I remember reading, when I was very young, folktales about animals speaking at midnight on Christmas Eve. As a little girl, I’d wondered about that – about animals who normally sleep at night, staying awake to speak in English. For the sort of practical and literal-minded child that I was, it didn’t make sense. Certainly, it sounded wonderful for any human who happened to be in the barn at that moment, but who would? Besides, didn’t the animals already speak to each other in their own ways, in their own animal languages? Why speak human? Even when I was as young as five I didn’t think that animals had to speak in English in order to communicate. However, despite my puzzlement and skepticism, the thought of a cozy barnful of talking animals has stayed with me. I don’t remember any of the specific stories from my childhood, and so I’ve written one of my own that takes place on the winter solstice. Since today is the solstice (and a particularly dreary, dark and rainy one at that) I thought I’d share it here. It’s meant to be a picture book, but as I’m not an illustrator, you’ll have to use your imaginations. (The vintage cat drawing below is how I picture TomTom in the story to look.)
Happy Solstice, everyone!
The Animals Talk: A Solstice Tale
by Terry Golson
Hannah Rose looks out of the kitchen window into the dark night.
What are the animals doing now Papa? asks Hannah Rose.
They are going to sleep, says Papa. Like you.
But that’s not what Grandma told me, says Hannah Rose. She said that tonight is special.
Yes, yes, says Papa impatiently. It’s the solstice, the longest night of the year. All the more reason for you to get to bed!
But, Papa, Grandma said that the animals will talk tonight, insists Hannah Rose.
Hmph! Old folk tales, says Papa. Off to bed with you!
Hannah Rose tries to sleep, but the stars shine brightly through her window. They make a sparkly path to the barn. She wraps her quilt around her and puts her feet into her slippers.
Hannah Rose tiptoes to the barn, slides the heavy door open a crack and steps inside.
Hannah Rose is here! says Buffy, the brown hen.
You do talk! says Hannah Rose.
Hah, she never stops! says Daisy, the goat.
Would you be so kind as to give us some corn? asks Ginger, the spotted hen, as she hops down off of the roost.
A tiny voice squeaks, Drop a little extra for me, please.
I would like some hay, says Daisy.
Tomtom the cat rubs against Hannah Rose’s legs. A scratch behind my ears would be nice, he says.
Brownie, the old mare shakes her head. Staying up late has made me hungry. A handful of oats in my bucket will do.
Hannah gets the corn for the chickens, the hay for the goat, scratches the cat and feeds the horse.
Thank you, say the hens.
Thank you, says the mouse.
Delicious, says the goat, talking with her mouth full.
Ah, that feels good, says TomTom.
Thank you, says Brownie. I do like a midnight solstice snack. The horse sighs and lies down in the deep straw of her stall.
Hannah Rose yawns and shivers in the cold.
Warm up next to me, says Brownie.
Hannah Rose curls up next to the horse, pulling her quilt over her. She soon falls fast asleep.
The barn door opens and sunshine startles Hannah Rose awake.
Hannah Rose, says Papa, what are you doing here?
I heard the animals talk! she says, rubbing her eyes.
Really, and what did they say? asks Papa.
They wanted corn and oats and hay. Tomtom wanted a scratch and even the mouse asked for food, says Hannah Rose.
Hmmph, says Papa. That’s what they always want. I don’t need to stay up in the dark and cold to hear that.
But they also said thank-you! says Hannah Rose.
Of course they did, says Papa. They always do. Each animal says thank you in its own way. Tomtom purrs when he’s happy. And haven’t you heard Brownie do that low nicker when she gets her food? Why, all of the animals thank us.
Time to get you some breakfast, says Papa. He picks up Hannah Rose and swings her onto his shoulders.
As she leaves the barn she hears TomTom purring, Brownie nicker and the chickens cluck. She waves good-bye, and as she turns to the house she hears the tiny squeak of a tiny mouse.
You’re welcome, whispers Hannah Rose.