“Everything’s a story – You are a story -I am a story.”
Among my grandfather’s gifts, he was a creative, generous story teller. He could spin the simplest things into colorful narratives, holding me in rapt attention. That’s a neat trick, when you have to entertain a small child. His gift of story telling instilled in me a lifelong love of a good tale. Any story well told is a gift to the listener.
Of all the legends he told me when I was little, I loved the fairy stories the best.
According to my grandfather, a family of fairies lived in our house, in the walls or under the sink or floorboards. And just like little mice, they were active after everyone was asleep. Over many nights of bedtime narratives, he familiarized me with their habits and preferences. There was a Grandma fairy, who wore dresses and aprons and stood about five inches tall. Often he re purposed my dollhouse furniture to stage evidence of her nocturnal activity: he’d put the little rocking chair on the bay window ledge, with a tiny ball of yarn and two toothpick knitting needles. Grandma fairy, he explained, was knitting mittens and watching the snow fall.
There was of course a Grandpa fairy, too. It seemed Grandpa fairy liked to sit in the kitchen with my grandfather, while I slept. My grandfather put a few drops of beer in my grandmother’s thimble and left it next to some rye bread and cheese crumbs and told me he was teaching the Grandpa fairy to play cribbage. Grandpa Fairy went to work, just like my own grandfather. He taught at the Fairy School, and had all sorts of fairy pupils. Fae children, just like me except very tiny. The things they learned at the Fairy School were the same things I might learn when I started school: reading, math, spelling. Sometimes I found their homework lessons on tiny slips of paper.
On warm nights, the fairies played outside. Grandpa set up my dollhouse croquet set under the lilac bushes, placing the chairs and tea service nearby. He even added a few crumbs to make the scene more convincing. The fairies had a tea party because the moon was full. This is where they danced, on these tiny scattered lilac petals. Now and then, the fairies could get up to mischief: Grandpa swore they were helping themselves to his tomatoes. “Go see if you can find any more evidence,” he told me. “I don’t want them swiping my cucumbers.” I asked why not? Didn’t we have enough cucumbers? “Well,” he reasoned, “if they swipe too many cucumbers, Grandma won’t be able to make pickles. And you know how you love pickles.” Enough said. I scouted the remainder of the garden, determined to protect the cucumber harvest. Uh huh, just as Grandpa had suggested, there were tiny footprints in the mud near the cucumbers. I busied myself by making a tiny “keep out” sign, which I glued to a popsicle stick and planted in the dirt where the fairies couldn’t miss it.
Grandpa encouraged me to leave offerings for our tiny visitors. I suggested leaving them the parts of my dinner that I didn’t want, but he vetoed that and said they’d rather have some of the cake we were having for dessert. I reluctantly parted with some, which I’m pretty sure he ate. That’s ok, I’m not mad about it. Bread for the story teller. I’d part with a lot of cake to hear him tell another story.
I never really believed in fairies, but the chronicles enchanted me and I understood the unspoken covenant: skepticism is anathema to the spirit of the story. I knew my part.
His fables stayed with me and continue to enrich my life and inspire me. Once in a while I pay tribute to him by using rocks, acorns, leaves, twigs, and other such findings to make fairy circles at the park. My hope is that a child will find it and a story will be told.