A story from my father

January 9, 2017

Every summer until I was 15 our whole family went on a camping trip somewhere in the continental United States. There were long hours spent in the car, with everyone passing food around that Mom pulled out of the cooler in between her and Dad’s seats. We’d finally get to a destination and spend a torturous hour or so setting up camp. Then my Dad liked to walk the perimeter, getting his bearings. I get that from him.

My favorite part of any trip was after a long day of sight-seeing and dinner when my brothers would build a Boy Scout-sanctioned bonfire and we’d gather around in lawn chairs, mostly quiet. I would beg my dad to tell a story (he was so good!) and sometimes he’d oblige. This is the only story I can remember.

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a small cottage. Some nights he liked to travel the road down to the village pub and nurse an ale. There was one dark night where he’d stayed too late and he mentioned to the bartender that he planned to take a shortcut through the woods. “Oh, no!” cried everyone in the pub. “Don’t take that shortcut—it’s dangerous! There are monsters in the wood!” The man laughed and pushed his way out into the cool, dark night.

He headed out on the path that ran through the woods. It was a quiet night and dark, so he had to pay attention to where he was going. He’d been walking for some time when he suddenly came across a giant egg in his path. It seemed to glow. Well, he scratched his head and he tapped on it and he tried to imagine what it could be, but nothing obvious came to mind. Suddenly deciding, he rolled the egg down the path in front of him and pushed it inside his cottage. He made a few more attempts to figure out what it was but gave up, its being late and all.

The egg stayed quiescent for days. But one night he heard some tapping sounds and as he whipped his head around from the hearth where he was cooking his stew, he noticed that the egg had started to crack. Holding his breath (and the ladle in one hand), he slowly approached the egg. The whole thing quivered and suddenly the top split open. Before he could even comprehend what was going on, a small goblin popped out. Then another. Then another. Soon there were six small goblins in his cottage, and they were immediately completely out of control.

With screeching voices they bounced all over the cottage, upsetting his table and chair, pounding on pots and pans, smashing plates, and more. He alternated between ducking thrown objects and yelling at them to stop. Nothing worked! He watched in horror as his neat little cottage descended into chaos.

For days and nights his life was a nightmare. It seemed like it would never end. Even when he collapsed from exhaustion he was aware of the goblins bouncing on him, pulling at his hair and tweaking his toes. He was at his wit’s end.

Then one night while chaos reigned around him the hearthlight went out. He got a candle  and a flint and, with many interruptions and much frustration, he finally got the candle lit. Suddenly there was complete silence. The goblins stopped their screeching and smashing and tearing and slowly crept towards the flame. Astonished, the man set his table upright and placed the candle on it. The goblins, completely fascinated, drew close and stared at the flame. All was quiet. The sudden silence after so many days of bedlam sounded loud in the man’s ears. He stared at the goblins for a long time, but they only gazed quietly at the candle, mesmerized.

From then on, whenever he could he would light a candle and place it on the table for the goblins to gather around. And it was in this way that he began to reclaim his shattered nerves and bring some order back into his life!

+ + +

When my dad told this story, it was like magic. I could see it all so clearly in my mind. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I suddenly realized: there were six goblins. There were six of us kids. My dad was talking about us! He was talking about how we were so noisy and boisterous but would settle down and all stare quietly into a bonfire like goblins under a spell.

It still makes me laugh to think about that. He was absolutely right—he was a man who liked order and peace and here he was with six kids bouncing off the walls. I have no idea how he and my mom survived! Goddess knows I love my peace and order, too, and my goddessdaughters sometimes tried my patience mightily as they created chaos in my neat little house when they were young.

So there you have it. Any parent’s story. I love it!