My mom tells great stories. She always has.
On a recent visit I asked her to retell the versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Three Little Pigs she told us as kids. She said she couldn’t because, just like her biscuit or buttermilk pancake recipes, she never wrote them down.
My mom redeemed every childhood story she told. To the best of my recollection my mom redeemed Goldilocks and the Three Bears by turning the three bears into a hospitable foster home for Goldilocks. A safe haven where she could rest, eat and relax, even laugh, while the bears worked to help her find her way home.
Jack and the beanstalk, is a little fuzzy for me. But I think she told it something along the lines of, Jack’s mom was broke and sent him off to sell their beloved cow Betsy in exchange for money to buy food. But Jack was a dreamer and when told about the magic beans he could exchange Betsy for, that would surely lead to a magical bean stalk that grew to heaven, where Jack could get the golden egg laid by that great goose in the sky, he couldn’t resist. That golden egg would guarantee Jack and his mom would be fed and well cared for. All I remember after that is that Jack’s mom was mad that he got duped, so he threw the beans out the window, fell asleep crying and woke up to an enormous beanstalk that ascended as far as the eye could see into heaven. Jack climbed the stalk, in a half dreaming state, and when he arrived at the top, he went looking for the golden egg. He found the egg and instead of stealing it, he told the goose his plight and the goose gladly gave him the egg. When the giant discovered Jack with the egg and began chasing him Jack scrambled down the stalk and I honestly don’t remember what my mom did with the story after that. But I bet she made Jack convert the giant to kindness and they became friends who frequently visited each other and shared the wealth the had with all their neighbors.
She did the same redemptive retelling of the Three Little Pigs. By the end of the tale, the wolf repented of his sins, entered a work program with the pigs and built new homes for everyone.
My mom doesn’t like stories with sad endings. I guess no one does. I recently heard a podcast with Karen Swallow Prior, Jane and Jesus, where the guest was a female scholar of Jewish and Yiddish literature. In the interview she talked about how in Jewish literature, there are no happy endings. Sometimes there are no endings at all…. The story just drops. No resolution. No resolve. No Messiah. No redeemer. No happily ever after. No heaven.
I’ve thought a lot about what that lady said. The idea that there’s someone who will redeem all the bad things and make them come untrue seems too good to be true. A tale that is meant for fairyland, not earth. Not 2022. Not all our wars and murders and lies and greed and abuse and neglect and genocide and hatred and fear. Maybe we think there is no happy ending, no rescuer to make things good and right because we think this is the ending.
To some, my mom’s version of childhood stories seem insulting to real life. Turning all the bad moves these classic characters made into graduates from etiquette school feels unreal…because it is. It isn’t the way of any life, not even animal or plant life.
So should we all be fatalists and stop looking to redeem stories or write stories with characters who do what’s good and right? No, I don’t want to live or write or read like that. But stories with bad endings, unresolved endings that don’t redeem the evil or suffering or pain of the story, also tell a part of the great true story we all draw our stories from.
Listening to The Habit podcast recently, the guest talked about how all the stories we write are ultimately drawn from creation. We don’t make up new stories. We just draw themes and truths from the Great Story that God wrote. Redemption, rescue, repentance, doing good works, learning to love, all spring from God’s story, and feed the river that flows to the oceans full of all our stories.
My mom has long hoped in her Redeemer. She has suffered the pain and evil that make one wonder if anything or anyone can make things right. I love the way she edited the childhood stories she told me to include truth from God’s deep well of redemption. It’s one of the things I love most about my mom. She believes in happily ever after.