It’s Throwback Thursday again, and this week I want to talk about intense writing. Sometimes people think my writing is a little too powerful. But in my stories, I draw a lot from my own personal experiences, which I admit have not all been upbeat and cheery. As such, too often, I may be numb to what others find disturbing. Unfortunately, we didn’t all have the luxury of a Disney-version whitewashed life. We all cried when Walt Disney showed us Bambi’s mother being killed by hunters, but have you ever read an unabridged edition of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale? Those were a couple of sick and twisted individuals (not to mention the audience that bought their stories to read to their children)!
One of my favorite books when I was little was The Little Gingerbread Man. The story was first published in the May, 1875 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine by an unknown author who claimed that a servant girl had told it to his or her children, and he or she felt it was worth preserving. Apparently the servant girl claimed that an old lady told it to her in her own childhood.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, quite basically, it goes like this: An old couple is hungry, and they have few ingredients on hand. The wife uses the paltry amount of food in her kitchen and bakes a single gingerbread man for the two of them to share, but upon opening the oven, the gingerbread man jumps out and runs away. He encounters several barnyard animals who all want to eat him, and as a pursuit ensues, the old couple and the animals chase the gingerbread man, but they aren’t as fast as he. He inevitably tells them all, “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.” Finally, having outrun all the hungry followers, he encounters a river, but he unfortunately can’t swim. (That’s right. Gingerbread cookies can, in fact, outrun even the fastest gazelles, but by golly, they don’t float!) So a seemingly kind-natured fox offered to swim across the river, carrying the gingerbread man on his back. The gingerbread man figured he’d be safe on the fox’s tail, but as the water got deeper, the fox persuaded him to climb higher, first to his back, then his head, then his nose, and of course you can guess the rest. As the gingerbread man climbed onto the fox’s nose, the sly fox flipped him into the air, then snapped his mouth shut and ate the poor little guy.
(Yep, that’s me and my grandparents above.)
People who know me, know that my grandparents raised me from the time I was born, so I consider them both my actual parents. And because my birth mother was their last child, they were older than a lot of my friends’ grandparents when they got me. Now, the cool thing about living with my grandparents (which I didn’t appreciate until I was grown and had kids of my own) was that I got exposed to older culture than my peers. And I’ve learned to truly appreciate the old-fashioned way of doing things.
My grandparents had already raised their kids and didn’t expect to have to take care of another one in their golden years. So they weren’t necessarily equipped to look after an active child. But, that turned out to be a good thing in the end. You see, while other young children were hearing ’Twas the Night Before Christmas every December, I could count on Grandma reading me Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And while other little kids were hearing Jack and the Beanstalk as a bedtime tale, Granddaddy was reading me Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
If anyone ever questioned my grandma as to why she might find it appropriate to tell a young child such graphic stories, she wouldn’t hesitate to sing them a song that her mother used to sing to her and her siblings in the 1930s called “Babes in the Woods.” This little ditty was apparently a true story of a couple of children whose parents died and left them in the care of their aunt and uncle. But the uncle wanted their inheritance, so he told his wife that he sent them to live at a school in London, when in fact, he actually paid someone to take them into the woods and kill them! It’s not unlike the original version of Hansel and Gretel where the children are actually eaten by the witch rather than them killing the witch and escaping as they do in the sanitized version. And if The Tell-Tale Heart isn’t enough to give you nightmares, just take a look at the lyrics to Grandma’s song:
Oh, don’t you remember, a long time ago / Those two little babies, their names I don’t know / They were stolen away one bright, summer’s day / And left in a wood, so I’ve heard folks say
Chorus: Sweet babes in the wood / Sweet babes in the wood / Oh, don’t you remember / Those babes in the wood
Now the day being gone and the night coming on / Those two little babies sat under a stone / They sobbed and they sighed, they bitterly cried / Those two little babies they laid down and died / Chorus
Now the robins so red, how swiftly they sped / They put out their wide wings and over them spread / And all the day long on the branches among / They sweetly did whistle and this was their song / Chorus
So, in conclusion, I don’t think I was depraved because I heard all these stories as a kid. I actually think it enhanced my creativity. Am I going to tone back my writing because someone might think it’s too intense? Nevermore!