Skin Hunger and Elders
What It's Like to Be Old


By Sylvia Li

Dad never saw himself as a storyteller. He was a nuclear physicist, overlaid on a practical hands-on prairie farm boy who knew how to stook wheat and machine his own steel screws.

He didn't much believe in fiction, except when it was literature, which he respected. He wanted truth if he could get it. New truth about the deep nature of the universe thrilled him. Failing that, he didn't mind not knowing the answer to a question.

All the same, when his two adored preschool kids demanded, "Tell us a story, Daddy!" What could he do but try?

He spun us fantastic tales of adventure, making them up on the fly, desperately grasping fragments out of the air from anything he could remember. We were the most enthusiastically receptive audience anyone could hope for. The tiniest of hints painted whole shared worlds.

Widgie? He was a little boy who lived in Carleton Place, right on the edge of town with fields and woods just past his back gate where he could go to play every day. (When I was older I was disappointed to learn that Carleton Place is a real town just outside of Ottawa. What? It isn't a magical realm like the North Pole?)

Widgie stories were the best. Oh, the exciting adventures he had! He picked hazelnuts and wild strawberries. He ran a race across the fields with an old woman on a flying bicycle. And won.

In the woods he found a little house made of salt. There was a huge old tree he loved to climb. High in its branches he met friendly bears, and an elephant with an umbrella, and bees.

One afternoon in late October, Widgie fell asleep leaning against his tree. When he woke it was night. Stumbling around in the dark, he tumbled down a deep hole between two gnarly roots. Luckily he wasn't hurt.

After he dusted himself off, he discovered he was on a staircase leading down to a cave lit by a kerosene lamp. He was surprised to see chairs and tables and cupboards. In one cupboard was a wooden box and in the box there was a fine fur cape, the kind a very rich man would wear. He tried it on, just to see.

Right away, it wrapped around and became his skin. He turned into a wolf!

All night long he ran through the forest meeting ghosts and witches and skeletons. He was not even a little bit scared. After all, he was a wolf with very sharp teeth.

He wasn't scared, but we were. How was Widgie going to get back to being a boy? Dad didn't say. Years later he confessed that he himself didn't know. Maybe that's why I remember it best!

Mum put her foot down, though. Even if it was Halloween, she said, no more scary stories at bedtime.

* * *

["Stook" is a real verb, though almost nobody does it anymore. It means stacking bound sheafs of cut grain by threes to dry in the hot sun before threshing.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


What delightful memories, even though they provided worry or angst to your childhood, only for a brief time. Your Dad sounds like he enjoyed making fiction, which was a lifetime gift for you and your sibling.

Loved the ending, too, Sylvia.

Best Reader story I’ve read on here. You’re a real writer and should do more.

Sylvia, you inherited your father’s gift for storytelling. Thank you for sharing it.

A very engaging story, thanks for sharing.

A lovely story. And obviously a lovely - and much-loved - Dad. (And oh gosh yes, I remember stooks. I remember watching the farm guys tossing the sheaves upon to the wagon with pitchforks. I'm sure they were fitter than their modern counterparts.) Thank you Sylvia!

A fun read!

This reminded me of the bedtime stories my dad used to tell me about Pete the Cowboy. (I loved horses and cowboys throughout my childhood.) I don't recall the content of the stories, probably because -- as intended -- I fell asleep somewhere in the middle.

First time in years I've seen "stook" in anything other than an historical work! What memories of Daddy-Stories you brought back to me...we were surely blessed by creative parents...

Sylvia, what a lucky child you were to have a Dad to tell you stories. And such stories! This one is so well written, the details are so engaging, I believe you must have at least some of your Dad's talent. Well done!

Being late in having the pleasure of reading your wonderful story, Sylvia, I can only add that I second the comments. You are a very fortunate lady to have had such a loving and creative father who took the time to make up bedtime stories for his children. His talent was your inheritance and you use it well.


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