Willie Nod the Older and the Ugly Duck(ling)

This one also hit me in the night. But i slept through, waking early in the morning and remembering. So i sat down to simply record the main thoughts. But it wouldn’t let go and i kept writing until just a few minutes ago. i hope you like it. Apologies to Hans Christian Anderson.

Once upon a time in a land and time far, far away, there was an old man who had left Newport, Rhode Island long ago and returned to a different place in an even earlier time.

Willie Nod, the older had been ostracized by everyone, family, friends, and the citizens of his borough. He also had lost his ability to talk to the animals as he aged.  There was one exception to people not liking him.

No one liked old Willie Nod except his beautiful, blonde, young granddaughter who was ten-years old.

Once a week, the little girl, her name was “Lil” for Lily, not “little,” would come over to old Willie Nod’s cabin in the woods, and they would go deeper into the woods and walk around the small pond, a pool from a creek that flowed throughout the year with a small bridge the old man had built over the shallow end of the stream.

Much earlier in this different life, old Willie Nod was quite wealthy with a huge house in a grove of trees with a beautiful garden of vegetables and flowers all maintained by his gardener who also was a close friend who had been the gunner on the barque when old Willie Nod was the second mate. In a sea battle with a pirate ship, the gunner, named Griswold, saved the old man’s life when a pirate was about to decapitate him from behind with a cutlass.

When old Willie Nod left the Navy, he started a business selling goods from ships returning from the Far East to the citizens of the small seaport village on the East Coast. His business flourished and expanded to cities all along the coasts of the country. He became fabulously wealthy and built his mansion with the garden for his wife who bore him a son named Leopold Nod, but she died during the birth of their only child.

The old man returned to the coast, found the barque and found the gunner who had saved his life. Old Willie Nod built the cabin in the woods for Griswold and hired him to be his gardener. Griswold met a lass who was the bartender and waitress in a nearby tavern. They married and lived in the cabin.

Old Willie Nod’s son left soon after becoming of age. Leopold hated his father, blaming him for the death of his mother and vowed to never talk to him again.

Then, Griswold’s wife caught a fever working at the tavern. Griswold cared for her for a month in the cabin before she died. Griswold died within the month. It was never known for sure if he had contracted the disease that killed his wife or if he died of a broken heart.

Old Willie Nod buried Griswold outside the cabin next to the gardener’s wife and moved into the couple’s cabin. He gave his mansion and all of his wealth, except for a small stipend for himself to live on, to his son. But Leopold continued to disavow any connection to the old man and continued to refuse to talk to his father even though they only lived within walking distance of each other.

The townsfolk did not like old Willie Nod. They thought they should have received some of the wealth, blamed him for the death of Griswold and his wife, and believed Leopold was right in blaming the old man for his mother’s death. So old Willie Nod lived pretty much all by himself, going into the town to buy provisions once a month and returning to his cabin in the woods.

Lil, his granddaughter, asked about her grandparents. Leopold’s wife told her the story. Curious, the young girl saw old Willie Nod when he was in town for provisions and followed him when he walked back to his cabin. Old Willie Nod was, of course, delighted when the girl explained to him she was his granddaughter. Thus, she began coming every week, occasionally more often, but her father Leopold thought she was going to see a friend, not his father.

At first, old Willie Nod and his granddaughter would walk to the pond and around it. As they walked, the old man would tell Lil about her grandmother and how beautiful and caring she was. Then he told her about his life and the places he had been and stories about the many people he had met.

After one walk, he brought her into his cabin and gave her a cookie. She saw the many books stacked and piled into every corner and the shelves lining every wall. The old man had saved all of his books when he moved to the cabin and continued to read in all of his spare time of which he had a lot, both spare time and books. When Lil remarked about the books, the old man then began to read books with her. After that, their walks around the pond were spent talking about what they read.

On one walk, there were two swans with six cygnets swimming in the pond, but the last cygnet was different, awkward and with a different color.

“What an ugly duckling,” Lil said when she saw the swans.

“You just wait and see. They all, including the one who does not look like the others, will become beautiful swans like the cob and the pen,” old Willie Nod said, explaining the birds were not ducks, but swans. When she returned the next week, they read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling” together.

Throughout the summer and autumn, old Willie Nod and little girl would spend their time together reading and, when the weather allowed, walking to the pond where the swans and their cygnets continued to swim until early November when the birds flew south.

One day after spring came the next year, the two were walking around the pond. As they reached the bridge, seven beautiful swans swept down from the sky and landed in the pond whooping, seemingly happy to be back. The old man and the young girl laughed with each other as they counted the swans. Their count revealed one was missing. About the time they realized there were only seven, they heard a harsh quacking overhead. Suddenly, there was a swoosh and a duck, brown and not very pretty compared to the seven swans, splashed awkwardly onto the pond.

Old Willie Nod and the young girl continued their walks visiting the seven swans and one duck on the pond. The duck became their favorite. Often she would swim to the shore, waddle up to them, and quack loudly making them laugh. They began to bring her bread crumbs. She would eat most of the crumbs before the swans would rush to her, push her away, and eat the remaining crumbs. The duck would quack angrily from a distance but always got more than the swans, which made old Willie Nod and his granddaughter laugh with each other.

You see, an ugly duckling grows up to be an ugly duck, but sometimes that is an advantage.



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