Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No. 4 - "The White Elephant"

The most enchanting lady, "Willow", started Magpie Tales in February. Every week writers sign up and then post a poem or fictional story to go with a photograph prompt that Willow provides. Check out http://magpietales.blogspot.com/ to join in the fun! Also visit "Life at Willow Manor" http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/ -Awarded the "Blog of Note" in February 2008, with almost 250,000 visitors since!

Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No. 4:

Photograph courtesy of Willow @ http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/

Hi folks! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and following "Magpie Tales." When this week's photo came up there was no question in my mind what I would submit - but please be forewarned - it is a much longer piece than what we have been seeing on "the Mag". Thanks again for reading! Cheers!

The White Elephant

A great day was coming to the village - The White Elephant Sale - and my little child mind could not imagine what this could be! For a week, I rummaged through my toys, because Mom said I had to donate to the white elephant. “Everyone on the street is gathering items, cleaning out their barns, baking pies and cookies,” she said, arms deep in flour, wheeling the rolling pin across the flat dough on the counter. We would be contributing to the white elephant, and I had to do my part.

Well, I had no idea why a big elephant would want my old puzzles and games with missing pieces, but I was not going to argue with an elephant! Moreover, seeing such an animal was worth being good and doing what I was told to do, so I filled two boxes. A few items, however, went in and out of the toy chest several times before I could make a firm decision to let them go. Mom then gave me a big bag and asked that I pick out clothes from the bureau, things that are too small, and I managed to fill that too. Still, it was beyond me why a white elephant would want any of this stuff.

The morning finally arrived; up the street we went, holding mom’s hand and carefully clutching a basket in the other. Underneath the cloth were hot sticky buns, dripping with confectioner’s sugar frosting. Mom carried a much larger basket with thick green glass jars of homemade tapioca loaded with plump raisins, and dozens of Snicker doodles; she made the very best.

Approaching the churchyard, the strangest sound came echoing over the hill. Mom told me it was the organ grinder. "What?" I had visions of the beautiful organ at the church cut up and turned into piles of sawdust. Then I saw him, decked out in an array of colorful clothing, carrying a big piano on his even bigger belly. A thick leather strap around his neck, and one hand on the side of the box, helped to balance the barrel organ. The other hand turned a crank to make the music come out, and what a noise. I did not think it was music at all; nothing like the records Mom played every afternoon while ironing. A tiny white-headed monkey on a long leash was hopping all around him, tin cup in hand. The organ grinder started up a lively, screeching tune, went tottering down the hill toward the village green, the monkey sitting on his head.

Mom would scold and say, “come along, pay attention to your basket, please, watch your step,” but there was so much activity, so much to see. In a fenced-off area near the parking lot, ten white ponies with flower wreaths over their braided manes were high stepping and dancing about, showing off. As I got closer, I could hear their funny little whinnies and I wanted to dash over to pet them all. “You will see them later for the circus performance,” mom said, and I figured that is when I would see the white elephant. I skipped ahead of her, anxious to get to the show; she promptly called me back to her side.

All of a sudden, a massive black horse came roaring up out of no where, the rider dressed in every color in my crayon box, with a floppy hat on his head that had bells hanging from the tips. There were bells and shiny chains all over his clothing too, and he jingled as he reined in the snorting, stomping horse and hopped off. “What is he supposed to be,” I asked mom, and she whispered, “He is a jester, or court fool, who will entertain the crowds this afternoon.” Before I knew what was happening, I was lifted off my feet by the jester-fool-man, and plopped in the saddle, where I proceeded to grab handfuls of hair in my chubby little fingers. Holding on to that mane with all my might, I screamed at the top of my lungs, begging to get down. Back on solid ground, I ran immediately to hide behind my mother, scowling at them both as they tried to soothe me while stifling their laughter. Jester-fool-man produced a big swirled lollipop from a satin bag hanging at his waist, and handing it to me said, “I am very sorry I scared you little Princess.” Ignoring him, I brushed itchy course hair from my hands, upset to see long black strands stuck on my new white cotton dress. Mom helped, and we got it all off, then she gave me a cookie from her basket. “Thanks,” I muttered, not wanting to let go of my anger, thinking to myself, did I ask for a ride on that horse? Did anyone ask if I wanted to be ten feet off the ground!

Gathering my basket, and my wits, we set off to the grange hall to deliver our food. Once inside, I quickly forgot about the horse incident, as I gazed at long tables with row upon row of pies, warm and wafting scents across the room. There were towers of fudge, cut in tiny squares resting on glass plates, and mountains of cookies that resembled a mini forest. Our big pottery platter held the sugary pile of snicker doodles, that I stacked, and when I placed them in the middle of those dark mounds on the table, they looked like snowcapped hills. I lined up the jars of tapioca too; they sparkled like emeralds under the round hanging lights of the high ceiling hall.

We headed to the kitchen to speak with our neighbor who was handling all the iron cauldrons of hot cider, rapidly bubbling on the giant cook stove. Another stove held large speckled tin coffee pots, perking away, and an old black kettle of boiling water. Mom held me tightly by the hand, as I looked at all the simmering pots that seemed about ready to blow their lids; I did not want to be around for that mess. Tugging on her arm, and interrupting her, she finally agreed to let me go out the side door and wait there while she helped Mrs. Sansel get it together in the kitchen.

I crept along the side of the building to the front where I would be able to see the whole village green, keeping an eye out for my mother in case she popped her head out the door to check on me. The organ grinder person was in the middle of a ring with the white ponies, and costumed people were standing on the horse’s backs as they pranced around. It was fantastic! I ran back to tell mom we just had to go now, the show was starting! Then the church bells began to ring, and everyone walked together across the road to take seats on long wooden benches. Soon I heard someone announcing that the white elephant was beginning; it was that jester-fool-man on his black horse, jangling his way down the street, a large megaphone in his hand. “The white elephant has begun, come to the white elephant,” he boomed. I quickly grabbed for mom’s hand, expecting for sure that the giant beast would be lumbering down the road any minute. Instead, many people started moving toward the roped off area behind the old factory. The men were anxious to place bids for the tools and tractor parts on display; the women longing to finger the bolts of fabric and sample the bottles of perfume or try on the latest fashion hats that the traveling salesmen offered from their wagons.

At the ring, I was almost close enough to touch those pretty ponies and could see the costumes of the women riding atop them. The outfits were beautiful; glitter galore flashing brightly under the noon sun. Men joined the women, wearing matching sparkly shirts with white stretchy pants. They began doing flips in mid-air, landing precisely on the saddle each time. I held my breath as they twirled and spun around, afraid they would miss the horse and fall right off, but no one did.

The organ grinder was coming around the outside of the ring now with his monkey jumping on the spectators, pulling at their pockets. Everyone began to plunk coins into the monkey’s tin cup that he would thrust right under their noses. Mom tucked a few coins into my hand, and said it was to pay the grinder man for his music. I did not like his music and told her so. Her terse response was, “one must always appreciate another’s musical talents, even if you do not like it, and never say that to someone, it would be criticizing their personal taste.” "What?" I would have to contemplate that bit of wisdom later. I did think the little monkey was cute, and probably had to do most of the work, so when it was my turn I would give him the money. The monkey’s name was on his tiny hat - Joseph - and he jumped right on my head and began petting my long curly hair. Adorable, I just loved him, pulled him to my lap, and filled his cup with coins. Joseph pulled one coin out and gave it back to me, and the red-cheeked grinder man chuckled, “now how about that, he wants to reward you for being so nice. We thank ye kind lassie!”

Mom stood up chatting with a group of her friends, who had their small children in tow, many of them my playmates; we tried to dash after the grinder man and his monkey, but it was time to go to the Punch and Judy show. The older kids knew just what this was going to be, and took off for the painted wooden box stall over by the pond. As we settled on the grass, a puppet head appeared from inside the box. It looked like a mini version of the jester-fool-man except for an ugly hooked nose that almost reached his big jutting chin. In his stump of a hand, he carried a big stick almost as large as himself, which he immediately started using on the next puppet that popped up from under the box. I understood his name, it made sense now; he was Punch. As they bounced and turned on the little stage, I could see that Punch had a hunchback, and really was not very nice to the girl puppet, who I assumed was Judy. The voice coming out of him was a squawking sound, mingled with a gleeful cackle every time he hit Judy with his stick. Everyone was laughing - I did not think it was very funny – especially when a third puppet, a tiny baby, poked its head up from under the stage. How could Judy be happy if she was clubbed in the head whenever she spoke to Punch? And she kept dropping the baby while struggling with the stick; it all seemed rather violent if you asked me. The poor little baby would emit a sick mewing sound, which sent Punch into more cackling laughter and Judy screaming.

I lost interest when I spotted my Dad striding across the upper edge of the green, arms loaded with boxes and machine parts. Mom said I could go with him if I wanted as this was the last show of the day and she had to help with cleanup at the hall. Off I went trying to keep up with the long legs of my father as we headed for home, a barrage of questions and stories pouring out of me. He never said much, but once we got to his workroom, he called me over to see what he was lifting out of a bag. “Look what I bought for your mom - her birthday you know - end of this month.” He held out a chunk of rock in a deep mauve, swirled with milky whiteness, foggy and rosy at the same time. Dad called it crystalline quartz, said it was rare. Shining his flashlight for a better look, the rock refracted the beam and twinkled in my eyes. He would carve it into an animal figurine using all his fine chisels and sculpting tools. First, he wanted me to take my time, and think about what animal was mom’s favorite, then let him know. I only needed a few seconds to picture a beautiful deer, the white-tailed doe with soft brown eyes, and told him. He nodded and smiled; I smiled too, because I knew that in a few weeks his gift would make Mom very happy.

Overall it had been an exciting day, a few moments a little too exciting, but an adventure to tell about just the same. I was full of cotton candy and soda pop, had sampled several pies, as well as many cookies, and could not even think of finishing dinner that night. Drying off after a hot bath and pulling a blue nightgown over my head, Mom said, “scoot along to bed now, I’ll come tuck you in shortly.” There were visions of dancing horses and sequined costumes, little Joseph and his coin cup, running through my mind as I climbed the footstool to get onto my big brass bed. Mom tucked me in tight and we kissed goodnight as I had a last thought before drifting off to sleep - I never did see the white elephant!

©Janice Stiles-Boults


  1. A marvelous tale! "...rider dressed in every color in my crayon box" reached out and grabbed me! Love that line. LOVE it.

  2. A fantastic day, white elephant or not!

  3. A great story; I was fully engaged. JT

  4. what an amazing story...i was right there in it, my heart light with wonder. great magpie!

  5. A fun story....like one of those busy busy dreams we had as children, and then telling everyone all the wonderful details after waking...then wanting to go back to sleep and finish the dream!

  6. ooops i got posted before i was done typing :)

    i feel like R Baker...said above...a bit of a wizard of oz dream feeling...where you MUST tell...you simply must...

    and you yearn, ever so...to bury deep into those pillows to try to grab the glimpse of the white elephant!

  7. A tale full of color and life! (Loved the organ grinder confusion!)

  8. Terrific..right into a child's point of view..clever..amazing!!

  9. reminiscences of my childhood came tugging at the recesses of my mind -- as I walked along with the mother and the little girl,
    Children are so honest, and see life so much plainer then adults,, "white elephants" indeed..

    I can see illustrations being made to go along with this wonderful story, make sure you copy write this .. it is an enchanting story line
    email not sure how to do it without it being public except to put it on my blog as click here (email)?

  10. I always wondered what a white elephant sale was too! But I found out in my forties!

  11. I love how you wove the tale around a white elephant sale! Over years I have wondered about that term too. But in your great sotry we even have a white headed monkey! Great writing.

  12. Thanks everyone for your comments. The White Elephant sales still continue in my neck of the woods (rural Western Massachusetts) and in many parts of New England. Today, however, they may be called Church Bazaars, or Town Fairs, Auxillary Bake Sales, etc.; or an even more modern take on these sales are the Farmer's Markets. On occassion I still see an old board advertising a White Elephant Sale. I attended these types of events throughout my childhood, not quite as elaborate as my story here, which might just be more like a Renaissance Fair. Thanks again - Cheers! & Happy Writing!

  13. sounds like it was a wonderful day, the type any child would love to experience.

    beautiful writing,
    warm smiles,

  14. I would love a good old White Elephant sale to go to this weekend. Memories of the sales of your childhood sound delightful.

  15. I enjoyed seeing through the child's eyes--the sweetness and innocence mingled with excitement of the day's events--great story and post!

  16. Your work is bold your spirit is awesome, and you are courageous and free -- come visit me…


  17. thank you for your comment on my post. i'm glad you enjoyed it and it appeared to be real-to=life.

    warm smiles,

  18. Fabulous story - actually brought back some child-hood memories!

  19. The White Elephant Fairs! A rich part of American history, with ten white ponies, snicker doodles, and apple cider. Thank-you for taking me on this pleasant journey today. Embellished with the many real and imagined events in this little girl's wonderfully magical world.