Did you enjoy the stories your mother read to you when you were a kid? Remember the Brothers Grimm, who wrote down those old folk tales? When you were a bit older you might have read about Alice and how she interacted with the strange people she met down in the rabbit hole.
If you are like me, you didn’t appreciate the wisdom in those stories until you were much older.
Perhaps you are of a later generation that learned to play nicely with others by listening to Mr. Rogers.
It really doesn’t matter if your mentor was Jacob Grimm, Mr. Rogers or Lewis Carroll: The best stories you heard as a kid contained valuable lessons about your place in your world. Through stories you learned how to appreciate even the most peculiar people in your neighborhood. You learned that no matter how strange your journey, many other shoes had walked that road before.
When you try to repair something around the house or in your barn, how often do you think of the old woman trying to get her pig over the stile? You need a droplight for the job, but the week before you ran over the cord with your lawn mower, so you have to go to the store to buy a new plug. Your car won’t start, so you have to go next door to borrow your neighbor’s battery charger. You can’t very well refuse when he asks you to help him shear two sheep, and you might as well be sitting by a stile with your pig when the sun goes down.
And then there was The Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, whose plaintive cry still echoes out across our land today: “And what big teeth you have!”
“All the better to …,” and today’s toddlers tearfully clutch their pets because they’ve heard over and over on the nightly news what big teeth do.
Would you call Lewis Carroll and Mr. Rogers educators? They were master storytellers, to be sure, but isn’t that because their message always transcended the boundaries of time, language and provincial mores?
Consider Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, who were lucky enough to live in an age when writing educational satire was an effort. If you were to check YouTube for late-night TV shows anywhere in the world, you would be hard pressed to find a country where satire can be distinguished from the previous day’s reality.
The late Mr. Rogers would also have been taxed should he have tried to explain today’s world to a young audience. Should this wonderful man somehow rematerialize and once more slip into his sweater and sneakers, he might look up and say something like this:
“Close your eyes and make believe that three days ago, two groups of people were shooting at each other on your aunt’s front lawn. It’s in your village in the town of St. George, where you live. And somehow in the midst of the ruckus your aunt’s house was blown to bits along with your two little cousins.
“And then, let’s pretend that two days ago the same two groups of people who are shooting at each other in your village managed to blow up your grampy’s house and everyone in it.
“By this time the fighting is so close that, although a few shards of metal have passed through your house, only your father and your brother were killed.
“Your mother tells you that it would not be safe to spend another night in your home.
“She knows that if she can walk five miles north on Route 131 and get up over the railroad tracks and into Thomaston where there is no fighting, even though you only have the clothes on your back, at least you’ll be alive.
“At this point she can do one of two things.
“No. 1 is to write to the Thomaston government and request a visa that will permit you to cross the railroad tracks and enter Thomaston.
“No. 2 is to strap you on her back and get across those railroad tracks before the sun comes up the next morning.
“Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for you. If she chooses No. 1 and sits tight, a week later the letter with your approved visas will be returned to Thomaston with ‘address unknown’ stamped on it – because there will only be a hole in the ground where your house once was.
“If she simply saves your skins by entering Thomaston illegally, it won’t be long before you see on television a man in a suit and tie saying, ‘I don’t mind if they fill out the application papers and do things right, but we can’t have criminals sneaking in here.’
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at his website: