen if (the big IF) the manuscript was accepted by a trade publisher. Questions, lots of questions, no two sessions alike.
During a visit to my distant grandchildren, then nine-year old Joshua invited me to read a story to his class of about fifteen students during the lunch period. I would have about half an hour, following which the class would break for the schoolyard. Most of the youngsters knew me, as I’d read or told stories to them during previous visits. I was greeted with ‘Hi’ smiles and hand waves.
The tables had been arranged in a U with me at the open end. Except for the few who hadn’t seen me before, they knew I had difficulty hearing. As a reminder I pointed to my two hearing aids and asked the students to speak up when offering opinions or asking questions. This immediately brought comments from several that their grandmothers or grandfathers also wore hearing aids and they knew what was expected of them. To a few, my hearing device was something new. I removed the aid from my ear, opened the battery clip, and walked along the inside of the U to point out up close its major parts and their purpose, then demonstrated how the aid was installed and removed. I activated the acoustic feedback whistle by cupping the device in my palm and rendering a ’shave-and-a- haircut’ whistle and this brought several laughs as well as questions. I was off to a good start.
Rather than read or tell a story, I moved on to talk about the United States programs for exploring space, plans for a permanent space station and, in time, a base on the Moon and unmanned and manned flights to Mars. We speculated about the origin of the planets in the light of their relative sizes and orbits along the solar plane. I sketched a rough diagram on the blackboard. The students reeled off the planets’ names, and recalled what they knew about this or that planetary satellite. One youngster wanted to be certain that the class was aware that Pluto’s orbit was unusual in that it cut across the solar plane inside Neptune’s orbit and back out into interstellar space. They knew a lot about the solar system and were proud and pleased to share their knowledge. It was a ‘high tech’ discussion.
The last item on my agenda was to read several single-page stories, each closing with a dilemma confronting the lead character. The author’s answers to the puzzles were included in the text, but before disclosing it I invited the class to suggest their own. They didn’t hesitate, and supported their ideas with logic.
As in our previous sessions which, for some students, were as far back as preschool, they felt that they were exchanging views with an elderly adult who had arrived from outside, who wrote stories as well as being a storyteller, and someone who was grandpa to another student in their class. The half- hour passed much too soon.
Talks and readings I’ve attended over the years gave ample evidence of their value to speakers and listeners. Whether a show-and-tell visitor to a class presents a story, a memoir, an artifact, a skill, or an art form, almost all have something worth sharing with children. The problem is often in bringing the two distant age groups into each other’s presence so that the dynamics of their interaction and mutuality can take place. Preparations, as well as the main event, add zest to the experience. A show-and-tell takes many forms, however they occur, one constant prevails: each youngster, while you and I are with him or her, is ‘the grandchild.’
Introducing yourself to a distant grandchild as a teller of stories or of family, cultural, or other anecdotes, or as someone who cares about him or her, calls for some initial groundwork. For instance, does your grandchild know you or only of you?
With increased life expectancy and life experience, grandparents of this era have more to offer youngsters than ever before. As life expectancy increases, our children and grandchildren, in their turn, will have more to offer their succeeding generations.
Grandchildren need easy access to grandparents. Casting the elderly into physically remote and psychologically passive roles works against the interests of grandchildren and their parents, as well as their grandparents.
For grandparent-grandchild interaction to flourish, if it is to exist at all, grandparents need to take initiatives to reach out. This could call for unusual assertiveness to open lines of communication where there are none, and at keeping them open for a two-way flow.
PART TWO: FIRST STORIES
Stories for three and four year old children are best told within their range of comprehension and imagination; stories that tell of things, activities and places to which the age group can readily relate. In fantasies, for example, I might animate familiar toys or modify characters from the youngster’s favorite books and send them off on adventures that do not raise apprehension for the toy’s or child’s safety. Invariably, the stories close with the characters back in a secure and familiar setting.
Beyond the immediate pleasure of a grandma or grandpa story itself, the shared grandparent-grandchild experience transforms over time into recollections of enjoyable times in one’s early childhood. The process helps to lay a foundation for a positive relationship between the generations and opens doors to future confidences and dialogues as the grandchild matures.
Stories from distant grandparents have a special aura. Young children remember the warm glow of family readings where Mom and Dad add their own versions of the story.
GRANDPA TAKES A WALK
Here’s a simple letter-story that I mailed to my grandchild. Change it to one of your routine activities that you would like to share with Grandchild when next he or she visits. Add a bit of whimsy. When your story is read aloud to him or her at home, before the visit, it adds to the youngster’s anticipation.
It is morning. I look out my window. The sun is shining. It’s a good time to take a walk. I put on my sweater, leave the house and close the door behind me. Off I go on my walk, up one street and down another.
I come to a park. All about me are trees and shrubs and open fields. I start across the grass. A kite is high in the sky. The kite has red and white stripes, and looks like a bird with a wide tail.
‘Who is flying this enormous kite?’ I wonder.
I look about to see who is holding the string that stretches from the kite to the ground. What a surprise! It’s a black and white spotted kitten. The kitten scampers back and forth with the kite’s string gripped in its mouth.
After watching the kitten for a while, I go along on my walk. I reach the other side of the park and see a row of houses. One house has a window shade raised and a flowerpot on the windowsill. The pot has a plant with a single yellow flower growing straight up.
A boy and a girl are on the lawn in front of the house. The boy is pushing a wheelbarrow with a yellow shovel in it. The girl is holding a pink parasol, folded closed.
‘What will you put in your wheelbarrow?’ I ask the boy.
He lowers the wheelbarrow and points to a pile of sand in the driveway.
‘I’m helping my Dad move that pile of sand to the back yard,’ he says.
‘We’re filling our sandbox.’
I turn to the girl.
‘What will you do with your parasol?’
‘When the sun is high,’ she says, ‘I will open my parasol. It will shade me.’
I nod, wave good-bye to the boy and girl, and continue walking. I come to a hill and climb to the top. In the sky is a small white cloud. In the distance is a rainbow.
I start for home. I pass the house with the boy and girl. The boy is pushing the wheelbarrow. It is filled with sand. He pushes it toward a walk leading to the back yard. His sister has her parasol open. It is shading her. She waves at me. I wave back.
The yellow flower on the windowsill makes the house look cheerful.
I come to the park. The black and white spotted kitten is still flying the kite. I stop to watch. It is a strange sight. I continue with my walk. In a little while I am back home. I had an interesting walk.
When you visit us, you and I will take a walk along those streets and across that same park. On the far side of the park we will look for the house with the flowerpot in the window, and for the boy and his wheelbarrow and the girl holding her parasol. We will climb the hill and look for a rainbow in the sky. If we are lucky, a black and white spotted kitten-flying a kite might surprise us.
DOOBY AND KATRINKA HAVE AN IDEA
A popular story theme portrays friendly animals at play in a familiar setting.
Dooby, the dog, has red fur, a droopy tail, and sad eyes. His friend, Katrinka, the cat, has striped gray and black fur, and a tail that usually sticks straight back with a little kink at the tip.
Sometimes, Katrinka makes her tail stiff and points it straight up like a telephone pole. That doesn’t happen very often. Katrinka always has a cheerful smile.
Dooby wears a dog collar. Katrinka wears a ribbon around her neck. A tiny bell is attached to the ribbon. They live in a green house beside a road that disappears over a hill on one side and into a grove of trees on the other.
Dooby and Katrinka are great friends, and they love to play together. They chase a ball in the back yard, roll in the grass, or chase each other around tree trunks. Almost every day they sit side by side and watch the sun set. Dooby and Katrinka like to take walks and explore.
As we look in on Dooby and Katrinka this morning, we see Dooby dashing past Katrinka. Dooby barks as he runs, ‘Katrinka, let’s race along the road and have an adventure.’
That is all Katrinka needs to get her to tumble out of her comfortable bed, stretch along the carpet, and dash out of the house after Dooby.
Dooby is well on his way down the road. Katrinka runs fast and catches up. They race each other toward the hill, and then up one side and down the other.
They pass a shopping center and an office building, and are soon at a park with tall trees and wide playing fields. In they go.
Along one side of the park is a lake with rowboats, geese, ducks and swans. Dooby and Katrinka pay no attention to the rowboats, geese, ducks or swans.
They have something else in mind: the children’s playground. There it is, up ahead. Along one side of the playground are a climbing maze, swings, and a seesaw. On the other is a large sandbox where children can play and build sandcastles. The sand can also be shaped into hills with roads winding along their sides, and long twisty rivers that run from one end of the sandbox to the other.
Dooby and Katrinka jump into the sandbox and chase each other from one end to the ether. They stop now and then to turn over pebbles and acorns with their noses or paws. They dig holes into which they push and bury the pebbles and the acorns.
Suddenly Katrinka stops playing and looks around.
‘That’s strange,’ she says. ‘Whenever we come to this park it’s full of children. I usually see them with their mothers and fathers in rowboats on the lake, or along the shore feeding the ducks, geese and swans. I also see lots of children here on the swings and seesaws, or playing here in the sandbox. I don’t see them now.’
Dooby stops digging, walks to the edge of the sandbox and looks up and about.
‘You’re right,’ he says, and his tail droops.
A drop of water strikes Dooby on his nose. It goes splat. Dooby squints down his nose at the water trickling from its tip. His eyes widen with surprise. Another drop strikes him, this time on the top of his head. Still another, on his ear.
Three drops of water spatter Katrinka; two on her back and one on her tail. They both look up. The sky is full of gray, racing clouds. It’s starting to rain.
‘That’s why there are no children here,’ says Dooby. ‘Their mothers are keeping them indoors because of this rain.’
Dooby and Katrinka continue their romping in the sandbox, but the sand is getting wet and harder to dig. They leave the sandbox and slip under a picnic table to get away from the rain. They shake the wet from their coats.
‘Being caught in the park during a rain is a sort of adventure, I suppose,’ says Katrinka, ‘but I like to be where it’s dry.’
They watch the rain falling. The raindrops are now larger and heavier.
‘I’d like to start for home,’ says Katrinka, ‘but I don’t want to get my fur coat any wetter.’
‘I don’t mind getting wet,’ says Dooby.
He thinks about how to keep Katrinka dry on the way home.
‘I know,’ he says. ‘Here’s what we’ll do.’
Dooby explains his idea to Katrinka. She chuckles. Dooby also chuckles. They look at each other and their chuckles change to laughter. They laugh and they laugh.
Dooby stands up. Katrinka, who is much smaller than Dooby, comes alongside and then slips in underneath him so that Dolby’s body acts as an umbrella.
They walk all the way home, heads high, looking very proud and pleased with themselves.
It’s still raining when they get home, but Katrinka didn’t get more than a few drops of rain on her fur coat. She moves out of the way as Dooby shakes himself real hard, spraying water droplets in all directions.
Dooby and Katrinka have a late breakfast and head for their corners to take naps.
A favorite setting for a children’s story is the circus, and following an alligator that sneaks about the grounds searching for an adventure offers the listener a sense of involvement.
The circus is in town. All the boys and girls and their mothers and fathers are excited by the posters and the circus parades along Main Street.
Abercrombie, the alligator, wants to visit the circus. The morning the circus opens, Abercrombie rises from his nest in the riverbank mud, climbs on to his bicycle, and sets off for town. He has lots of friends at the circus, and they like to have him visit with them.
Abercrombie also has a secret plan, but we won’ talk about that yet. First we’ll introduce a few of Abercrombie’s friends.
One of Abercrombie’s close friends at the circus is JoJo, the juggler. JoJo juggles three plates or, sometimes, three bottles.
Then there is Jingo, the jester, who struts along the circus Midway, looking important. He’s OK, though.
Abercrombie also has friends among the clowns who do somersaults and fancy rolls, and play violins as they do their tricks. He knows the elephants that ride around the ring on huge, funny looking bicycles and the jugglers and clowns and elephants that enjoy making children laugh.
Finally, there is Bumble, the Bee. Bumble is the Circus Ringmaster. He buzzes from one place to another in the circus rink, telling people what to do and when to do it. He’s bossy, but he’s OK, too.
Let’s return to Abercrombie. He has been planning his secret adventure for a long time.
We see him close to the circus tent with colored flags flying from the top. He sniffs the air and smells the popcorn, and he hears the booming of the drums and the blaring of the trumpets. Crowds of children and their parents are heading for the circus tents. Some of them stop to watch JoJo, the juggler and they laugh at JoJo jumping up and down, and twirling plates and bottles, catching them on their way up or down. It’s lots of fun to watch.
Abercrombie walks up to JoJo and whispers in his ear. Then Abercrombie leaves JoJo; he’s in a hurry to begin his adventure-his secret adventure.
Flattening down to the ground on his stumpy legs and arms, Abercrombie slithers into the big tent. All the boys and girls and their mothers and fathers and grandmas and grandpas fill the seats around the circular rink. They are concentrating on the clowns rolling and tumbling and standing on the heads and shoulders of other clowns. They are also watching the elephants ride their huge bicycles.
No one notices Abercrombie, and that is the way Abercrombie wants it. He doesn’t’ want to be noticed until he is ready.
Carefully, Abercrombie works his way around a circus wagon, looking back over his shoulder to be sure he is not seen. Quickly, he climbs over a large red and white striped box, slips around a corner and, fast as an alligator can, he wiggles up, over the side and into an orange-colored barrel.
He waits inside the barrel. He peeks out through a bunghole in its side. He does not see or hear anyone close by, so he knows he has not been noticed. He grins, chuckles, and gleefully rubs his palms.
Abercrombie takes another peek through the peephole. The way is clear. Taking a deep breath, he tightens his muscles, and leaps out of the barrel.
Rearing up on to his hind legs, his heavy tail straight out behind him Abercrombie dashes into and across the circus rink. His stumpy arms wave furiously, and his head is high and wags from side to side for balance. His legs pump and pound so fast they look blurry, like bicycle spokes when the wheels turn fast.
Bumble, the Bee, Ringmaster of the circus, sees Abercrombie racing across the ring and the direction in which he is heading.
‘Stop, stop,’ he shouts.
Abercrombie pays no attention. He reaches a ladder attached to a red and white pole on the side of the center ring. The top of the pole is close to the tent’s peak, and that’s really high. A ladder is fastened to the pole all the way to the top.
Abercrombie wraps his stumpy arms around the pole and begins to climb the ladder. He climbs and he climbs. Finally, he is at the very top and stands on a tiny platform. Abercrombie leans out and twists his head to look at the crowd far below.
The crowd is silent. They stare up, watching Abercrombie high up on the tiny perch. Bumble, the Ringmaster, stands at the bottom of the pole and shakes his fist up at him.
Abercrombie’s secret ambition is that ever since he first attending a circus he wanted to swing from a trapeze-a circus trapeze. The tiny platform to which he climbed has a trapeze fastened to its railing. The trapeze is now a few inches from where Abercrombie is standing.
No one can stop him now.
Abercrombie unties the trapeze, grasps the bar with both hands and takes a deep breath. He looks down at the crowd once more and gripping the trapeze tight, leaps from the platform. Away he G O E S!
Oh, what an adventure! What AN ADVENTURE! Back and forth, back and forth from one side of the huge tent to the other.
First, Abercrombie holds on with both hands, then he holds on with one hand and waves to the crowd below with the other. He twists and he turns, then holds to the bar with only his teeth and waggles both arms and stumpy hind legs. To cap that, he does somersaults and back flips, and then twists himself so that he catches the bar with his hands, his feet, and his teeth. Once, even with his tail!
The boys and the girls and the mothers and the fathers and the grandmas and the grandpas watch Abercrombie from far below. They shout and laugh and clap their hands. They’re having a wonderful time, too.
Well, as you can imagine, after a while Abercrombie gets tired. It’s time to rest. He takes a few more swings, does a somersault and a back flip, and catches the rail on the tiny platform where he started. He ties the trapeze back to the railing, and climbs down.
When he steps away from the ladder at the bottom, the crowd welcomes him with smiles, shouts, and clapping hands. Even Bumble, the Ringmaster, is happy to see him and they shake hands.
Abercrombie waves to the crowd and makes his way to where he left his bicycle. He heads for home.
Arriving home, he enjoys his supper and, as he is very tired, he puts on his red pajamas and slips into his nest on the riverbank.
As he closes his eyes he thinks, ‘I sure had a fine adventure today.’
The introduction to this next story is about an experience I had ten or so years ago at the Portland Museum of Science and Industry. My daughter was a volunteer at the museum at the time and, often, when I visited she invited me along to help at the museum too, which, of course, I did.
A popular exhibit at museums everywhere is one that displays models of the large reptiles that roamed the Earth millions of years ago. During one of my visits to my grandchildren in Portland, Oregon, the local museum had such an exhibit. There were so many different reptiles in the exhibit that, for my convenience in stories I hoped to write, I assigned each a popular and easily pronounced-and remembered-name. The names appear in this story: there was Albert the Apatosaurus, Pete the Pentaceratops, Palmer the Parasaurolophus, Sally the Stegosaurus, and Alice the Ankylosaurus. The exhibit also included a Petrushka the Pterodactyl and a Tallyrand the Tyranosaurus.
The museum’s Albert the Apatosaurus had a baby daughter, Alexandra, and she slept in a doughnut-shaped nest after the museum closed for the night. As you can imagine, a doughnut-shaped nest, for even a toddler apatosaurus, is not the size of the bakery doughnuts with which you and I are familiar. Alexandra’s doughnut-shaped nest was about ten feet across. The model had eighteen-inch diameter inflated tubes that enclosed a soft brown plastic floor.
When children touring the museum saw Alexandra’s nest they rushed to climb the tube, jump down inside, and land hard on the soft plastic floor. With hundreds of jumping children each day, four or five at a time, the soft plastic soon scuffed and frequently needed repair. Alexandra didn’t care to see her nest abused like that, and I felt sympathy for her. Fortunately, I was able to help; my job was to be the museum’s official Fixer of the Apatosaurus Nest’s Floor. My tools and supplies were a large roll of aluminum-colored adhesive tape, a tape measure and shears. Twice each day I inspected and repaired Alexandra’s nest.
‘Stand back for one moment, please.’ I would say as I approached and identified myself to the jumpers. ‘It is time to inspect the dinosaur’s nest.’
The youngsters gathered round as I removed my shoes, stepped across the inflated tube into the nest, lowered to my knees, bent, and carefully inspected the nest’s floor. With elaborate gestures I inspected all surfaces and seams, measured the damaged areas with my ruler, cut the proper length strip from my large roll of duct tape, and pressed it into place.
Children and mothers and fathers and grandparents came from nearby exhibits to observe the Apatosaurus Nest Floor Fixer at work. When the repairs were done I rose, stepped back over the side and out of the nest and waved to the jumpers, saying, ‘OK, have at it!’ And they did.
My grandchildren were proud to see grandpa at work repairing a baby Apatosaurus’s nest so that it would remain a safe and comfortable place to sleep after the museum closed for the day.
Several times, as I made my way back from the nest to the shop in the basement below the museum I happened to glance up at Alexandra’s dad, Albert. I think I saw him wink at me, as if to say, ‘Thanks for fixing Alexandra’s nest.’
PART THREE: REACH FOR THE STARS, GRANDPA!
Grandparents, and older adults generally, are excellent sources for stories and activities that fascinate children. Plotting, writing, and then rehashing such stories can be as much fun for grandma and grandpa, as for the grandkids that hear or read them. In years to come, the young grandchildren of today will read to their own grandchildren the stories that their grandparents wrote for them. The process enhances a family’s sense of continuity and cohesion, especially in circumstances where the family is dispersed.
Looking back at how a story came to be may refresh memories of childhood to the generation-in-the-middle as the elders, and, in time, to the young as they mature into the next ‘middle’ generation. Here is a model with which to experiment.
One fine day:
(Grandma calls out from the kitchen) ‘Mike, answer the phone. I’m busy.’
(Grandpa grumbles) ‘It’s probably for you.’
‘Well, then, take the message.’
(Mumble, mumble) ‘Hello.’
‘Yo, ho, ho! Looka what I got, and it isn’t even my birthday! My too-faraway grandchild! HEY! How goes …?’
‘Write me a story, Grandpa.’
‘Huh? What’s this story bit all of a sudden?’
‘A space story, Grandpa, I want a space story.’
‘Space? What do I know about space? Where in space?’
‘How far? Space is humungous.’
‘Tell me about it. I watch TV cartoons too.’
‘Well then, as one expert to another, this calls for a telephone conference.’
The next ten minutes consisted of an in-depth give-and-take during which grandchild enlightened me about our Sun and its family of planets. Together, we counted and reeled off the names of each planet from Mercury on out, not to ignore the recently discovered ‘Planet X’. We guessed at the number of moons that orbited each, and which of the outer planets had rings ‘that look like flattened hula hoops.’ It wasn’t long before I was frantically leafing through our ancient family encyclopedia that I hauled down from our kid’s bedrooms where it had been since their high school days.
Now, once more the books had returned to and were spread out on the dining room table, this time for the edification of ‘grandchild.’ After all, to this six- year old, I was ‘grandpa,’ and grandpa, to a six-year old, knows. Doesn’t he? Finally, I succumbed to Grandchild’s insistence.
‘OK. I’ll write a story, but first I’ve got questions. Holler Mom to the extension phone. Tell her to bring notepaper and a pencil.’
‘Hi, Dad, what’s happenin’.’
‘Don’t say ‘what’s happenin’ to me, ask my grandchild; she gave me the job. But ol’ gramps wasn’t born yesterday. Let’s make this a family project, so are you ready, I hope. OK? Write this down and call me back with the answers. I need a boy character and a girl character. Give them names. Next, where do they live? Just ‘in space’ isn’t enough. Where in space? On the moon? On Mars along with that double-jointed six plus wheeler we sent up there some years ago to scrounge around in potholes and climb over rocks? So, where does this story take place?
‘Maybe the characters live on one of the Asteroids? How about one of Jupiter’s dozen or so moons? How about putting them on a pebble or a grain of sand that whirls along somewhere in an outer ring of Saturn? Whichever, you folks have yourselves a family story conference and make up your own answers. OK?’
An anguished moan ‘Oh, no!’ from the other end of the line.
Grandchild soon phoned back.
‘The girl’s name is Stobey the Space Worm, and the boy is Slutter the Slime.’
‘Oh, my! Stobey the Space Worm and Slutter the Slime. That’s a fine pair of names you’re giving me to work with. What else did you come up with?’
‘Mom says for you to use your own imagination and not to bother her.’
‘Hmmm, I’m being abandoned in deep space. OK, how about my working up Stobey and Slutter in a story about a space bagel?’
‘C’mon, you’re kiddin’; but it’s your problem, Gramps! Carry on!’
And that led to the story about’:
A BAGEL? IN SPACE?
Stobey the Space Worm is a girl, and her friend Slutter the Slime, is a boy. They live on farms next to each other. The farms are on Planet Mars.
One morning, after breakfast, Stobey runs to Slutter’s house and they race each other to their spaceships. Stobey’s spaceship is squishy and is named Cream Cheese; Slutter’s spaceship is as slimy as he and his name is Lox.
Spaceship Lox is named after a kind of smoked fish that was taken along by the first expedition of colonists to Planet Mars from Planet Earth. It’s a real slippery fish, even after it’s smoked.
Stobey climbs aboard Cream Cheese and Slutter slides into Lox. They take off and head for a landing strip on the slope of a mountain on Phobos, one of Planet Mars’ moons.
They land their spaceships on Phobos and explore the mountaintop.
They come to a wide, deep hole near the center of the peak. Next to the wide, deep hole they see a sign. On the sign is printed ‘The name of this mountain is Bagel.
‘Just imagine,’ Stobey laughs. ‘We flew to the moon on Cream Cheese and Lox, and where did we land? We landed on a bagel!’
It begins to rain. The rainwater on Phobos is white. The reason the milk is white is that on the moons of Mars it always rains milk - real milk. There is a story on Mars that the milk-rain on Phobos really comes from the Cow That Jumped Over the Moon.
Stobey and Slutter take drinking cups from their lunch boxes and hold them up. The cups fill with milk.
‘Hm,’ says Slutter. ‘Here we are, with Cream Cheese and Lox on Bagel, having cups of milk.’
Stobey and Slutter look at each other and giggle. The giggles turn to laughs. My, how they laugh. They explore Bagel Mountain for a while, then walk back to their spaceships. They say good-bye to each other, climb aboard, and switch on the ship’s motors. The motors roar and the ships are ready to take off.
Slimy Lox gets off fine but goopy soft Cream Cheese sticks to the Bagel and is in trouble. Stobey presses real hard on the engine pedal. After a real hard try Cream Cheese smears along the ground, finally gets unstuck and squirts into space.
‘Why was it so hard for Cream Cheese to get off the Bagel?’ Stobey wonders.
Stobey hasn’t learned yet that bagels all across our solar system have always had a mysterious and powerful attraction for cream cheese. For instance, on Planet Earth the single most important question throughout history has been, ‘Of what possible use can a bagel be, without cream cheese?’
The two spaceships head for home.
(Hi, Grandpas and Grandmas: The same story can be written using hamburger and catsup on a bun with soda pop or milk or any popular, traditional or commercial combination. Try it with your grandchildren’s favorite snacks.)
The bagel story opened a series of space stories, the first of which was:
Stobey’s and Slutter’s families have moved to the Outer Region of the Solar System and built homes on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. Earthlings were overrunning Mars.
One morning Stobey calls Slutter on her space visi-phone.
‘Slutter,’ says Stobey, ‘let’s get together.’
‘Right,’ Slutter answers. ‘Where’s a good place to meet?’
‘If we leave now in our new spaceships, Coconut and Banana,’ says
Stobey, ‘we’ll reach the space lanes’ junction near the gate to Super-Rock Playground on Moon Ganymede. Will you meet me there?’
‘Yes,’ Slutter says. ‘I’ll leave now in Banana and meet you where the space lanes join. I’ll be there in an hour, Stobey. See you.’
They switch off, dash for their spaceships and launch. Coconut and Banana are fast, but the distance each must fly is so great that it will take at least an hour to reach the junction.
Super-Rock is the children’s playground in the outer region of our solar system, which includes all the planets and space colonies beyond the Asteroids. The playground has roller coasters, a merry-go-round, tunnels to explore, music bands, and many rides for children. It’s really cool. Since it’s such a special and favorite park, Super-Rock gets lots of visitors.
As Stobey and Slutter approach Super-Rock Playground, the space lanes leading into it become crowded with other spaceships and buggies.
There are big bus line spaceships, each loaded with hundreds of passengers, private spaceships with families, and lots of single-seat space buggies like Coconut and Banana. There are also hot rod space buggies that switch at high speed from one lane to another, driven by boys and girls who sport fancy haircuts, twisty earrings, and leather jackets.
Stobey and Slutter handle their single-seaters carefully to keep from having an accident. The junction up ahea is complicated. Hundreds of spacers are in coming in from the right and underneath to join up with hundreds of others from the left and overhead. Everyone is careful. That is, almost everyone. Stobey switches on her space radio.
‘Stobey calling Slutter,’ she says into her microphone. ‘Come in, Slutter.’
Slutter is waiting for the call.
‘Slutter here,’ he replies. ‘Where are you, Stobey?’
I’m in the holding pattern at the junction,’ Stobey says, ‘and I’m flashing my green and yellow lights. Can you spot me?’
‘Not yet. I’ve got my greens and yellows on, too,’ Slutter answers. ‘Let’s watch for each other.’
A moment later, Stobey says, ‘I see you in my finder; you’re still some distance behind me. I’ll cut out and line up ahead of you. When you catch up we’ll head for the parking block. Let’s park next to each other.
‘That’s fine. Let’s do that.’
Without warning, Stobey feels a slam on the rear of her space-buggy. She looks in her rear-view mirror. It’s a hot rodder and he’s bumping the nose of his buggy against the back of hers.
‘Slutter,’ Stobey shouts. ‘I’m having a problem with a hot rodder. He’s bumping my tail. If he doesn’t stop he’ll damage my buggy.’
‘I’m speeding up and closing,’ Slutter replies. ‘I’ll check him out.’
Slutter rams power into Banana’s motor and, a moment later, sees
Coconut up ahead. The hot rodder’s ship is pushing and bumping Coconut.
Slutter maneuvers Banana behind the hot rodder. Lowering Banana’s nose, he slips it under the rear bumper of the hot rodder. He quickly raises Banana’s nose and flips the hot rodder away.
Slutter moves Banana up alongside Coconut. The hot rodder, seeing the Coconut has a Banana for a buddy, veers off. Together, they’re too much for him.
‘Thank you, Slutter,’ says Stobey. ‘If you hadn’t stopped that hot rodder he might have cracked my Coconut. You sure saved me.’
‘I’m glad I was here to help,’ Slutter replies. ‘If it was the other way round I’m sure you would have done the same for me. Come to think of it, Stobey, if that hot rodder had bumped against my buggy, and you weren’t here to help me, he might’ve peeled my Banana.’
Stobey and Slutter think that’s funny. They laugh and they laugh as, flying along side by side, they move along the space lanes into the Super-Rock parking block.
They find parking spaces next to each other. When they step out from their space buggies they come together with smiles and a hug. Hand in hand, they head for the gate that leads into Super-Rock, the most spectacular children’s park and playground in the entire outer region of the solar system. First they tried:
SWINGING FROM A STAR
As Stobey and Slutter enter Super-Rock Playground they are greeted by a Hooten-Nanny. The Hooten-Nannies are a family of jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns who enjoy making people laugh. One job that they really enjoy is to meet visitors at the Super-Rock gate and show them the sights and rides. Stobey and Slutter are lucky; a Hooten-Nanny wants to show them around the park.
Hi,’ says the Hooten-Nanny as he twirls about, flips a double somersault, a triple spin and a rollover. ‘I’m Chug-a-lug the Hooten-Nanny from over Europa way. Just call me Chug. I’m one of the fellows who work here, and I like to show visitors around our park. May I join you?’
Stobey and Slutter look at Chug. They never met a real Hooten-Nanny, but are not surprised at the way he looks. They’ve seen pictures of Hooten-Nannies in storybooks, television, and on several Websites of the Solar Wide Web.
Chug looks like a single length of very thin spaghetti, but stiff, like before it’s boiled. Chug’s head is long and thin too, and his arms and legs also look like strands of spaghetti. The clown’s suit he wears glows with all of the universe’s colors; it’s made entirely of rainbow mist.
‘We certainly would like you to join us,’ Stobey and Slutter say together.
‘What are you going to show us?’ Stobey asks.
‘And what are we going to do?’ Slutter adds.
Chug bends forward so that his head is close to Stobey’s.
‘You’ll see what I’ll show you when you see it,’ he whispers with a big grin and a wink. Turning to Slutter he says with the same grin and wink, ‘You will know what we’ll do when it happens.’ Then, to both, ‘Ar-r-re you ready?’
‘Yes, we ar-r-re ready,’ shout Stobey and Slutter together, jumping up and down with excitement.
‘Then we’re off.’ Chug yells a shrill ‘whoop’ as he reaches down with his long arms and wraps one around Stobey and the other around Slutter. Lifting and hugging them close to his thin chest he springs upward with a mighty leap. Holding on to each other, they soar over the gate and above the road leading into the park. Looking down, Stobey and Slutter see the faces of many people staring up at them.
They hear shouts, ‘What are they? Are they birds? Are they spaceships?’
A voice shouts, ‘I know. I know. It’s Chug-a-lug, the Hooten-Nanny, and he’s flying his friends to see the sights and to take the special rides. Aren’t they the lucky ones?’
They approach a mountain peak. With a flip and a flop they land on a tiny platform at the tip of a tall pole. They see the ground far below. Beside them, tied to a railing on the platform is a trapeze bar.
‘For goodness sake,’ exclaims Stobey, ‘What’s a trapeze bar doing here at the very top of a mountain?’
‘This is my own special trapeze,’ Chug replies. ‘I use it to travel from one place to another. Very often, when I’m feeling real good, I do somersaults as I go along. Shall we swing?’
‘Now just a moment,’ Slutter says, looking around and then far up into space above Ganymede. ‘A trapeze bar swings through space, that I understand. But the lines that hold the bar need to be fastened to something at its other end. I don’t see where the trapeze lines end. What are they fastened to up there in space, Chug?’
Chug grins and points up. Stobey and Slutter look again. The trapeze lines stretch up and up and disappear from sight. Far, far away, beyond where the lines seem to join and disappear they see a flickering light.
‘My special trapeze,’ Chug says softly, ‘is hitched to a star.’ Raising his voice, he shouts, ‘Are you ready?’
‘We ar-r-e ready!’
Chug unties the trapeze from the platform. He grasps the trapeze bar in the middle; Stobey takes a firm grip of the bar on his right and Slutter does the same on his left.
‘Don’t let go,’ Chug shouts and with a powerful shove they swing out and away from the mountaintop. The trapeze gathers speed. Down below, the ground rushes past, much too fast to see the people that they know are watching them.
‘Now! See me hang by my feet,’ Chug calls out.
He flips through a somersault and catches the trapeze bar with his long spaghetti-thin toes. Stobey decides to try. She takes a deep breath, twists, and in an instant she is somersaulting. Completing the twist, her feet reach for the trapeze bar.
The bar isn’t there!
Stobey’s heart almost stops. She feels herself falling. Out of nowhere, a hand grasps one of her ankles and she feels herself drawn in. Her hands find the bar. Chug holds her until her grip on the bar is firm and she is safe again.
‘Hmmm,’ Chug smiles, ‘maybe we’re better off staying together.’
Stobey gulps and nods. She glances at Slutter who nods in return.
‘I think I’ll put off doing a somersault or holding on with my toes,’ Slutter says, ‘at least until I practice.’
‘I guess you’re right,’ Stobey says, ‘I think I’ll wait a while before I try that again.’
The trapeze reaches the end of its swing. Up ahead is another mountaintop with a tiny platform at the peak. The platform is attached to a pole like the one they left. As their feet touch the platform they each grasp the railing.
They are on firm footing again. Chug ties the trapeze bar to the rail.
‘Did you enjoy the ride?’ Chug asks Stobey.
‘The same goes for me,’ adds Slutter.
‘How will you describe this ride to your parents and to your friends?’ Chug asks.
Stobey and Slutter whisper to each other, then, together, they gaze up and point to where the trapeze lines disappear into the far, far distance of space.
‘We’ll tell them all,’ Stobey grins up at her tall friend, ‘at Super-Rock Park we met Chug-a-lug, the Hooten-Nanny, and the three of us had a wonderful time swinging from a star.’
‘I can’t think of anything nicer to say,’ Chug smiles. ‘Let’s do some more exploring and see what we can find.’
Chug-a-Lug the Hooten-Nanny reaches down, wraps one arm around Stobey and the other around Slutter, and draws them close. He leaps up and away and, laughing together, the three friends are off to greet:
VISITORS FROM PLANET EARTH
With the trapeze adventure behind them, our three friends are on the path that leads to the Super-Rock Midway.
‘The Midway,’ says Chug, ‘is the fanciest and flashiest Midway between Planet Mars and Planet Pluto far out on the Solar rim.’
You’re right,’ says Stobey. ‘This Midway really is the last word in midways and I’m looking forward to seeing it. How about you, Slutter?’
‘Yep,’ Slutter says, ‘me too.’
Up ahead, they see the gate leading into the Midway. It’s on the other side of the space-block where the bus line space ships are moored to the tops of tall towers. Spaceships smaller than busses land on the surface, so they’re lined up in parking lots.
‘Let’s cut across the parking block,’ says Chug, ‘it’ll shorten the walk to the gate.’
‘Fine,’ says Stobey.
They head across, cutting in and out among the rows of parked space ships and space buggies.
Half way across they suddenly they feel a deep, thrumming vibration from space. Looking up, they see a gigantic, pancake-shaped, interplanetary space liner moving in above the parking block. Interplanetary space liners are not like the little single-seaters, family wagons, or even the big bus line and ferry space ships that carry folks like Stobey and Slutter from their homes to Super-Rock. Space liners are much larger than the biggest ocean liners that sailed the seas of Planet Earth long ago, and you’ve seen in history books how enormous they were.
Stobey, Slutter and Chug watch as the huge space liner slows and stops in space just above the Super-Rock Playground. Colored lights flash and glow brightly all across its underside, along its rim, and through thousands of portholes.
‘What’s that space liner doing here?’ Stobey asks, turning to stare at Chug.
‘Gosh, I don’t know,’ Chug replies. ‘I don’t recall ever seeing a big spacer like that coming to Super-Rock. They always go to the big space ports in orbit around moons Io and Europa. I wonder what’s going on.’
They watch the space liner, and after a short while see one of the huge panels along its side move aside. An orange-and-green-striped space boat drifts out and holds in place. The space boat is as big as a bus and is known as a ‘flitter.’ Flitters are used to ferry people and cargo back and forth between big spaceships, or among planets, satellites and other places where the big interplanetary ships can’t land. As Stobey, Slutter and Chug watch, the tail of the flitter glows yellow and the space boat turns down toward the surface.
‘Look, look,’ Slutter yells. ‘The flitter is heading this way.’
The flitter hovers just above the Super-Rock parking block. Stobey waves her arms.
‘Over here, over here,’ she yells. ‘Here’s a parking slot. Right over here.’
Slutter rushes to the empty parking slot and waves up at the flitter. The pilot must have seen him. He guides the flitter to the slot and lands gently.
Stobey and Chug rush up beside Slutter. Together, they watch the flitter’s door.
‘I wonder who’ll be coming out,’ Slutter says.
‘…or what’ll be coming out,’ Stobey mumbles. ‘There are many strange beings living in our Solar System.’
‘Yes,’ adds Chug, ‘real strange.’ His long, thin spaghetti-like head bobs up and down. His long, thin spaghetti-like body sways. ‘Yes,’ he repeats with a nod.
Stobey and Slutter look at Chug and then at each other. They smile. They know Chug looks different than they do. They also know that all people and things look a little different from each other, and looking and being different is natural and just fine. They turn back to stare at the flitter’s portal.
The portal slips aside. It’s dark inside.
A ladder slowly lowers from the portal and unfolds as it approaches the surface. They hear a clicking sound and the ladder locks into place.
Stobey, Slutter and Chug are quivering with excitement. A space-suited figure moves into the doorway. It stands there, not moving.
Our three friends look at the space-suited figure, and they see a face through the clear plastic space helmet. The face’s eyes are looking at them. Stobey, Slutter and Chug do not need space suits since they’re where they live all the time. They’re used to getting around just the way they are, but people who come off space liners, they know, aren’t able to get around without their own kind of air and pressure. One of the jobs of a space suit is to hold the right kind and mix of air and pressure for the wearers. The space suits do look strange, though.
‘Whatever it is, it’s just standing there,’ Stobey says.
‘Sure is,’ adds Slutter. ‘I wonder whatever is in that space suit looks like.’
‘Me, too, Chug mumbles.
The space-suited figure starts down the ladder. As it leaves the doorway another space-suited figure appears. That one, too, looks around and starts down the ladder.
Stobey, Slutter and Chug run to the bottom of the ladder.
‘Hi,’ Stobey says.
A voice comes out of a speaker panel on the strange figure’s helmet.
‘Hello,’ it says, followed a moment later by a ‘Hello’ from the other space suit.
‘Where are you from? ‘Stobey asks.
‘Third planet from the Sun.’
‘That’s right,’ from the other space suit.
‘Well, then, call it that, ‘Stobey says. ‘Who are you? Do people on Planet Earth have names?’
‘Of course we have names. Every one on Planet Earth has a name. How could we tell each other apart, or write each other letters, or call each other on the telephone if we didn’t each have our own name.’
‘We also have names,’ Stobey says. ‘My name is Stobey and,’ she points to Slutter, ‘this is my friend, Slutter.’
Stobey points straight up at Chug’s head towering above her and adds,
‘This is our guide around Super-Rock Playground and He’s our friend. His name is Chug-a-lug, and He’s a Hooten-Nanny.’
‘We’re very happy to meet you,’ says the voice from the first space suit.
‘Now tell us your names,’ Stobey says.
‘Our names,’ says the same voice, ‘are Suzanne and Roger. I’m Suzanne.’
‘Suzanne and Roger. What strange and interesting names.’ Stobey repeats the names a few times, and so do Slutter and Chug. ‘Suzanne and Roger. Suzanne and Roger. Hm..m..m, strange sounding names, really strange.’
‘They’re not strange where we come from,’ says Roger.
‘I suppose not,’ says Stobey. ‘Tell us, Suzanne and Roger, why has an interplanetary space liner come to Super-Rock Playground. Aren’t the regular ports for space liners in orbits above Io and Europa?’
‘Well, yes,’ Suzanne says. ‘We’re on our way to Europa to visit our uncle who’s in charge of a space colony. The colonists are also people from Planet Earth.’
‘The Captain of our space liner told us the port at the Europan colony is temporarily filled with other space liners,’ Roger adds, ‘so he brought our liner here for a couple of hours to wait until a mooring slot for us opens up there.’
‘Right,’ Suzanne adds. ‘When we got here and saw this beautiful playground we asked the Captain if we could visit it for a while. As you see, he agreed, and here we are.’
‘We’re certainly glad you came,’ Stobey says. ‘We’re heading for the Midway. Would you like to join us?’
‘Oh, yes,’ says Roger, ‘we sure would.’
‘Yes, we would like to join you,’ says Suzanne, ‘and we thank you for the invitation. But we must be back aboard the space liner in two hours. Will you be sure that we don’t miss getting back here in the parking block in time to lift off?’
Chug steps forward. He draws himself up to his full height, raises one spaghetti-thin arm to point upward, and speaks with a deep voice.
‘It shall be my honor and my pleasure,’ he says, ‘to show you all the wonders of the Great Super-Rock Midway, and then to bring you back here in time to return to your space liner. I, Chug-a-lug the Hooten-Nanny, will be your guide.’
He proudly points at the brilliant, many-colored lights of the Super-Rock Midway.
‘We’re off to the Midway with a fanfare, and in our finery and frippery,’ his voice booms like a drum, ‘to see a galaxy of games which give everyone gales of galloping giggles. If you wish, you can gulp gallons of grape juice, and gaze and even gawk at glittering gold goblets and gargantuan gemstones. You can also buy gewgaws, gimmicks, gizmos, and glamorous gifts to give to your friends.’
Chug starts across the parking block, taking long steps.
‘Hold on, there, Chug,’ Stobey calls after him. ‘Slow down. Your long legs take such big steps we can’t keep up with you.’
Chug turns and looks back. He waits until Stobey, Slutter, Suzanne and Roger catch up. They form a line across, Chug in the middle, Stobey and Suzanne on one side and Slutter and Roger on the other. The two children on each side of Chug link arms. Chug’s arms are so long that they reach down to where his hands can be held by whoever is next to him. With Chug’s booming voice describing what they will see, they head for the gate into the Midway of Super-Rock Playground.
Overhead, the great space liner from Planet Earth waits patiently for Stobey and Slutter who are getting ready to meet:
SIR LUMPALOT AND KICK-POW
Our friends, Stobey and Slutter, Suzanne and Roger and, of course, Chug-a-lug, the Hooten-Nanny are all walking side-by-side across the spaceship parking block. They are close to the entrance to the Midway. The gate is just ahead. Lights are flashing. Children and grown-ups, of many sizes and shapes, are moving in all directions.
‘Halt! Halt, I say. Stay right where you are!’
The order bursts up at them from right under their feet. Stobey jumps aside. Slutter leaps straight up. Suzanne and Roger stand still, shocked. Chug doesn’t move, and says nothing. He looks down and points.
A hole forms in the ground where they were standing a moment before. At first they don’t see the hole because it’s as small as a pinhead. It spreads quickly until it’s as big as the hole in the center of a doughnut.
That’s when they see it. The hole grows to the size of a basketball. It stops expanding for a couple of seconds as if to catch its breath; then with a shiver and a shake it’s as big as a bulldozer tire. That’s when it stops growing.
A clatter and a rumble wells up like hooves pounding hard-packed earth. The clatter grows louder and closer. The ground shakes. By this time Stobey and Slutter are holding on to each other. Suzanne and Roger stand close by, confused by what’s happening. They feel themselves to be strangers, and don’t know what to expect. And Chug? Well, he just stands there.
A cloud of dust suddenly puffs up out from the hole. It forms into a cloud and drifts away. Another cloud of dust rises in which floats a long smooth shaft. The shaft is smooth and rises up out of the hole. The other end is attached to a head. The head is that of a small white animal that looks like a horse.
Another cloud of dust. The animal leaps up out from the hole. It’s a unicorn, and on its back is a saddle, and in the saddle is a knight in pure white armor, and in the knight’s grip is a lance pointing straight at where our friends are standing.
The front of the knight’s helmet is open. In the middle of his face is a pudgy nose, above the nose are fierce eyes, and under the nose a long, bristly, handlebar mustache that ends with three twirling loops on each side.
‘Who are you?’ he roars. ‘What do you want here?’
Stobey steps forward until she is right under the unicorn’s head.
Looking up, she shakes her finger at the knight.
‘Before we go any further,’ she says, ‘you point that lance somewhere else.’
The knight in white armor stares at Stobey for a five seconds.
‘Umm.. ., ah…,’ he says as he lowers the lance until it points at the ground.
‘OK. Is that better?’
‘Yes, that’s better,’ Stobey says. ‘Now, I’m Stobey and …’ pointing … this is my friend Slutter, and these are our new friends from Planet Earth, Suzanne and Roger.’
She points up at Chug. ‘Do you know Chug-a-lug?’
‘Um.. ah…,’ the knight mumbles. ‘I know Chug. We’re old friends.’
‘Ah, so,’ Stobey said, ‘and who are you?’
‘Um ah me? Ah, yes. I’m Sir Lumpalot. This is my unicorn Kick-Pow.’
Kick-Pow nods and paws at the ground. He is pleased to be introduced.
‘And where are you from, Sir Lumpalot?’ asked Slutter.
Sir Lumpalot looks at Slutter and straightens in his saddle. ‘I’m Sir Lumpalot, and I come from the Land of Lumps, of course,’ he says.
‘Where else would I be from?’
‘And what do you do in the Land of the Lumps?’ Stobey asks.
The knight turns fierce eyes to glare at Stobey.
‘I am a knight,’ he says, ‘and I have a very responsible job. I keep order among all the Bumps, Clumps, Stumps, Grumps, and especially Chumps, that live in the Land of Lumps. That’s why I’m named Sir Lumpalot.’
‘What else do you do?’ Stobey asks.
‘Well, I also guard the Palace of the King,’ Sir Lumpalot drew himself up proudly and harrumphed his mustache into another curl.
‘And where would that be?’ Slutter cut into the harrumphing.
‘Where? Why, in the Royal Square, that’s where.’ Another ‘harrumph.’
‘Tell them how you guard it,’ Chug says.
‘Well, twice a day I circle the Square.’
Stobey giggles, and so does Slutter. Suzanne and Roger are politely silent.
‘I see. You circle the Square. Well, what do you do if you see someone who doesn’t belong?’ Stobey asks.
‘Chase them around the nearest corner away from there, of course.’
‘Isn’t it strange for a grown knight and a unicorn to spend their time circling a Square?’ Roger is polite with his question.
‘That’s my job,’ says Sir Lumpalot.
‘Well, if that’s your job,’ says Slutter, ‘what are you doing here?’
‘Oh, I got a message that all of you were heading this way,’ Sir Lumpalot replies with a grin so wide it adds two more loops in his mustache and they curl up so tight that the tips disappear back into the helmet. ‘Kick- Pow and I just thought we’d startle you, just for the fun of it. It worked, didn’t it?’
Sir Lumpalot laughs and pats Kick-Pow’s silky smooth neck. Kick-Pow snorts and paws the ground.
‘Hmph. OK, Sir Lumpalot,’ says Stobey, ‘now that you’re here, would you and Kick-Pow like to join us in our visit to the Midway?’
Sir Lumpalot gives a whoop. Kick-Pow bucks. A short one, so as not to jolt his rider.
‘We sure would.’
‘Then let’s go!’
Through the gate they all troop.
The Midway is spread out before them. Bright and blinking lights, twisting and colored streamers, rainbow colored balls, all flashing, floating and bouncing hither and yon. Slutter dashes to a little stall and picks up three darts. One at a time, he aims them carefully at a red balloon on the far wall. He throws the darts. The third dart strikes and breaks the balloon. A robot pops up from behind the counter and hands
Slutter a tiny toy space ship.
‘What’s this,’ Slutter laughs. ‘I don’t need a toy spaceship. I have a real one, all my own.’
He puts the toy spaceship into his pocket for his baby brother, and joins his friends again. On they go.
They try different games of skill and take rides in models of pilot’s seats on space racers. Time passes quickly.
As they turn a corner out of the gate from one ride, they hear a hollow booming sound followed immediately by a piercing screech. The sounds fill the air. Sir Lumpalot, who is in the lead, reins in Kick-Pow and halts. He raises his hand in warning. Everyone stops where they are. They stare ahead.
They see nothing but flashing lights, bouncing balls, and waving ribbons.
The booming gets louder.
‘There, over there,’ Sir Lumpalot shouts, pointing ahead.
‘Where?’ Chug-a-lug stares in the direction Sir Lumpalot is pointing.
‘The strange sounds are coming from that house,’ the knight replies.
They see a dark, gray, gloomy-looking house. It has many windows, all dark except for one, and that one shows green and blue lights flashing off and on. The heavy booming sound is coming from inside.
‘What’s in that house?’ Stobey asks.
‘I don’t know,’ says Chug. This time he isn’t being sly. He really doesn’t know.
‘Do you, Sir Lumpalot?’
‘No, I don’t.’ Sir Lumpalot’s voice lowers to a whisper, a loud whisper so that they can all hear him. ‘Neither does anyone else. It’s the Strangers House.’
‘Let’s explore it,’ says Stobey.
‘Yes, let’s do that now,’ Slutter adds.
‘Oh, no, not that house.’ Chug waves his long arms about,’ says Stobey, ‘that house.’
‘And what’s more,’ says Slutter, ‘right now.’
‘Stobey,’ Suzanne says, ‘You know we do have to be back at our space liner soon. Do you think we should explore the Stranger’s House, too. Will there be time?’
‘We can’t disappoint our uncle on Europa,’ says Roger. ‘We mustn’t delay departure of the space liner.’
‘Slutter and I must also leave for our homes soon,’ says Stobey. ‘Let’s do a fast exploration and then head back to the spaceship parking block.’
Stobey points to Sir Lumpalot, then to Chug-a-lug.
‘We’ll form a line,’ she says. ‘Sir Lumpalot, you lead the way. I’ll follow. Suzanne and Roger, you walk behind me, and Slutter, you watch over our friends from Planet Earth. Chug, you bring up the rear. We must all stay together.’
A shadow crosses one of the windows. A creaking sound comes from the house, like that of rusty hinges, followed by still another boom and a screech. A thin wisp of smoke goes down, I mean ‘down’ the chimney. The exploration of the Stranger’s House is starting out mysteriously indeed. Let’s go along with our friends as they pass through the door:
INTO THE STRANGER’S HOUSE
As our friends approach the house, they hear more creaking noises from inside. The weird screech is heard again. The wisp of smoke that went down the chimney shoots up out again with a whoosh. The smoke twists into a spiral above the house, straightens, darts away and disappears over a low hill.
‘What’s going on,’ Stobey demands, looking at Chug-a-lug.
‘I don’t know, Stobey,’ Chug replies.
‘Well,’ Slutter says, ‘We’re here and we may as well check this place out. I think we should go ahead.’ He turns to Suzanne and Roger. ‘What do you think?’ he asks.
Suzanne shrugs. Roger nods.
‘OK with us,’ Suzanne says, ‘We’re game. Let’s go, as long as we get back to our spaceship in time.’
Stobey opens the door leading into the house, pokes her head in and looks about. She sees a large room with lots of heavy furniture scattered about. The furniture is covered with white sheets, and the floor and corners of the room are filled with space dust.
Chug leans in over Stobey and his head swivels in all directions, examining the dusty room.
‘Kind of weird looking, isn’t it?’ he says.
The words are hardly out of his mouth when the spine-chilling screech cuts across the room.
Chug jumps with alarm. ‘What’s that,’ he shrieks. He leaps so high his head strikes the top of the doorway and he let out another howl. Rubbing the top of his spaghetti-thin head he scowls and glowers at the top of the doorway.
‘What’s happening? What’s happening?’ Sir Lumpalot yells from behind. Slutter, Suzanne and Roger crowd forward to see better.
‘I can’t tell yet,’ Stobey calls back over her shoulder, pointing. ‘The sound came from that corner. Let’s see what’s there.’
Stobey steps carefully over the sill, and is followed close behind by Chug and the others. They tighten into a knot and, peering in all directions, tiptoe toward the middle of the huge, shadowy dust-laden room.
Without warning, another screech. Our friends grab each other. They look around, then quickly up and down. They can’t see anything that might be causing the strange noise.
Slutter points. There, in the floor, near one of the walls, is a trap door.
‘There’s a cellar under this house,’ he says, ‘and that’s where the booming and the screeching must be coming from. Do you think we should go down?’
Stobey thinks for a moment. ‘Well,’ she answers, ‘it’s the only way to find out who, or what, is making that noise. Also, what about the shadows that crossed the window, and what about that crazy smoke that went down and back up out of the chimney, and then twisted and curled and raced away? I’d like to find out what’s going on.’
Slutter walks to the trap door and lifts it. A staircase stretches down into darkness. Stobey stands beside Slutter and looks; nothing but darkness.
‘Let’s go,’ Stobey starts down the narrow stairway.
Slutter is close behind her, followed by Chug, Suzanne and Roger, and at the end Sir Lumpalot on Kick-Pow. Being a unicorn, Kick-Pow has no trouble at all going up and down stairways. He does have to be careful, though, so that his horn doesn’t scrape the walls or bump into the overhead.
The stairway takes one turn and then another. The turns explain why Stobey and Slutter couldn’t see much from the top. At the bottom is a small square space lighted by a tiny lamp. Leading off from the space is an opening to a narrow passageway.
Stobey doesn’t wait. She enters the narrow passageway, followed by the others. They advance only a short distance and, again, the weird screech rings out, this time from up ahead and much louder. A booming, rasping noise follows the screech. It sounds like heavy chains being dragged across rocks.
‘Be careful,’ Slutter warns from behind Stobey.
‘Yes,’ Chug says, ‘let’s all be careful.’
‘Light up ahead,’ Stobey announces.
The light is far off, but as they get close it brightens. The passageway by now is well lit. Up ahead the passageway bends.
They turn the bend. They’re in a large cavern. The floor is covered with dust and stones, and in the center is what appears to be an enormous black boulder.
Suddenly, from above, erupts the same screech they heard before, wild and shrill. Our friends leap back away as their eyes dart up.
There, standing on top of the rock, looking down at them is an eye, round and staring. Around the eye are spikes, long and sharp, and directly above the eye is a mouth, wide and open, and from out of the mouth, bursts another screech. And another screech. The screeches become words that hiss and whistle and puff and roar.
‘Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you want?’ The screeching fills the room with echoes that bounce from one wall to another and back again.
Stobey, leaning her head back to look at the enormous eye. She places her hands on her hips and says, ‘Now, look here, whatever and whoever you are, you just stop that screeching, hissing, whistling, puffing and roaring and talk to us properly and politely, and we’ll do the same. We’re visitors here, and I’ll introduce myself and my friends. Then you tell us who you are and we’ll have a nice chat. OK?’
‘Well, OK.’ The eye blinks a couple of times and speaks in a gentle hiss; the whistle, puff and roar are gone.
Stobey introduces herself and her friends. ‘Now it’s your turn,’ she says.
‘My name is Bingbang Babbaloo,’ the eye says, ‘and I am the guardian of this Great Rock.’
‘We saw strange-looking smoke go down and then come back up the chimney,’ says Slutter. ‘What was that all about?’
‘Oh, that’s my robo-assistant, Bizz Bazz. He goes on errands for me and uses the chimney as his way in and out of the house. I sent him for a couple of hamburgers a little while ago. I hope he doesn’t forget the French Fries and the catsup. I love French Fries and catsup, don’t you?’
‘Oh, I love French Fries and catsup, too.’ Chug grins.
‘Me, too,’ from Sir Lumpalot. Kick-Pow paws the ground and tosses his head in agreement. It’s close to his mealtime.
‘Let’s get back to my questions, Bingbang Babbaloo,’ says Stobey. ‘What is this Great Rock and why do you guard it?
‘What is this Great Rock?’ Bingbang voice is almost back to a screech. ‘Why do I guard it? The Great Rock holds the treasure.’
‘What treasure? I don’t see treasure.’
‘Of course you don’t, the treasure is inside. Would you like to see it?
‘Yes, I would,’ says Stobey and everyone with her nods.
Bingbang blinks three times. The huge rock shakes violently and the cavern fills with the sound of heavy dragging chains. A crack appears in the rock. The crack widens, lengthens, and curves along the top and forms into a door. The door opens and they look into a lighted vault.
On the floor, in the center of the vault is an enormous chest, and filling the chest and hanging over its edges are hundreds of loops of bracelets and pearls. Alongside the chest and scattered about are casks and buckets of brilliant diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Along the walls are rows of gold and silver bars and mounds of gold nuggets, and still more boxes overflowing with precious gems.
‘My goodness, Bingbang Babbaloo,’ exclaims Stobey, ‘Where did you get all of this treasure?’
‘Would you really like to know?’ Bingbang blinks.
Everyone nods again.
‘Good. Sit and listen to the story about my adventure on a strange planet that circles a distant star. It was there that:
BINGBANG BABBALOO BATTLES BURPERS
Why does Bingbang Babbaloo guard the treasure in the Great Rock under the Stranger’s House in Super Rock Playground? Where did the treasure come from? Why are the treasure and Bingbang Babbaloo in this old house in the Super-Rock Playground? Everyone wants to know.
Stobey and Slutter, Chug-a-lug and Sir Lumpalot, Suzanne and Roger, and of course, Kick-Pow, the Unicorn, gather before Bingbang, whose strange body rests on top of the Great Rock in which the treasure is stored. Bingbang’s single, spike-rimmed eye blinks slowly down at them as he speaks in a soft hiss.
‘I have traveled to this place from a distant star,’ he begins, ‘and my journey has been full of adventures and dangers. Many times I had no food and I was often so tired I could barely see. But I had a job to do.’
‘Where were you going?’ asks Stobey.
‘Yes,’ adds Slutter, ‘and what was your job?’
Bingbang’s single eye glares at Stobey and Slutter. ‘Now, listen here, you two.’ His voice rises to an exasperated screech and lowers to a wheeze, and winds up as a whistle. ‘If you want to hear this story you’ll just have to be quiet and just listen, instead of interrupting. Mind your manners and your questions will be answered. OK?’
‘Well, OK,’ says Stobey.
‘Hmph,’ says Slutter.
Bingbang’s voice returns to a low hiss, but its sound fills the cavern.
‘My voyage begins long ago and far away on Planet Boomboom, which is my home. In the green sky above Planet Boomboom is our Sun, Blooper. That’s how we assign names where I come from. So, you see, I am Bingbang Babbaloo from Boomboom near Blooper. Got it?’
No one answers. They’re curious to hear more.
‘Ah, yes, well, to get on with it,’ Bingbang continues, ‘one breezy afternoon on Boomboom I am browsing among the books in my basement. A messenger arrives with a letter from Boogie-woogie
Boomer, King of Boomboom.
‘Bingbang Babbaloo,’ the letter says, ‘I, King Boogie-woogie Boomer of Boomboom, command you to leave immediately for Planet Boppo which is near the Sun Bippo. Boppo is the home of the evil Burpers who stole my treasure of gold, diamonds and jewels. When you get to Boppo, I command you to take back my treasures from the Burpers, and return it to me here on Boomboom.’
‘That, Stobey and Slutter, should answer some of your questions. I was going from the Sun Blooper to the Sun Bippo, from the Planet Boomboom to the Planet Boppo. I, Bingbang Babbaloo was to do battle with the bad Burpers for a batch of King Boogie-woogie Boomer’s baubles. Now, do you get it?’
They all nod slowly, and mumble ,’Hmm ahh. Yep. Got it, I suppose. Hmm.’
‘I run to my spaceship, Boomerang, and blast off for Boppo. It’s a bumpy voyage. On the way I pass suns and planets, many with strange names on my maps, instead of the sensible ones we have where I come from.
‘After many months I see Bippo up ahead. Bippo is a funny looking sun with purple stripes and round green spots. I search the area and there, off to one side, is the planet Boppo. It’s also funny looking: green stripes and purple spots, just the opposite colors of its sun.
‘So here I am at last, ready to land my Boomerang among a lot of Boppoian Burpers near Bippo to do battle for a batch of baubles for my Boomboomaranian King Boogie-woogie Boomer.’
‘Now just a minute, Bingbang Babbaloo.’ Stobey jumps up from where she’s sitting and shakes her finger at the Eye. ‘Now just a minute,’ she repeats. ‘I want to hear your story, and I’m sure my friends also want to hear it, but I would appreciate it very much if you told the story without using so many words that begin with B. It’s confusing.’
‘Well,’ says Bingbang, ‘all right, but that’s the way we talk at home. Anyhow, back to my story. I scout the planet of the Burpers from far above, and see a castle on a hill. I land my ship in a forest clearing nearby and sneak around and over rocks and along gullies toward the castle that I saw from the sky. Finally, up close, I see that the drawbridge is down. A truck without a driver is the side of the road, that’s careless of them, I must say. I climb into the truck, switch on the motor, and drive across the drawbridge.’
Bingbang’s huge round eye blinks slowly.
He continues, ‘I stop the truck in an alley and wait until night. In the darkness I drive the truck out of the alley and into another and then still another and another, searching for the place where the treasure is hidden. Soon it will be daylight, but no luck. I know that in the morning light I’ll be seen and captured. I have very little time.
‘I turn a corner and up ahead I see the outline of a large blockhouse. I drive closer and see bars across its windows and doors.
‘Aha, I think. This must be the place. I sneak to one of the doors and peek through the bars. Nothing. I slip around to the windows and peek through. Again, nothing. I circle around to another side of the blockhouse and to another, looking through the bars of doorways and windows. Finally, through one of the windows I see my King’s stolen chest of diamonds, jewels, gold and silver.
‘I look around carefully. No guards. The Burpers must think that the blockhouse is safe in their castle-fortress. They didn’t stop to think that I, Bingbang Babbaloo, would come to rescue my King’s treasure.
‘I drive the truck close to the window behind which the stolen treasure is stored. Drawing my heavy blaster I rake the beam across the doorway. The door dissolves. I enter the blockhouse and load the treasure into the truck. With all the treasure on board, I slip behind the wheel, turn the motor on and race along one narrow, twisty alley after another and soon am at the drawbridge. I’m across the drawbridge and head for my space ship.
‘Behind me I hear the noise of sirens and whistles. The alarm. The Burpers are after me. I slam my foot on to the speed pedal. The truck engine races, faster and faster. I must get to my space ship in time. The sirens and whistles are louder. They’re close behind me; I mean, lots of them, one Burper after another.
‘I drive the truck around tight turns in the road. The enemy is closing in. Luckily, I have an emergency escape plan. It’s time to put my plan into action.
‘Bingbang Babbaloo to Boomerang,’ I call through my radio transmitter.
‘Come in, Boomerang, old buddy.’
‘Boomerang is in my plan for escape. My space ship Boomerang is also a robot that can follow my orders even when I’m a great distance from it.
‘Yes, master,’ Boomerang’s metallic voice sounds in my ear.
‘Zero in on me,’ I order, ‘and hover just above this truck.’
‘A moment later Boomerang is directly above the truck.
‘Lift this truck on the ship’s crane,’ I order, ‘and draw it into the ship’s hold.’
‘Just as the Burpers are ready to cast a chain around my rear bumper, I feel the truck being lifted from the road. Seconds later, I and the truck and the King’s treasure are safely inside my ship. I blast away from Boppo.
‘The Boppoian Burpers blast away at Boomerang. My ship dodges one way and then the other. Bam! Bam! Boomerang is caught in a barrage. I barrel roll the ship into space to get away. The barrage follows, but I’m not beaten yet. I give Boomerang all the power it can take.
‘The Burpers take after me in their space fighters, firing all their beamers. I keep dodging.
‘I release a blockbuster bomb. The Boppoian Burpers see it and blast themselves in another direction to get away from the bomb. This gives me the time I need to escape.
‘I do get away, but my ship is damaged. I will not be able to make the long flight home.
‘After many weeks of limping along, and wandering a long distance from the flight paths shown on my maps, I find myself here at Super-Rock, only part of my way home. I have brought my ship with its treasure here to this cavern. Since my arrival it’s been known as the Stranger’s House.
‘Now I am waiting.’
‘Waiting? Waiting for what?’ asks Stobey.
‘I am waiting for rescue,’ Bingbang hisses softly. ‘I have sent a message to my king, telling him where I am. He is sending a ship for me. The loud booming and the other sounds you heard when you came near the Stranger’s House were the messages between my rescuers and me. They should be here at any moment.’
Bingbang pauses, and they see his eye blinking in concentration.
‘Aha,’ he says, ‘I hear them.’
They listen. A hum fills the air. It gets louder and louder and the cavern walls shake from the deep vibrations.
Without warning, there is a sudden whoosh, and the roof of the cavern above the huge black rock lifts away. Above is a waffle-shaped spaceship with thousands of flashing lights all across its underside and along its edges. It is much larger than the space liner on which Suzanne and Roger were traveling.
A wide opening appears in the spaceship’s underside and a long cable with many nets and hooks lower from it through the opening above the black rock. The hooks and nets wrap around the rock in which the treasure is stored. The cables tighten. Slowly, the rock breaks away from the surface and rises.
Bingbang Babbaloo, standing on the rock, rises with it. Bizz Bazz floats beside him. Bingbang’s round, spikey eye blinks.
‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ he says. I wish you well. Perhaps we will meet again some day.’
‘Good-bye, Bingbang Babbaloo,’ Stobey cups her hands near her mouth so that her voice carries. ‘I hope we do meet again some day.’
Stobey sees Bingbang Babbaloo’s eye blink at her. She knows he heard. The black rock disappears into the spaceship. With a deep roar, the spaceship blasts away, heading for planet Boomboom near the sun Blooper with the treasure for King Boogie-woogie Boomer.
Our friends leave the Stranger’s House and head for the parking block. Arriving, they see that the space liner is signaling Suzanne and Roger to return. The two Earthlings hug Stobey and Slutter, and Chug-a-lug and Sir Lumpalot. They rub Kick-pow’s nose and board the flitter.
The flitter rises in a long curve toward the space liner and disappears through an open panel. The panel closes and the huge ship’s powerful motors glow and hum. The spacer rises up and away.
Stobey and Slutter hug Chug-a-lug and Sir Lumpalot and also rub Kick-pow’s nose. It is time for them to return home. They board Coconut and Banana and blast into space. Chug-a-lug, Sir Lumpalot and Kick-Pow watch the two tiny spaceships until they disappear into the background of stars.
‘Hope they come back soon,’ says Chug-a-lug, the Hooten-Nanny, as he, Sir Lumpalot the Knight and Kick-Pow the Unicorn head back through the gate into Super-Rock Playground.
PART FOUR LORE and a MEMOIR
Lore adapts to prevailing circumstances and lifestyles, and to cultures and environments other than the times and places where they had their roots. The familiar may be comfortable, but youngsters also listen eagerly to new twists in a myth, another version of a familiar legend, the results of experiments, and of trials as well as triumphs in the human experience.
In storytelling, a culture’s traditions, mythology and values offer opportunities to insert a sense of history into the tale, and add context to interactions among the family’s constituents and the continuity to its generations. Excessively repeated, they might appear as frayed and corny platitudes. Yet, within the majority of families, a culture’s mythology, traditions and values retain their relevancy and often, their majesty.
STORIES TO THE WORLD
One way to get into storytelling is by giving your own version of a well- known folk tale, a popular myth, or even one of Aesop’s fables. The plots, characters, and structures of these stories have been handed along from one generation to the next for centuries, and have already passed the test of time. As soon as you start your story you join a historical procession and launch yourself into the new and wondrous world of imagination.
This story is also at:
Storytellers are occasionally asked how the story just told to them, came to be. Here are a few paragraphs from my version of an old West African folk tale about the source of all stories and how they came to be. The folk tale relates one of the adventures of Anansi, the Spider-man, a mythical trickster among the Ashanti, the Wolofs, and other peoples of Ghana and West Africa.
Anansi’s fame has spread throughout the world, and generally depicts him as a conniver and full of deviltry. In the well-known story Spider and the Box of Stories, Nyami, the Lord of the Sky, keeps a box beside him in which are all the world’s stories. Spider asks Nyami for the box so that he can release the stories. Nyami agrees to give him the box if he will first bring a python, a leopard, a hornet, and a creature that none can see. Spider does so by first misleading his victims with falsehoods and then capturing them with trickery and pain.
Nyami, nevertheless true to his word, gives Spider the box of stories and Spider releases them to the world. The myth, told in this fashion, depicts how a noble gift from the Lord of the Sky enters the world through dishonesty and the abuse of creatures that are also under Nyami’s care. In Stories To The World I tried to replace deception and entrapment with respect for life.
Alamander, whose name was arbitrarily shortened from Salamander by my grandson during a story conference, has a parrot Aringabella; my grandson merely added an ‘a’ to each end of ‘ring a bell.’ The problem is the same as in the Spider story: long, long ago the people of the world had no stories.
After successfully testing Alamander, the Lord of the Sky turns the box of stories over to him. Alamander, with the box on his back climbs down to the Earth’s surface along a rope ladder. He drags the box to the middle of a meadow, and removes the heavy padlock that holds the lid in place. Alamander, with Aringabella gripping his shoulder firmly and helpfully flapping his wings, lifts the lid and steps back to watch all of the world’s stories gain their freedom to roam the world forever. This is what happen.
There was moment of deep silence. Suddenly, the heavy lid flew up and over, and crashed to the ground. From out of the box’s darkness gusted a powerful wind that whirled about and away in a cloud of dust.
In an instant there rose from out of the box swarms and tangles of flapping wings, waving arms, running legs, grasping claws, writhing tentacles, and a horde of strange wriggling shapes Their number was beyond counting. And from this twisting mass came sounds of laughing and crying, whining and humming, rustling and chattering, shouting and whispering, and snarling and hissing and howling, and even sounds for which, even now, there are no ways to describe.
Up and away, flying and running, strutting and crawling, staggering and marching and plodding and toddling, they cascaded over the sides of the box. Some took to the air, others moved toward the forest where they disappeared into trees, shrubs and flowers, and into the burrows of tiny animals and the caves of larger beasts. They dove into the river and the sea, and dug themselves into the ground or slithered under rocks. A few raced each other across the meadow and slipped into the homes and shops of the nearby village. They took to the air and the sea for distant places. Soon they were everywhere.
What did they look like? They looked like everything and anything: trolls and elves, trees and clouds, birds and people, horses and barns, airplanes and boats and spaceships and stars in the sky, and all the things that are or ever were, and also things that are not and never could be. Stories look like anything that ever happened and which might yet happen in years and centuries to come. And stories are whatever people might wish for, and things of which they are afraid.
Soon the stories were all gone from the box in which they had been kept locked until someone came along who really wanted them freed. Now the stories could go wherever they wished, and to be for all time among the peoples of the world.
When people saw the stories, they took them in and gave them the food and shelter that stories need to be strong. In return the stories gave pleasure and knowledge and, at times, sadness, to the peoples of the world. Stories try to give those who listen carefully an understanding of how the Lord of the Sky means for the world to be.
Sometimes, the stories from Nyami’s box did not change, and at other times, they were changed about by storytellers to give them other meanings. Sometimes this was good; at other times, it was not good, but it’s how stories are meant to be. However they are changed, all stories are gifts from the Lord of the Sky, who has many names.
What happened to Alamander and Aringabella?
Alamander grew from boy to man, and, in time, he married and had a family. With the wise advice of his friend, Aringabella, he became a respected elder among the people of his village.
Often, in the evening, when the day’s work was done and with his parrot perched securely on his shoulder, Alamander would lead his family to a quiet clearing along the riverbank where they would sit facing the river. They studied the world around them: flowers and trees, grass and rocks, and fallen leaves pushed along the ground by soft breezes. They looked out at the river and saw fish breaking the surface, and they listened to the hum of insects, the songs of birds, and the squeaking of bats. Raising their eyes, they gazed at the stars in the black velvet dome above, and they spoke their thoughts of how all these things came to be.
And as they marveled, Alamander would tell again how he and Aringabella had helped to bring stories to the world, and of the wonder of the place from which the box of stories had come.
”The people of Planet Earth,’ he would say at the end, ‘must deserve this great gift from the Lord of the Sky.”
IT”S ONLY A SAFETY PIN!
How might pre-teens and teenagers of this 21st century relate to and communicate with grandparents and the elderly? Based on a real encounter, this story tells what happened during my chance meeting with a young adult. The give-and-take had to be cleaned up a bit for this telling, and the dialogue rounded out and organized for continuity and cohesiveness. Somewhat allegorical, the story demonstrates the cross- generation communications that can develop when even widely separated age groups are willing to listen to each other. Many of us have had comparable experiences; they deserve being entered into our lore.
The rain sheets swirled in from the south, bent, and lurched aimless as drunken ghosts across the college campus. Winds lashed the high crowns of the eucalyptus, and dipped to whine along the corridors and passageways that cut through the patchwork of modernistic academic structures.
Back and legs lashed by fierce gusts, disoriented to the direction of my destination, I took refuge under the dome of a kiosk. Backing around to the side opposite the driving rain, I doffed my cap to let the water drip; waiting was no problem. I scanned the dozens of leaflets clinging to the kiosk’s curved wall, overlapping each other like fish scales: notices of student events long past and yet to be, and places and things from urgently needed to available for the taking.
‘Hey, ol’ man.’
‘Yo.’ I glanced back. He was in the borderland between the rain and the shelter, leaning against a patch of soggy leaflets. About seventeen in years, six in height, and as skinny as a drenched cat. Tangled blond hair, defeated by the rain, plastered his scalp.
His black T-shirt was wet, as were his frayed and torn jeans and once- white running shoes. At his feet lay a deflated haversack caked with whatever it had been dragged through, probably since elementary school.
‘Whatcha doin’ out on a day like this.’
His flat voice matched the bored, couldn’t care less put-on that went with his years. Squatting, he drew a soil-brown cloth from the haversack and toweled his head and neck.
‘Library,’ I said. ‘Where’s it at?’
He motioned with the cloth. ‘Behind that one with the big windows. I’m headin’ that way, too.’ He looked up at the sky. ‘Gonna let up in a coupla minutes. What’re you gonna do in the library?’
‘Check the latest Writer’s Market and LMP.’ I looked closer at him and repeated, ‘LMP. Literary Market Place.’
‘What’ll they do for you?’
‘Point me in the right direction.’
‘Peddle an article I wrote.’
‘Off’n on. Job. Retired now, but keep my hand in.’
‘Hey, man, I like writin’.’ He looked at me with interest. What’s it take?’
‘Writin’? Takes writin’, and rewritin’.’
‘C,mon, man. You’re tryin’ to sell one. Right?’
’s o you’ve been there. Writin’ for the real world; doin’ somthin’ you want to. What’s it all about; like what are ya tryin’ t’ sell?’
‘Industrial stuff,’ I said, dismissing it all with a shrug and a wave-off. ‘How to organize industrial tools to do a job, and then how to bring ‘em all together with materials, parts, and nuts and bolts to come up with the finished product.’
‘That’s technical writin’, huh?’
‘Yep. Well, sort of.’
‘Is technical writin’ hard to learn?’
‘People like you and me been doin’ it since cave-dwellers first scratched pictures of rock-throwers on their walls. Finest kind training aid for their kids.’
I pointed to the printed and hand-scribed notes and graffiti in the patches of still exposed concrete.
‘Content may have changed, but the idea is still to get a message across. What about you? Ever tried that kind of writing?’
‘Technical stuff?’ His shoulders rose and fell. ‘Not much. Student, y’know. I’m still gettin’ assignments to write about my last trip to Disneyland. I do use trade manuals to tune the motor on my bike, and the book has lists and drawings of tools and step-by-step instructions on how to do the job. Use ‘em all the time, but never thought about where they came from. You put that stuff together?’
‘Made my livin’ at it for a while before I retired. But, like I said, I’m a firehouse horse who keeps chasin’ fires even after being put out to pasture. In my blood, I guess.’
‘Tools in a repair manual,’ he said, ‘and all the different parts and instructions. How d’ya do it? Like, how’d you describe, for example, a tool?’
He scanned the sky as he spoke. The heavy overcast was lightening, and the wandering rain-ghosts had retreated to make way for drizzle. Rivulets snaked across the concrete quad from one puddle to another, eventually over-brimming into a furrow that widened and deepened into a trench entering a conduit to a ditch or storm sewer somewhere off the campus.
‘Name a few tools,’ I said.
He grinned. ‘Pliers. Wrench. Screwdriver. OK?’
‘OK,’ I answered. ‘More.’
His eyes contemplated the drizzle, came back to stare at the wet walls of the kiosk, settled on his haversack, and stayed. I followed his glance. A 4-inch long, candy-striped, enamel coated safety pin fastened down the flap of its side pocket.
‘Safety pin. Tool, right?’ he chuckled.’
‘Could be. How would you get ready to describe it?’
He stared at me, his face gone blank.’ How ‘to get ready’ to describe a safety pin? What’s this ‘get ready’ bit? It’s just a safety pin. You’re kiddin’.’
‘The heck I am,’ I said.’ You just called it a ‘tool’. If you’re going to describe it, know enough about it to find the words for the job. Words are also tools, whether they describe other tools, or tornadoes, toys, teeth, trees, or tractors.
‘Start with thinking about the readers; will they be in an outfit that makes specialized equipment to fabricate safety pins; will it be a safety pin huckster contacting customers by phone, personal contact, or letter, or how about some kid’s mom up-country in an underdeveloped country who never even heard about Velcro flaps on diapers, if she ever heard of diapers at all. Just assume the woman lives in a village where no one ever heard of safety pins until a K-Mart opened up alongside the town rice paddy. What I’m gettin’ at is: who’s the information for? How much do they really need to know in order to do what they want with the thing?’
The idea grabbed him and I let him lead. Backs against the kiosk wall, staring out at the drizzle but not seeing it, we analyzed a safety pin and how to lay the groundwork to describe it. He unfastened the pin from his haversack, and using it as an exhibit, we did a parts breakdown, recalled what we could about the range of popular sizes; we estimated raw materials requirements per thousand units; debated how to cut the pin retainer clip from flat stock and form it around the wire firmly so that a child couldn’t’ separate one from the other; touched on features for machine tools to fabricate safety pins; then jumped to the economics of designing robotic machine tools to mass produce and corner the safety pin market.
We delved into designing a pin with enough stiffness in the wire so that the pointed end would not bend out of the clip head and keep the tip from accidentally disengaging; we laughed over deburring the parts so that Mom’s fingers and the baby’s fanny wouldn’t’ get scratched, and quickly agreed on the need to coat the pin with a rust inhibitor to protect it from the corrosive effects of dank cloths in warm places. We explored packaging, marketing and replacement factors.
By now his hair was almost dry and he finger-combed it spikey.
‘Hey, ol’ man,’ he said, ‘this is a good rap, but it’s only a safety pin.’
‘Don’t knock it,’ I replied. ‘Safety pins, in one form or another, have been industrial and household tools for centuries and will be for many more. Anyhow, we’re using it as an example, the same principles apply whether it’s a safety pin, a computer, TV, or space ship. Getting back to your part of the job, when you’ve got it all together, and understand it and the customer’s needs, then you’re close to starting the writin’ job.
‘Based on who wants to know, you might need to spell out what the parts are made from, their dimensions, the diameter of the spring loop, and the wire’s bending limits. You might need to describe the integrated clip head and the pin shaft and how they were attached.’
He stared at me, and his eyes widened in wonder at the boundless vistas I had just opened. He was far beyond safety pins.
‘If you’re interested in technical writing,’ I continued, ‘keep in mind that collecting data and understanding it precedes the mechanics of writing.’ I paused. ‘And when you do write, whatever you’re writing about-a safety pin or a space rocket, do it with such precision that what you come up with can form the image you want in the mind of someone who has been both blind since birth and incapable of feeling anything with his or her hands. That’s the test.’
The look of discovery was replaced by skepticism. ‘Aw, c’mon, man, that can’ be the real world for technical writers,’ he said. ‘People who use tools learn by doing, or they follow a book. They see what they’re working’ on and feel things with their hands.’
‘Let’s think about that,’ I said. ‘Millions of people who see poorly, or not at all, or who have other sensory problems, use precision tools all the time. Many of them use tech data recorded on audio systems or in Braille. The entire field of communications to bypass sensory limitations is just beginning to open up; it’ll be part of your world. Data in dozens of arrangements, for design, training aids, or operating instructions are needed by folks who, very often, haven’ used the equipment before or who, for some other reason, need specs right there, alongside, all the time. In this world of thousands of languages and dialects, and physical and mental limitations beyond counting, even basic tools, like a safety pin, need to be understood all along the line from designer to user. Understanding means communications; think about it.’
We shared silence for a while.
‘Hey, man, I like that,’ he said softly.
We glanced at the sky. The clouds were breaking up. As we abandoned our shelter under the dome, he shook his head. ‘All this from a safety pin,’ he said. The look of wonder was back.
‘A diaper pin?’
Raising my arm, I pumped my fist at the sky.’ Today, the diaper pin, tomorrow the world.’
We laughed. At the entrance to the library we shook hands and went our ways. I never saw him again, but I sometimes wonder what he chose for his life’s work.
Following is a relevant excerpt from the Introduction to a list of free guides cited in a multi-address e-mail that I received July 13, 2006, Subject: ‘Free Guidelines from WGBH - Create Accessible Digital Media.’ The message is self-explanatory.
‘Properly designed e-books, software, Web sites and learning management systems can and must be accessible to all users with disabilities. Technology is prevalent everywhere, and learners of all ages and in all fields require equal access to content to keep pace with their colleagues and classmates. Whether they are high school students, IT professionals or research chemists, inaccessible materials prevent people with disabilities from using the same materials at the same time as their peers, and can limit their educational and career opportunities.
‘These guidelines, providing step-by-step solutions for making a variety of electronic media accessible to users with sensory disabilities, are now available free of charge at