All posts by Joan Stapleton

Chocolate Pudding


She was 6 years old but she wanted to be older so she could read and write and do things. The world, at times, seemed so confusing to her but everyone else seemed to have no trouble at all.  For instance, how painfully difficult it was for her to learn to tie her shoe laces.  She did learn but did it her way not the way everyone else did it. When eating a meal she noticed everyone used the other hand.  She tried to do it their way but it felt terrible and food spilled all over the place.

One day she pretended to be reading a book.  She thought she was doing it quite correctly, taking care and reaching out to the left page and turning it.  Her brother was watching and laughed out loud. “That’s not how you read a book.  You’re turning the pages backwards.”  She put the book down and picked up a pencil and paper and ever so carefully wrote neat, beautiful loops from the right side of the page to the left.  She held it up for her brother to see and said, “I can write just the way you do.”  He laughed even harder and said that’s not how you write. You write like this.”  He then took the pencil and wrote on the paper from left to right. She grabbed the paper, ran to the kitchen and complained to her mother about everything that her brother had told her. (You have to understand that her brother never missed an opportunity to tease her and she really thought this was one of those times.) Her mother was sympathetic but told her that her brother was right. “You read a book turning the pages from the right side to the left and you write starting at the left side of a page.” Again she was different.

Shortly after these events her friend Donna invited her to play and stay for lunch.  Donna lived just behind her house and they had great fun together.  She went over and they played the whole morning long.  Just before lunch Donna’s grandfather who was living with the family came into the hallway.  He was very tall and had a little hat on his head.  He walked over to a stand in the hall which held a very large book.  He put a long scarf around his neck, sat down and opened the huge book.  The book was not like any book she had ever seen.  It wasn’t just the size but the black print was different and then there were the parts of each page that were gold and colorful.

She was shy but she couldn’t help herself.  She wanted to see this beautiful book and what was going to happen.  She crept forward a little bit at a time. Donna’s grandfather reached out and patted her on the back and she knew then that if she were very quiet she could stay and watch. Donna’s grandfather reached out with his right hand and pointed at the black print.  With his finger he started at the right side and moved left.  Then he very carefully picked up the left page and turned it to the right. She stood for a long time watching every movement. Something settled deep inside her. Somewhere, somehow there were others in the world. She was not alone.

Donna’s mother called them for lunch.  It was delicious and there was chocolate pudding for dessert which she had never tasted. She ran home and exclaimed to her mother, “ I was born into the wrong family.  They read their books the way I want to and they have chocolate pudding for dessert.”

They had lots of chocolate pudding for dessert from then on.

The Kingdom of Vellev



…some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.  C.S. Lewis




Once upon a time there was a lovely kingdom called Vellev.  It was a small island in the middle of a big, warm, blue ocean. It had a mountain in the middle where goats and deer would wander and beautiful fields for growing food of all kinds.  And the ocean gave to this kingdom an abundance of fish and kelp.

You will notice a couple of very special things about names in this kingdom. Everyone has only one name.  Last or family names were missing because the people of Vellev considered themselves to be one large family enjoying each other’s company and helping one another.

The second unusual aspect of names in this kingdom is that each one is spelled the same way forward as it is backward.  This is because many, many people in Vellev are left-handed and therefore can read not only left-to-right but also right-to-left (and sometimes even upside down). Some time ago a king named Gallag proclaimed that all names would be spelled this way forever as a special gift to the “lefties” in the kingdom.  King Gallag was also left-handed so he really liked this idea.  Gallag ruled for many years and became known as King Gallag the Gentle.

After King Gallag, King Harrah ascended the throne.  He took his responsibilities very seriously and spent most days walking around the island to greet and talk to his people.  The people looked forward to these meetings and they would tell him all about what was happening in the kingdom.  They were honest with the king and felt it was important to tell him all the good news and also tell him about any difficulties and struggles they were having. King Harrah was determined to see people smile so he always tried to lessen all the difficulties and struggles of life.

The people of Vellev and King Harrah loved celebrations of all kinds.  Each month the king proclaimed one day as Wow. On this special occasion everyone dressed in blue (the blue of the ocean and the blue of the sky) and gathered in the public square.  There were games, singing, dancing, and delicious food brought by everyone for the festivities.  Toward the end of Wow, all the people would join in a game of Pop Ball.  Everyone used a small racket to keep a little yellow ball high in the air. If you let the ball touch the ground, you had to send it soaring again then wear a yellow sash for the rest of the day.  When Wow was over, everyone wearing a yellow sash stayed until sunset to help clean up after this wonderful day of fun.  After many days of Wow it is easy to see why the King became known as King Harrah the Happy.


King Harrah and Queen Laval and had one child, a son named Kerek. Prince Kerek was a boy, just like any other boy except for his hair.  Unlike any other person in Vellev, his hair was bright, bright red.  When his father went walking through the town, Kerek was left at a big park in the center of the town with his nanny to watch over him.  Here the children could play on slides and swings, climb trees, play games, race around a sandy track and just have fun.

Unfortunately, many of these days in the park were miserable for Prince Kerek.  Some of the children just couldn’t help trying to make the king’s son feel badly and they used the unusual color of his hair in mean and spiteful ways.  These children teased him pointing to his head, laughing and calling him “Beet Boy” or worst of all “Prince Blood.” He didn’t know what to do so he yelled back at them and grew more and more angry.  This only increased the taunts and jeers. His nanny was no help at all. She just sat in one spot and read a book or quietly closed her eyes and napped.

As Prince Kerek and the other boys got older, the taunting and the bullying got worse and worse.  Finally, Kerek had enough.  He refused to go to the park and also refused to accompany his father on his walks around town. The people of Vellev noticed that he was never seen around the kingdom and soon a very unkind name was whispered from one person to another.  Everyone now referred to him as Prince Kerek the Kook.

The years passed quickly and quietly for Kerek.  He grew tall and strong and when he reached the age of twenty-one, he married the kind and beautiful Ailia.  Ailia understood Kerek in ways no one else ever had.  They both liked to be alone sometimes and when together they seemed to forget that the kingdom was just outside the palace doors.

Shortly after Kerek’s marriage, King Harrah became quite ill and died.  Everyone was sad and the kingdom became very quiet as they remembered with fondness all the good things King Harrah the Happy had done.  Three days after King Harrah’s funeral, Kerek was crowned king of Vellev in a solemn ceremony in the town square.  Many, many people were there but there was an uneasiness that was also present. These people did not know Kerek.  Each and every one of them wondered if he could he be trusted to lead them honestly and peacefully.  They asked one another, “What will our future be like.”

As the crown was placed on his head, Kerek realized that he was now powerful.  He was very, very powerful and everyone had to do just what he said.  He could not stop his mind from racing in many directions all with one thought, “Now those who were so mean to me will pay for it.”

Kerek’s first words as King of Vellev were, “Get me the proclamation scroll and the golden pen.” This was serious business. Only the king could write upon the scroll and only with the golden pen.  Whatever was written had to be obeyed by all the people of Vellev.

The proclamation read:

Everyone who sees the king must pay homage to him by bending forward and touching               their toes. They cannot stand straight again until they have counted to 25.

All men from age 21 onward must shave their head. Only the King and men of the royal family can have hair on their heads.

No one but the royal family will wear blue from this day forward.

King Kerek thought to himself, “This will teach a lesson to all those who teased and bullied me.  Now they will have to do things my way.” And indeed things in the kingdom changed.  Men shaved their heads and people bowed deeply for just the right amount of time. But they also became very careful around the king. They no longer gathered in the public square talking and laughing.  And the once a month special day of Wow no longer took place.  Vellev became a quiet and sad place.

Soon after being crowned king, Kerek and Ailia had a lovely daughter which they named Niffin.  As was the custom, three days after Niffin’s birth she would be presented formally to the kingdom.  This would be a great day of celebration.  King Kerek gathered little Niffin in his arms, opened the doors of the palace and walked out onto the public square.  There were no cheers.  There were no upraised arms of greeting. There was complete silence. There was no one in the square.  There was no one to welcome his beloved Niffin.

King Kerek turned around and went back into the palace. He was very hurt and very angry.  He gave little Niffin to Ailia and announced that he would have to think about what just happened.  He paced the corridors of the palace calling out loud, “What shall I do? What can I do?”

After walking about the palace halls and thinking for hours, Kerek still had no answers yet he could not rest.  In the very early hours of the morning, Kerek went out of the palace and walked along the deserted streets of the kingdom. As he neared the mountain, he saw an old, old man  sitting on a rock with a little gold lantern beside him which gave off a soft, flickering light.  The old man looked up, smiled and struggled to get up. Kerek recognized how difficult it was for the old man to rise and said, “Remain seated. I am just passing by.”  The old man sighed in relief and asked, “Why are you out so late?“ The king who was very tired, sat beside him on a patch of soft moss. Perhaps it was the darkness of night or the glow of the little lantern but Kerek took a deep breath and told the old man how terrible the previous day had been and also shared with him how mean and hurtful others had been when he was growing up.  The old man said in a quiet voice, “But Sire, just think that men standing in the public square in the hot sun without hair would have burned their scalps.  And who could see your wonderful daughter as they bent their heads close to their knees. Also, It is hard for the people feel like it’s a real celebration without their special blue festival clothes. “

King Kerek quickly pointed out how mean some of these people had been to him.  “Ah,” said the old man, “but being mean and spiteful back will hurt you most of all. “

King Kerek looked at the old man and slowly began to understand many, many things. “I thought I was teaching everyone a lesson but it seems that I am the one who has to learn.” The king asked “What is your name my friend?” The old man replied, “My name is Solos.”  Solos then suggested that the exhausted king lean back onto the soft moss and rest for a while and Kerek did just that.

Suddenly, Kerek felt the warmth of sunlight on his face.  He quickly opened his eyes and jumped up.  It was still very early and no one was around as he hurried back to the palace. As soon as he arrived in the palace he ordered his ministers to find an old man named Solos who lived near the mountain and bring him to the palace for a special reward. The ministers searched and searched for the entire day but could not find any old man named Solos or anyone who knew of such a person.  When Kerek heard this he wondered if there really had been an old man or had he just dreamt about the meeting the wise Solos.

The king then called once again for the proclamation roll and the golden pen.  Everyone gasped and wondered what the king would proclaim now. But they all did as he asked.

The new proclamation read:

From this day forward, all men could wear their hair as long or as short as they desired.

When you see the king, bow your head briefly in greeting and then let your eyes meet       his and let your voice be heard.

The magnificent ocean and heavenly sky belong to us all. Wear their colors whenever           you wish.

Once every month there will be a day of Wow.

It took a while as people were skeptical and afraid but little by little they became used to nodding at the king and speaking to him. Every month a special day of Wow was declared and all the people enjoyed the hours of fun, food and of course Pop Ball.

The next year King Kerek and Queen Ailia welcomed a new child to their family and named him Tippit. Three days later, the king took Princess Niffin by the hand and held Prince Tippit in his arm, opened the palace doors and stepped onto the public square.  Cheers arose from every direction and people waved their arms in greeting. King Kerek looked around at all the smiling faces and noticed that the people were dressed in blue for this special celebration.  Everyone had brought beautiful, smooth sea stones of all colors and shapes for Niffen and Tippit as a symbol of their loyalty and to wish the children health and happiness.

As Kerek turned back toward the palace he noticed a little, gold lantern on the palace steps. He recognized it at once and remembered it’s peaceful, flickering light.  He smiled knowing that wise and wonderful friend, Solos, would always be close by.  From that day on, King Kerek always carried the little lantern as he walked through the kingdom.  It didn’t take long before Kerek was known throughout the land as King Kerek the Kind.


No Naps!

As a child, I preferred not to include naps in my daily schedule.  Conversely, my mother’s schedule did include them which established a recurring clash of wills.  Yes, I was little, but I was persistent but my mother had infinite patience so she usually won.

This particular day took place in a small, two-storey house in Worcester, Massachusetts.  I was about 3 ½ years old and had been put to bed for a nap two or three times within a short period of time.  My mother was entertaining her mother and Ellen Arnberg, one of her sisters-in-law.  They were chatting away in the kitchen, drinking coffee, eating cookies and having great fun.  This was something I didn’t want to miss.  I slowly and ever so quietly crept down the stairs just far enough so I could peep into the kitchen.  My mother saw me and simply chose to ignore me.  Aunt Ellen, however, spotted me and told me very loudly and very sternly that if I didn’t go back to bed the Boogieman would come to get me and take me away.

Just at that moment, the doorbell rang.  My mother opened the door and there stood an elderly man with profuse, unruly gray hair carrying two large satchels.  I screamed, and screamed, and screamed.  I knew in my heart that I had met the Boogieman.

Needless to say, the poor gentleman did not linger.  He was going door to door selling all kinds of linens (kitchen towels, tablecloths, napkins, etc.) just trying to make a living.

It took my mother and grandmother quite a while to calm me down and try to convince me that the gentleman was not the Boogieman and no one was taking me away.

My mother never really forgave Ellen.  To be honest, she wasn’t very likeable and yet was married to Louie, the jolliest of all my mother’s brothers.

I always felt so sorry for the poor man!