When you write a newspaper column, it is advisable to read as much as you can. This week my reading included “Mother Goose.”
Some time may have passed since you last read one of these timeless rhymes, so let me refresh your memory. “Jack and Jill went up the hill/ To fetch a pail of water/ Jack fell down and broke his crown/ And Jill came tumbling after.”
This we all know, but then what happened? Maybe attorneys came tumbling after so Jack and Jill, hereby known as the plaintiffs, could sue the owners of the hill. Perhaps the owners of the well were also sued for negligent well placement and path deterioration.
And perchance this was covered by the local town criers: “A frightening accident, which we first reported here at 6 p.m., leaves area residents in shock this evening. Two innocent children narrowly averted death when they tumbled down a hill on a mission to give puppies a pail of water ...”
Actually, the rhyme goes on to say: “Then up Jack got and off did trot/ As fast as he could caper,/ To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob/ With vinegar and brown paper.” Ouch! What, no X-rays or $200 aspirins? Yes, “Mother Goose” does invite comparisons with our own time.
Take for example that old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do. “She gave them some broth/ Without any bread/ She kissed them all soundly/ And put them to bed.”
At first blush, this is not good. Even back then, surely a local ordinance discouraged housing children in footwear, however large. And if that old woman had stayed out of bed herself, she presumably wouldn’t have been in such a predicament.
On the other hand, children are great, so who can blame her? In fact, the very reason I was reading “Mother Goose” was because my daughter has been visiting from Australia with my granddaughters, Tillie (formally, Matilda), now 2 1/2, and Lucy, 4 months.
Tillie loves a good bedtime story, and Papa has had the privilege of reading to her on occasion when the princess deigns to allow it.
When listening to “Mother Goose,” Tillie did not have the same reactions as I did, nor did she comment that when four and 20 blackbirds were baked in a pie, on the occasion when the king was in his countinghouse and the queen was in her parlor, it was the poor maid in the garden, hanging out the clothes, who had her nose snapped off by a blackbird.
That was harsh, and no wonder the maids later unionized. But Tillie kept her peace, and little contented Lucy, for her part, just lay on the bed and cooed.
But if Tillie had commented, she would have done it in a little Aussie accent. For example, she likes to ask Mummy to put on her cossie (swimsuit). She doesn’t wear nappies (diapers) anymore, and her big girl ways extend to her attitude.
Can Papa give Tillie a goodnight kiss after he reads her a book? “I think not,” she is likely to say in a superior fashion. What toddler outside of a Victorian novel says, “I think not”? Whatever happens, her little sister coos some more.
Between the two little babes and their mother, our house is in chaos. It seemed to be quite a big house, but now it seems about as spacious as a ballet slipper. The old woman in the shoe undoubtedly had more room and kept more order to boot.
In the first week, I kept tripping over a small plastic toy that had been unheard from since their last visit. Now it suddenly sprang into life and went “Wheeeee!”
We have filled the days reading books, drawing pictures, putting on our cossies for a swim and picking the ripe tomatoes and zucchinis in Papa’s garden. Papa, Papa, how does your garden grow? (With the help of Papa’s wife, Ya-Ya, who does the weeding under protest.) Ah, never mind the chaos, it’s been “Wheeeee!!!” the whole time.
But every bedtime story has an ending, and in a few days they will leave, which is the fate of long-distance grandparents the world over. The house will seem to expand and return to boring normal because it won’t be filled with fun anymore.
And old Papa will sink down with an aching head and with no Dame Dob to help him. Beer may help, though.
Reg Henry: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1668.