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November 26, 2009

Celia Rivenbark: The Three Sillies

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Today's guest blogger is Celia Rivenbark, a humor columnist and the author of five essay collections including STOP DRESSING YOUR SIX YEAR OLD LIKE A SKANK, WE'RE JUST LIKE YOU, ONLY PRETTIER, and YOU CAN'T DRINK ALL DAY IF DON'T START IN THE MORNIN'. Below, she shares details about an eccentric personality trait shared among the women in her family, and a traditional German folktale seemingly created just for them.

I come from a long line of worriers. My maternal grandmother was so famously worried about her daughter and granddaughters flying in a light rain one Christmas that she called the Atlanta airport and demanded to speak to the pilot to plead with him not to gamble with the lives of her grandchildren.

My mother, unfortunately, inherited this worry gene and, even more unfortunately, so did I. We worry about things in our control (did we unplug the coffeemaker before going to work?) to things that are so not in our control (will any of us get brain cancer?)

So it came to pass many years ago on another sunny North Carolina coastal Christmas, that I presented my sister and my mother (Grandmother had passed by then in her sleep, which was so not how she envisioned her death, at the hands of an ax-wielding psychopath who would break into her house) with the perfect book for all of us.

I had to special-order THE THREE SILLIES because it was practically out of print. I tracked it down because I had loved it as a child for its message that you can’t let outlandish fears keep you from living life to the fullest.

My grandmother and mother never saw the irony of how much they loved this old German folktale, reading it to my sister and me night after night as we snuggled in our beds, waiting for the serial killer to show up. Or, perhaps, scurvy.

We loved the tale of a handsome young man who believed his beloved and her family were the three silliest people in the world until he met three others who are even sillier. It wasn’t that his beloved’s family was simply silly, they were pathological worriers.

Oh, how we howled with laughter at the pictures of the young woman and her parents sobbing uncontrollably in the basement. Why? Because they worried that, one day, the young couple would have a son and that son would go to the basement to fetch some cider and an ax would fall on his head from above and kill him.

I know. Crazy, right? But it wasn’t that far removed from my own childhood. The call to the Atlanta airport was just one of hundreds of nutty scenarios hatched in the worried minds of the women in my family.

So, when my husband came into the picture, and I shared with him the tattered book that I’d loved so much, he said, “I see why you love it. You all ARE the three sillies.”

I suppose I could’ve been insulted, but he was right. So, I found three copies of the beautifully illustrated tale, retold and illustrated by Paul Galdone, and placed them under the tree.
Seeing the looks on the faces of my mother and sister made it worthwhile. There was silence as they turned each page, savoring the text and especially the illustrations that were alike, yet a little different, from the original.

Later that day, as we sat around my dining table and eyed a lovely turkey bird, we began to fret. What if the turkey wasn’t as done as it should be? Wasn’t it tinged with pink? Didn’t that mean we’d all get botulism? Better to just eat the side dishes. Silly? Maybe. But we didn’t spend the night in the emergency room, now did we?

-- Celia Rivenbark

Tomorrow, both Gretchen Rubin and Suzan Colón blog about the times that they had with great books and loving family.