we owe it to each other to tell stories.

“Locks” by Neil Gaiman

We owe it to each other to tell stories,
as people simply, not as father and daughter.
I tell it to you for the hundredth time:

“There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the woods and she saw — ”

“— cows.” You say it with certainty,
remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods
behind the house, last month.

“Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but also she saw a house.”

“— a great big house,” you tell me.

“No, a little house, all painted, neat and tidy.”

“A great big house.”
You have the conviction of all two-year-olds.
I wish I had such certainty.

“Ah. Yes. A great big house.
And she went in . . .”

I remember, as I tell it, that the locks
Of Southey’s heroine had silvered with age.
The Old Woman and the Three Bears . . .
Perhaps they had been golden once, when she was a child.

And now, we are already up to the porridge,
“And it was too— ”
“— hot!”
“And it was too— ”
— cold!”
And then it was, we chorus, “just right.”

The porridge is eaten, the baby’s chair is shattered,
Goldilocks goes upstairs, examines beds, and sleeps,
unwisely.

But then the bears return.
Remembering Southey still, I do the voices:
Father Bear’s gruff boom scares you, and you delight in it.

When I was a small child and heard the tale,
if I was anyone I was Baby Bear,
my porridge eaten, and my chair destroyed,
my bed inhabited by some strange girl.

You giggle when I do the baby’s wail,
“Someone’s been eating my porridge, and they’ve eaten it —”
“All up,” you say. A response it is,
Or an amen.

The bears go upstairs hesitantly,
their house now feels desecrated. They realize
what locks are for. They reach the bedroom.

“Someone’s been sleeping in my bed.”
And here I hesitate, echoes of old jokes,
soft-core cartoons, crude headlines, in my mind.

One day your mouth will curl at that line.
A loss of interest, later, innocence.
Innocence; as if it were a commodity.
“And if I could,” my father wrote to me,
huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,
“I would dower you with experience, without experience.”
and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you.
But we make our own mistakes. We sleep
unwisely.

It is our right. It is our madness and our glory.
The repetition echoes down the years.
When your children grow; when your dark locks begin to silver,
when you are an old woman, alone with your three bears,
what will you see? What stories will you tell?

“And then Goldilocks jumped out of the window and she ran —
Together, now: “All the way home.”

And then you say, “Again. Again. Again.”

We owe it to each other to tell stories.

These days my sympathy’s with Father Bear.
Before I leave my house I lock the door,
and check each bed and chair on my return.

Again.

Again.

Again.

My favorite things about Halloween are also my favorite things about reading with Atticus. Stories are the safest way to explore new ideas (even scary ones), and what is Halloween but putting yourself in a different story? We all need practice walking in someone else’s shoes. I like to think that when I dressed as Rainbow Brite and Queen Esther that I learned a little something about female strength. (Sadly, that time I was a cat did not make me an animal person, but it might have been because I didn’t have much fun at that party.) We get to do it every year, carrying those stories with us as we create new ones.

And we owe it to each other to tell them, and to listen. To open wide our doors and let the windows glow warm against the dark night. A football player! A ghost! An entire family dressed as The Incredibles! What does the cupcake think of the skeleton as they pass on the sidewalk, and vice versa? What has she learned this year that makes her want to be Wonder Woman when last year she was a ballerina?

I tell you what, friends. Let’s all meet here next year at this same time so we can run through it again, get a little practice. We owe it to each other to get it right.

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Last year Atticus was Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) and the piece I wrote that day was probably my favorite of the whole year. Check it out and see how wee he was in comparison.

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