Once upon a time, not really very long ago, there was a little girl whose name was Grace. Actually, her name was much longer than just Grace, but all her friends mostly ignored her other names.
Grace had lots of friends, some that lived with her, and some that came to visit, and some she went to visit -- and some of her friends other people usually couldn't see (they called them "imaginary" friends, but Grace couldn't see what made them imaginary).
Grace and her friends had great times together: they played, they rolled in the floor or on the bed, they jumped together, they clapped, they laughed, and fairly often they ate together. All of these things Grace did enthusiastically with her friends -- especially eating.
Sometimes when Grace ate she was seated at a big table with all her family gathered round her and they enjoyed eating together. Other times Grace ate with only one or two friends, at the table, at the kitchen counter, or even as a wandering-around snack. But one thing about Grace and her eating that varied very little is this: she was an enthusiastic eater. In fact, often when she sat in her chair waiting to eat she would "jump for joy" as soon as she saw the food placed in front of her. Now she didn't really jump, but she was very enthusiastic, throwing back her head and letting out a cheer of approval while waving her arms high and wide into the air, much like a cheerleader at the big game.
One day Grace and her older sister were having a tea party together. Grace pretended to be a princess, and her sister played the role of the queen. Grace had invited many of her friends to have tea with her, and quite a few were now gathered with her and her sister for an elegant afternoon tea together.
The princess sat in her throne, which was round and purple -- the color of royalty, as everyone knows (not like the Old King's throne that was much bigger and square and maroon and black in color, nor like the queen's throne that was also big and square and maroon-and-silver). The queen had selected some of their finest china and the loveliest table service, and as she began to serve their tea and dainty treats the princess led her friends in a cheer of approval. Though the queen was happy to see that the fare offered to the princess met with her approval, she did remind her that a tea was usually a more formal occasion.
Now, did I mention that Grace -- excuse me, the Princess -- was an enthusiastic eater? Among the delectables included for this event was a lovely pudding, served in a beautiful small custard cup. The princess attacked this item as eagerly as she had the others, struggling to get the spoon to her mouth quickly enough. When nearly all the pudding was gone the princess, entirely forgetting that she was a princess and that her friends were all watching her, tossed the spoon aside and took up the dish directly to her mouth in an effort to more efficiently get the last bits of that delicious pudding.
Well, the next thing you know, and much to everyone's surprise, that whole dish had disappeared down the princess' throat. Suddenly all the guests disappeared, and the big sister -- queen no longer -- rushed out to find their mother. Mother arrived and found Grace still sitting in her purple chair, no longer surprised but seeming quite satisfied with herself. Now, although Mother was a very experienced mother and knew just-what-to-do for nearly every occasion that might arise, this was beyond her experience so she quickly sought a consultation with her own mother. Grace sat and watched as sister and mother and grandmother pondered what-to-do; they all seemed so serious and solemn and concerned, and maybe even frightened. Should we call the doctor? Should we take her to the hospital?
And Grace saw the Old King walk in (by now she was back at her tea party), and the Old King saw princess Grace sitting in her throne with her hands on her tummy and giggling as if she'd just played the greatest trick. As the gathered conference of mothers tried to explain to him how grave the circumstance was, the Old King pointed to the Princess and said that she did not seem to be bothered by it at all.
Princess Grace continued to pat her tummy and giggle, and then sneezed. Behold! out popped that pudding dish, sparkling and clean as if it had never been used. The princess winked at the Old King, who winked right back; and the Conference of Mothers rushed to examine the princess and the dish, and continued to excoriate the Old King for his heartless nonchalance in the face of certain disaster.
Even such an alarming event as this could not curb Grace's enthusiasm for eating. Indeed, on various occasions she repeated the trick (with even larger dishes), always patting her tummy and giggling, and always causing a Conference of Concerned Mothers until a few minutes later she produced a sparkling-clean dish with no apparent harm to dish or Grace. And then one day something new happened.
The family had gathered for a Great Meal, one of those occasions when there was much food and much fun. The food on this occasion included one of Grace's most favored items, and on this occasion it looked and smelled so much better than it ever had before. Our enthusiastic eater grabbed the platter and pulled it to her mouth! Though much of the treasured food fell off in the process, the platter and the remains of its contents disappeared quickly as Grace swallowed. The Conference of Concerned Mothers looked at one another, trying to decide how much concern was appropriate to this occasion when Grace hiccuped once, then again, then plop! she turned herself inside-out. The older sister was beginning to say "eewwww gross! Yucky" and the rest of the Conference of Concerned Mothers was fixin' to commence wailin' as if they was at a funeral.
Disgusting is not the proper word to describe Grace's inside world now visible. Generally everything was soft and pink and smooth, and the platter rested securely on top of what might be described as a workbench. The walls surrounding the bench consisted of cabinets and shelves and bins and drawers, all impeccably clean and consistently organized.
The platter was attended by a crowd of small beings who were much rounder than people generally are, each covered with short, very soft fur. Their hands were quite like my own except that the smallest two fingers of each hand might be described as being webbed (with a sturdy membrane stretched between them) and its outer edge was thin and flexible. The boys all formed a line along one side of the workbench continuing to a certain place along the wall. The girls, who could be distinguished chiefly by their slightly shorter fur and their softer voices that giggled even more readily than those of the boys, formed such a line on the other side of the workbench.
This crew was happily scouring every last morsel of food from the surfaces of the platter, with the one at the head of the line scooping up a handful and passing it to his neighbor, who then passed it in like manner all down the line until it reached the last one, who promptly stored it safely away in the appropriate compartment. Then the one at the head of the line picked up a small bite of food for himself from the platter, popped it into his mouth and enjoyed it as he turned away and scurried to the opposite end of the line. Then everyone in the line stepped closer to the platter as the first one took his place along the wall, ready to store away the next bit of food that came down the line. And of course the girls did the same thing on their side of the platter, only they seemed to be having even more fun.
Every now and again, the one who had just gotten his bite would dance or somersault his way back to the other end of the line, or just jump for joy. Now we knew why Grace patted her tummy and giggled during these events.
We scarcely had time to take all this in when suddenly Grace stretched both arms heavenward and laughed the biggest laugh we'd ever heard and with a slight whooshing sound her insides and outsides instantly returned to their normal places. A cough and a sneeze and a couple of blinks later the platter was returned to us perfectly clean and gleaming. It all happened so fast the Conference of Concerned Mothers hadn't got past their first round of gasping and gaping at one another hoping that someone knew what to do about this. And Grace, as enthusiastic as ever, began to reach for some other food that caught her interest.
Now you know why, to this very day, most everyone (except the Old King, who believes even very young princesses-in-training should have a proper, dignified name) calls her Grace-ee -- the "ee" at the end, of course, because she is an enthusiastic eater. (Though her momma and daddy will probably deny most of this and say that she is called Gracie because she is at least as cute as that name is.) And every once in a while a dish may still disappear briefly during a meal and then be found spotlessly clean soon after, but the Conference has been decommissioned and the event passes with no notice.
By James Card, February 7, 2012
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