My Grandma Lucille and me, 1985
When I was little and we went to my Grandma’s house, she never said too much. She grew up on a Kansas farm in the dustbowl, the child of Swedish immigrants and one of many children. She was quiet and reserved. She still pincurled her hair so it made soft little white roses around her face. Her eyes were a sea-blue. She wore blouses and knee-length skirts she sewed herself and she was slender and she wore little maryjane square-dance shoes with a square heel, and every time she sat down her ankles would cross as soon as she hit the chair. She never raised her voice, was modest as could be, and yet it was she who introduced us to an untamed world of pure wild magic.
She would lead us back to her bedroom, my sister and me. There was a certain drawer in the dresser that we loved because it was ours, it was a Magic Drawer. Each time we came to visit she would tell us, “Open the drawer now girls,” and we would, and there was always a treasure for us.
Great Swedish Fairytales, illustrated by John Bauer. The infamous book that fell to pieces, we read it so much.
Looking back, the things in the drawer weren’t fancy or expensive. Sometimes it was a new pack of crayons, or a book of paper dolls, but what I remember most were the books- old-fashioned books of fairy stories and nursurey rhymes, with glossy, realistic , impossible illustrations of jade-green forests, lolling ruby tongues of wolves, the glimmer of a golden crown.
So my childhood was always full of fairy tales. My grandma even managed to weave them into real life, like the time when she visited Sweden with my Grandpa and I still remember the postcard she wrote to me: “Today I saw a moose and a witch’s house.” She was a first-grade teacher and knew all about making magic for children, but I didn’t know anything about that, then. She never drew attention to herself; she made it seem as if the magic was coming not from her but as if she just plucked it accidentally out of real life, casually as a golden apple. It took me until adulthood to realize it was she the whole time, who was magic.
The Big Bad Wolf as illustrated by the great Svend Otto S. We loved to be scared by this guy. Um… most of the time.
It was also only when I grew up that I realized not all children were blessed to grow up with fairy stories. In my experience as a pre-k and kindergarten teacher I could read as many as I wanted to the children during “rest time” or “free time”, but during the official circle I had to read books about such topics as How to Say Please and Thank You and Going to the Dentist and Getting Along with my Little Brother and Colors, Shapes, Counting, ABC.
I’m not saying these books don’t have meaning, but sometimes I think that is all some children get. Babysitting the two little ones of a friend, we watched some cartoons on the Disney Channel. Shapes, Counting, hackneyed Morals- I was bored, dazed, and somewhere in there, my inner child was appalled. Where were the creatures and heroes and villains of the cartoons I used to watch in the 80’s? I mean, they were dreadful cartoons but at least they were about overcoming conflict and a fight for the good and empathy and magic and emotion (not to mention, a love of stories that translates later on into a love of reading). These cartoons were about getting a single, simple right answer.
I wanted to start SunBee Circle because the greatest accomplishment in life is not identifying a triangle. It’s not getting an answer right. What it IS- that’s a mystery that only a story can unveil. My Grandma shared this with me. I will share it too.