A Teeny Tiny Children’s Story or The Shin Bone’s Connected to the Soup Bone

Posted on 2012 January 8 Sunday

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Illustration by R. W. Alley

(Sorry it’s been a while… I’m back!!!)

I was reading The Mouse a bedtime story the other night from The Random House Book of Easy To Read Stories (1993). It’s a pretty interesting book. It has a Berenstain Bears story, some by Dr. Seuss, A Richard Scarry Busytown tale. Oh, and P. D. Eastman’s “Dog Party.” I particularly love that one. Not sure why, really. But anyway, classic stuff, several stories I remember hearing and reading as I was growing up. But the story requested by The Mouse was one I was unfamiliar with. “The Teeny Tiny Woman,” by Jane O’Connor. It starts off pretty innocuous. “A teeny tiny woman lived in a teeny tiny house.” She proceeds to prepare and go for a “teeny tiny walk.” Yes, “teeny tiny” is the recurring motif to this particular tale and the repetition of that phrase is almost exhausting and begins to sound truly odd by the end of the tale. But that isn’t what struck me most about this story. What had the most impact is where the teeny tiny woman went, what she found, and then what she intended on doing with her discovery.

Pardon while I quote the significant passage:

Soon the teeny tiny woman came to a teeny tiny gate. She opened the teeny tiny gate and went into a teeny tiny yard. There she saw a teeny tiny bone on a teeny tiny grave.

“I can make some teeny tiny soup with this teeny tiny bone,” said the teeny tiny woman.

In modern text speak, WTH (or F, if you are so inclined)? In this teeny tiny story, this teeny tiny woman robs a grave of a bone and then professes the desire to make some soup out of it. Make. Some. Soup. Out of a grave bone. Now, not to be a spoiler here, but to comfort some of the more faint-hearted of you out there in the inter-webs, she doesn’t actually complete her stated desire. The ghost of the owner of said bone does follow her home and haunts her until she relinquishes her grisly find. All in a teeny tiny way, of course. And the accompanying illustrations (by an R. W. Alley) are very cute.

Now, before someone of an anthropological mind set points it out, I am actually fairly conversant on the aspects of many indigenous peoples rites of cannibalism. It was (and is) considered a very honorable thing to consume portions of the flesh of a departed family member, high royalty, or valiant enemy. By partaking of an ancestor’s or royal figure’s essence, you allowed their life-force to continue on, even though they had passed on. In the case of an enemy defeated in battle, you could gain access to their power and prowess. And please disabuse yourself of the image of setting down to a meal of human flesh. It actually was only a small portion from select areas and/or organs. And it was not done for a meal. It was a spiritual practice. Other than modern cases of serial killers or Hollywood horror films, the actual consumption of human flesh for sustenance is virtually unheard of. And before any Christian reader gets into a ‘heathen practices’ mode, please draw your attention to the whole story of the Christ, the last supper and the literal belief in the Eucharist becoming the flesh and blood during consumption. (The more you look into the practices, rites and rituals of Christianity, you’ll discover how they have been occurring in various forms for a lot longer than Christianity has been around. Go ahead. I’ll wait.) While, I personally would not chose to partake of the flesh of my dearly departed, I can understand and respect the practice. It’s pretty cool idea, if perhaps a bit macabre in the ‘modern’ age.

Now, apparently the tale is based on an old English folk-tale. And there are a few other stories of this teeny tiny woman and her teeny tiny adventures. Which is often case for any folk-tale or fairy-tale (the distinctions between folk-tales and fairy-tales usually come down to which are more fantastic… so a ghost is real and believable, while a talking wolf that consume grand-mothers or bears that eat porridge are not). Then, of course, that got me to thinking of fairy-tales (the real ones, mind you, not the Disney-fied versions) and how these tales served the mixed purpose of keeping kids in line, imparting societal messages, advice, etc. Perhaps this particular tale was about not desecrating graves. Or at least not picking up random bones in grave-yards for your soup stock. I don’t know. But I found it interesting in it’s inclusion. And The Mouse certainly has enjoyed it. Multiple times. Over several nights. Again. and Again. I may have to hide that book for awhile.

What stories do you remember from your childhood? Did you have stories read to you? Do you think they had an impact on the way you viewed the world?

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