“When the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went skipping about. That was the beginning of fairies.” M. Barrie
By Dorreen Frick
I long to see my fairy godmother. Now where did that come from, I wonder. Out of the blue, whisperings from fairy-tale-land waken this slumbering grandmother and give her strange and other-worldly longings. A few cups of coffee later, I try to set the record straight. Could it be I didn’t just long to see her, I long to be her?
I think it first hit me in the daycare. Maybe that’s when I first felt the inkling of fairy-god motherliness: take a dash of laughter, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants pair of wings and weave a magical spell over cranky children. I loved to read to them. A good book with lots of pictures enchanted fussing squirming biting and hitting little people into perfect angels. When naptime rolled around, a rocking chair and flannel blanket dried “missing mommy tears,” turning weary droopy toddlers into soft warm lumps of pudge and precious. I think I heard the call back then, the one that said my real calling involved a wand and pixie dust.
When my year was up a new challenge appeared on my fairy godmother horizon. Just down the hall from daycare I was given a desk and a phone that never stopped ringing for 3 months. I got to dress up and actually comb my hair now that it no longer had baby food in it. I kept a candy dish full on the Reception desk. I sprinkled my space with happy.
Then the next call came, to run a little motel where I helped keep sheets and towels and washcloths and curtains and rugs clean, kept things straight on the computer, like reservations and cancellations, and a blog that made my boss happy. I bought lots of candy for the little candy dishes in the rooms. It’s surprising how just a little extra like caramels and coffee packets with more than enough sugar and creamers make a weary guest less weary. Not exactly eye-popping like turning pumpkins into carriages or mice into handsome steeds, though seriously now that wasn’t in my job description, or in my calling as fairy godmother to a little motel now, was it? All I was really doing was reflecting back on the many unhappy mornings spent in a hotel with not nearly enough sugar for my morning jolt of caffeine. I tend to work with what I know. Or fix what I think needs fixing. Maybe I was just a fairy-godmother-in-training. Maybe there’s an advanced course out there I can take to get my diploma.
But you get the drift, the beginnings of fairy-god motherly-ness have to start with the easy magic, don’t you think? Like bringing chocolate macaroons for my fellow daycare workers to enjoy once the kiddies all crashed at nap time, something sweet was waiting in the cupboards for us. Like a reward for a job well done, or a “you’re going to make it through this day, I promise,” it seemed the things that made me the most happy were the things that make someone else feel better. Doesn’t the hard-working woman who takes care of other people’s kids need a little fairy-godmother to show up in her world once in a while? Yeah, I thought so, too.
After motel life I was feeling fairly comfortable with my magic and thought maybe I was finally ready for the big time. That’s when I took on a role that seemed to fit me like a glove–helping kids learn to read and write. Reading and Writing seemed simple enough, but teaching it is a day-by-day challenge. This challenge was met with the usual treat–treats for me, sneaking them into my desk fully aware they’d have to wait for a break between classes. I couldn’t do the “buy treats” thing with these children because for one thing, they were all located in other parts of the state and I was teaching them via Skype, but fairies are ingenious in finding other ways to spread their magic. Maybe a bunch of Garfield or Snoopy stickers or a comic strip book the kids loved or a science study from the internet they showed interest in would somehow magically appear in their mailbox, sent under the radar along with next week’s lessons.
Cookies and comics, caramels and creamers, these are the everyday stuff any grandmother could pull off but they’re limited in that they really can only change today, unless you add in the power of the eternal. If the true fairy godmother comes to rescue Cinderella and turn her dismal day into the one night that will change her entire future, that’s the vision that lives long in this heart. My real magic came later when I could pray, alone and in my room for those whose paths I crossed. Babies magically and in a wink turn into young parents. Over-worked daycare providers get discouraged in a heartbeat. Weary travelers move on to other towns and you never hear or see them again. Non-readers turn into the next generation of Americans who change the world. You sometimes only have one chance to make a connection.
Turning sixty in August put so many things into perspective. Was that what was really bugging me? Were the whispers getting through to the part I’m to play in this corner of the world? I couldn’t put my finger on it, I tried. Doubts began to creep in, even my magic wand seemed a bit out of whack lately. Maybe it needed a tune-up.
In the midst of my wanderings, I began wondering if I was any good at anything anymore. So who could predict that a forlorn fairy godmother would receive a letter from one? And a younger one, no less.
Not this one, I assure you.
If fairy godmothers show up when you least expect them then that’s exactly what makes them so out-of-this world, so unbelievably that huge big deal, that fantastic fable that jumps from tale to truth completely out of nowhere to change you. And that’s what happened to me last month–and I can pin it down just like Cinderella, to a day like no other. On a long hot day in August when there were no balls in my future, no special dress-me-up and show off of my new shoes, pretty dress, spendy perfume, beautiful things in my closet with nowhere to go.
The end of summer brought the culmination of many built-up and misunderstood things because in all seriousness how does a sixty-year-old woman explain the little losses, the small glitches, the changes she’s feeling, the calling she’s longing for? The saving grace of housework and cleaning things and new-found experiments with painting and writing, even just letters to grandchildren far away, kept me going. Cinderella would have understood, because she, too was under attack in the prime of her life.
August was almost over, a new school year and a new job subbing in the office was about to begin and for the life of me, I couldn’t get past what was bringing me down. And then I received a letter from my newest pen pal, a granddaughter in Florida. Only eleven, and in answer to a short note I’d written to wish her happy birthday, a homemade envelope arrived in my mailbox. She started out with a sentence that stopped me like a bolt.
Dear Grandma Cowgirl,
My dad told me that you lost a baby in your stomach and I imagined her in my dream. She had freckles and long blonde hair and a smile on her face.
In one sentence–no two, a new generation had birthed the next fairy godmother of the family…and within a day I got an invitation to a wedding and I slipped my happy feet into that perfect glass slipper and drank champagne and my full heart almost burst imagining that “somewhere daughter” up there freckled and blonde and dancing and alive and well with all other lovely children who were taken too soon. All the hilarious and spontaneous joy that a wedding brings was magically poured out upon all of us wedding guests like pixie dust and I believed that happily-ever-after’s do exist in this world and in some world, the world we’re heading to and longing for.
And when I looked at the blonde-haired bride laughing with all her wonderful guests and kissing her new husband and dancing with her father I imagined a freckle-faced child that once belonged to me. And the world looked different to me than it did in 1984 when I lost her. She looked different. Can healings come in stages? Can grandmothers be healed through the eyes of a child?
Suddenly I knew there was a calling for me and I felt different. Hopeful. Like a new beginning. And when I got home I wrote my granddaughter. I told her how tickled I was to hear how she imagined Catherine, and thought I’d leave it at that because in her letter she wrote about how she was worried about a strict teacher and some assignments that were due and the pressing things eleven-year-olds have on their minds. And through my sweetened tears I saw life through her eyes and I tucked in a little pin I thought she’d like and some old pictures of her dad when he was just a baby and some stickers and a postage stamp. And then I spread my pixie dust on the letter before I sealed it, because you see, I just got my diploma and it’s official now.
I’m the cowgirl fairy godmother…
Dorreen is a grandmom of 10, going on 11 grandkiddies.
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