Mr. MacGregor

May 5, 2008

I seem to have caught that cold that’s been going around Central Ontario and eastern Australia. I tried writing something earlier, but it came out about as unpeppy as me. So here’s a tale of my childhood, written last summer. I hope you enjoy it.

Mummy plumped me onto a kitchen chair, pulled my pink and white canvas shoes onto my feet, licked her fingers and settled my hair. She had changed her blouse.

“Where are we going, Mummy?”

“We’re going to visit Mr. MacGregor.”

The baby buggy was on the front walk. Mummy glanced in to make sure Dougie was still asleep. She called to Mac to watch the others, we’d only be gone a few minutes. Mac was busy showing Ian something in the bean patch, and waved us away with “Yeah, yeah, see ya.” Keith looked up from his metal scoop shovel, stared at Mummy for a moment, and resumed his work.

Mummy took my hand. Down we went through the backyard and out onto the dirt road, past the mailbox. We turned away from the Greysons next door, and past the Shirriff’s house across the road, into unknown territory. I didn’t know Mr. MacGregor.

“Mummy, does Mr. MacGregor have any children?”

“No, dear. Mr. MacGregor lives all alone.”

Living alone must be a terrible thing, because Mummy replied in the same tender, sad tone she had used the other day when she told Keith, “I’m afraid she’s dead, honey.” Dot had wandered out to the highway, past the fence which we were never to cross, and got hit by a transport truck. Keith had been standing beside the woodstove, cupping her limp, grey body in his hands, squeezing his lips tight together while Mummy made her pronouncement. Dot was Keith’s kitten, he had named her. Then suddenly she wasn’t anybody’s kitten.

Besides, nobody lives alone. I lived with Mummy and Daddy and Malcolm Keith Ian Dougie and Blackie and Dot – no – Dot was dead. But there were toads and garter snakes and spittlebugs and robins and juncos. The Wilsons had horses and cats. Mrs. Greyson wore a white dress with black polkadots, Mr. Greyson had no teeth, and their yellow dog Cindy hid under their bed during thunderstorms. Johnny Shirriff lived with his mummy, who was the fattest woman in the world, and his grandpa, who scared me with his cigar and old housecoat and cane and shuffly brown slippers. Everybody lived with somebody.

“Mummy, is Mr. MacGregor a bad man?”

“Why no, dear! Whatever made you think that? He’s a very nice man; you’ll see.”

At the end of a gravel drive in a weedy yard was a two-storey red brick house. Mr. MacGregor let us into the front room, and settled himself into his armchair. He certainly didn’t look like a bad man. He had teeth and regular clothes and shoes and glasses, just like Daddy. Unlike Daddy, Mr. MacGregor had a round, wrinkled face and very little hair and rosy cheeks. He was about sixty or a hundred years old.

Mummy told Mr. MacGregor about the casserole she’d brought him, and they talked about this and that for a few minutes. Then she smiled at me and nudged me forward. When I arrived at Mr. MacGregor’s chair, he set me on his knee and continued to chat with Mummy. I was content to sit on his knee and be a visitor since I knew that it’s a terrible thing to live alone. On the little table beside the armchair was a framed photo of a pleasant plump woman; I wondered who it was.

I was startled when Mr. MacGregor looked down into my face and smiled. “Are you my little girl?” he asked. The poor old man! No wonder Mummy was sorry for him: he didn’t even know that he lived alone! I looked at the floor, silent. But Mr. MacGregor continued his questions. “Would you like to live with me? Are you my little girl?” I briefly considered. I wouldn’t miss my brothers, but Daddy would miss me. There was nothing else for it: no matter how much it hurt Mr. MacGregor’s feelings, I had to tell him the truth.

Imitating my mother’s sympathetic tone of voice as best I could, I answered Mr. MacGregor. “No, I’m Daddy’s little girl.” I was puzzled but relieved when my statement was met not with tears but with hearty laughter from both Mr. MacGregor and Mummy.

Mummy and I walked home soon afterward, and I roamed the backyard, looking for spittlebugs.