A tale about kingdoms


Published: 4/9/2019 9:51:29 AM

He gets the black knights. Grandma gets the silver. He has his kingdom. Grandma has hers. His kingdom includes turrets and dungeons. Grandma’s is a more minimalist design, though she has a kitchen and picnic tables. “Everyone has to eat,” she insists. The grandson’s construction would survive a siege, including a threat from a catapult and the sudden creeping interest of the cat. Grandma’s may not.

Once the actual kingdom construction is done, the grandson scrupulously counts out supplies: the knights, two dragons, a few Greek gods and six Pioneer figures that get added despite historical inconsistencies. The dragons are toothy and large-winged fellows so it’s good to have even one. Although, Grandma’s dragon will be captured right off the bat and it’s still early in the story.

However, it’s an action plot. A temporary peace is brokered in order to permit the royal naming, which Grandma insists is important. His kingdom is awarded the title of Red Feather, after a knight’s ornamental helmet. Her kingdom becomes Ma-chusetts, after, well, a certain failure of imagination. Flags are taped in place, slowing down, but only for a short period, the unrest. He sends out his scouting group. Grandma soon discovers that during the scouting exploration several knights have also been taken hostage. Now it’s up to Grandma’s kingdom to revision a narrative.

As a former educator, she draws on her tactical background - the written word. She sends a note. “Return my dragon or else,” she writes, in her best printing. The “or else” is still to be invented, military strategy not her strong suit. Her note has the immediate effect of sending the grandchild to the kitchen table to compose the rebuttal. Unfortunately, he’s not only deft with a magic marker but also quick to spot the weakness. “Or else, ” he replies, “my kingdom will attack.”

“How about,” she counters, “if I offer a ransom for my dragon and knights.”

He’s temporarily stumped. “What’s a ransom?” he asks. Now, she has a temporary upper hand with a vocabulary lesson and the channeling of further drama into a furious note writing campaign. Maybe her military background isn’t so lacking. Maybe current events should take notice.

Meanwhile she knows that she is one of the lucky ones, caught up in the utter pleasure of playful invention. It does not escape her, this good fortune to bear witness to generational passages. And no, it is not the first time she has built castles with the young or collaborated in a grandchild’s dramatic composition.

In fact, she can sort of recall her own kingdoms and the epic battles of good over evil. Because as this grandchild said to his cousin, “The good guys always win, right?”

After all, these are not the dystopian worlds that enrapt the teenagers she knows. They are stories filled with optimism and faith in justice: A faith that may grow a tad tarnished and cynical in these times. It is also not the first time she has felt the gifts that childhood offers to the aging.

Those gifts of unbridled imagination and faith that for now are happy to dwell in the resources of the toy box rather than the more solitary, heady worlds provided by electronic devices. Then she will experience the loss of that inclusive imaginative flow, and her exclusion from the great energy and purpose that informs even a game. To be a bystander to this force of nature, brings gratitude, brings joy.

In the same way, that the sudden appearance of a robin on a neighbor’s lawn the other day brings joy. The reminder that spring is a certainty, right there amid the melting snow and winter-brown leaves. A reminder, as well, that childhood, amid one’s own aging, offers is its own renewal.

The dragon appears then lands. He carries, in his toothy jaw, a new note. The note defines the ransom terms. “Your kingdom,” it declares.

“Turn it over,” Grandma is told.

On the back side, it reads, “PS: GRRRRRRR.”

The terms are specific, if a bit high price. But Grandma is up for the encounter.

“NO kingdom. Four knights,” is her counter offer. “Let’s negotiate after snack. Apple and cheese?”

“GRRRRRRR.” It’s agreed.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield with her two cats.


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