Last week we received four large boxes in the mail, from Newburyport. I had selected the contents of these boxes almost two weeks ago when I was there — no worries, my AP English Poetry Project made the cut — yet opening these boxes yielded one surprise after another. It seems once something is in a box, it is erased from memory, only to be discovered later as a treasure. (Maybe next Christmas we should just put all of the boxes from our storage space under the tree?)
It was lovely to pull out my copies of Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, to hold up a prom dress my mother sewed in 1994, to place a book about Polish immigrants that belonged to my Dad on my nightstand for bedtime reading, only to discover “Merry Christmas Dad, Love Sue, 2009,” scrawled on the opening page.
And in the midst of these accordions of memories, I came across “The Uncle Wiggly Book: The Rabbit Gentleman’s Adventures”, by Howard Garis.
Oh, Uncle Wiggly. My husband has no recollection of this certain Rabbit Gentleman, and so I wonder how widespread the Uncle Wiggly Fan Club really was. (Was I the only one?)
How wonderful that someone decided to write about a Rabbit Gentleman. And many other characters, including Uncle Butter, the goat gentleman who is Uncle Wiggiy’s friend, as opposed to The Wolf, who is not Uncle Wiggily’s friend.
I vividly remember my mother reading this book to me, nightly. It was published in 1978 and felt as good as new tonight as the pages almost seem to crack as I paged through. I came upon a story that caught my eye — perhaps it had been one of my favorites as a kid?
It is entitled “Uncle Wiggly and the Sad Rock”, and the reader is encouraged to “Find out why the little stones would not talk to the Sad Rock”.
I’m not going to give anything away here, but this story is a gem. As you can guess, there is a Sad Rock, and this rock is sad because no one will talk to him. At one point, after Uncle Wiggly talks to him and he begins to feel less sad, the Sad Rock thanks Uncle Wiggly for being so kind. And here is the good Uncle’s response:
“It is very easy to be kind.”
These words stopped me. Because it is easy, once you choose it. But sometimes we don’t choose it, especially when we are stressed or in a rush or impatient, or have encountered someone else who didn’t choose it and we are subsequently infected. Sometimes being kind isn’t my first choice and I think to myself you know what? Maybe it could be, more often. I want to implant this nugget of Uncle Wiggly wisdom under my skin and recall it whenever I am in a situation when kindness is an option.
And, this is the essence of what I want in children’s stories. No lofty lessons or empty repetition, but simple and true statements like this. It is easy to be kind. And Uncle Wiggly was no pushover (see “Uncle Wiggily’s Enemies”, the final story in this book).
These Uncle Wiggly stories are works of art. The inspiring takeaways are woven into the details of rabbit bungalows and firefly lanterns, characters with wonderful names like Jimmie Wibblewobble and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, and the idea that adventures are to be found, versus had. I think if everyone just read Uncle Wiggly on a sad, gloomy day, they’d feel a bit better.
That said, for those of us with gossip antennae that need tending, “Uncle Wiggily’s Enemies” beckons. I’m going to refill my wine glass and dive in!