It’s taken me mucho years but I’m ready to admit that I really do have a problem. It stems back to a well-meaning aunt and her gift of a book. Aunt Irma was one of my father’s sisters and she’d visit us regularly, though, oddly enough, Daddy was never there when she did. He’d be at work and it would just be my mother and me. Since she lived way out in Queens, and we were in Harlem, this involved subways and buses yet she never arrived empty-handed. She’d always have a West Indian spice bun for Daddy and something for me. One fateful day it was a musical book. It was the summer before I started kindergarten so I was four. Of all the books I’ve read, and I’m an avid reader, it was the one that had the most profound and lasting impression on me.
The book was boxlike – and on the spine was a handle. When you cranked it, The Farmer in the Dell would play. Between the sturdy cardboard covers were paper pages. You turned the handle and as the song played you turned the pages to sing along and keep up with the story. Since I was so young , I’d never played the circle game of the same name, so this illustrated story-behind-the game was my first introduction. And it pulled me in. Too far in.
In case anyone is not familiar with the game, one child would be chosen to be the farmer and he’d stand in the middle of the circle as everyone clapped their hands and sang
The Farmer in the Dell, the Farmer in the Dell, heigh-Ho- the derrio, the Farmer in the Dell
The Farmer picks a Wife, The farmer picks a wife, heigh- ho the derrio, the farmer picks a wife.
At this point, he’d pick a girl to join him in the circle. This went on in similar fashion with the wife picking a child, the child picking a nurse, the nurse picking a dog, the dog picking a cat, the cat picking a rat, and the rat picking a cheese.
At this point there’d be a change in lyrics:
The farmer runs away, the farmer runs away, Heigh-ho the derrio, the farmer runs away
and the farmer would run out of the circle,.
The wife runs away.
And out she’d run with each succeeding member sung out of the circle in the order in which they’d been picked until it got to the cheese. Of course since a cheese has no legs. It can’t run. At this point the words would come fast and furious as the circle swayed in and out, the children clapping their hands around the poor cheese, singing
The Cheese stands alone. The cheese stand along, Heigh-ho the derrio, the Cheese stands alone.
The operative word in understanding my predicament is my choice of words above – the poor cheese.
When Daddy came home for dinner and sought me out with his signature “Where’s my girlfriend?” he found me in my room crying.
When he asked me what was wrong, I told him “The cheese is lonely, and everyone laughed at him.”
A few months later, I seem to remember my mother muttering to my father, “Remind me to thank your sister for that book.” Each morning she’d walk me to school as I whimpered quietly. I tried to hide it from the teacher but once she noticed my tears and asked me why I was crying. My answer? “We left Daddy home shaving and he’s lonely.”
My concern knew no boundaries. I worried about poor Tweetie, my canary. Was he lonely in his cage? What about Peter, my turtle? As our family grew with the addition of two brothers, I stopped worrying so much about Daddy, but stories about me gained the status of urban legend. If there was one cookie left on the plate or one pork chop, I’d beseech some one to eat it, put it out of its lonely misery. In the supermarket, if a can of corn or a bottle of juice was out of place, I’d seek out its brethren and reunite them. Lest you laugh and say “how cute!”, let me tell you about Sunday – yes, the day before yesterday – 12/15/2013.
There I was in Petsmart buying cat food, Nature’s Recipe chicken, to be precise. It comes in little trays of six but you can buy them separately if you like.
I get chicken because Marceau is so fussy though by looking at his physique you’d never suspect it.
Then I saw Chicken with Beef. Thinking Marcel and Marble (who both would eat Cleveland if it was on a dish), might like a little variety.
So I nabbed one. I made it half way to the checkout before it hit me. I’d taken one of the remaining two. The last one was all alone on the shelf.
Yes, sad to say, I had to go back and get it.
I wonder if my mother ever thanked Aunt Irma for that book!