Friday, December 16, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood Finally Gets a Cookie

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Several weeks ago, just before Hallowe’en, I shared a reminiscence with my friend Alison.

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I was just five years old, and Hallowe’en was fast approaching. There was going to be a Hallowe’en party in my kindergarten classroom. I loved the kindergarten and my teacher, the wonderful Mrs. Karplus, who was also our friend and next-door neighbor. I rode with her every day to and from Mrs. Reed’s house, where Mrs. Karplus held her one-class kindergarten in a bright basement room that opened out onto a sunny yard.

I remember the shiny gray painted floor, the low bookshelves that lined the room, the little chairs, the big rocking chair where Mrs. Karplus would sit to read to us. The tall, upright piano where she played every day, and where we gathered around to sing. Games, reading, resting, snack, outdoor play. I loved it there!

But – Hallowe’en! Costumes, treats! I was tremendously excited. I was going to be Little Red Riding Hood! [To my adult mind, it now seems an odd choice, as I never really liked that story; Red seemed foolhardy, gullible, and impetuous, and did not follow the “rules” of fairy tales as she ought to have done.]

To understand this story fully, you must understand that our family had little money, and certainly no money at all to buy Hallowe’en costumes or anything fancy with which to make them. [This was around 1965, when there were few ready-made costumes on the market anyway; most people made or improvised their costumes. More fun that way, anyway.] And for reasons which I never quite understood, we were not allowed to go trick-or-treating. Perhaps it was because we lived in a rural area, where walking from house to house would have been a risky undertaking in the dark late-autumn evenings, and there was no way to transport us to a more populous area (and that’s a rather modern practice, isn’t it?). My mother did make a nice little at-home Hallowe’en party for us kids, and we enjoyed seeing the trick-or-treaters come to the door. But I never felt that we experienced Hallowe’en as fully as other kids did.

But here I was, getting ready for a real Hallowe’en experience at kindergarten! My mother, who seemed able to make anything out of nothing, somehow found or made a beautiful red hooded cape for me – lightweight scarlet cloth, with a nice tie under the chin. I was given a basket to carry goodies in, just as Red Riding Hood had a basket of food to take to her grandmother. I suppose I looked rather like this:


In my basket, my mother put an entire package of Oreo cookies. Store-bought cookies were a luxury in our household, and here was an entire package! [We had home-made cookies and pies and cakes – I know now that in that regard I was much better off, but what does a five-year old know about things like that?]

My mouth watered, but she told me firmly (but kindly) that these were not for me, but for the other kids. I was to go to each child and offer a cookie. Crushing disappointment! But I obeyed.

I remember that day so clearly: We sat in circle, and each child in turn showed his or her costume and then went round the circle to offer a treat to each of the other kids. Ah, that was the plan – now I understood why I had to give those cookies away. Well, perhaps there would be one left for me. My turn came, and I remember walking from child to child, watching the other hands go into my basket to take my cookies. As the basket emptied, the tears welled up, and by the time I got back to my seat, I was in tears. I felt so selfish in wanting a cookie for myself, but I was also keenly aware that the other kids probably had store cookies and other costly things that I never had, and it just felt so unfair.

I did gather my share of candy and whatever else the other kids shared, but no one else had cookies to share. At the end, there were no Oreos left at all for me, except a few bits at the bottom of the basket. (I am not making that up.) Candy was OK, but I preferred cookies. (Still do.)

I have never forgotten that feeling of being left out, of not having what other kids had, of missing out on something as trivial as a store-bought cookie. It seems silly, but still, the memory has persisted, like a bitter taste, for nearly fifty years.

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Well, I told a shorter version of that story to my friend Alison in October.

The other day, she sent to me this little gift:


She understood that the hurt feelings of a little girl can last a long time.

Thank you, Alison, for remembering, and for making that hurt finally go away.

Little Red Riding Hood finally has her Oreos.

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