Everyone is familiar with the folk tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. What instantly separates them from your standard fairy tale is the cruel darkness that pervades all of the Grimm's twisted little stories - the hungry witch in Hansel and Gretel, the egomaniacal Rumpelstitskin, the conniving Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella's selfish step-mother and step-sisters, the evil Queen so jealous of Snow White's beauty. These are are all deeply scarred individuals who are in serious need of psycho-therapy. Well, maybe not the wolf, as he is only doing what wolves naturally do. (Though his affinity for nightwear worn by grandmotherly types is rather suspicious.) But in each of the over 200 published Brothers Grimm tales, there is always someone who is rather sadistic in nature. And while these villains usually get their comeuppance, one must question the intent of the famous brothers for having put such hideous behavior into what are, after all, children's stories.
So a couple of weeks ago, Halloween night to be exact, Cathy sends me up to the attic to search for some yarn that she says is stored in an old cedar chest. She claims that the yarn and the chest belonged to her grandmother, a rather eccentric German-born lady whom I had the pleasure of knowing for a few years before she passed away. "It is time to sell all that ancient yarn," Cathy declared. "Maybe we can get a dollar a ball." So candle in hand, I went up to the attic and proceeded to search for the old, dilapidated chest. Imagine my surprise when after finding it and after emptying it of its woolly contents, I found a secret compartment in one of the side panels. It didn't take long to figure out how to open it. And what did I find? A few sheets of paper, browned with age. They were handwritten in German and had the following intriguing title on the first page - Ungeschickt Clara und die Magischen Stricknadeln. My German is limited to the following words: Kartoffelsalat (Potato salad) and Gesundheit (Gesundheit), so, of course, I had no idea what the title or the content of the few pages were about. But I did recognize the signatures at the bottom of the last page. Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm. "Gott im Himmel!" I exclaimed. The very next day I took it to my good friend, Hans Hotterdenhell, the best knackwurst maker in the greater Chicagoland area. He quickly translated the pages. My next step is to have the papers authenticated to see if this truly is a lost Brothers Grimm tale. I will have to travel to Germany. In the meantime, I'd like my faithful blog followers to be among the first to read this very interesting folk tale. So I now present to you the English translation of:
CLUMSY CLARA AND THE MAGIC KNITTING NEEDLES
In a small village, close to what is now called Dusseldorf, there lived a teenaged girl named Clara. She lived with her mother, a very disciplined woman who was acknowledged by all her neighbors as being the best knitter in the village, if not the whole kingdom. All the townspeople proudly wore sweaters and hats and scarves and mittens that had been knitted for them by Clara's mother. There came a time when it was decided that Clara would have to learn how to knit. A most severe form of arthritis had struck Clara's mother, rendering her hands practically useless. Alas, Clara was most inept when it came to knitting. She was quite good at milking cows but totally useless when it came to any kind of handiwork. Try as she might, Clara could not pick up the essential elements of that most glorious of crafts. She would be instructed to cast on 24 stitches and ended up with 87 crooked little knots on her knitting needle. Then, she could not grasp the difference between a knit stitch and a purl stitch. Two simple rows of 2 by 2 ribbing turned into an adventure in advanced mathematics. Clara's mother tried desperately to fulfill her orders for new knitwear but her arthritic pain was too great. "Worthless child!" she screamed at Clara. "We will starve to death unless you pay attention and learn these simple steps."
Little by little, the orders for knitwear began to dwindle. Clara and her mother lived on nothing but the milk provided by the solitary cow they owned. Soon, Clara's mother went into a deep funk, the type of depression that left her unable to get out of bed in the morning. Twice a day, at the time for milking, Clara would confide in her cow. "Oh Snooki (she was a purebred Jersey cow), what am I going to do? Mother cannot make any money due to her crippling arthritis and I am as clumsy as can be when it comes to knitting. A total klutz."
Snooki the Cow responded with nothing but an empathetic, "Moo". A donkey, the only other animal in the barn, let out a comical, "Hee-Haw!" as if laughing at Clara's dilemma
And then one day, the King's Herald came to town. He was going from village to village announcing the marriage of the King's only daughter. A major award would be given to the person who made the princess the most beautiful gown. When questioned as to what the major award consisted of, the Herald merely smiled and said, "A major award. That is all I will say."
Clara cried all day, even when she milked Snooki the cow. During the late afternoon milking, the cow asked, "Why do you weep, Clara?"
Clara wiped her eyes and replied. "Oh Snooki, there is a royal contest that I know my mother would win, but alas, she is unable to --- But what is this? Snooki! You can speak?
"I am a Jersey cow blessed with many gifts, Clara. But please. Continue your story." Though totally dumbfounded, Clara explained the whole situation to Snooki the Cow. "Arthritis," said Snooki. "A most debilitating and unforgiving disease. But Clara, perhaps you are not as clumsy as you think you are."
"Hee-Haw," brayed the donkey in obvious contradiction.
"Quiet, you!" snapped Snooki at her rude barnmate.
"Oh, but I am clumsy," said Clara. I cannot cast on properly. I cannot differentiate a knit stitch from a purl. When I attempt yarnovers, the yarn slips off the needle entirely. My cables turn out looking like the hair on Medusa's head. I am nothing short of a disaster whenever I have knitting needles in my hands." The donkey hee-hawed numerous times, as if agreeing with Clara's self-evaluation.
"Perhaps you are using the wrong needles." suggested Snooki.
No, no, no," replied Clara. "The needles are not the problem. The problem is me. Mother is right. I am stupid. I am incompetent. I am useless ... except when it comes to milking a cow. And I am clumsy. That is who I am and who I shall forever be. Clumsy Clara." Another derisive Hee-Haw from the donkey.
"Clara," said Snooki. Tomorrow, when you wake up, just before coming to milk me, I'd like you to look under your pillow."
The next morning, after having barely slept a wink, Clara awoke with a start. She lifted her pillow and was shocked to see a complete set of knitting needles from a size 0 to a size 35. There was even the always bizarre size 10.5. Clara ran to her mother's room. "Mother, Mother! Look!
Her catatonic mother looked absent-mindedly at the set of needles. "Ivory," she mumbled. "Quite rare. Even has that goofy 10.5. Hmm. Clara, fetch some yarn." Clara quickly brought her mother a basket overflowing with yarns of varying types and colors. "Clara, take the red silk yarn and the size 5 needles. Cast on 28 stitches." In less than a minute, Clara had cast on 28 very, very even stitches. "Very good, Clara. Now knit one row and then purl one row." Again, Clara had no difficulty whatsoever with her mother's instructions. The black cloud that had been hovering over Clara's mother's head, ever so slowly began to vanish. "Excellent," commented Clara's mother as she inspected her daughter's work. "Not too tight, not too lose. Now increase the next row to 35 stitches."
Clara did some quick calculations in her head and said to her mother, "I will add a stitch after each set of four stitches. Do you prefer a yarnover or should I knit an extra stitch in the back of every fourth stitch?"
Clara's mother beamed. You choose, dear."
It should surprise no one that Clara went on to knit a most elegant multi-colored silk gown for the Princess. She was the clear winner of the contest. Her major award consisted of nothing less than being asked to marry the Princess's younger brother, Prince Fritz. At their wedding, they feasted on roast donkey, the very same donkey that had so unwisely ridiculed Clumsy Clara. After the wedding, Clara, her mother and Snooki the Cow moved into the King's castle where they lived happily ever after.