The 21st night of September?
Because I sure do. Today marks the two-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing.
Instead of talking about her death and the feelings that have lingered in the two years since she’s been gone, I would like to celebrate her life. Below is the last Christmas present I ever gave my grandmother, a fairy tale and one step towards immortality.
My Nonie will linger on, so long as there is air left in my lungs and love left in this world.
Enjoy, Onward and Upward: A Fairy Tale
Onward and Upward: A Fairy Tale
In this fairy tale, the little princess never wore dresses of tulle and lace. Her hair never looked like spun gold, nor was it pristinely curled into soft ringlets. The little princess did not get dressed every morning with the help of tiny blue birds and field mice did not assist her with her chores. She did not grow up in a castle, nor was she locked in a tower by an evil stepmother.
Why, the little princess didn’t even act like a princess at all!
The princess grew up just as every child should. She rode her hand-me-down bike from dawn until dusk and developed tan lines from the one-piece Speedo she wore by the village swimming hole. She collected bruises on her legs and arms from climbing trees and tumbling down green hills. The princess spent her time fearlessly playing in the creek that wound itself through the enchanted forest and lit up at every challenge tossed at her by the local boys. Her hair was a dusty, knotted blonde that accumulated snowflakes in the winter and got tangled amongst the burrs during the humid, summer months.
The little princess was a wild, carefree spirit, untainted by anger or hatred.
Until one day, an unseen hand cast a spell that affected the mind of the little princess. Suddenly, the princess became aware of the blue-black marks on her knees that resulted from a lighthearted game. She fretfully ran un-manicured fingers through her tangled mane and realized she looked wrong.
I’m ugly, the princess thought. I’m ugly and a tomboy. I’m not a princess at all!
The princess, distraught over her realization, ran away from her home in the country. She ran through the woods, across the babbling brook, and over a mountain until she arrived at the doorstep of her grandmother, the queen. She rushed into the royal kitchen and flew past the servants into the royal sitting room where her grandmother perched upon her plush, pink throne.
“Grandmother! Grandmother!” cried the little princess. “I’m not a princess at all!”
The queen, a gentle and kind woman, placed her royal scepter down and, patting her legs, smiled at the child. The little princess, tangled and wild, clambered onto her grandmother’s warm lap and looked into her familiar face.
“Now, my child,” replied the queen, in a liquid honey voice. “Why would you think such a thing?”
“Because,” stated the girl. “I have bruises on my knees and twigs in my hair. I don’t wear pretty dresses like the village girls. My shoes never stay white and my face never stays clean. I’m not a little princess at all.”
The queen chuckled and brushed a sun-streaked strand of hair off of her grandchild’s face. She leaned down and kissed one grimy, plump cheek.
“Do you want to be a princess?” asked the queen.
“Of course, I do!”
“Then a princess you will be. You can be anything you set your mind to, my dear.”
“But, I play outside and get dirty and fall down,” whined the girl. “No other princesses do that!”
The queen, wrapping her arms around the princess, replied, “Just because you play in the woods does not mean you are not a princess.”
“It doesn’t?” asked the girl.
“Of course not.” The queen explained, “It just means that you’re having a bit of fun. It’s okay to have fun. Just be yourself and you will be the sort of princess who will make a great queen.”
“Me? A queen?”
“One day,” the queen whispered, as she brushed her lips across the young girl’s forehead. “You will be the best queen that ever ruled the land. Just be yourself, have a bit of fun, and don’t worry about anyone else. Onward and upward!”
“Onward and upward,” repeated the little princess, as she slipped off her grandmother’s lap and left the castle.
Years passed and the little princess grew to fill the awkward frame of a teenaged girl. She stopped riding her bicycle and replaced her one-piece bathing suit with a more daring, two-piece bikini. Her crooked and gapped teeth were painfully altered, her face scrubbed and painted until it shone, and her wild and carefree ways restricted by rules set in place by her tutors and peers. She began to wear frilly dresses in order to match the other girls and spent an hour each morning setting her hair into fine curls.
Finally, the young princess thought. Finally, I fit in and I look just like all the other girls!
However, the spell that was cast only a few years before was powerful and soon the young princess began to hear of the rumors that were being spread about her. She would walk into a room filled with other girls and the room would go silent, as if they were talking about her. The boys she used to play with in the muddy creek bed no longer paid her any attention. Instead, they talked about the prettier girls whose smiles were whiter, hair was blonder, and cheeks were rosier than the young princess. The things that the young princess liked were called unfavorable and were made fun of in front of other people.
I’m not popular, thought the young princess. Everyone hates me! I’m not a princess at all!
Again, the young princess ran away from her country home, over the mountain pass and through the woods to her grandmother, the queen.
“Grandmother! Grandmother!” cried the young princess, as she entered the queen’s sitting room.
The queen, slightly older, looked up from her pile of work at her grandchild.
“What is it, my dear?” asked the queen, as she placed the royal documents into the hand of her steward.
The young princess, now too big to fit on her grandmother’s lap, kneeled at the queen’s feet at the base of her throne.
“I tried so hard to be like everyone else, Grandmother,” explained the girl. “I had dresses made to match the other girls in town. I stopped going outside and playing rough games. I did everything I was supposed to do and still they make fun of me!”
The queen patiently smiled and ran her careworn fingers through the young princess’s hair as she listened.
“I tried so hard to keep my shoes white and my face clean,” continued the girl, “but they still make fun of me! I even spend an hour each morning curling my hair, but it goes straight by noon. No one likes me. They talk about everything I do or say. I’m not a princess at all!”
“Do you want to be a princess?” asked the queen again.
“Of course, I do,” was her reply. “But –”
“Then a princess you will be. You can be anything you set your mind to, my dear.”
“But how do I get everyone to stop making fun of me?” the princess asked.
“You don’t,” replied the queen. “You simply have to be yourself and do what makes you happy.”
“But I tried that! And everyone still talks about me behind my back!”
“No,” the queen replied softly. “You tried to be like everyone else. You weren’t yourself at all.”
The princess thought about this as her grandmother wove her fingers in her previously curled hair.
“Now, tell me something, young one. If you were taking a test would you copy the answers off of the person next to you?”
“Of course not,” replied the princess. “That would be cheating.”
“Exactly,” said the queen. “So, why would you want to copy what other people are doing or saying or wearing? Sure, if you wear the same clothes as they do or style your hair the same way, it may make you feel happy for a while, but it will never make you as happy as being yourself. The world is big. Explore it. Happiness is deep. Dive into it. People are faulted. Love them anyway. You were born a special child. Embrace it. Only then will you be a true, beautiful princess and, one day, an honest, beautiful queen.”
And with that, the queen lifted a golden mirror from the table and handed it to the young princess, who looked into the reflective glass. In its reflection, the young princess saw the face of a stunning, young woman, with sun-kissed hair woven into a flowing, loose braid.
The queen stood from her throne and, from the bouquet of white roses on her table, plucked a bloom from the bunch and tucked it behind the ear of the young princess.
“Onward and upward,” murmured the queen, as she kissed the top of the young princess’s head.
“Onward and upward,” repeated the young princess, as she looked at the image and saw what her grandmother saw: the potential for something magnificent.
Time passed, as it usually does, painfully slow and then all at once. The princess soon filled the body of a woman. She read stories and studied philosophies from wise men all across the globe. She traversed mountain passes and canyons, lakes and rivers, as she explored the world and its people. She found beauty in the valleys of the countryside and in the iron kingdoms of cities, and, all the while, the princess spread her love and warmth to the living creatures she met, whether they walked on two legs or four.
Of course, the magic that was cast so many years ago would creep into the princess’s life, casting a long shadow of doubt over her joy and happiness. It worked like a tidal wave of ill will, crashing along the fragile, but resilient shores of the princess’s mind, threatening to wash her out to a sea of regret and fear.
When she felt herself being dragged by the undercurrent of this powerful magic, the princess would look into the golden mirror her grandmother, the queen, lent her and she would see the young princess she once was, golden hair woven into a braid, a white rose behind her ear. In her mind, she could hear her grandmother’s slogan, “Onward and upward,” and could feel the warmth of her grandmother’s kiss, and with that, the spell would be broken.
Back at the castle, the queen was suffering the ramifications of another type of magic: Time. Her children had all grown and were ruling their respective territories, her husband, the king, had passed away, and ache and weariness had entered her body. Wrinkles found a permanent home on her face, which was once smooth and dewy, and her hands, once nimble and strong, became bent and weak. The queen was still powerful and quick-witted, but she tired more easily and rested more often.
During one such rest, the queen awoke to the feel of lips against her forehead. Without opening her eyes, she reached her hand out to clasp the strong, sturdy hand of her grandchild.
“And how do you find the world?” the queen asked with a steady, but drowsy voice.
“Just as you said, Grandmother,” the princess replied. “It is full of wonderful things. There are animals that run faster than a machine and fly higher than the clouds. There are trees that are wider than houses and rivers that have no bottom. There are buildings full of gold and white marble and sacred spaces built right into the sides of cliffs.”
“And what of the people?” the queen asked.
“The people,” the princess explained, “are the most amazing part. The people are fascinating creatures. When they are presented with a problem, they fix it; there is no challenge they will not accept. The people do incredible things every day. They are constantly growing and adapting to whatever life throws at them.”
The queen watched the illuminated face of her grandchild and smiled, nodding in agreement.
“And,” continued the woman. “Do you know the best part? Grandmother, they love deeper than the deepest ocean. They love, despite evil. They love, despite pain. They love, despite themselves. And they’ll love you, if you only you give them a bit of your time and a bit of your love in return.”
“And what of yourself?” asked the queen, as she reached for her spectacles.
“Myself…” the princess pondered.
“Yes,” replied the queen, as she stood with the help of a gold and ruby encrusted cane. “What happened to the little girl who was so worried about what everyone thought?”
“Well…” the princess said slowly. “She’s in there. She’s part of me, but not all of me. I feel as though I have become so much more. I guess that little girl became a princess.”
The queen, full of fire and years of wisdom, faced her granddaughter. Behind her spectacles, glistened crystalline tears.
“Because of you,” insisted the princess. She leaned forward and kissed the cheek of her grandmother. “Onward and upward,” she said.
“Onward and upward,” replied the queen.
And with that, the two women clasped hands and stood together as equals.