Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tit for Tat



Once, a long time ago, a little girl named Gretchen lived on a farm with her mother Irma, her father Carl and a servant named Michelle.

Gretchen was but five years old, but she was winsome and clever, and curious as a cat.  She followed the four adults about the farm asking an endless stream of questions and peeping into everything around her.

One morning Gretchen was wandering about the farmyard waiting for her father, who had promised to take her with him to the horse-dealer to buy a new plow horse.  The wagon was standing near the barn, and Betsy, the grey mare was hitched and waiting.  At last Gretchen grew tired of waiting for her father and peeped through a crack between two boards in the side of the barn to see what had become of him.
Inside the dim interior of the barn she made out the figure of the servant girl Michelle, leaning back against the corn crib with the hem of her dress pulled up to her chin.  Gretchen’s father knelt before her with his face buried in the large, dark triangle of hair below Michelle’s tummy.  As Gretchen watched, her father raised his face to gaze up at Michelle’s and said, “My lass, you are much woman.”

This did not seem too odd to Gretchen, and anyway, grown-ups often did things that seemed silly or pointless, so she didn’t give it much thought.  She turned toward the open door of the barn and shouted, “Father! I want to see the horses.  Let us go!

Her father appeared at the door immediately, rubbing his face, and picking up Gretchen, he seated her on the bench in the front of the wagon.  Leaping aboard, he shook the reins and they rattled out of the yard and off to town. 

As they rolled along, her father whistled a merry tune and the clip-clop of Betsy’s hooves added to the music.  Gretchen listened and thought about the day before when she had accompanied her mother to the local mill to get a sack of wheat ground into flour, and to a neighboring farm where she bought four rabbits.  

The rabbits were young and tame, and Gretchen liked them very much.  She stroked their soft coats and laughed at the way they waggled their ears.  Her mother had picked up the baby bunnies one at a time and turned them on their backs with their fluffy tails pointed toward her.  As Gretchen watched, her mother gently blew on the hair just between the bunny’s legs until it parted.  She explained to Gretchen that this was how she told the boy bunnies from the girls, saying that they wanted only one boy, and the rest girls.

This had been much more interesting than going to the mill.  Grinding the flour took some time, and Gretchen played outside with the miller’s cat, going in once or twice to see if the flour was ready.  But the miller and her mother were busy with grown-up talk and didn’t notice her at all, so she always returned to the cat.

Before long Gretchen and her father reached the horse-dealer’s establishment and Gretchen went with her father to see the horses.  She wondered which he would choose.  There was a cunning little chestnut pony with a thick white mane and tail that Gretchen very much liked, but her father said he needed a much larger horse to do the plowing and pull a loaded wagon to market.


Carl paused before an enormous brown horse with a jet black mane and a little tassel of a black tail.  It had four white shaggy legs, beneath which pink hooves the size of dinner plates could barely be seen.  The big horse lowered his head and Gretchen stroked his velvety muzzle.  

Carl ran his hands over the horse’s satiny chest.  The animal was groomed to perfection and bulging muscles rippled under its gleaming coat.  Gretchen’s father looked into the horse’s mouth and then he ran his hands carefully over the its legs, and began to feel the flesh of the big beast’s haunches.  

Gretchen asked why her father was feeling so carefully, and he explained that he needed to make sure that the horse was strong enough to pull the plow and haul their loaded wagon through sticky mud.
Finally, her father seemed satisfied with the gentle giant and bought him.  He tied the horse to the tail of the wagon and drove home.  Gretchen watched as her father put the horse in the barn and fed him, and then followed him to the house, chattering gaily and asking a thousand questions about the new horse, whose name was Ben.


When they came into the house they were met with the savory smell of roasting meat.  Carl sat down at the table and Gretchen ran into the kitchen to embrace her mother.  Though she was young, Gretchen was a great help in the kitchen, even though her steady stream of questions and chatter never faltered.  Soon mother and daughter emerged from the kitchen.  

Gretchen carried a dish of butter which she put on the table and climbed quickly into her chair.  She was hungry.  Her mother came behind and was carrying a large platter with a leg of mutton on it.  She placed it on the table and said to Carl, “Did you get a good one?”

“Very good,” replied her husband.  “And only eight years old.” 

Carl began to cut the meat, and placed a slice on his daughter’s plate.  He stuffed a morsel in his own mouth and was chewing with gusto when Irma returned with a huge steaming bowl full of boiled vegetables.  This she placed on the table and then went again to the kitchen and came out bearing a crusty loaf and a pot of jam.

The family ate for a time in silence.  But soon Gretchen piped up with one of her endless sallies.  Looking at her father she said, “Father, I don’t think the miller wants to buy mother.”

Both her parents looked at Gretchen curiously.  “Why do you say that, Gretchen?” asked her father, “And don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Gretchen dutifully chewed and swallowed in silence and then said, “Well, even though the miller felt all over Mama’s legs and chest, he never asked what her price was.” 

Carl put down his knife and fork with a bang and glaring at his wife, he said, “Go to the kitchen, Irma.” 

Turning to his daughter he said, “Gretchen, take your bread and jam outside.”  He looked very red-faced and angry and Gretchen did as she was told without a word.  As she sat on the steps she could her father and mother arguing, but this was not uncommon, so she paid it no mind.

At length Carl came storming out of the kitchen, stepping over his tiny daughter, and stamped away to the barn.  Irma came out not long after and stood looking down at her daughter.  She was visibly upset, and there were red patches on her face from her having been crying.  She said nothing.

After a while Gretchen said, “Mama I don’t think men are very smart.”

Irma looked wonderingly at the girl and asked, “Why do you say that, Gretchen?”  

Gretchen looked up at her mother and said, “Well, the miller ought to have known you would never be strong enough to pull the wagon or plow the fields.  And Daddy’s no better.  You only had to blow on the fur between the rabbit’s legs to know if they were boys or girls.  Daddy had to taste of Michelle’s to figure it out.”

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