Rob DuBois, ~Christmas 1983
(A little something I wrote almost 35 years ago)
[Please share for families with kids!]
This is a Christmas story that really happened. Of course, there are lots of adults who may not believe it, because that has always been the way of adults. But really it is only important that the children hear, because it has always been the way of children to believe in the things that can really happen.
Ziggy and Penelope were squirrels. One bright, blue winter day they were chasing each other in their snowy meadow. Just as Ziggy was about to make a grand tackle, (his finest in weeks, he was sure), Penelope dived straight below the surface of the fluffy white snow and vanished. For many minutes Ziggy simply could not find her, until suddenly, just off to his side, Penelope burst forth and scared the wits out of poor Ziggy. He squeaked so loud and leapt so far that he tumbled right down the side of the hill to land in a furry heap under a shrub.
Alarmed for his safety, Penelope scampered after. She found Ziggy, dazed but unharmed, clearing the snow from his ears. He was, as Ziggy often was, indignant, and he hastened to inform her. “Well!” he exclaimed. “Of all the hare-brained stunts you have ever pulled, I must say you’ve certainly outdone yourself this time. I might very well have fallen directly into a great bear trap, you know! Or, I might have…” but before he could continue, Penelope hushed him and pointed through the trees to a tiny clearing. There they could see a small boy from the nearby village, dressed all in brightly-coloured holiday finery. His knickers were a cheery red, his ‘spenders a forest green, his coat black and smooth, and his white shirt had been scrubbed so clean it fairly shone in the sunlight. Yet while the boy’s clothing was festive, his spirits most definitely were not. He sat all along on a frozen stone, crying softly with his face in his hands. He seemed to have no friend left in the world.
“Oh, the poor dear,” spoke Penelope. “I wonder why he’s so sad.” To be sure, the sight of this pitiful fellow could break your heart. The two dashed up a tree to stop quietly above the little boy, and from there they could see all the other children of the village in another meadow some ways away. They laughed and yelled as they played a rollicking game of Fox and Geese, and all were dressed as gaily as the boy in the clearing.
Ziggy and Penelope watched unhappily for a while as the boy cried to himself. Although they were very sorry for him, they knew that there was simply nothing they could do to help. After all, animals were animals, and people were people.
Within a few minutes the little boy stopped his quiet sobbing, and with a sniffle he raised his bleary eyes. Miserably, he looked through the woods towards the playing children, listening to their joyful cries. Then he slowly gazed around the clearing in which he sat, until his eyes fell upon the squirrels on their branch. You could have knocked them off their perch with a jaybird feather when the little boy smiled gently and said, “Hello, pretty squirrels.”
You see, that he had spoken was no great surprise. The two had many times sat in their tree and watched people as they played, worked, and picnicked in the forest, and during all these activities the people had talked with one another. (Had talked with each other constantly, in fact. Ziggy had a suspicion that people were in some way related to the chattery family of real jaybirds who lived two trees down.) No, the truly astounding thing was that they had understood what the boy had said. Always before they had been able to tell when people were glad or mad or sad, but the words were lost on them. Yet while the sad little boy spoke the same way as other people, Ziggy and Penelope understood him perfectly. They looked at each other in disbelief.
“Ziggy!” gasped Penelope. “Did you hear what he said?”
Ziggy was too shocked to even answer, but only wiggled his right ear in the manner with which squirrels have always affirmed things. They looked at the little boy, only to find that he was staring back at them in astonishment, eyes all abug. “Y-you talked!” the boy stammered. “You talked the Queen’s own English!”
The squirrels could not believe their perky little ears (which were standing straight up off their heads, you may be sure). They grasped everything, except certain references to “English” and “Kween.” Penelope, ever the bolder of the two, asked timidly, “You can understand us?”
“Good gracious, yes!” was the startled reply. “But that just ain’t right ‘t’all. You’re critters!”
Of a sudden, Ziggy sat bolt upright, his fuzzy tummy plopped before him. Ziggy was indignant. His initial shock forgotten (everybody knows squirrels have impressively short attention spans, and Ziggy’s was shorter still), he exclaimed, “Critters! You might have a bit of respect for a body’s heritage. We are very proud of the fact that we are squirrels!”
Ziggy’s harsh outburst had been extreme. The little boy’s smile vanished, replaced by a quivering lip and downcast eyes. “I’m sorry,” the child said. “I’m just a stupid one.” It seemed those heartbreaking tears might return at any moment.
With a cross glance towards Ziggy, Penelope scampered to the snow and ran up onto the little boy’s lap to look into his shining blue eyes. “Oh, no, you’re not,” she assured. “Ziggy’s a rascal, and no one who really knows him pays nevermind to what he says.”
The boy brightened at her words. “Ziggy’s a funny name,” he giggled. (Another quick glance from Penelope corked any comment of Ziggy’s in his mouth.) “And I think you’re both very nice. My name is Edgar. Yule Tidings!”
“Why, thank you, Edgar. My name is Penelope. And we think you’re very nice, too.” Ziggy climbed down to join them. “But why are you sitting here alone while the others play? Don’t you wish to play, too?”
“Oh, yes, very much.” Edgar’s smile began to fade again. “But all the children say that I am a slow-wit and clumsy, and if I play with them they tease me.”
“How awful that they should say such things about such a nice boy!” burst Ziggy. Then he had a good idea and said, “We should like it very much if you’d play with us.”
This plan delighted Edgar, and for a goodly time the three of them chased through the snow, climbed many trees, and played Hide-and-Seek. Edgar thought that he had never had friends as good and kind as the squirrels, and they thought the same of him.
Finally, the afternoon began to wane, and ‘twas time for Edgar to go home. He said, “Oh, do come back to the village with me. I couldn’t bear for this day to end so quickly. You may sleep on my blanket tonight, and I shall give you crackers to eat.”
The invitation both thrilled and frightened the squirrels, for they knew that not all people were as gentle as Edgar. But he promised to keep them safe, and they all three went happily into town, Ziggy and Penelope each astride a proud little shoulder.
When the village children saw Edgar from a distance they called out mean things and said, “Oh, look, here comes the slow-wit.” But when they saw the squirrels riding high up and looking all ‘round, they were very curious. One little girl named Elizabeth asked how he had come to tame wild squirrels. Edgar told all the day’s adventures, and the children petted the squirrels and laughed at the funny things they had done. (Of course, Ziggy and Penelope caught not a word, save those said by their friend Edgar.)
Elizabeth spoke again after they had all played a while more, saying, “You know, Edgar isn’t a bad fellow at all. And even though he’s different, I’d guess he’s showed us that even different folks have their own ways of being special.” All the children agreed and gave him three hips and a hurrah, and you could hardly see Edgar’s face for all the smile that was there.
And on that frosty evening in that peaceful village, if you’d looked in the direction of Edgar’s house, you too’d have seen a kindly old lady standing on the stoop watching, and smiling a quiet, wise smile. And if you’d looked a bit closer, you’d have seen a single, glad tear shining in her eye. For you know, this lady was Edgar’s grandmother, and this particular day was December the 24th. And Edgar’s grandmother could tell that ol’ Kris Kringle had come to visit one very lucky little boy just a little early this year.