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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Stone that Grew: A Cautionary Tale

This is based on a true story, which brought home to me as a child the difference between fiction and falsehood.  

   It all started with a pebble I found in the grass at school.  I was bored, so I kept throwing the stone into the air and catching it.
   All of a sudden a younger student named Sally walked over and asked me what I had in my hand.  Before I knew it, I started a story.  “It is a seed,” I said to her.
   “I don’t believe you,” countered Sally.
   “Well, I was just on my way to plant the seed.  You can watch me if you like.”  I dug a small hole at the edge of the schoolyard.  As Sally looked on, I gently lowered the seed into it and packed the dirt tightly.
   “Well, it still isn’t a seed,” Sally insisted.
   My story had to expand.  “We will see tomorrow--” I said mysteriously, “a tree will grow.”
   After supper that night, I went to my backyard to cut a branch from one of the tall trees.  Then I rushed off to place it in the correct spot.
   At recess the next day it was Sally who ran to me full of excitement.  “You were right!  It did grow,” she said breathlessly.  “I thought trees grow very slowly,” Sally added.
  “Oh, but this is no ordinary tree,” I said under compulsion.  “It is a magic tree that grants wishes.  Why don’t you make a wish?”
   “O.K., I’ll wish for money,” said Sally.
   “Close your eyes and wait for the tree to get ready,” I said.
   Meanwhile I searched my pockets for coins.  None.  All I had were some licorice candies (Dutch dropjes) in the shape of pennies.  I arranged them on the tree and told Sally to open her eyes.
Original art by author

Sally eagerly searched the small tree and found only the black discs I had placed there.  “What are these?  Where is the money?”
   “This is money, but it is candy money,” I replied.  “Try one,” I suggested.
   But the tasted was strong, and Sally did not like it.  Growing heartless, I told Sally that she had to eat one or else the tree would not grant any more of her wishes.
   After she had finished the candy, she said, “What about real money?”
   “Well, the tree is very young.  It can only grant one wish per day.  You can ask for real money tomorrow…. Oh, and don’t tell your mom or dad about the tree because something bad might happen.”  My tall tale was getting taller.
   To get ready for the next day, I gathered dimes and nickels so that the tree could give them to Sally.  I also cut a bigger branch to replace the original “tree” because the leaves were beginning to droop.
   The next morning I arrived at school early, but Sally and her mother were there waiting for me. 
   With a stern look, Mrs. Lambert called out my name, “Harriette.”  The way she accented the first part of the name made me feel she was calling a boy.  “I need to talk to you.  Sally could not sleep last night and would not tell me why.  She said she could not tell about a wish-tree.  Why did you make up such a thing?  It scared her.”  Her fierce eyes awaited my response.
   Instead of saying that it all started with a pebble, I lied again, “I wanted to give Sally things, and this was the only way I could.”
Original art by author
   Mrs. Lambert’s face told me she did not believe me; I turned away ashamed.
   My stone that grew could grow no more, and my story had come to an end.

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