Monday, April 12, 2010

As Retold by Sadako: The Boxcar Children

After rereading the original Boxcar Children, I decided to retell the story to my woefully illiterate stuffed animals. Of course, I lost the book and had to rely on my (decidedly sarcastic) memories. Here's what I came up with.

The Four Hungry Children

One warm night, four children stood outside a bakery.

Henry, the eldest, Jessie, Violet, and little Benny went in. They asked the baker's wife if they could spend the night on the benches and work washing dishes the next day.

"Our mother and father are dead," Jessie explained. "We have a grandfather, but we don't like him. He's cross and, he didn't like our mother."

The baker's wife let them have the bread.

"Delicious!" Henry said.

"Well, I never!" said the baker's wife. Bread was not to be enjoyed by orphans. Only tolerated.

Violet and Benny went right to sleep, but Jessie and Henry stayed awake and heard the baker and his wife talking.

"Let's keep the older three. They can help us. But the little boy is too young. Tomorrow, we can take him to the glue factory."

Jessie and Henry stood up. "We must not let them sell Benny to the glue factory. Benny does not like paste. He does not like to be sticky."

Jessie woke Violet and Henry carried Benny. They walked and walked. The night was long. They walked. At day, they slept in a haystack.

At night, they woke again. They walked. Soon it rained. They saw a big abandoned boxcar. They took shelter from the rain. Ernest Hemingway looked on in envy at the fine prose.

A New Home in the Woods

It was a nice boxcar. In the light of day, they saw an old tree stump and a brook nearby. "Oh, let's live here, Henry," said Jessie. "It would make a wonderful home."

"Oh yes, please," said Violet.

Henry thought about it. "Hmm," he said. "Let's live in the boxcar. Yes. That's a fine idea I had." The girls jumped for joy.

The next day, Henry took the rest of the money they had. He went to buy food. Jessie decided to make a surprise for Henry. She had seen blueberries in the woods the night before. Blueberries! Blueberries in the woods. Fancy that! They would pick blueberries for Henry.

But the children heard a noise. It was a dog.

The dog had a thorn in its foot. Jessie pulled out the thorn. "The dog didn't cry or growl at all even though it hurt!" marveled Violet.

"Of course not," said Benny. "Crying is for the weak."

They named the dog Watch. They had two surprises for when Henry came home. Henry had four bottles of milk, cheese, and some more bread. The children ate. They ate the brown bread, the cheese, and the blueberries, and they drank the milk. In cities and towns miles away, the dairy farmer lobbyists of America smiled and did not know why.

Henry went out to the town the next day to find work. A man was outside cutting grass. Henry asked if he could cut the grass instead. The man, Dr. Moore, said, "Yes." Henry cut the grass better than the colored girl who usually worked for them. Henry would come back again, too, to do more work around the doctor's house for him.

When he returned to the boxcar, Henry had a surprise. It was butter, yellow and sweet. But Jesse reminded them that this was a treat. Tomorrow water would be the most flavorful thing for their bread. "I like plain bread best anyway," said Violet shyly. Jessie smiled approvingly.

Henry brought out another surprise. "Now this spoon is a magic spoon," said Henry. "Turn it around and use the handle, and it is a knife." The children gasped. Sadako wished that she could see the looks on the children's faces when the spork was unveiled.

One day, Dr. Moore had Henry clean the garage. The garage was not very clean. Dr. Moore laughed when he saw Henry look for a broom.

Henry sorted the tools and nails into different boxes. This was a great treat for Henry. It was almost as exciting as the butter. How he loved to put things in order!

He washed the floor and tidied up the shelves.

When Dr. Moore came home he saw the garage. "My, my, my!" He looked at the garage and laughed. He laughed and laughed. "Look at my shelf! Look at my hammers!" He laughed again, and then apologized. "Sorry, the handle on the laughing gas at my practice is broken."

A Swimming Pool For Some, Preparing Nourishing Meals for Others

There was a brook near the boxcar. The children decided to make a dam so they could have their own swimming pool. They all worked, bringing stones back and forth, till the pool was finished.

"You boys can have the first swim," said Jessie. "We girls must go and get dinner. We'll ring the bell when we are ready."

The boys splashed and splashed. The girls made a fire and cooked the stew. Jessie rang the bell when they were finished, and they all ate.

"Let's go for a walk in the woods this afternoon," said Jessie after they had finished.

"Can't we girls go for a swim now?" asked Violet.

"No," said Jesse. "It isn't nice to upset gender norms. Besides, I like cooking for the boys best."

Cherry Picking

One day, the doctor told Henry that he would need more help to pick cherries from his cherry orchard. Henry brought Jessie, Violet, and even little Benny along. The children picked cherries all day long.

Dr. Moore said, "You must stay to dinner. Will your mother be watching for you?"

Jessie said, "No., that is...our parents...are dead." The children all looked uncomfortable.

"That's a shame," said Mrs. Moore, the doctor's wife. "Have some cherry dumplings."

Then they picked and picked some more cherries.

Mrs. Moore said, "Look at those children work. And they are so polite, too."

Dr. Moore paid the children four dollars and as many cherries as they could take. "That is too much," said Henry.

"No, it is just right. You are better than most workers because you are so happy."

"And," added Mrs. Moore, "so much more polite and pleasant than the migrant workers who usually help us."

That night, Dr. Moore sat reading the paper. He saw the word LOST and began eagerly to read the news of his favorite television serial, before remembering what century he was in. "LOST. Four children, two boys and two girls. Somewhere around Greenfield or Silver City. Five thousand dollars to anyone who can find them."

He laughed. He laughed again. "Oh my! The four children are living in a boxcar, but I shall not tell Mr. Alden that they are his grandchildren. I would sooner use a contraction than spoil their good fun."

A Fun Run

Mr. Alden was a rich man. He owned plenty of fine mills. Now, Mr. Alden liked boys. He liked to see them running and jumping and playing. So each year with three other rich men, he gave a Field Day to the town of Silver City. Every year, the boys were in training for the races. As an afterthought for one of the rich men who enjoyed the sight of frolicking girls, he allowed females to enter, too.

There were all kinds of races. The best was a foot race that anyone could enter, where the winner received twenty five dollars and a silver cup. Sometimes a boy won. Some years when the boys decided not to give it their all, a girl won. Once, a great big fat man had won and everyone had laughed long and hard.

Dr. Moore wanted to see the race. He took Henry and told him to stay and watch and tell him who won.

Henry soon heard about the free for all race from another boy. The boy told him about last year's. "That was a funny one. There were two fat men in it. The jiggling of their great big thighs was hypnotic, like a lava lamp! That boy over there won it."

Henry decided he would enter the race. The man entering him told him that the other boys had been training all year.

"Oh, I know. But I like to run. It's fun to run. It's one of life's little pleasures."

The race began. Henry ran and ran.

He passed a fat man and a little boy. A Japanese family in the crowd looked frightened.

Soon, he was ahead of everyone. He won the race!

Mr. Alden asked him his name. Henry was afraid to give his real name, Henry James Alden. He instead told him, ", er, yes."

"Here is the prize, Henry James. You can run well, my boy. I like to see you run." Mr. Alden looked at Henry's fine, strong legs. He looked at Henry's supple torso.

Henry looked nervous. "And I'm glad you won, my boy, and not another one of those great fat men."

Henry smiled, thinking at how he could surprise Jessie. The special treats he could buy with twenty five dollars. Butter. Fresh bread. And maybe even radishes.

Dr. Moore Reviews the Child Neglect Laws

Henry had even bought Benny new stockings. With the old ones, Jessie decided to make Benny a bear.

"You must make a tail, too, Jessie," begged Benny.

"What kind of tail?"

"Long and thin. So I can pull it."

"Benny!" said Jessie, laughing. But she made a tail, making a mental note to tell Henry that soon Benny would need to learn to be like all the other little boys.

Later, Jessie gave Benny a hair cut. Benny gave Watch a haircut, too, cutting a large "J" into the dog's fur. Jessie came and saw. "Oh, no, Benny!" But she laughed.

She showed Violet. Violet laughed, too. She laughed and laughed until she cried. Then she wouldn't stop crying. Jessie decided Violet was sick and put the little girl to bed. Sadako refrained from paging Dr. Freud.

Jessie and Henry were scared. Violet was so cold she shook. She looked feverish. Henry decided to tell Dr. Moore.

Dr. Moore came in his car and took Violet. The other three children stayed in his house while he tended to Violet.

The next morning, Benny played in the living room. Mr. Alden was waiting there.

"I have lost a little boy, and I think the doctor knows where he is. My little boy is just about as old as you are."

"Well, if you don't find him, maybe you can have me," remarked Benny. "I like you."

The man's smile grew as he asked Benny to come sit on his lap. He told him about a cucumber growing in a glass bottle in his garden.

Then Jessie came into the room in her quiet way. Mr. Alden smiled in delight at his granddaughter's passive, feminine outlook on life. He was even happier that Violet preferred pleasant, sweet things like flowers to untidy things like frogs and cucumbers.

Later at dinner, the old man, the doctor and his wife, and the children talked. "I want to go home with him. He offered to show me his great big green vegetable," said Benny.

Violet had liked the man, too. She wanted to go to his house to see the flowers when she was better.

Dr. Moore knew the truth. He decided he would not tell the children who their grandfather was--not until they liked him.

A New Home for the Boxcar

One day, Henry remembered where he had seen Mr. Alden. He remembered how Mr. Alden had given him the prize at the race. He remembered how Mr. Alden had called him "My boy." He remembered how Mr. Alden had gazed at his sinewy thighs.

He went across the garden to Mr. Alden and started to talk.

The other children overheard Henry. He explained. "He is our grandfather." They decided to tell Violet.

"Mr. Alden is our grandfather and he's rich!" said Benny. "And not cross either," he added.

The children explained about the boxcar where they had been living. "You ought to see it in the daytime," remarked Dr. Moore. He explained that he'd followed Henry home the first day.

"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Mr. Alden. "Didn't you know they were my grandchildren?"

"They were having such a fine time, and I didn't really need the five thousand dollars until my malpractice suit. And then Violet got sick."

The children moved into Grandfather's house soon after.

Once in a while, Jessie wanted to cook a meal in the woods. It wasn't the same as in the boxcar. And Benny wished for his old pink cup from their boxcar days.

Grandfather had an idea. He arranged for the boxcar to be brought into one of his gardens. Everything was as it had been. Even the old stump was there. Grandfather had felled an old tree to make it so.

"Hurrah for slumming!" cried the children. Watch barked in approval.

The children lived wholesomely after.

* * *

Speaking of the Boxcar Children, I also wanted to plug my friend ali's new blog, Big Boxes of Books. She has an awesome post on another Boxcar Children book, the Lighthouse Mystery, as well as a lot of other great posts.