INTERVIEWING MRS. WILKINSON: GRAM, THE FAIRIES

By the 1990’s, Mrs. Wilkinson was the only person on this side of the bridge who believed in fairies anymore. The people across the river, in the hills, have never stopped believing. The houses over there are far apart, and the roads through the woods are lonely.

~A History of West Wilton, Vermont

GRAM

Gram came down to live with us after Mother died.
Mother fell down the stairs and hit her head, Gram said,
but I was really little, so I don’t remember.

Anyway, Gram came from up there, the other side of the river.
Folks are different up there, they live different,
don’t visit much. It’s like they’re on their own.

We were always poor, but Gram made the best of everything:
drapes out of sheets, dresses out of drapes,
dinner from whatever was at hand–squirrel sometimes.
She was a real good shot.

When my sister cried for a dressing table
Gram made her one out of an old carton,
covered it with some magazine pictures she saved
and stuck on a coffee can lid for a mirror.

They said she was a pretty woman
when she was young, but when she got old
she had squinty eyes from looking at the fairies.
Some people have that kind of vision, like cats.
Owls.  They can see in the dark.

Gram was real good at games.
She made a game out of being quiet
those times Daddy was sleeping it off,
and she taught us I Spy, to pass the time afternoons
we had to sit outside the hotel, waiting for him.

But then there was the accident
the summer I turned fourteen.
They put her in jail.
Once when I went to see her there,
she told me the Queen had come,
tried to get her out,
but the bars were iron
so she couldn’t pass.
THE  FAIRIES
Their land is bigger than you’d suppose.
Like the sea it disappears into the sky,
above the trees, one smudgy line.
First time I went there, the Queen took me,
wanted me to marry her youngest.
I wouldn’t.
He was handsome enough, but
there was something
not quite right about him:
the way he smiled, maybe the way
his nails grew long and blue-tipped
instead of white and pink.

Some people think it’s those big ones
who cause the troubles.
But it’s the little ones, imps, I call them.
They’ll sour the milk and stale up the bread,
leave footprints all over a fresh-iced cake
just for the fun of it.
Now and then I find in my dresser drawers
the handkerchiefs all rearranged.  Once
an embroidered one folded like a bedroll.

And then there’s changelings.
Happens all the time.
There’s at least three in this town I know of.
I’ve seen those babies they took
when I’ve been over in their land–
they don’t remember their mothers,
but sometimes, early mornings,
they get a longing look.
They’re mostly happy;
fairies take good care of them.
Back here the mothers
say “Trouble.  This baby
is high-strung trouble.”
They wouldn’t believe me if I told.

But those big ones now, on their horses so white
it looks like the moon is out even when it isn’t,
they go about their own business.
‘Course they can be dangerous if you don’t watch out,
but so is anything worthwhile.
As long as you use your head, they’ll do you no harm.

Used to be, folks didn’t talk about them,
or they called them other names.
But if they’re fairies, why not say so?
Truth is truth, and it will out, like they say.
It hasn’t done me any harm  I can tell of.

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