Simplia acknowledged her friend’s remark with, “Mmmph.”
“So what’s up?” asked Sagacia.
“I’m mulling. Thinking about some of the comments people made in response to Carefully Clairvoyant — you know, the way she benefitted by taking one of Vasilisa’s stories at face value. What Mary Grace Ketner said about ‘the little meanings, the behavioral advice, the attitudes, the things your mom told you over and over when you were growing up’ took me back to my grandfather’s dining room table.”
Sagacia said nothing, but she thought to herself, Now there’s a tortured segue.
“My grandpa taught kindergarten through eighth grade in a one-room school, and when I came along, after he retired, he still had his complete set of McGuffey Readers. Before I was in school, every time I stayed with him while my mom went to the doctor or shopping or to a funeral, he’d break out the McGuffeys and we’d have a reading lesson.”
Sagacia still said nothing, but she wondered where this was leading.
“And you’d think, since I was so excited to be learning to read and to be doing actual school work before I was allowed to go to school, that those first stories I ever read by myself would be among my all-time favorites. You’d think they’d still be informing my behavior to this day, because each story had a lesson to be learned about ethics, deportment, comportment, and morality. But you know what? All I can remember is that even as a five-year-old the didactic tone set my teeth on edge. I don’t recall any of the content. At all.”
Sagacia was beginning to see that her friend might actually have a point. “And those stories were created to be instructive and edifying,” she said. “But, with you at least, they didn’t get the job done.”
“Bingo!” said Simplia. “And the Bible verses I had to memorize for Sunday school every week. You know, I don’t think I could reel off one beatitude. But the parables…those stuck with me.”
Sagacia was onboard now. “And a lot of the Old Testament blood and guts stories,” she said.
“Yeah. Because those were good stories. Stories. Period.”
Sagacia tended to put two and two together more quickly than Simplia was able to. She concluded: “So, it’s not the lessons that make them good. It is simply that they are good stories.”
Simplia looked at her friend with unabashed wonder and admiration.
Blushing (and admittedly a little bit proud of herself in spite of herself), Sagacia got up to see what manner of creature had been making its way up the walk all afternoon. Of course: the U.S. Mail Snail. With two letters scotch taped to its shell. They were both addressed to Vasilisa the Wise.
One was from Julie Moss Herrera, who had just returned from an arduous journey involving a life-threatening ordeal:
Right now as I convalesce, I think about the story of the woman whose husband came home from the war and was obviously suffering from PTSD (although at that time there was no name for it). She goes to the wise woman for a cure and is told to bring back one white hair from the Moon Bear’s chest. It takes courage and loads of patience for her to complete this task. Then the wise woman burns the hair in her fire and gives the woman this advice when she asks why after all her travails the hair was burned: It was not the hair itself that contains the magic, it is in the journey. You now have the courage, patience and wisdom you need to make your husband whole again. And the woman does have what she needs. And so do I.
The other was from Priscilla Howe, a post script to her previous comments:
This also reminds me that often, when I tell “The ghost with the one black eye,” kids will say at the end, “That baby sure was brave.” This campfire tale, which by mistake became my signature story, seemed like nothing much when I started telling it, but it is the most-requested story I tell. I think it’s because kids gain vicarious power when the weakest character turns out to be the bravest of them all. I don’t have to bang the listeners over the head with that meaning. They just take it.
“Neither of those stories is a fairy tale,” Sagacia observed. “And look at the impact they continue to make.”