Old Teen Essays
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Article ID: 4659
Age Group: Adult
Posted: August 26th. 2002
The Great Hamster Myth
The old folks said the stories themselves had the power to protect us and even to heal us because the stories are alive; the stories are our ancestors. In the very telling of the stories, the spirits of our beloved ancestors and family members become present with us...We are all part of the old stories; whether we know the stories or not, the old stories know about us."-- (Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit).
I grew up hearing stories. The family stories were always told in the old-fashioned way. The good ones anyway. It would be late in the evening -- perhaps after one of our weekend clams and croquet get-togethers -- and so most of the men folk were by then a little bit tipsy and most of the children were a whole lot dirty and the women folk went back and forth on which group was the most deserving of a well-placed swat on the rump for being so. We were packed into the country kitchen as if preparing for some sort of oddly overbooked sweat lodge ceremony. With barely enough room to tuck up our knees, we kids sat on the cool linoleum floor (and sometimes even under the table) as the grownups gathered chairs from all corners of the known farmhouse universe. When all of the chairs had been gathered and all of the knees had been tucked and every adult had been served up a steaming cup of coffee or tea, the stories began.
There were a lot of ghost stories and I always liked those the best. (And if you are a regular reader of Wren's Nest, then you can probably tell that I have never quite outgrown my fondness for a good supernatural yarn.) Many of the tales were of our own family members' and ancestors' spine-tingling encounters with ghosts and bean-sidhes and otherworldly Nova Scotia sailors who had been lost at sea. With just the oil lamps flickering and a few candles sputtering, it seemed as if even the shadows huddling at the corners of the room leaned in a little closer to better hear the tale. If it were winter, the wood heating up the big cast iron stove would occasionally crackle in agreement or pop in protest at some interesting development in the plot. On and on, the stories would go. Told in 'rounds' from one unseen figure and then from another, the voices weaved and the hours passed. When it was at last time to turn up the lights and for the visitors to go home, the men folk were quite properly head achingly sober and the children were quite properly scared out of their wits. And the women folk were quite satisfied that in both cases justice had indeed been properly served. As the years passed on --and so did many of the storytellers -- these gatherings became less and less frequent and finally they faded into one of those "remember when we used to..." things. Every family has some "remember when we used to..." things, don't they?
Sitting on the couch with my own then five-year-old daughter one (twenty-odd years later) evening, I was telling Skye about some of these "remember when we used to..." things when she asked me, "Well, Mom, why don't we make up our own new story?" "And we can write it down in a book so that it doesn't get lost like the stories that you heard as a kid." Ever eager to uncover new ways to keep a five-year-old Sun in Sagittarius, Moon in Leo child occupied, I thought it a fine idea indeed. So we got out the crayons and we rounded up some drawing paper and then we set out to create our own mythic tale. We would do it in 'rounds', we decided, with Skye writing and illustrating a page and then good old Mom taking the next one. Neither could see nor read what the other had written or drawn until that page was done. I left Skye on the couch with crayons and papers and her imagination and tried to look busy in the kitchen while she prepared to pen the very first chapter of our epic and timeless saga for posterity.
And, of course, her mythic hero was a hamster. Teddy the Hamster, in fact. The real-life archetype for our tale was probably snoozing in some cedar shavings mound in the corner of his Habitrail with not a glimmer in his little pea-sized brain that he was about to set out upon an adventure. Come to think of it, that is a pretty consistent mythic theme in itself: the unwary protagonist who at the onset is completely unaware that he or she was about to have greatness thrust upon him/her. So it was with Percival and so it was with Frodo Baggins and so it was with Teddy, the Hamster. Unlikely heroes all.
'Teddy, the Hamster Goes To The Parade' was the first chapter title and sure enough, there was an illustrated Teddy, the Hamster standing on the side of a street as elephants and clowns and tigers in cages rolled on by. Drawn by a five-year-old hand, the picture of Teddy really looked more like a big burnt sienna raisin with legs than a recognizable member of the rodent family. But I could definitely see the potential for greatness in his noble brow all the same. After disgustedly pointing out that I was looking at the wrong end of the raisin that was Teddy, the Hamster for anything close to a 'brow', Skye left me to write the next chapter. I'll spare you the crayon-by-crayon narrative of the entire creative process and just give you the synopsis:
At the parade, Teddy, the Hamster bought a big red balloon and a hot dog. He tied his balloon string around his wrist so that he could use both of his paws for his hot dog being as Teddy was a tidy sort of hamster, after all. But just as he was finishing up his last bite of dog, a big wind arose. Up, up went Teddy's big red balloon. And since Teddy's wrist was still tied to the big red balloon, up, up went Teddy. Across the land he blew and out over the ocean. The Wind and Teddy, the Hamster exchanged a few good stories along the way, but finally, the Wind --who had other heroes waiting in other epic tales to be whisked off to other adventures -- bid Teddy "a fine good day and good luck" and set him lightly upon a rock. The rock turned out to have eyes and as these eyes eyeballed Teddy, the Hamster, Teddy began to think that adventures sure could take an interesting turn or two, now couldn't they? The whale --for a whale, indeed it was -- and Teddy got to be good friends and --after many more stories were told, of course -- the whale brought Teddy back to land and dropped him off. Teddy, the Hamster rushed back to his Auntie Hamster's house -- for surely she was wondering by now just what that scamp had gotten himself into this time -- and told her all about his adventures. He showed her his big red balloon. He couldn't show her his hot dog though because that was in his tummy. And as Auntie Hamster tucked Teddy into bed that night, he was heard to sigh softly and say, "I wonder what sort of adventures that I will have tomorrow..." just before he fell asleep.
Hold the presses, but that was a good tale, eh? Well, we thought so, too. So we stapled the pages all together to make a book. And like all magically imbued articles, the book then seemingly wandered about at will for a time having adventures of its own. Appearing first here in the cutlery drawer, then there under the couch and then just about everywhere and anywhere that it had no business at all in being for the next twenty-five years. Finally, weary of its travels --or perhaps simply biding its time--the great epic saga of 'Teddy, the Hamster' now rests somewhere in the deep and dark and mysterious realms of Skye's oak bureau. At least it did the last time that anyone thought to check up on it.
When we think of myths and legends, we often think of classics such as The Arabian Nights, King Arthur or the great tales of Gods and Goddesses. But what is a myth, after all, but a story -- perhaps founded a bit upon history and a bit in the imagination -- that speaks of things that are neither completely real nor completely unreal. Things that speak a different language of metaphor and allegory and of magic. Things that are within us. Things that we love. Things that we fear. Things that we might imagine. Things that we might dare. Things that might have been lost, but now are found once again. And things that we might remember simply because there are indeed some things that are worthy of remembrance.
So tell your family stories. Write your own epic sagas. Recall those from whom you draw your history and bring them back to life for the children to come. Myths are too important to lose. Too many of them have been lost to time already.
I have told many of my stories here in these pages and--for better or for worse -- I will tell many more in the weeks to come. In the telling of the family stories, I am once again sitting huddled with bent knees on the cool linoleum floor listening to the hushed voices of loved ones now gone from this realm as they tell the tales of those who passed on before them. I like to think that as I tell again our stories that They --the Beloved Ancestors -- hear and are pleased with my telling of them.
Just as I still like to think that whenever the great and epic saga of Teddy and his thrilling adventures is told -- somewhere in that Great Habitrail in the Sky -- a little brown hamster smiles.
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, August 26th., 2002
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