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Posts Tagged ‘Bodie Parkhurst’


This is Emma and Rudolf, close to their wedding day.

I only know Emma in flashes. In the first flash she stands with the man she loves, my great-grandfather Rudolf. She is persuading her parents to overlook his less than aristocratic birth, to see instead what she sees—a man with a fine mind and a drive to succeed. She wins that battle, though her family never really forgives her for taking Rudolf’s name, leaving her “von” behind her.

In the next flash she stands on a rough pier in Bremen, enormously pregnant, clutching her toddler daughter’s hand, keeping an eye on her energetic son as he runs back and forth, shouting, “Wir gehen nach Amerika! Wir gehen nach Amerika!” Rudolf stands with her, holding their tickets. He has $3,000 dollars in his pocket along with the Kuypchinski’s address. The Kuypchinskis are their destination in Wisconsin, the bit of home they will find waiting for them in America.

I see her next in bed in one of the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s cabins, dreadfully seasick, and in labor. The ship rolls in a storm, back and forth, back and forth. She heaves, and pushes, heaves, and pushes. At last she gives birth to a tiny daughter, Alitor.

Emma spends the remainder of the voyage in the bed, Alitor beside her, and small Meta in a basket on the floor. She tries to keep a hand on Meta’s basket, but seasickness and birth have weakened her, and the basket slips from her fingers and slides across the cabin when the ship rolls one way. It slides back to her when the ship rolls the other. Emma keeps grabbing for the basket, and losing her grip, and watching her daughter sail away from her, only to return, time after time.

I see Emma next in her house. Snow lies deep and pristine all around. Branches snap and crack in the cold. Emma’s mother-in-law Anna sits on the porch, holding Alitor wrapped in shawls and blankets. It is Wisconsin, and midwinter, and that night Alitor begins to cough. In a flash and an eternity, baby Alitor is gone. Emma’s arms are empty.

Emma (left) Bill (second from right) and cousins, I believe.

In the flashes, Emma is never center stage—she is the woman at the stove, a gentle presence at the heart of a family whirlwind. Her eight surviving children grow strong and musical. They start a band, and travel the area, providing dance music at house parties. They court, and marry. The family thrives.

That’s what’s important to Emma: family. Emma and Rudolf’s farm becomes a safe haven for more and more of her family. They set off from Klein Morin in Posen, journey to that pier in Bremen, cross the Atlantic, pass through Ellis Island and New York, then venture home to Emma in Wisconsin. They stay until they have enough English and money to navigate in America, then buy their own farms close by, or, in the case of the daughters, become farm wives or maids for wealthy families.

Emma, front and center, with her children behind her.

And still Emma is there, in her house at the farm. She is there the night the house catches fire. The family wakes and flees the blaze searing their backs and heels. Morning finds them with the clothes on their backs and a box of pictures—all they salvaged from the fire.

Rudolf, their sons, their friends, and their scattered family rally around to rebuild. And still the family in the Old Country keeps on coming. When Emma’s first child after Alitor, her son Wilhelm, marries, he brings his wife Gladys to the farm. His first two babies are born in the new birthing room just off Emma’s kitchen. It feels very modern and convenient, does that birthing room—purpose built with cupboards for all of the linens and paraphernalia birth requires, and close to the stove for hot water.

When Bill’s family moves into their own home a few miles away Emma misses her grandchildren terribly and woos them with gingersnaps with they come home to the farm each Sunday for chicken dinner and baseball. It all feels very American.

When Bill has a truck accident the children come back to the farm to live, while Bill’s wife goes to work in a furniture factory to pay their mortgage. Emma feeds the children, and her youngest sons—still little more than boys themselves–drive the children to school each day in their Model A’s and play with them when they aren’t working with Rudolf on the farm. Her oldest daughter Meta takes a shine to Bill’s oldest daughter. And so the farm becomes home to her children’s children.

Emma, with two of her daughters

Those are good days for Emma, at the center of the family from Posen, and the family from her body. And then one day Rudolf goes to bed, sick with some mysterious malady. The doctor says he can smell the cancer on Rudolf. Maybe he can. Rudolf lies in the birthing room just off the kitchen, dying in the bed where his grandchildren were born. He becomes convinced that Emma is trying to poison him, and refuses to eat. His grandchildren stand in the birthing room door and throw shoes at him until Emma makes them stop.

Emma and Rudolf, in their driveway

When he dies Emma goes on keeping house for her youngest sons, the two designated to stay home and care for her in her old age. Bill’s children grow up. Her granddaughter, my mother, moves across America with her own husband and young daughter, to start again. And then, amid her dwindling family, Emma herself begins to slip away.

It’s little things at first: A burned pot of potatoes, laundry left wet in the basket rather than hung on the line. The gingersnap jar stands empty. The vorgarten–the flowers she loved and planted on the gentle slope between her new house and the road–lies indifferently watered and poorly weeded. It gets worse. Emma, for whom home and family has always been everything, forgets them. While her sons work the family farm she begins to wander. Her sons seek her out when she goes voyaging alone and confused on roads and paths that have become foreign to her. They find her clothing first, and then Emma herself, naked, lost, seeking the home and children she can no longer find.

https://magicdogpress.wordpress.com/2021/01/10/emmas-family/
Emma, with two of Bill’s grandchildren.

Emma, who has been the center of the family, swings in increasingly irregular orbits. She cannot hold, and so they put her away. It’s called the County Home. Emma’s grandchildren call it the Poor Farm. It’s where families put people like Emma in those days before nursing homes. It’s where the county also houses the orphans, the indigent, and everybody else who no longer comfortably fits in the world.

And there Emma stays. Alone. My mother says they didn’t visit her because “she wouldn’t have wanted us to see her like that.” Maybe she’s right. I know my mother loved her—she wept bitterly when Emma died three months after I was born. At least the people at the County Home probably kept Emma clothed, inside, off the roads and out of the Wisconsin winter. But even now, nearly sixty years after my birth and her death, I think of her, spending her last days in a strange place, amid strange people, strange sounds, strange food, and strange smells, far from home and family. I wish it could have been different.

I never knew Emma, but the world she built lives on for decades after her death. The year I turn ten the whole family meets at the farm for a picnic and baseball. Dinner is an enormous cauldron of what Emma’s family call “barbecue” but most people call “sloppy Joes.” Emma’s daughters cook the barbecue over a fire outside the back door of Emma’s kitchen that green, humid summer day. We, Emma’s family, fill the farm to bursting, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren running, laughing, arguing, and eating. Women wear light summer dresses. The men wear plaid shirts and khakis, or bib overalls. One or two bold sons-in-law wear bermuda shorts. The air is filled with German and English, spoken in rich Wisconsin dialect.

The last flash comes one winter’s day. I am young and lost, and far from home. Somehow I find myself back to the farm. I sit in Emma’s kitchen with Great Uncle Fred, who has custody of the pictures rescued from the fire long ago. Thin winter sun pours over us, and over the pictures Uncle Fred has spread on the old formica table. His thick brown farmer’s fingers gently slide the pictures around as he tells me stories and laughs gently. Across the kitchen stands Emma’s stove, not far from the birthing room door. The winter house smells sharp, like cedar and damp wool. The sun warms my head, though icy air swirls around our ankles. At last I understand that though Emma and I only shared the world for a few short months,  I have found my family right where Emma left it for me.

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I know, I know, if I want people to buy my books I’m not supposed to post them in their entirety. But I’m doing it with this one. The reason is simple. When I first wrote about Harriet and Betsy I was struggling for survival. I didn’t intend this to be anything deep or profound. But it turned out to be.

I never dreamed that I would be part of a national experience like this–just about every single person in America has become Harriet. We all carpool in Betsy–and the wheels have come off in no uncertain terms.

I’m not a doctor. I’m not a medical person. I’m just someone who has survived more life breakdowns than anybody wants to. I have a certain amount of expertise in rebuilding. So what did I learn? I learned that there are two ways to repair a car. The first is to simply replace broken parts and bring it back to what it was before the wheels fell off.

The second way is to take a step back, look at the car, and remember not what this car was before it broke, but the car you used to dream about. Then do the hard work to not repair the car, but turn this crisis–this opportunity–into some new, something different, something better.

And so, without further ado, may I present Harriet and Betsy. May they be as helpful–and thought-provoking–to you as they have been to me over the years. For those who want a beautiful, designed copy, it’s available for sale on Amazon in both  childrens’ and  adult, annotated versions (that’s what I’m posting here). But I suspect that the people I’m really posting this for are the people who don’t have money to spend on books right now. So this is my gift, to all of us. Enjoy it. Pass it on. If you’d include my name somewhere I’d appreciate it, but I’m not going to send the book cops after you if you don’t. So here’s to our dreams, and to getting our lives hammered into something better soon.

Building Something Better

somethingbetterbodyadults-3

Meet Harriet. She’s from a farm in Oregon. Meet Betsy. She’s from a factory in Detroit. The years have been hard on Betsy. When I first met Harriet and Betsy I had a good job with great benefits. My bills were paid. I lived in a pretty apartment. I wore elegant clothes. I dated a man I hoped to marry. And one night every week I drove from Los Angeles to Claremont, sat in an icy cold office, and tried to figure out why I wanted to die. Drawing gave me peace, so in the evenings I sat in my pretty apartment with the cool breeze lifting the curtains and the lamps lit, and I wrote about Harriet, Betsy, Bud, and Rex, the junk yard dog. somethingbetterbodyadults-5

Harriet writes to the factory. I didn’t mean anything by it—I just wanted to be happy for a little while, and drawing Betsy helped. I’m a farm kid and a summa cum laude graduate of the “beat it to fit and paint it to match” school of mechanical design, so I made my story about that. It wasn’t great literature, but it beat the heck out of standing in my pretty peach and green bathroom wondering why my eyes looked so old and tired, and why I lived trapped behind them. I sent Betsy off to a publisher and got back a very nice rejection letter. I stuck Betsy into the closet and forgot about her. Then my life broke, and I learned what every person in the worlds knows: a broken life is a kind of death. In my case, a chance revelation destroyed family relationships I had thought would last forever.

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The factory writes back (sort of). My world changed in an instant. Rather than answer the hard questions my father said I had a “weak grip on reality,” and told his class at  church that “the girls are mad and making outrageous accusations because they think we made them work too hard.” My brother said, “I can’t have a relationship with anyone who believes something like that about my dad.” Never mind that the information had come from Dad himself. A sister said, “She didn’t have it any worse than the rest of us. She’s just trying to get attention.” The first part of that was right—I doubt if I did have it worse than anyone else, but that was no comfort. somethingbetterbodyadults-9

The junk yard has lots of parts. “Yup,” says Bud the junk man. “We can make’er look like new.” Harriet thinks.” I don’t want her to look like new,” she says at last. “I want her to look better.” She chooses some other parts. My parents had taught me that no one outside of the family was to be trusted. And now my family was stripped away. I lived second to second. “Now I’ll open my eyes. Now I’ll roll on my side. Now I’ll swing my feet to the floor. Now I’ll sit up. Now I’ll stand. Now I’ll take a step. Now I’ll take another. Now I’ll take another…” I forgot my grandfather’s face. But somehow, I kept taking those steps, one by one. I survived. I rebuilt, and one day I looked up and realized that the sun shone warm on my hair. It had been a very long time. Betsy and I hit the road again, a little less boldly than before. somethingbetterbodyadults-111

Then she makes them fit. We hit the road, but before long Betsy’s engine developed a new knock. My supervisor at work left and was replaced with a screamer. I discovered that the person I hoped to marry didn’t want to marry me. Then I discovered that I was pregnant. In the end, I found myself alone with a newborn baby. Trying to be a mother, manage a career, and keep up a house on my own was hard, but I worked with the life I had built because I was too tired and too scared to change it—and because it still sort of worked. It was only a matter of time, of course, before Betsy died again, flogged to death on the freeway. I had no car, no job, and enough money in the bank to pay the rent, which was due, or the bills, which were also due, or fix Betsy. I looked at my sleeping child that bleak afternoon and felt shame. He deserved better. He deserved security. He deserved a tranquil mother. He deserved not to be stranded on the damned freeway at rush hour. I finally admitted that Betsy was really, really broken. somethingbetterbodyadults-13

Harriet paints Betsy. I swallowed my pride, picked up the phone, and did the thing I had sworn I would never do. I called my family—my angry, dangerous family—and asked for help. I went to the junk yard for my son. It was full of things discarded because they hurt too much to keep, because they didn’t work anymore, because someone else decided they were worthless, because I just couldn’t get them to fit into the life I built—the one, incidentally, that was lying on the floor in pieces around me at that very moment. I had thrown most of that stuff away for good reason. And now I was back, poking around in the broken things, the outgrown things, the rusty things. Sharp edges, broken glass, blood on seats. I didn’t want to be there, but my old life was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. I needed to build a new one, and all I had to work with were things I had discarded in the junk yard of my past. My junk yard was terrifying. It demanded a strong heart, and stronger stomach. I didn’t see its infinite possibility for a long time. somethingbetterbodyadults-15

Then she cleans up. What I saw was failure. I lay awake at night with my stomach in knots, knowing that if I’d just tried a little harder, been a little smarter, lived a little more frugally, taken better care of myself, been more practical, more—oh all right—been somebody else—I’d have been fine. I wouldn’t have had to ask my family for help. The shame was deep, and corroding. Would you have the nerve to pursue your dreams if it meant losing your house, your job, your pride, your spouse, and your security? No one except William Blake, who opted to Starve for his Art, chooses a broken life. I didn’t. But when my life was spread all over the garage in jagged, greasy rusty pieces it finally occurred to me that I could afford to dream. After all, things couldn’t get much worse. At last I realized that a broken down life is more than a disaster—it is also a priceless opportunity. somethingbetterbodyadults-17

She takes Betsy’s picture and sends it to the factory. I went to the junk yard for my son. The wrecks in my junk yard made my bones hurt just to look at them. Picking through my past wasn’t fun. I acquired new cuts and bruises. I wouldn’t have chosen my junk yard, but it was what I had—and in the end, it was enough. I took my love of drawing (“You’ll never make a living at art”) my love of writing (“What will you do with it?”) and my commitment to raising my son (“You don’t have a choice—you have to put him into day care”) and I  got Betsy rolling again, this time with a baby seat buckled in the back. It wasn’t easy. I scraped. I scrimped. I got  scared in the middle of the night. I was still beating the heck out of some of the pieces. But I was getting closer. somethingbetterbodyadults-16

The factory writes back. I started working on frills—buying a home rather than renting a house, getting health insurance. We started shopping for a puppy, and saving for Disneyland. And then the bottom dropped out of the economy, and several of my long-standing clients went very, very quiet. Several others said they were “scaling back.” That knock is back in Betsy’s engine. Times are hard, and getting harder. The other day I put my head down on my computer keyboard and cried. Betsy is falling apart around me again, just when I thought I had her all put together, painted, and running like a dream. I hate it. But I have been here before. I have the courage to tinker, even tear her down to the tires and head back to the junk yard if I need to, and in the end, she will not be “like new,” but better. somethingbetterbodyadults-21

Harriet reads Betsy the letter. Then she puts on her new hat and some dangly earrings, and takes Betsy out for premium gas and hot dogs. And now, before you close the book on Harriet and Betsy, do me a favor—take a minute and look at the illustrations of Harriet—not Betsy— in order.  See? Harriet fixes Betsy up, true—but in the process she changes herself into somebody brave, somebody clever, somebody creative, somebody handy, somebody better. That’s the gift of a broken life. My life is breaking, but I have been here before. Rebuilding my life in dark, terrible, times changed—and changes—me. Rebuilding your life in dark times will change you. It won’t be easy, but one day you will look around and realize you’re simply not the same person you were. You will be different. You can be better. Don’t leave the discarded bits of your life lying around cluttering up your house and garage—take them to the junk yard. But keep track of them—you may need them later. It’s funny what we know without knowing it—when I first wrote about Betsy and Harriet I intended nothing more  than a children’s story. I didn’t  mean for them to turn into a metaphor, let alone one that held the secret to not only surviving hard times, but embracing them for the opportunities they offer. I didn’t mean for it to happen—but  that   doesn’t make Betsy and Harriet’s truth any less valid. My life broke, over and over. Each time, I thought I would die. And facing that failure has set me free. Each time, I have rebuilt better, stronger, happier. And now my life is breaking again. But I have been here before. This is my opportunity to dream. If you life is breaking, too, remember Harriet. Go see Bud. Be careful around the rusty metal. Pat Rex. Watch out for his teeth. Get out your blowtorch and the paint. And when you’ve got Betsy up and running again—and you will—put on a new hat and maybe some dangly earrings. Then go out for premium gas and hot dogs.

somethingbetterbodyadults-22

Buy the book

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wiseasserpentsAnybody who visits my Facebook page knows that I tend to lean toward progressive ideals. For those who ask me why (as opposed to those who just tell me I’m unrealistic and walk away), here’s the reason: I tend to lean progressive because, as Stephen Colbert once put it, “…reality has a well-known liberal bias.

For a long time I subscribed to the easy, common canard that “all politicians are dirty,” and that “you can’t get into high office without having made too many compromises to be able to do anything good.” I couched my apathy as a principled stand. Really it was laziness. It took 9/11 to shock me out of that.

Like everybody, I was terrified. But as the days went on I started listening to what people were saying–the anger, the hatred, the racism, and the religious bigotry being expressed in the name of patriotism. And inside me, something woke up. “This is as dangerous as those hijacked planes,” it said. I watched liberties being eroded in the name of national security. I watched politicians posturing about protecting America when what they were actually advocating seemed to be something that would not keep us safer. And that little part of me got a shot of espresso and started yelling.

And then came the 2008 election, and everybody was talking about “narratives.” Which candidate had the better story? John McCain was a war hero and a prisoner of war who had undergone torture for principles he held dear. Sarah Palin was a no-nonsense soccer mom/governer from a part of America that seems remote and unknowable to many of us. She had a special needs son. She had “stood up to Big Oil.” There was talk of her knowing how to shoot and field dress a deer. There was Joe Biden, who had lost his young family years before, who came from a working-class family, and who was prone to speaking his mind at inconvenient moments. And then there was Barack Obama.

Suddenly stories were everywhere. He was born in Hawaii. He was born in Kenya. He was a Muslim. He went to a Christian church. He was a secret addict. He disrespected the flag. He was talking not about the ugliness of politics, but about hope, and about how, if we all worked together, we could change the things that plagued us.

I don’t remember how I first happened across his campaign website. What I do remember is seeing the “fact-checker” tab. I clicked, and a scan of a Hawaiian birth certificate opened up. I think that was the moment I first considered registering to vote. I had found a candidate who not only trusted me with a narrative as his team presented them, but with the documents from which I could write his narrative for myself.

Of course, I realized that a “fact-checker” associated with a campaign website was far from an unbiased source–if nothing else, “facts” obtained that way needed to be verified. So I started digging, and I discovered a whole world of information-verification sites. The ones I returned to time and again were the sites that not only discussed facts and “proved” or “disproved” them, but the sites that showed their work–the ones that linked back to original documents and clips. I started clicking. And clicking. And clicking.

I started listening to political events, news, and commentary with my critic’s ear. I learned to evaluate what I was hearing based on the information I had gleaned. What I found was that, while all politicians occasionally gave out false information, some tended to hew far more closely to facts than others. I could look at the source documents, discover the truth. I could even chart it if I wanted.  It was–and is–possible to distinguish fact from spin.

I ended up voting not for a party, but for the candidate who had changed the way I saw politics–who had challenged me to not just dismiss the whole process, but to do the hard, important work of digging for facts. I voted for him because through following his campaign I had become a better, more informed person.

What I learned in that election was discernment–the skill of listening with an open mind, then seeking out information from a wide variety of sources–and then evaluating that information based on original information. I listened. I researched. And then I wrote my own narrative. I became a more discerning, active citizen. I also became someone with whom many in my family felt acutely uncomfortable.

For reasons that will be obvious to anyone who knows us, Sarah Palin’s “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “commonsense,” rhetoric was very attractive to many of them. “She’s the real deal,” one sister told me excitedly. I had just finished reading a piece about the time she had spent in Wasilla city government. The piece raised some serious questions about her qualifications for me. “Are you sure?” I asked. My sister was sure. Gun-toting, smart-mouth, “my common sense is as good as your education,” boot-strapping Sarah Palin was “the real deal.”

And then came the interviews, and the news stories, and the revelation that no matter how “real” Ms. Palin might be, and how no matter how good she might be at dog-whistle politics, she was woefully unprepared to run a nation. Perhaps naively, I expected my family’s opinion about her to shift a bit. I was wrong.

And that was when I learned a new and terrifying thing–far too many people had adopted Sarah Palin’s attitude toward basing opinions on verifiable fact. Part of it, of course, was that Sarah Palin was very, very good at whipping up a crowd with a grievance–or who might, after listening to her for a bit, discover that they had a grievance. A whole new party sprang up–the Tea Party, who all too often regarded facts as not just unnecessary, but positively anti-American.

My family and I never really bounced back from that. The lure of believing that we all get what we deserve if we work hard enough for it was too powerful. For me, believing that was impossible not because I was somehow immune to the lure of that belief, but because I had bitten by the research bug. I simply could no longer take political spin at face value. There was simply too much evidence showing that the playing field in America was slanted in favor of the wealthy, white, and male–and had been for a very long time.

My family and I weren’t the only people who faced that conflict. Watching the Kavanaugh hearings and the GOP position on the impeachment provided proof, if any more was needed, that an entire political party seems to have decided that facts are indeed a liberal plot, and that the fewer of them we have to deal with the better off we will all be. Listening to President Trump declare himself “exonerated” when the Mueller report said no such thing was like Sarah Palin declaring herself “exonerated” when the investigation in Alaska regarding her improper use of influence resulted in no such finding.

Both Palin and Trump have had the distinction–if we can call it that–of being credited with Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” In the past eleven years (2009-2019), the honor has gone to the conservative, often-GOP end of the spectrum nine of eleven times, and to Donald Trump himself three times. We live in a world where demanding facts to back up assertions has come to be seen as a tool of the “liberal elite.” Being wrong about something–even disastrously wrong–has become irrelevant, if not an actual badge of honor. How did we get here? It’s not really hard to see.

There is a faction of America that, when faced with difficult questions, seeks not to dig for answers, but brushes those questions off with, “Well, I guess that’s just where faith comes in.” It’s a belief system that relies heavily on avoiding the responsibility of taking action by talking about “forgiving,” and “not judging,” and “turning the other cheek.”

Those are all real quotes. What’s missing from that philosophy, though, is a whole other set of quotes about the importance of discernment–the responsibility we have to do the hard work of equipping ourselves to make responsible, ethical, informed decisions. In the spirit of finding a starting point, I googled, “What does the Bible say about discernment?” and went to the open-source online Bible for a list of quotes.  Full disclosure here–I don’t believe that reading the Bible literally is always a great guide to behavior, but many people do. If you do, I’m speaking your language here.

The sheer number of quotes is impressive, but this is just a starting point. If you believe in the Bible as a guide to right action, it might be interesting to search out these references as well as those from other indexing sources,  look at each situation’s historical and social contexts, and then devote a little time to examining how discernment factors into your own life.

A bit back I referenced verses about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and accepting things on faith. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of such things. I would only suggest that those things only really have value in the light of discernment. Forgiveness only has meaning if we understand that a wrong has been done. Accepting things on faith only has meaning if we have taken the time to use our big, beautiful brains to push the boundaries of our knowledge to their limits. Discernment means that we never, ever, use forgiveness and love and faith as a substitute for doing the hard, necessary work of seeking out good information from reputable sources–and that we require the people making decisions on our behalf to provide us with the facts and information we need to do that.

We can’t fool Mother Nature. Reality doesn’t care what you believe. The only real question for each of us is, “How can I write the truest narrative?” In the end, the truth is what sets us free.

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donaldhasnoclothessmall

“I don’t see any new clothes,” the small child said in the piercing tones only a small child who is long on sugar and short on sleep can achieve. “I see the Emperor’s butt! And his—“ the voice cut off abruptly, then finished “—really little!”

The Emperor stopped dead in the street.

Silence fell, followed by furious whispers.

“Well, I don’t!” said the child defiantly.

The Emperor drew himself up to his full height, thrust out his chin, pursed his loose, rubbery lips and narrowed his eyes to furious slits. The slits swept slowly over the crowd, all of  whom suddenly found their shoes, the contents of their bags, and imaginary lapel lint of pressing importance.

All, that is, except for a small, defiant, grubby-faced child. He stared at the Emperor for a moment, and then quavered, “You are, too, naked! I can see your pee and everything! You don’t supposed to let other people see your pee!”

The Emperor glared down. “Fake news!” he thundered. “You’re spreading fake news. My new robes are the finest in the land!”

“You’re naked,” the child insisted mulishly. “I can see your pee!”

Suddenly the crowd came to life. “You’re just too much of a loser to be able to see such fine robes,” they shouted.

“Am not,” said the child. “I can see his pee.”

The Emperor’s face deepened from bright orange to deep crimson. “You are what is wrong with the kingdom,” he blasted. “You’re a hater, and you’re lying to all these people. You are their enemy. SAD.”

I would like to tell you that the crowd saw the king bullying the child for stating no more than what they could see was the naked truth. I would like to say that they turned to each other and said, “The child is right; our Emperor is naked. Let’s get him some help, and find somebody a little more grounded in reality to control the nuclear codes.”

But that’s not what happened. The Prime Minister stepped forward and said, “I see the Emperor’s robes and they’re lovely,” even as he gazed upon the Emperor’s sagging bottom.

The Minister of War stepped forward and said, “The Emperor is the perfect person to have charge of our national security, and by the way, those robes are perfect,” even as he gazed on the Emperor’s vast white belly.

The princes stepped forward and said, “Dad’s the best—great robes, big guy,” even as they averted their eyes politely.

The Empress, who was riding behind the Emperor in a closed golden carriage, said nothing at all.

And so it was that the Emperor spent the rest of the parade—and the rest of his reign, wearing his fabulously expensive, nonexistent, robes, and while a substantial number of his subjects spent their time deriding anyone who, like the small child, pointed out the obvious as haters, losers, and FAKE NEWS, the surrounding nations looked on and wondered who was crazier—the Emperor, who had been duped into exposing himself, or his people, who could see he was naked, but refused to admit it.

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