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.]
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