The Little Red Hen

When it was time for naps, one of my mother’s favorite stories to read aloud was a picture book version of the Little Red Hen. There’s a good possibility that story has fallen out of favor these days because it may be a case of stereotyping. Maybe the character in question didn’t identify as a hen, and perhaps calling her/him red is actually racist. Be that as it may, it was still my mother’s favorite because, as it turns out, Evie Busk was the epitome of that Little Red Hen.

I’ve mentioned before that there were nine people in our family. As built, our house on Yuma Trail in Bisbee was one-bath/two-bedroom with a rounded-block exterior and with a wooden front porch, storage, and sun room structure attached to the front. The master bedroom doubled as a nursery with a baby crib tucked in one corner. By the way, one day when one of my brothers was napping in the crib, Evie discovered a mama scorpion carrying a number of babies was also in the crib. In true Little Red Hen fashion she immediately dispatched all the interlopers with no harm to the baby.

The other bedroom, the “kids’ room,” was for everyone else. Stocked with a three-quarter bed, a stack of bunk beds, and a much larger crib, it worked. The three older girls got the three-quarter, and I was always stuck in the middle. The folks had discussed the idea of remodeling the house, but somehow, with my father in the construction business, remodeling other people’s houses always came before fixing ours—a variation the theme of the shoemaker’s kids going shoeless. He got around to framing in and closing up the front porch, but that’s as far as things went.

One afternoon, I came home from school (third grade most likely) to find my five year-old brother and my over-all clad pregnant mother sitting on a stool in a dusty, debris-strewn living room. Once Arlan came home from kindergarten, the two of them, armed with crowbars, hammers, and determination, had demolished ten feet or so of exterior wall, and suddenly the long-delayed remodeling project was at last underway. The living room/dining room expanded enough to hold an enormous sectional (suitable for watching I Love Lucy) as well as a hutch for my mother’s new china. What had once been the sun room became a room I shared with my younger sister, and the “kids’ room” became the “boys’ room”.

I’ve watched enough remodeling projects on HGTV that I’m quite sure the pink and gray tile my dad installed on the kitchen floor contained asbestos, but the house in such a state of disrepair these days that I imagine the asbestos contained therein has never been disturbed. But I digress.

The point is, Evie Busk started that remodeling project and was there day in and day out to see it through. Many of the things she said to me growing up still resonate with me, one in particular being: “If it is to be it is up to me.”

Those of you who have read my books may have encountered things my various mother characters say on occasion and have suspected that you might be hearing echoes of Evie’s voice. It’s true. I stand guilty as charged.

When the last Beaumont book went to my favorite copy-editor it came back with one line marked as being “trite but appropriate under the What Mother’s Say Exemption and that made me laugh.

I’ve been struggling with the book I’m writing. Getting that long ago remodeling project started was up to my mother. And writing this book is totally up to me.

This week someone who listened to the podcast mentioned in last week’s blog, wrote to me about my writing formula, including the fact that I usually start with a dead body. It turns out, this time around, I had neglected that important part of my writing recipe. It’s fixed now. Finally I realized that the person who’s most in jeopardy isn’t someone my readers can care about. Overnight last night, I figured out a way to make them care. Now I should be good to go.

Because, just as my mother always said, when it comes to finishing this book, if it is to be, it is up to me.

25 thoughts on “The Little Red Hen

  1. My favorite children’s book is The Little Train That Could. Love that book & have given it to kids going off to college as t teaches them that no matter what life throws at you, that you can handle it. Know it got me threw life many times!!

  2. I grew up on a farm in Iowa. Every year my Mom bought 100 chickens to raise. They were Rhode Island Reds. My sister and I were upset every Easter when we dyed eggs as the brown shells didn’t take the colors as well as white eggs, but we had to make do.

    I learned early that if I wanted something done to do it myself. I hate to ask anyone to do anything for me.

  3. Not only is The Little Red Hen likely racist and genderist, it may also be sizeist. Why must it be pointed out that it is little? Does that make it any less worthy as a hen? Or …whatever?

    Gotta love this world we’ve found ourselves in. ;>)

  4. Truer words were never spoken. If you want something done now or done right, then do it yourself. Why me? Why not me? I was the oldest child which means I usually had more chores, more responsibilities. All that led me to be bossy on occasion and always wanting to take charge. Difficult to rein myself in sometimes.
    So say my siblings. LOL

    • I’m the third of 5 and I can tell you that my oldest sister was very bossy. It must go with being the oldest. ?

    • Reading your post, Janice, and remembering other “oldest child” stories people have told, makes me think my own oldest child experience was unusual. I was timid and half blind, bookish and thin. My siblings were 18 months and 17 months down the line. My parents attempted to put me in charge, but the younger ones quickly found that they could get away with a lot if they involved me in any way. I was the one held responsible. And in a dispute, it was generally those two against one me. As teens, they gave ME advice about handling our parents. Now, in our sixties, the youngest one is the undisputed alpha dog, based purely on personality.

      The other thing that happened was that my parents rarely granted me privileges that were age appropriate. My bedtime was the same as my sister’s, though she was 3 years younger and has always needed more sleep. (I took to reading at night by the light of the streetlight outside our window.) I got my first bike when my brother got his. I was not allowed a watch till I was 12. Within 6 months, both siblings had watches because it was convenient and no one ever lost or broke a watch. I was the only girl in my 8th grade class picture wearing ankle socks instead of stockings.

      Interestingly, as adults, at least until the last few years when I’ve gone grayish and she’s still coloring, most people seeing us together assumed she was the older one. In fact, that dates to our college days. I remember visiting her on her college campus when I was newly graduated and she was between freshman and sophomore years. One of her friends asked me if I was going to come to that college when I got out of high school!!! Not a confidence-building experience for a young woman in search of her first professional job.

      Over the years I’ve established my own path, had my own successes and my own circles of friends. I learned that competing with my siblings was counterproductive. So was seeking my parents’ approval. I play to my own strengths and my life is just fine FOR ME.

  5. I pre order your books on my kindle so they just magically show up. Always a good day. “Sins of the Fathers,” was my favorite Beaumont book. I guess.he and you are getting better with age. I hope Beau finds another dog in the new book. Everyone needs a dogmor.three IMHO. But Joanna Brady is still my favorite.

  6. I live in Sierra Vista. Is your childhood home in Bisbee still standing? If so, where is it located? Looking forward to your next book!

    • The house at 16 Yuma Trail is still standing, but it has been allowed to drift into a state of total disrepair. It makes me sad to see it as it is now.

  7. Evie sounds just like my mother! Was she the Norwegian? My mother was tired of the dining room and living room being tiny with five small kids trying to have a place to play. One day after my Dad went to work, she took out the wall between the two rooms and the new space was grand. It was a space with lots more light and there was room at the dining room table for us to do our homework or for Mother to cutout fabric, or whatever project she had.
    Shades of my childhood!!!

  8. “If it is to be it’s up to me!” How many wives have come to that conclusion after waiting around for their husbands to take action?!

  9. “The Little Red Hen” was what I used to raise our boys. It still works to “inspire” joining into projects. I still have the little Golden Book and have introduced it to our grandchildren. I think the biggest lesson out of the book is once a project is done, having been part of the production process, how much sweeter the results for having been part of the “doers”.

  10. There’s a Bakery in New York City called, “The Two Little Red Hens-” Before the pandemic I used to buy a kind of cake there that a friend loved- I hope the place survived COVID lockdowns- Many places have closed, including my favorite, cozy restaurant where I knew all the Latino waiters – It was not a Mexican restaurant- The waiters started out as busboys and worked their way up-
    I will really miss them-

  11. Your story reminds me of going to visit some of my cousins. Five girls and a boy in a My three bedroom house. The girls all shared a room. My uncle had started building an addition on to the back of the house, but by the time he finished it, all but a couple of my cousins had moved out and were on their own. But it was done in time for my aunt and uncle to care for my 96 year-old grandmother in the last two years of her life. She was able to live on her own until she was 94. My immediate family was not able to have her because we lived in Arizona and the rest of my family lives in Michigan. But we were all glad to do whatever we could to help, and were glad Grandma had such good care.

  12. My corollary to your aphorism,”If it is to be, it is up to me.” comes from one of my professors-now a healthy 90 years old:
    “There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”

  13. Happy Birthday to you today!! I’ve sent an e-card from Jacquie Lawson, but you may think it is spam. Hope you are having a great day.

  14. When I was 7 months old, my parents moved us (me, my older brother and two older sisters) from Niagara Falls, NY, to Ajo, Arizona. My mother said she never let me out of the crib unless she had just mopped the floor, and had all the furniture out of the center of the floor. She had many stories about Ajo.

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