Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Piper's Son

One morning in recent weeks, my spoon collided with the bottom of the bowl, dashing against the base with a dreadful clatter.
My breakfast was dwindling, I'd nearly eaten the lot, and suddenly all I could think of was Tom, the piper's son. 
Who was Tom, that he merited a place in a nursery rhyme?
I hardly know. His biographical details are sparse.
All I was told as a youngster is that he stole a pig and ran away, as fast as he could- presumably after his own breakfast had been partaken of so he'd have ample energy to jog away from the angry farmer that wanted the pig back.
In any case- and this is the crux of the matter- he came back to me in a flash that morning: a cereal bowl in the house of my youth bore a bright and colourful picture of Tom running away, running with a very startled and very pink, clean pig under his arm. Clean as a whistle that pig was, for what it's worth, and too clean if you ask me.
One had to empty the bowl of all food before discovering Tom's rascally image underneath.
The scene never altered.
Tom was always running, no matter how slowly one trudged through the contents of the bowl or how quickly they were devoured.
The farmer never caught the boy, the boy never dropped the pig, the pig never looked less than flabbergasted, and nobody gave up their endeavours.
Frozen in time, they were, and it was that flash of a picture that I'd remembered so many years later.
The trouble was, it wasn't actually my scene to recall.
It wasn't my cereal bowl.
It was my brother's.
Did I have a bowl of my own, I asked Mater then, with perhaps a corresponding girlish nursery rhyme?
I imagined Little Bo Peep would have been appropriate. It was as good a guess as any.
Mater didn't have any memory of such a thing, not of Bo Peep, not of my brother's dish.
I suppose the logical conclusion is that I spent more time staring into my brother's breakfast bowl than I did my own. Maybe his food was more interesting to my tender eyes, maybe I was drawn to the running aspect. I had always loved to run like a mad thing, and maybe I saw myself at the bottom of that bowl in a perpetual game of you-can't-catch-me.
The only thing left to do, then, was to ask my brother.
He'd know, wouldn't he? If I'd gazed into his bowl so as to have Tom and a pig and a farmer emblazoned in my mental archives, it stood to reason my brother would have looked into mine, and he'd be able to say accurately whether it was Little Miss Muffet or Bo Peep or whichever dainty female was prettily portrayed.
He didn't.
He drew a blank entirely, and offered no wisdom on the subject of my mysterious breakfast bowl.
More crucially, and to my utter dismay, he didn't remember his own bowl.
Not a hint, not a trace of Tom the piper's son remained in my brother's memory. I'm sure Tom was there, though all evidence has been lost to time.
My brother must have scraped too hard with his spoon.
At least I've got something to remember our long-ago breakfasts by, even if it wasn't my portion that I recall, and even if I'm the only one to recall it.
And one of these days, I'm hoping, my brother's spoon will bash against the bottom of a bowl and suddenly he'll be himself struck with a painted image, a faint memory, this time of some little girl- ah, yes.
Some stubborn little girl in a sing-song nursery rhyme that insisted, boldly, on staring into the bowl next to hers.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan
Sat eating her porridge
Looking into her brother's bowl;
She was so busy staring
To see how HE was faring
She might well have
Been eating some coal.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan
Sat eating her porridge
Didn't look at what she was doing;
Brother's bowl had her mesmerized,
And she wouldn't have realized
If it had been a stone
She was chewing.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan
Sat eating her porridge
Watching Brother's breakfast with awe;
At her own- not a chance
That she'd give it a glance.
So it might have been
Fish tails, or straw.

Of course, it was porridge,
Not anything else,
But it might have been all of those things,
Along with a dash
Of fencepost and mash,
And a sprinkling of
Dried beetle wings.

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