The Elf Child

By Kate

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It is the morning of All Hallow’s Eve and I’ve already bid farewell to a pirate and a rather dapper vampire headed to school. In an hour I will head out to teach a class dressed as a pumpkin patch, vines twining about my leggings, a blaze orange hunting cap upon my head, bearing a pumpkin baby in a plump plush costume that each of my four children has worn, each time bringing great delight to the world at large. My unicorn ballerina, an organized soul for an almost-four-year-old, and is currently playing trick or treat in the pantry, while simultaneously re-organizing it for me.

I do not excel at the organization of pantries, or at the crafting of costumes. The thought of a craft store makes my heart beat faster- in sheer terror. However, I do excel at encouraging creativity in my children. Granted, this can be disconcerting when I walk into their room, which is in a constant state of riotous imaginative play (I think) but is useful when they concoct their own costumes without my assistance.

I am also willing to stop cleaning my house at any time (providing I have started) and to sit down and read out loud to my children. This I learned from my mother. My mother, an English major and a literature teacher, spent a solid 20 years of her life seated on a battered couch draped with several of her 9 children, nursing one and reading out loud to the rest. We read Little House on the Prairie, and Caddie Woodlawn, and a thousand other books which were battered and beaten badly over the years, but a love of literature was instilled deeply into each of her children. One thing that I always noticed while reading, say, the Little House books, was that the children in the one room schoolhouses learned a lot of poetry. Poetry has fallen out of fashion, in conjunction with the lack of rhyme and meter. While there is some wonderful modern work out there, you just don’t hear a whole lot of grade schoolers reciting Allan Ginsberg’s Howl, or the derivative work that followed. This is probably for the best.

I always wanted my children to recite poetry but as I mentioned I’m not very organized. So far my efforts have included scattering hundred year old books of children’s poetry around the house, particularly in the bathrooms, which is working pretty well. However, the one poem that all my children DO have memorized is on that my mother read to us, one that is practically impossible not to memorize, one that James Whitcomb Riley wrote and published in 1885.

Originally titled The Elf Child, this poem is written in the Hoozier dialect of Indiana, which is surprisingly catchy and delightful, and based on a true story. Riley’s father, Captain Rueben Riley, took in a nine year old orphan girl, who helped his wife with housework and her four children in return for her room and board. After the supper dishes were cleared away, she told the children ghost stories, and inspired this poem, which is the perfect fit for Halloween:

Little Orphant Annie
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you

Ef you

Don’t
Watch

Out!
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Elf Child

  1. Paula Menn

    Delightful! Your mother continues teaching the recitation of poetry in her classroom and in the programs she directs at Sacred Heart in Cashton, WI.

    Reply

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