“Grandpa,” said Mary, pushing her grandfather’s newspaper aside and climbing up onto his lap, “tell us a story.”
“Why sure, sweetheart,” said Grandpa, as he laid the paper on the coffee table, then folded up his reading glasses, put them in their case, and laid that on top of the paper. “You boys gather round, too.” Neither of the boys even looked up from the toys they were playing with on the big living room floor.
“The one about Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Bears?”
“That’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Grandpa,” said Timmy, as he rammed his toy truck into Paul’s toy tractor. “It’s Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Grandpa. “My memory isn’t perfect, but I’m sure it’s the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. I remember how the Big Bad Wolf blew their houses down.”
“Not the one built out of brick, Grandpa,” said Paul. “He couldn’t blow that one down.”
“But he huffed and puffed pretty hard, didn’t he?” said Grandpa. “That’s probably why he got so hungry that he ate up all the Little Bear’s porridge.”
“No,” said Timmy, “he ate up Red Riding Hood’s Grandma. Then he got in her bed and pretended to be her when Red Riding Hood came in with the lunch basket.”
“I don’t understand that, Grandpa,” said Mary. “If he just ate up her grandma, why would he still be hungry for lunch.”
“Well wolves have big appetites. Goldilocks was just lucky the Tin Woodman got there with his trusty ax before the Big Bad Wolf could eat her, too. Because she’d oiled his joints after they’d gotten rusted in the rain, if I’m remembering right.”
“No, Grandpa,” said Paul, as he ran his toy tractor down a ramp he had made out of cardboard. “That’s a different story. With Dorothy, and the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion.”
The children’s grandmother appeared at the door to the kitchen. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing, John. Fortunately these children know all those stories too well for you to ruin them. Dorothy has certainly read them to them often enough.”
“Why is our mother’s name Dorothy, too, Grandpa? From that story?” asked Mary.
“Maybe,” Grandpa replied. Then he thought about it. “No. It’s because my mother’s name was Dorothy. We named your mother after her, like you’re named after Grandma. But with your blonde hair you could have been named Goldilocks. And you like the way that Grandpa tells the stories, don’t you?” Mary just nodded, returning her grandfather’s smile.
Timmy sat spinning one of the wheels on his toy truck. “But I know that Goldilocks is with the Three Bears. She’s the one who ate the Little Bear’s porridge. And then she fell asleep in his bed.” He said it almost as if he were talking to himself.
“Well that’s probably when the Big Bad Wolf came,” said Grandpa, “disguised as her Grandma. You should watch out for him. He likes to disguise himself as a grandma, and then come blow your house down.” He smiled at Grandma.
“You’ll be giving these children bad dreams,” said Grandma. “I’d better not listen.” She went back to the kitchen.
“Well, we’re lucky we don’t live in a house built out of straw, like Little Red Riding Hood did, or we’d be in trouble.”
“No, Grandpa, that was the first Little Pig. He had a house built out of straw, that the Big Bad Wolf blew down,” said Paul.
“The first Little Pig? Now he’s not the one that went ‘Whee, whee, whee’ all the way home is he? He’s the one who went to market, right? Or is he the Little Piggie who stayed home?”
Timmy had quit playing with his truck. “Grandpa, you’re all mixed up. Those are different Little Piggies.”
“I don’t see why, Timmy,” said Mary. “It could just be a different time. One time he went to market. Another time he built a house out of straw. Maybe the straw’s what he went to the market for.”
“That makes sense to me, Mary,” said Grandpa. “It’d be a lot easier to carry straw home than bricks. Maybe that’s when he got the porridge, too. When he went to market. Or can you grow porridge in your own garden, like Mary, Mary, quite contrary?”
Paul looked up from his farm animals. “What is porridge, Grandpa? Something just bears eat?”
“Something you eat for breakfast, Paul,” said Mary, “like Cheerios or Shredded Wheat, or like the cornmeal mush or grits I help Grandma fix for Grandpa in the microwave. Two and a half minutes. Isn’t it, Grandpa?”
“Right, Mary. Or three, if you put in too much water. That’s like porridge. But Grandma always waits until we come back from our walk to fix it. Then it doesn’t get eaten while we’re gone. That’s where the Three Little Pigs made their big mistake. They fixed the porridge first. They’d have to put it back in the microwave when they got home.”
“Except for the one Goldilocks ate,” said Timmy.
“Yes,” said Grandpa, “except for that one.”
“And they probably didn’t even have a microwave, back in those olden days, did they Grandpa?” said Paul.
Grandma came back in from the kitchen. “You children should be in bed, instead of listening to all this nonsense. Pick up your toys first. Then let’s get your pajamas on.”
“Aw, Grandma, can’t we stay up a little longer,” said Timmy, going back to running his truck up and down the room. “I promised your mother. Nine o’clock, just like when she was a little girl. Then Grandpa would read her those stories from the same books that she reads to you from. He bought all of them for her. But then he’d read them right. And do all the voices. Billy Goat Gruff, and the Big Bad Wolf, and the Wicked Witch from the North, and trolls, and everything. She really used to enjoy it. And she never wanted to go to bed, either. But she always did. And now she thinks you should.”
“But I want you children to all look very carefully, to make sure that’s not the Big Bad Wolf just pretending to be your grandma,” said Grandpa. “I don’t think there’s a Tin Woodman in the forest around here to save you. Or, if there is, nobody has oiled his joints for years. You haven’t, have you, Timmy?”
“There’s no Tin Woodman in the woods,” said Timmy, who just frowned as he finally put his toy truck in the toy box.
“Well, Grandma looks suspicious to me,” said Grandpa, “but I’m like the Cowardly Lion. You can’t count on me to save you.”
Grandma was getting more impatient, with the children and with Grandpa. “That the last of the toys? Well, go get ready for bed kids. Mary, you set the good example.”
“Well, thank you, Grandpa,” said Mary, climbing down from his lap. “I always like your stories, anyway. Even better than when Mommy reads them to us.”
“I know you do, sweetheart. And I probably enjoy it even more than you do.”
“But Grandpa, you always get all the stories wrong,” said Timmy. “We always have to tell you how they really go.”
“Well of course you do. That’s what little children are for, to help their grandpas remember all of those old stories,” said Grandpa, smiling at Grandma again.
As they went off to the bedroom, he added, “Good night kids. Holler when you’re in bed, and I’ll come in and give you a big hug . . . if you promise to protect me from the Three Bears, who may still be mad at me for eating their grits this morning.” He had the paper in his lap, and was putting his glasses back on.