"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Bedtime stories~

My grandpa was a wonderful storyteller and, in his almost 90 years, he told some real doozies. Peppered throughout his stories, however, he would occasionally recite a poem; one in particular is burned in my memory. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me set the stage first.

Imagine that you are 4 years old and you live in the apartment upstairs, just above grandma and grandpa at 207 West Ottawa Street, but the boundary of this living arrangement is practically nonexistent. You really just sleep up there. The real living takes place downstairs, with grandma and grandpa, in their kitchen, in their living room.

Imagine that you adore your grandfather – this man, this father figure, this gentle giant- that your world lights up the moment he walks through that door at the end of a day. What might he bring home today? What tales might he tell you?

Imagine walking down the street holding only his pinky finger because your hands are much too tiny to grasp hold of his enormous hands. And when your little legs can no longer keep pace, imagine that thrill of flight when grandpa reaches down and grabs you just under the tender flesh of your little biceps and swings you high up in the air to land solidly on his broad shoulders.

Imagine that it is late in the evening, you are 4 years old and grandpa just gave you a ride around the living room on his massive back and you are on safari, riding on the back of your elephant. Life was so wonder-full at 4.

Imagine that you are 4 years old and you have just had your bath. Your hair is damp and combed and you smell of soap and fresh pajamas and it is time for bed.

English: Photograph shows a young girl with he...

English: Photograph shows a young girl with her hands clasped in front, staring intently forward. Photograph was an illustration for James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “Little Orphant Annie” printed in Brownell’s Dream children. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So grandpa begins, reciting a poem by a Hoosier poet laureate, James Whitcomb Riley:

“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




Yep. Imagine that. Grandpa would recite that poem and set me down, pat my head and send me off to bed.

I saw this image recently and laughed to myself because I know this fear well:


I can remember running across my room to leap into bed because I knew that if there were any gobble-uns in our house, they would definitely be under my bed, “away up-stairs”!

I said my prayers. I prayed a lot.

I was pretty jealous of Terri, who had the top bunk, safe from all harm. Sure, she was bigger and had a little more flesh on her bones. But I was small and weak and closer to the floor.

Easy prey. Easy kill.

Life was so unfair at 4.

The entire poem of Lil’ Orphant Annie can be read here but I would venture to guess that the kids and cousins who sat frequently on grandpa’s knee can recite most of it by heart anyway. Another link on that page will let you listen to an old phonograph recording from 1916 of James Whitcomb Riley reciting his poem, but it just isn’t the same.

Grandpa’s voice will forever be the voice I hear when I read those words, when I recite that poem. And I will always be 4 years old, just bathed. My hair is damp and combed and I smell of soap and fresh pajamas and it is time for bed.

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