Uncle Wiggily and Sunday Stews

By Terri Elders

Decades ago, in a psychology class, I learned that as we grow older we reminisce about events from our earlier years. This normal life review process doesn’t involve rejecting the present to live in the past. We needn’t mope around, hankering for the so-called Good Old Days. Rather, nature thoughtfully provides us with opportunity to recall and enjoy anew some of life’s most valued moments.

Wow, I thought. I could look forward to reliving the breathtaking first time I’d laid eyes on my future husband. Or the exhilaration of the big day when I got my first job promotion. Or maybe even the incomparable thrill of bringing my newborn son home from the hospital, aglow with speculation about how his life would turn out.

I could hardly wait.

Now I’m eighty, and it doesn’t work quite like I’d anticipated. Instead of focusing on all those highlights of my youth and adolescence, I revisit my childhood. Apparently, we don’t get to choose which moments to relive. They just sneak up on us.

Most often, I find myself recalling my childhood, especially Sundays. Mama always simmered a stew for supper. In the evening she’d make certain I’d washed my hands and face before she helped me put on my nightgown. When she tucked me into bed, she’d read an opening chapter from a new Uncle Wiggily book.

I hadn’t seen any of those books for decades in libraries or bookstores, but recently I found the entire canon of Uncle Wiggily stories online on Project Gutenberg, with free downloads. I held my breath when I first clicked on the link. Would these books in the public domain be the same ones that Mama read to me on weeknights at bedtime and twice on Sundays?

I felt relieved when I recognized the author’s name: Howard Roger Garis. Project Gutenberg even has reproduced the covers. I’m able to marvel again at the old familiar drawing of Mother Hubbard garbed strangely like a witch, with a red pointed hat and cape. She sits astride her flying goose, brandishing a broom. I can’t exactly recall why, but I know I’ll find the answer somewhere in the stories.

Uncle Wiggily, of course, still wears his silk top hat, with his ears sticking out on each side. And he still lounges jauntily in his laundry basket airship, tethered by red circus balloons.

So, I spent the entire Sunday afternoon revisiting Uncle Wiggily and Old Mother Hubbard, giggling at the adventures of the Rabbit Gentleman just as if I were five years old once more. As I read, I could hear Mama’s sweet voice once more, especially the high-pitched tone she adopted for Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, the muskrat lady housekeeper. I could hear her once again explaining what a gentleman was, and how ladies should always take care to marry only gentlemen. Good advice, even today, I decided.

Towards evening, I thought about supper. It was Sunday. Fortunately, before I’d became lost in my childhood memories, I’d cut up some round steak, sliced some carrots, onions and potatoes, and tossed it all into a crock pot, with a few pinches of herbs and a can of mushroom soup.

Mama never had a crock pot, so this stew wouldn’t taste quite the same as the ones she used to make for Sunday supper, but it would come close. I added pinches of thyme and oregano, just as she always did. With the aroma emanating from the kitchen and Uncle Wiggily right in front of my eyes, 1943 felt close once again.

Later, as I readied myself for bed, I regretted that I’d never read Uncle Wiggily to my son. Somehow the Garis books seemed to have disappeared in the early sixties. Instead, I’d read to him about Babar the Elephant, and Madeleine, and we followed the adventures of The Cat in the Hat. All admirable characters, true, but none with quite the panache of dapper Uncle Wiggily.

Across the decades, I still can picture my mother folding the book closed. I can feel her warm lips pressed against my forehead, smell the delicate scent of her signature Emeraude cologne, and hear her whisper that we would take another journey together with our furry friends the very next night. My mouth still waters when I recall the taste of her special Sunday stews.

I wish she could hear me today, assuring her that I indeed always flavor my Sunday stews with thyme and oregano, and that indeed I’d married a gentleman, classy and adventuresome, as a lady always should.

I’d thank her again for those memorable Sundays with fictitious furry friends and savory stews. And goodnight hugs and kisses.

I wonder now about my son. When he reaches his own old age and begins his own life review, will he, too, recall, with such fondness those bedtime hours when the two of us paged through his Dr. Seuss books? And will he remember the taste of those special Sunday stews I used to concoct?

I’d be pleased even if he only recollects the time his gentleman father and I prepared a surprise green eggs and ham breakfast on his fifth birthday. We’d hoped he’d be delighted. Instead, he glared at us with disgust “It looks poisoned,” he’d insisted.

So, we’d tossed it out, and made waffles instead. We made up for our error in judgment by taking him to Disneyland later that day. I’m certain he’ll remember that.

In that psych class I’d learned about life reviews, but also about the collective unconscious, with its universal symbols. Therefore, I’d bet that a hundred years from now, no matter what wonders technology may introduce into their lives, little children still will look forward to spooning up their mothers’ special dishes on Sunday evenings, and then curling up next them to hear a story.

In turn, they, too, will cherish those memories in their own old age. Memories of mother-love live eternally.

About this writer

  • Terri Elders

    Terri Elders

    Terri Elders is a lifelong writer and editor, is a frequent contributor to anthologies and periodicals. At 80, she’s happy to be back again in sunny California, where she no longer has to worry about shoveling snow. She misses the snow on Christmas day, but delights in having New Year’s brunch at the beach.

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5 Responses to “Uncle Wiggily and Sunday Stews”

  1. Erika Hoffman says:

    Ah, deja vu! Loved your imagery as well as the message– a reassuring one! It’s funny what evokes memories. A couple of years ago I ate at a German restaurant in DC with my daughter and son-in-law and although the food reminded me of food that my mom and grandma prepared, it wasn’t until the accordion player came out and started squeezing the boxy instrument that I was transported to childhood and listening to Mom play her accordion, joyfully with all her might. — Great story, Terri. We all can relate!

  2. Alice Muschany says:

    Great story Terry
    . Love how you referred to recalling stories of one’s youth as life review. Now in my late sixties, my thoughts return to my childhood more and more. When I tell my grandchildren, especially anything related to sports, they tease, “Grandma, the older you get, the better you were.” It’s my life review. That’s how I remember it and that’s how I’m gonna tell it!

  3. Annmarie Tait says:

    What a wonderful and heart warming story. Don’t we all just love those memories that instantly take us back in time to relive and enjoy those precious moments with our loved ones? Uncle Wiggly has served you well in your youth and your golden years! :)

  4. Linda O'Connell says:

    Loved your sweet story which brought to mind many memories.

  5. Bobby Barbara Smith says:

    What lovely memories and as always you drew me in with your words, as I reminisced about my own childhood memories of Uncle Wiggily. Great story!

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