Friday, April 13, 2012

Grandma's Stories

Many years ago when I was small when my grandmother wanted to get me to sit still she would tell me stories or recite poetry. I would then sit still while she washed me up for supper or tended to my cuts and bruises. One that I remember well is an old tale told by Uncle Remus fictional narrator of a collection of African American folktales by adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris. It is called, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. It went something like this:

Well now, that rascal Brer Fox hated Brer Rabbit on account of he was always cutting capers and bossing everyone around. So Brer Fox decided to capture and kill Brer Rabbit if it was the last thing he ever did! He thought and he thought until he came up with a plan. He would make a tar baby! Brer Fox went and got some tar and he mixed it with some turpentine and he sculpted it into the figure of a cute little baby. Then he stuck a hat on the Tar Baby and sat her in the middle of the road.

Brer Fox hid himself in the bushes near the road and he waited and waited for Brer Rabbit to come along. At long last, he heard someone whistling and chuckling to himself, and he knew that Brer Rabbit was coming up over the hill. As he reached the top, Brer Rabbit spotted the cute little Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was surprised. He stopped and stared at this strange creature. He had never seen anything like it before!

"Good Morning," said Brer Rabbit, doffing his hat. "Nice weather we're having."

The Tar Baby said nothing. Brer Fox laid low and grinned an evil grin.

Brer Rabbit tried again. "And how are you feeling this fine day?"

The Tar Baby, she said nothing. Brer Fox grinned an evil grin and lay low in the bushes.

Brer Rabbit frowned. This strange creature was not very polite. It was beginning to make him mad.

"Ahem!" said Brer Rabbit loudly, wondering if the Tar Baby were deaf. "I said 'HOW ARE YOU THIS MORNING?"

The Tar Baby said nothing. Brer Fox curled up into a ball to hide his laugher. His plan was working perfectly!

"Are you deaf or just rude?" demanded Brer Rabbit, losing his temper. "I can't stand folks that are stuck up! You take off that hat and say 'Howdy-do' or I'm going to give you such a lickin'!"

The Tar Baby just sat in the middle of the road looking as cute as a button and saying nothing at all. Brer Fox rolled over and over under the bushes, fit to bust because he didn't dare laugh out loud.

"I'll learn ya!" Brer Rabbit yelled. He took a swing at the cute little Tar Baby and his paw got stuck in the tar.

"Lemme go or I'll hit you again," shouted Brer Rabbit. The Tar Baby, she said nothing.

"Fine! Be that way," said Brer Rabbit, swinging at the Tar Baby with his free paw. Now both his paws were stuck in the tar, and Brer Fox danced with glee behind the bushes.

"I'm gonna kick the stuffin' out of you," Brer Rabbit said and pounced on the Tar Baby with both feet. They sank deep into the Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was so furious he head-butted the cute little creature until he was completely covered with tar and unable to move.

Brer Fox leapt out of the bushes and strolled over to Brer Rabbit. "Well, well, what have we here?" he asked, grinning an evil grin.

Brer Rabbit gulped. He was stuck fast. He did some fast thinking while Brer Fox rolled about on the road, laughing himself sick over Brer Rabbit's dilemma.

"I've got you this time, Brer Rabbit," said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. "You've sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?"

Brer Rabbit's eyes got very large. "Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don't throw me into the briar patch."

"Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you," mused Brer Fox. "No, that's too much trouble. Maybe I'll hang you instead."

"Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch."

"If I'm going to hang you, I'll need some string," said Brer Fox. "And I don't have any string handy. But the stream's not far away, so maybe I'll drown you instead."

"Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch."

"The briar patch, eh?" said Brer Fox. "What a wonderful idea! You'll be torn into little pieces!"

Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox's fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.

Brer Fox cocked one ear toward the briar patch, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Brer Fox cocked the other ear toward the briar patch, listening for Brer Rabbit's death rattle. He heard nothing.

Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.

"I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox," he called. "Born and bred in the briar patch."

And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.

Grandma also used to recite poetry she had learned in her youth and one of my favorites was a poem by James Whitcomb Riley entitled, “The Raggedy Man”.

O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;

An' he's the goodest man ever you saw!

He comes to our house every day,

An' waters the horses, an' feeds 'em hay;

An' he opens the shed—an' we all ist laugh

When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;

An' nen—ef our hired girl says he can—

He milks the cow fer 'Lizabuth Ann.—

Ain't he a' awful good Raggedy Man?

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

W'y, The Raggedy Man—he's ist so good,

He splits the kindlin' an' chops the wood;

An' nen he spades in our garden, too,

An' does most things 'at boys can't do.—

He clumbed clean up in our big tree

An' shooked a' apple down fer me—

An' 'nother 'n', too, fer 'Lizabuth Ann—

An' 'nother 'n', too, fer The Raggedy Man.—

Ain't he a' awful kind Raggedy Man?

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' The Raggedy Man one time say he

Pick' roast' rambos from a' orchurd-tree,

An' et 'em—all ist roast' an' hot!—

An' it's so, too!—'cause a corn-crib got

Afire one time an' all burn' down

On "The Smoot Farm," 'bout four mile from town—

On "The Smoot Farm"! Yes—an' the hired han'

'At worked there nen 'uz The Raggedy Man!—

Ain't he the beatin'est Raggedy Man?

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

The Raggedy Man's so good an' kind

He'll be our "horsey," an' "haw" an' mind

Ever'thing 'at you make him do—

An' won't run off—'less you want him to!

I drived him wunst way down our lane

An' he got skeered, when it 'menced to rain,

An' ist rared up an' squealed and run

Purt' nigh away!—an' it's all in fun!

Nen he skeered ag'in at a' old tin can ...

Whoa! y' old runaway Raggedy Man!

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' The Raggedy Man, he knows most rhymes,

An' tells 'em, ef I be good, sometimes:

Knows 'bout Giunts, an' Griffuns, an' Elves,

An' the Squidgicum-Squees 'at swallers the'rselves:

An', wite by the pump in our pasture-lot,

He showed me the hole 'at the Wunks is got,

'At lives 'way deep in the ground, an' can

Turn into me, er 'Lizabuth Ann!

Er Ma, er Pa, er The Raggedy Man!

Ain't he a funny old Raggedy Man?

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' wunst, when The Raggedy Man come late,

An' pigs ist root' thue the garden-gate,

He 'tend like the pigs 'uz bears an' said,

"Old Bear-shooter'll shoot 'em dead!"

An' race' an' chase' 'em, an' they'd ist run

When he pint his hoe at 'em like it's a gun

An' go "Bang!—Bang!" nen 'tend he stan'

An' load up his gun ag'in! Raggedy Man!

He's an old Bear-shooter Raggedy Man!

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' sometimes The Raggedy Man lets on

We're little prince-children, an' old King's gone

To git more money, an' lef' us there—

And Robbers is ist thick ever'where;

An' nen—ef we all won't cry, fer shore—

The Raggedy Man he'll come and "splore

The Castul-halls," an' steal the "gold"—

An' steal us, too, an' grab an' hold

An' pack us off to his old "Cave"!—An'

Haymow's the "cave" o' The Raggedy Man!—

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

The Raggedy Man—one time, when he

Wuz makin' a little bow-'n'-orry fer me,

Says "When you're big like your Pa is,

Air you go' to keep a fine store like his—

An' be a rich merchunt—an' wear fine clothes?—

Er what air you go' to be, goodness knows?"

An' nen he laughed at 'Lizabuth Ann,

An' I says "'M go' to be a Raggedy Man!—

I'm ist go' to be a nice Raggedy Man!"

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

And if she wanted to really get us to pay attention and sit really still, she would bring out the big guns, “The Little Orphan Annie” also by James Whitcomb Riley:

Little Orphan Annie's come to my house to stay.

To wash the cups and saucers up and brush the crumbs away.

To shoo the chickens from the porch and dust the hearth and sweep,

and make the fire and bake the bread to earn her board and keep.

While all us other children, when the supper things is done,

we sit around the kitchen fire and has the mostest fun,

a listening to the witch tales that Annie tells about

and the goblins will get ya if ya don't watch out!

Once there was a little boy who wouldn't say his prayers,

and when he went to bed at night away up stairs,

his mammy heard him holler and his daddy heard him bawl,

and when they turned the covers down,

he wasn't there at all!

They searched him in the attic room

and cubby hole and press

and even up the chimney flu and every wheres, I guess,

but all they ever found of him was just his pants and round-abouts

and the goblins will get ya if ya don't watch out!!

Once there was a little girl who always laughed and grinned

and made fun of everyone, of all her blood and kin,

and once when there was company and old folks was there,

she mocked them and she shocked them and said, she didn't care.

And just as she turned on her heels and to go and run and hide,

there was two great big black things a standing by her side.

They snatched her through the ceiling fore she knew what shes about,

and the goblins will get ya if ya don't watch out!!

When the night is dark and scary,

and the moon is full and creatures are a flying and the wind goes Whoooooooooo,

you better mind your parents and your teachers fond and dear,

and cherish them that loves ya, and dry the orphans tears

and help the poor and needy ones that cluster all about,

or the goblins will get ya if ya don't watch out!!!

I write these here in this blog in hopes that those who read this may help preserve these words and use them with their own children.

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