“The line broke, the monkey got choked …” Whaaat? So we’re exercising to a variation of “The Clapping Song” at Jazzercise this morning when our instructor mused about the violent nursery rhymes that were part of our childhood. Made me think of a story I wrote recently for a fun thing I do with a small group of fellow seniors. We pick a topic and each write a short story that we read aloud over (lots of) wine, followed by dinner. This topic: Little Red Riding Hood—the real story. Here is mine. Fitting for a blog aimed at folks 65+. Especially now.
Once upon a time in a forest far away, a girl left her cottage to visit her grandmother who lived way on the other side of the woods. She wore the red cape with the hood that her grandmother made for her and she carried a basket of sandwiches, sweets and wine for her ailing granny. Before long, on a bend in the path, she came face to face with a big bad wolf who had been eyeing her hungrily from behind a large tree.
But before he could pounce they were both distracted by a bright light in a nearby field. Curiosity overtook his hunger and her fear as together they moved off the path to get a closer look at the crystal ball that sparkled in the grass. An old fortune teller wearing a flowing robe adorned with stars and a gold nose ring appeared from dense foliage.
“Sit,” she beckoned to the mesmerized duo as they joined her in a small circle on the ground. She placed the ball in her lap and, caressing it, told them about a civilization centuries in the future. The year would be 2016 in an era marred by war, hatred, discrimination and disrespect. It was not like that everywhere all the time, but enough to cause worldwide heartache, anger and despair. The cause of this mass dysfunction, she explained, would be generations traumatized by scary nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Most affected by these violent stories appeared to be the humans who were children in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Images of babies with cracked skulls, smashed eggheads, mice without tails and children in ovens prevented them from living in harmony with their fellow man.
“YOU,” she said peering at the pair, “have the ability and opportunity to change history.” “Us? How?” the petite girl and husky wolf asked in unison. “What you don’t know is that your grandmother sewed magic powers into your red cape,” she told the girl. “And you,” she told the animal, “are in fact a pushover with a heart of gold.” Then the woman and her crystal ball disappeared.
“Where is your grandmother’s house?” the wolf asked the girl. Amazingly, she told him, grabbing a snack from the basket before handing it to him and trusting him to deliver it sooner than she would get there.
On a mission to create a kinder universe, she continued on the path through the woods in search of stories she could rewrite. She heard music that sounded like a lullaby. Looking up into a tree, she saw a cradle tilt just in time to toss her magic cape in the air to gently catch a falling baby.
A few steps later she heard two children giggling at a well on the top of a hill. The boy tripped and began tumbling down the grade, bringing the girl with him. Again, she tore off her cape, which caught the pair, encased them in soft fabric and cushioned their fall.
A bit later in her journey she encountered a character with a huge egghead losing his balance as he sat on a stone wall. Wasting no time she threw the cape, which encircled the creature and pulled him upright, preventing a messy scramble.
A bigger horror lie ahead. As the girl approached a whimsical gingerbread house she heard two children, who had been abandoned by their father and evil stepmother, screaming as a mean witch tried to cook them. This time, the cape acted on its own, sailing through the air, lassoing the witch and strangling her before slinging her lifeless body into the oven to be burned to cinders. (Pretty scary ~ per this 1909 illustration by Arthur Rackham.)
Back on the trail near the edge of the forest she saw three blind rodents chasing a crazed farmer’s wife, who was turning in their direction with a carving knife. The girl bent down just in time for the mice to run onto her cape, which rolled them into a tight cocoon, tails intact.
And so she continued, for days longer than she anticipated, creating one happy ending after another.
By the time she arrived at her grandmother’s house she found her in a rocking chair on the porch watching the wolf paint her shabby shutters. Other wolves, rabbits, bears and skunks were tending to her lawn and garden, patching her roof and cleaning her cottage. Peter Rabbit’s mother and Mrs. Bear had nursed her back to health with chamomile tea and porridge, which tasted just right. All the helpers were wearing red hoodies. In the time it took the girl to traverse the forest and reshape history, the wolf had created the first neighborhood association and declared himself the very first community organizer, an admirable profession that would become a springboard to greatness. Around the world neighbors would form groups to make their communities better. In honor of their heroine, whom they came to call Little Red Riding Hood, the hoodie would forever be the proper attire to represent the value of life (all lives,) respect for authority and peace on Earth.