Sunday, May 3, 2009

Higgledy-Piggledy and Topsy Turvy

Here is a funny story that really resonated with me when I read it a few weeks ago (some of you know why!) It's from a sweet little book (an ex-library copy) that my friend Martha found and saved for me. You can find a complete citation* at the end of the story. Thanks to the son of the author** (thanks, Param!) and to the step-daughter of the illustrator*** (thanks, Jane!) for kindly giving me permission to reproduce the whole shebang here.

[Update, November 2009: Please remember that this is copyrighted material and must be used with permission. If you'd like to share Leila's stories, please link to my entries or to Leila's page.]

Higgledy-Piggledy and Topsy Turvy

Now this is the tale of too many women in one house.
It comes from Scotland,
and this is the way I tell it.

Once upon a time there was a very busy woman. She was busy all day long because she had so much to do. She had all the beds to make, and the floors to scrub, and jerseys to knit, and the sheets to mend on the sewing machine, and the clothes to iron--oh, and ever so many things more. And one day she felt just plain tired of working, and she said out loud, "I can't manage any longer by myself. I wish I had someone to help me."

No sooner had she said this than there was a knock at the front door. She opened it and there was a little old woman. And the little old woman said,

"Ask me in,
Ask me inner,
I'll help you
If you give me dinner."

Of course the woman was very pleased indeed, and she asked the little old lady in. And the little old lady began to do the ironing, while the woman got her dinner ready.

She had just put the meat in the pan to cook when there was another knock at the door. She opened it and there was another little old woman. And this little old woman said,

"Ask me in,
Ask me inner,
I'll help you
If you give me dinner."

So then the woman was even more pleased, and she asked the little old woman in. The little old woman began to scrub the floor, while she put some more carrots with the meat to make more dinner.

She had scarcely done this when there was another knock at the door, and there was another little old woman. And she said, just like the other two,

"Ask me in,
Ask me inner,
I'll help you
If you give me dinner."

The woman was beginning to get a bit bothered by now, but she asked her in the same way as the others, and put more onions with the meat to make more dinner. And the little old woman began to mend the sheets on the sewing machine.

The woman had scarcely put the onions in when there was a knock at the door. And so it went on, more and more old ladies coming to the door, and every one saying,

"Ask me in,
Ask me inner,
I'll help you
If you give me dinner."

And now they didn't even wait to be asked to come in. They came in themselves, and they started work, one making beds, one knitting jerseys, one doing one thing, one doing another, and eating, eating all the time. All the time they were working they were eating, and the more the woman cooked for them and the more she baked for them, the hungrier they seemed to get. And at last she was so hot and bothered that she didn't know what to do.

So she went to her husband who was asleep in the bed all this time, the lucky man, and she tried to wake him up to come and help her. She shook him and shouted in his ear, but it was no use, he just wouldn't wake up. So she put on her hat and coat, and she went to see a wise woman who lived over the hill, and left all the little old women eating and working away, with some more bread baking in the oven.
She told the wise woman all about it, and asked her what she should do. "First of all," said the wise woman, "don't ever say again you can't manage by yourself. And secondly, just go home now and when you get to your doorstep, stand there and shout 'The hill's on fire!' Then all the little old women will come dashing out to have a look, and you must shut the door quickly, and as fast as you can make everything higgledy-piggledy, topsy-turvey, upside down and inside out and as tingle-tangled as can be. And last of all wake up your husband by splashing some water on his face."

(click on this image for a closer look - the details are hysterical!)

So the woman thanked her and hurried away. As soon as she got to her own doorstep, she stood there and shouted out "The hill's on fire!" And all the little old women came running out to see. And the woman quickly shut the door and started to make everything in the house higgledy-piggledy, topsy-turvey, upside down and inside out and as tingle-tangled as could be. She turned the sewing machine upside down, she put the pillow at the bottom of the bed instead of at the top, she took the handle off the top of the bucket and fastened it to the bottom, she turned the clothes that were being ironed all inside out, she took the needles out of the knitting and stuck them somewhere else, and tangled the wool into knots just as if a kitten had been playing with it.

Then all the little old women outside the door began to bang and shout, "Let us in, let us in!"

"I can't," said the woman. "I'm busy. I'm baking bread."

"Bucket, come and open the door!" they shouted.

"I can't," said the bucket. "My handle's on the wrong end. I'm all upside down."

"Sewing machine, open the door!" they shouted.

"I can't," said the sewing machine. "I'm the wrong way up. I'm all topsy-turvy."

"Bed, come and open the door!" they shouted.

"I can't," said the bed. "My pillow's at the bottom end. I'm all higgledy-piggledy."

"Clothes, come and open the door," they shouted.

"We can't," said the clothes. "We're all inside out."

"Knitting, open the door!" they shouted.

"I can't. My needles are stuck in the wrong place and I'm all tingle-tangled."

Then the little old women remembered the bread that was baking in the oven.

"Bread, come and open the door," they shouted.

And the bread got out of the oven and was just going to open the door for them, when the woman grabbed the bread knife and quickly cut it into slices.

Then she remembered what to do about the water. She took a cupful from the tap, and threw it over her husband who was still snoring away. He woke up in a flash, and he dashed to the door where the little old women were banging and shouting and he shouted in a voice like thunder, "Go away!"

And they did!

© Leila Berg

*Berg, Leila. Folk Tales for Reading and Telling. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1966, pp. 88-95.

**Part of what drew me to Folk Tales were passages from Leila's introduction:

"I think we do not tell stories nearly often enough to children nowadays. As soon as they can read, we punish them. 'Now that you can read for yourself,' we say, 'you needn't bother me anymore.'

"But children need stories to be read to them for years after they can read. There is always much more in telling a story to children of any age than just the story.
"Sometimes you will be telling the story to a group of children. They will be sitting in front of you in a row, or in several rows, their faces very grave, their eyes fixed on you. So many faces you will have to watch for signs of strain, so many faces you will have to speak right into, telling your personal tale to each one child! But sometimes all the faces will break into glee, or the children leap to their feet and declaim with delight the jingle that has come so many times before and makes the story everybody's, not only the teller's."

[Read more of Leila's thoughts here.]

***I think that George Him's illustrations are charming and humorous and add so much to Leila's interpretation of this story. Leila liked them too. "I wanted George Him to illustrate this book because I knew he would do as an artist what I was trying to do as a writer," she says. "He brings his own gaiety, exuberance, and resilience...his picture of the story of Higgledy-Piggledy, with all the frenzied rooms seen at once like a doll's house (and others)...all of them catch the wildness and the control, each so essential." Anyway, George Him was a fascinating guy who was born in Poland in 1900. He witnessed the Russian Revolution in 1917 while he was studying law in Moscow. He was a graphic designer starting in 1922 and had a long, successful career. He died in 1982.


Joyce Ray said...

Lynne, I loved this story! So I'll stop complaining now. And I agree wholeheartedly with Leila's thoughts on reading to children after they can read for themselves. What joy in watching their reactions to the story. Of course, librarians and teachers know all about this. I wish all parents did, too.

How did you ever track down the author's relations to give you permission to print the story?

Lynne said...

Joyce-I always tell parents about a librarian that I know who read Tolkien out loud by firelight to her high-school age children. Imagine the sweet memories they'll have!

Tess said...

Hi Lynne,
What fun! Thanks for sharing that little gem.
Want to do Telebration this year?

Lynne said...

Tellabration? Yes! Are you hostessing? Which night? Where? What time? oyay oyay oyay

Param said...

Hey Lynne
Thanks for your email and the link to your blog (and also for the link from that to Leila's webpage). I think you've made a lovely job of presenting her story, and I hope many hits result, and lead to good developements for you.

best wishes