Not long ago I attended a wedding at the little church in the center of our town. A young lady I’m closely acquainted with married a fine young man. I had the privilege, in fact, of giving her away.
As we stood together in the aisle, I thought back to earlier days, when I had sat in the big armchair in our living room, that same young lady on my lap, and had read to her from her favorite book, The Adventures of Uncle Wiggily.
At least I think of it as her favorite. She was certainly into Dr. Seuss, and she would listen to Mary Stolz’s Belling of the Tiger as often as I’d consent to read it. But there was something about the Uncle Wiggily stories that fascinated her especially. Maybe it was the relish I took in reading them, for they were the same stories in the same big red book that I had grown up with years before.
Do you remember the Uncle Wiggily stories? They were about a kindly rabbit gentleman and his little animal friends, and how the most harmless, everyday events in their lives would lead to the most curious adventures.
As intriguing as were the stories themselves, I think the little girl on my knee looked forward most to the postscript the author would tag to each one. He would say something like, “And unless the salt shaker and the sugar bowl run off together to Timbuktu, I will tell you next time about Uncle Wiggily and the Littletails."
What a delighted giggle those words would bring. I think, in their outrageous silliness, they reassured her. There would always be, after all, another Uncle Wiggily story, always, most certainly, a next time, for everyone knows that salt shakers and sugar bowls do not run off to Timbuktu.
And what pleasure I took in reciting the words. The author’s preposterous caveat I’d always deliver with the raised eyebrow it deserved. For a while we played out a little ritual. I would pause in mid-sentence, after the opening absurdity, and the two of us would say together (she in the biggest, loudest voice she could muster), “NOT VERY LIKELY, IF YOU ASK ME!”
And the author’s promise of another story I would always recite with conviction. From the tone of her dad’s voice, the little girl could never have doubted there would be one.
That assuring note came easily, for I never doubted, either. She seemed so little. Surely there would be many Uncle Wiggily stories to come.
There came a day when she was too big for my lap, but I had only to glance at the rapt young listener, seated on the carpet by the armchair, to know that she was still, after all, a little girl.
I cannot tell you how the last Uncle Wiggily story came to be. Standing in the church aisle, a radiant young woman on my arm, I could not remember an evening when, closing the big red book, we knew there would be no more. Always, in the author’s postscript, had I heard the promise. Never, in the absurd condition attached to it, had I guessed the prophecy.
When it happens, you are not aware. A young lady goes off to bed, and you tuck her in as you always do, and you go off, confident that she is still your little girl. How silly it would be, how preposterous and absurd, to think that anything could ever happen to change that.
And while you sleep, the salt shaker and the sugar bowl rendezvous, and together, silently, they steal away to Timbuktu.
-- Robert Brault in Northeast (The Hartford Courant Sunday Magazine)