Monday, December 13, 2010

Fairy Tale

Fairy fluttered through my life briefly, on the fragile wings of youth, enthusiasm, optimism and vulnerability. Perhaps she does not even remember me, but the memory of her is deeply stamped on my heart, along with unanswered questions.

Images smile out at me (always smiling) from the pages of a scrapbook, now 37 years old. Five pictures - the only tangible evidence of her ever having been there. Other pictures, glued in my mind, divulge more, though not much, of the Fairy I once knew: a mysterious child with the dark, kinky hair, brown eyes and mocha-colored skin of mixed race; tall for her 9 years, long and lean with graceful fingers and an adorable pixie face. Teased for her unusual name, she was always clean, neat, quiet, shy, and almost painfully polite. Her grandmother insisted on it - she had her reasons.

One Fall an article in our rural Colorado paper citing a need for Girl Scout leaders caught my eye. I’d once been a Brownie and Girl Scout, but our troop folded in Jr. High due to a lack of leaders. With that memory still strong, how could I not respond?

Soon, I was deeply involved with a troop of 3rd and 4th grade Junior Girl Scouts. Fairy was in that troop and, as it turned out, was also our next door neighbor. Her grandfather, a quiet, kindly black man, worked in town. Her grandmother, Millie, was white, had some health problems and stayed home most of the time. She did not drive, so I brought Fairy home from the Scout meetings. They had moved west from Chicago, but kept to themselves and I never knew their backgrounds or how they came to raise Fairy. Their house was a ramshackle affair inside and out; they had seen better days and hoped to again. Millie once showed me her neatly packed away fine linens and china, shared her dream of a spacious new home they would build “someday”. Fairy adored her grandparents; she and Millie spent much time together and would sometimes wander over to visit. They’d pick wild Lambs’ quarter (which I considered weeds) from our garden to cook for their greens.

Once, I answered a frantic knocking at our door. There stood Fairy, barefoot, shivering and pale as a ghost. Her story spilled out - her dad was beating her grandmother; she’d hidden in her bedroom, climbed out the window and sprinted across the forest floor to the only safety she could think of close by. We locked the door, bundled her in a quilt, called the sheriff and fixed her cocoa. The 3 of us waited until we saw the sheriff’s car come and go and the phone rang. Millie, knowing where Fairy would go, said she was OK and Fairy could come home. I drove her back, learned that her father did live in the area, would sometimes get drunk and become violent. Millie seemed to accept it as a fact of life; Fairy was terrified.

Soon afterward we moved out of state. Back to visit once, I stopped in to see them. They were not much for writing, so eventually we lost contact. A few years later, in a Christmas letter from another former Colorado neighbor, we learned that Fairy’s grandfather had been killed. His car had slid on ice through a stop sign at the bottom of the road, careened into the trees, and wedged in a gully hidden by brush and snow. It wasn’t until the spring thaw that they found his body...

When I read that, I cried bitterly, and my heart went out to Fairy - and to all the children like her who live with intolerance, poverty, violence and grief. I wonder how she and Millie fared, what kind of a woman she grew into, if she found happiness and security? Is she still smiling? Did my having known her for two short years make any difference in her life?

I do know that she affected mine. Every year around this time, memories of her come flooding back. Fairy, you are in my thoughts...

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
       is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
      he leads forth the prisoners with singing;

      but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; 
      protect me from men of violence
      who plan to trip my feet.

Psalm 68:5 - 6 and 141:4


  1. Some of the special needs kids that I've taught have affected me the same way. The Fairy story reminded me of them.

  2. YUP - when you work with kids, there are always a few that really tug at your heart...