Pop Goes the Weasel

Pixel Hat Mulberry Tree
Pixel Hat’s Mulberry Tree at ‘the Park’

I remember exactly when and who it was that taught me that haunted song. It was my earliest (and best) nursery school: Becky’s in Greensboro NC. Becky was pure ‘Thelma and Louise’; she drove a red Cadillac convertible as an accessory to her shiny black hair and fair, smiling face. Becky was always happy, it seemed; outgoing, charming. She also did things all day long and was never at the day-care. Oh, she’d stop in once or twice a day, perhaps; maybe several times in a week. She’d bring in brown paper bags with groceries and we’d have fresh snacks that day. The staff would all bunch up around her, everybody talking a mile a minute at once and she’d turn from one to the other trying to hear them out. But after so many minutes of frantic chatter, she’d dismiss them all with something general like, ‘well, that’s enough of that!’ and then she’d be off, gallivanting around town in her shiny red convertible.

But it wasn’t Becky who taught us, the children. Becky was the dashing owner who charmed the parents. And being a smart business women, she hired only the best for staff. Our beloved teacher was somebody we knew only as Granny. Granny was older than the hills but twice as wise and she was responsible for deciding what our day would be like. She seemed to operate out of long traditions that stretched backward into eternity, ancient ceremonies stacked up like folding chairs waiting to be enacted at her whimsy. One such day found us marching single-file down to ‘the park’. The park was always spoken of with verbal quotation marks around it, but the reason was unknown to any of the inmates. It just was, and we all performed it the traditional way.

Our first morning hike to ‘the park’ took place on a pleasant sunny day and when we arrived, the grass fields were covered in buttercups. My early buddy, Alan Lion, grew excited as he took in the flower-covered veldt. Right away he reverently picked one and held it up like the holy grail, reciting some kind of strange litany:

Buttercup, Buttercup

steal your Mother’s butter?

Then he wielded it at me and demanded to know if I stole my mother’s butter. ‘No, I don’t think so’ I stammered, surprised at the change that had overtaken my former friend. ‘Do people do that?’ I asked, wide-eyed with fright. To be honest, in my home the refrigerator was communal territory and nobody ever had to steal from it. And besides, it was a time when the health-giving benefits of hydrogenated plastics known as ‘margarine’ were universally extolled because it spreads easily on white-bread and doesn’t tear a hole in it. Butter, a semi-obscure relic, was not held in such esteem to be stolen goods; most of us had never even seen it. ‘Why would they do that?’, was my follow-up; a phrase that sort of tumbled out of my gaping mouth in naïve wonder.

Lion, who was obviously older and more knowledgeable than I, went on to explain that you could tell a butter thief from an honest child by holding the buttercup blossom under the perpetrator’s chin: if there was a yellow reflection, it proved the alleged pilferer guilty. Abruptly he tried it out on me, demanding again, as he did so, whether I stole my mother’s butter. A puzzled few minutes ensued as he studied the polygraph results, after which he muttered with a downcast face, ‘I guess not’. I felt relieved and somehow vindicated, for we had no butter in the house as far as I knew. This fact strangely validated the magic buttercup method of inquiry, lending an aura of credibility to the strange incantation.

“Let me try it on you” I chirped, suddenly liberated from impunity, “how does that poem go?”. I held the instrument under his chin, but made him recite the verse because all this was over my pay-grade. Evidently, Lion was quite the butter-hound for a broad yellow reflection covered most of his neck and jaw; a fact which I announced with solemn gravity. Lion blushed and melted away like crumpled cellophane in the burn-barrel. Something faint and garbled came out of his shame-faced deposition that sounded a lot like admission. I knew right then that this herbal magic was powerful and real. “Teach me that poem!”, I demanded (at my tender age, the entire verse seemed long and complicated).

Though Lion had lost much of his early enthusiasm for the technique, he did stick with me in my efforts to learn the proper recitation. I practiced on it all afternoon, but never felt that I had truly gotten it down. In fact, when I tried to tell momma about it later, I could hardly remember enough of the incantation to tell it right. Momma seemed to be puzzled by the whole subject too, which further verified the alien nature of this whole butter rap.

But Granny was our true elder that day and she was in her element, teaching us about all manner of the weird. She recounted many wondrous stories of magical things, ghosts, witches, and fairy rings. And then she taught the group the haunted song:

All around the Mulberry bush

the monkey chased the weasel.

The monkey thought ’twas all in fun,

‘Pop!’ goes the weasel

This song had a serious and lasting effect on me. An effect that, I’m not ashamed to admit, has not been altogether beneficial. At the time it caused serious repercussions of deep questioning. For the words are plain enough but the meaning defies any logical satisfaction. For starters, what does it mean by ‘pop! goes the weasel’? Did the weasel explode? I was well aware, even at such a tender age, that if you blow into a balloon and let it go, it shoots across the room making a comical ‘fpppt!’ sound before zig-zagging wildly to hide behind the sofa. Also, if you weren’t careful, the inflated balloon would burst (so you really shouldn’t play with them out in the grass). But why would the weasel explode? That didn’t make any sense and the context of the song provided no further clues.

Since, it was a group song, the children all clamored to sing it back at the nursery, almost on a daily basis for several weeks. I began to loathe this. In addition to the weird words, there was something strange that came over the adults when they sang it too. It was almost as if they were possessed by defective spirits. When they got to the part where the weasel explodes, they invariably cocked their heads to the side and cut their eyes towards the shadows, twisting their mouth into a tense little oval and raising their finger up to wag at the invisible monkey; they incited their vindictive with extra emphasis on ‘Pop!’, trailing off with sneerish sarcasm about the victorious weasel.

Children are sensitive to the affect of their caretakers and none of this escaped our little subconscious life-recorders. We expect wisdom from our elders, not inexplicable vindictive, illogical gibberish, and spirit-possession.

Even worse was the purported explanation. Upon cross-examination, it turns out that the weasel somehow turned on the fun-loving monkey and mounted a vicious counter-attack. Now, every little boy knows that monkeys are serious business and can’t be beaten. Anybody who’s ever seen the Wizard of Oz knows that monkeys can beat the stuffing out of intellectual straw-men. Also, the organ grinder’s mascot is always granted wide berth, unfailingly accompanied by verbal warnings: “watch out for the monkey”, a fore-shadowing technique that inevitably precedes extended chaos and pandemonium. No lightweight little weasel would stand a chance against a full-fledged monkey.

This fact alone lends credence to the exploding weasel hypothesis; all of which is just too much for the innocent pre-kindergarten mind to assimilate. Thus the weasel song quickly grew to be a haunted symptom of dysfunctional adultisms.

But having come this far with the early childhood experiences associated with the booby-trapped marmot song, we might continue in this vein to examine the problematic (and socially inappropriate) tale of ‘little black Sambo’, where the tigers chase Sambo round and round a tree until they all turn into a puddle of butter?

Archetypal Vision

Scenario Visualization

The Artist, Composer, the Author; they look the part: they look like what they are. You can tell what is Archetypal. Adam and Jesus are Archetypal. We know what they look like, somehow. Moses, too. The Faculty of Inner Vision; it Informs us.

Theater Inside Our Heads

We are Inner Vision, too. There is a Mental Theater upon which we Act, Perform, Engage in Dialogue with Inner Others. Dialogue with Inner Others is not always with Others who are so Interior. Sometimes we cast them Outside the Inner Sanctum, placing them just at the Edge; partly inside the Perimeter but in some ways Outside.

Stage Lights

Out There it is dimmer, less vibrant; just a shade Grey. I remember well the practice of Old School light-bulbs: one hundred watts was the standard (one hundred and twenty watts was not uncommon). These days we make do with sixty watts all over the house; the circuit-breakers are wired for it; sixty and no more. This Demonstrates that we live our lives nowadays at a forty per cent reduction in Illumination. Forty is a lot; almost half the light. Why does it conserve power if we struggle to see; to stumble in the dark? I feel our nation has become timid, frightened, mouse-like: scurrying along the baseboards of Life; afraid of the Light.

Grey Dialogue of Twilight

Fearful of Freedom, too. When faced with the Light of Choices, Omnipotence, we retreat toward the Shadows, afraid of better days, success, of risking a wrong move in broad daylight where the Others may see us. The same Others that we banish to the Perimeter of Dim Grayness at the edges of our Mental Theater; the same Others with which we argue in our Inner Dialogue. They might see us reach out to take hold of the Good, to take that risk. They might See us and Know that we Care; that we Tried. Because we kept them down Inside, we made them wrong, we let them fail to be among us; now we cannot bear to risk ourselves before them in the Light. For they are, after all, Us; it was all just a Mental Dialogue, Performed upon our Interior Theater of Thoughts. We banished ourselves. And now we are afraid to go back there, to meet ourselves in the dark alley-ways of our Haunted Mindscape.

Perceptual Framing

Of course there are many different ways of Framing our Perceptions; Visioning is one Modality. Dialogue is another. Sometimes we find meaning in Song, or Story. Great Literature has an Effect. That is why we call it Great. Various modalities under the larger umbrella of Perception. Each modality has the nuts-and-bolts Context of its sub-modality. It is here that the Central Character of Meaning interacts and is honed within His Plot and sub-plot. Scenes are the Phases of our Learning; Understanding is what we gain from it.

Slow down, son. It’s like everything…not so fast already.

Tornado in Ruffin, NC (4/15/2018)

Leading up to the Greensboro Tornado

Oh yes, the Tornado came up 29 from Greensboro through Ruffin and into Danville and did a lot of damage along the way. I feel so sorry for those people who had their homes destroyed or damaged and then had to deal with the torrential rains (almost 4 inches) and then the freezing weather (32 degrees) and wind-chill and the cold, windy, cloudy day that followed with no heat or electricity and no way to get out. A few people were smashed inside their cars (either by huge trees falling on them or by mobile homes picked up and  dropped on them from across the road). It blew up really fast and the warnings were 5 minutes behind it all the way. It got here at least 5 minutes ahead of the news.
Now, the weather reports had mentioned an escalating chance of storms for a number of days in advance but those chances started really low and marginal and crept up minimally, right up until the horse was already out of the chute and everyone was running around panicking after it was already too late. Even the weather station got hit and was unable to broadcast any warnings until it had passed and they could get everybody out of the basement and set up makeshift cameras.

Prayers are Answered

I had already prayed about it earlier that day, just because I’ve seen spring-time weather get really wild around here. And the Good Lord had me turn on the computer sometime just after the weather station got out of the basement and began to give warnings. They said it was bad and even if you had never taken shelter in your life, do so now. So I moved some card tables from in front of the basement door, put on my shoes and got two flashlights and it was here in the backyard just that quick. From Greensboro. I know because I peeped out the back door and there it was. The main big one was rumbling up US 29 from my vantage point, it looked like it was rumbling straight across the schoolyard at the old Ruffin Schoolhouse. Well, that is down the hill to the creek (just below the pond) and up the hill on the other side to the top of the ridge. About a half a mile, maybe; mile-and-a-half to the school. And it was already Rolling on up North 29, so I just stood there and watched it because I could tell it looked like it was going to pass on by.
It was so ferocious looking where the tornado was but it was so calm, perfectly still even, on the back-porch where I was standing. And I was standing there in marvel, thinking about how God had answered my prayers in such a dramatic fashion… to be so perfectly calm, so close to such powerful destruction.

Suddenly Things Get Weird

That’s when everything began to change and get weird: things just lost their gravity and it felt like everything wanted to rise up off the ground. A slight breeze had begun to blow and now it started to pick up but it didn’t get really fierce or anything (because we’ve had straight-line winds to come through before; they came right across the pasture and through the Pecan Grove splintering 100 year old Walnut trees like tooth-picks and laying everything down across its path). No, it wasn’t like any wind I’ve ever seen before…it was just a strong breeze. But it was kind of an up-draft breeze and you could feel it, like everything just wanted to magically rise up off the ground.  Stranger and stranger it got with that weird little up-draft breeze growing stronger and stronger til all of a sudden trees started cracking all over the place: you could hear loud, harsh cracking that started down around the creek-bottom and moved diagonally through the woods in a sequence. The cracking came through once, and then it came through again and then it happened. A shirt-tail funnel appeared in the sky to my right about 200 feet in front of me and dragged itself down out of the clouds, rose up a little, then reformed back down; just like those little shirt-tail tornado spikes that you see in pictures from a distance where the main big one is in the middle and around it you have all these little ‘sprouts’.

A Little Behind the Ball

Well, I’m standing out on the back-porch with my flashlight in one hand and the phone in the other trying to call the neighbors and let them know there’s a tornado warning and all the trees are cracking all around and I’m standing there staring out at the woods trying to figure out why they are making that loud, heavy cracking sound; because there wasn’t any wood splintering off or flying around and none of them were falling over. And behold: suddenly a little spin-off tornado descends almost on top of my head.
Well, again; I’m standing on the back porch trying to figure out what’s going on and I’m figuring it all out just a few seconds late as it happens. So by the time I can process the fact that a tornado has just descended out of the clouds right over top of me it is too late and it has already moved on. So I watch it as it departs. It went diagonally across the woods to the right of the pond and sailed on up into the air headed toward what looked like the church (you remember Grandma’s church, Bethel United Methodist). Or maybe crossing just to the West of the church on Law Road. The next day I heard reports of severe damage on NC 86, which would be inline from that direction. But the solid, main enormous tornado had already marched on up 29 into Pelham by this time.

Power, Lights, Toilet

So, all in all, I decided to sit on the bench on the (North-facing) side porch and just watch everything go by. Pretty soon it started raining cats and dogs (that’s the 4 inches I was talking about) and I started to get spray on my shoes so I went inside. And by this time the power had blinkered back on. And the phone began ringing and it was Duke Power calling to see who had power and try to pinpoint where it was out. So we had lights and water (toilet) (and heat the next day when it was so bitterly cold), but a whole lot of people had it bad; really bad. So I’m very Grateful for the Divine Protection that God laid on me. (Even so, I’ve noticed that for a few days after something fierce like this happens, everybody -neighbors included, are a little shaky and easily startled. Case in point: when the cold front came through the next day, every time the wind would get up, I’d go to the window and make sure everything was still alright). I spent the rest of the night calling Aikido students in Danville because we saw on the news how bad it was after the Tornado went through there and we couldn’t get through to some of the people because they had trees down all over the road and the power was knocked out.

So that’s my little adventure for the week.

Happy Birthday!

The Journey Begins

 

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Happy Birthday!


 

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton