a tale of envy, guilt, greed and
As Crosby, Stills and Nash sang : 'Teach your children Well'
by David Payne
In the North of the Black Forest an aged man was living in a cabin with
his two infant children: a boy and a girl, whose mother had died shortly
after their births. The old man mourned for his wife deeply and sadly
waited out most nights on his porch where he whittled and smoked - his
son and daughter inside.
He avoided his children almost completely because of the pain it caused
to see their innocent eyes look at him as their mother's once had. He
also refused to teach them, for he had had a tired and melancholy life,
and decided that educating them to his ways would only ensure that they
too live out unhappy lives.
At the bend of the first winter since his wife's death, a heavy snow fell,
forcing the old man to remain indoors and keep the windows shuttered.
At this time he had grown somewhat accustomed to his loneliness and wife's
passing, and decided it was necessary to resume his life and keep company
with his children. After winter went, after the man had whittled many
a block, and smoked many a pipe, on a whim, and for no thought out reason,
he picked up his daughter for the first time. He laid her in his lap where
she wiggled and looked about the room, then he grew a little uncomfortable
and placed her back in the cradle. She then cried a little, which made
him think that perhaps she wanted something - perhaps she was less than
content to just remain lying there as she had for her entire life, wiggling
and looking about. This thought soon passed but the man came back to it
a day later when his baby boy began to whimper.
'I know that these children could never want a life like I have had,'
the man thought to himself, 'but maybe they would like to chance to grow
up and have experiences of some kind or another.' After pondering this
for many days, the old man decided to teach the children a lesson; and
so he taught them envy.
He welled up all of the jealousy he felt for the world, and demonstrated
this emotion to his children. And the next day they acknowledged him when
he was eating a bowl of milk and barley. He had barely finished half of
it before the children crawled upon him and seized the bowl. This success
entertained the father and he delighted in watching the children overtake
his dinner with such avarice. But something disturbed him about the way
the brother and sister would just lie there motionless after devouring
their father's food. Once the dregs of the bowl had been licked, the babies
would flop to their backs and look about the room silently. This especially
annoyed the father so he made sure to eat a dozen times a day to keep
the children active.
A rather warm day, the following summer, the man looked at himself and
to his children, then back at himself, and realized that he had grown
quite gaunt, while they had grown pretty fat. The man mused on this for
several weeks and came to the conclusion that the education of his children
was not complete; he decided to teach them further, and so he taught them
He gathered together all of the feelings of guilt he kept in his tired,
sad body and demonstrated this emotion to his children.
The next day he acknowledged that after fighting with him and each other
over his breakfast, rather than roll back and lie motionless, the children
would contort their faces with displeasure and crawl off to the cupboards
to hide. This allowed the father a deserved amount of time to eat his
own meals without the aggravation of the little thieves. Sometimes they
would remain in the cupboards, silently, for days. But sure enough, just
when the man begun to forget that he was a father; when he would sit down
to eat in solitude, the little tikes would leap out of the cupboards and
lunge upon the table of food. They would battle each other and bite at
the old man's protesting fingers until every crumb was gone. Then they
would look up at each other, and down at the empty plates and retreat
in a whimper to their cupboards as quickly as they left them. This condition
worsened and after no more than a year, the children, now gaunt, were
scarcely seen by the old man. He would spend weeks at a time leaning back
in an old chair, rubbing and pulling at the hairs of his enlarged belly
and eating course after course, with no reminder of the children except
their guilt ridden whimpers resounding from the woodwork. It didn't take
long before the man began to regret the lessons he had taught the children.
He was tired of living in solitude. The following spring he took the time
to teach them more. And he taught them curiosity.
He reflected on all of the curiosity he had ever known and made up a song
to describe its virtues. And this he sang loud and in earnest.
After some time, he noticed little fingers sticking out from the cupboard
doors, and little noses too. The man waited patiently to see if his efforts
were successful. After a few hours of this, the children sprang from their
hiding places and ran about the cabin, exploring corners and crevices
they had never looked upon before. They did not look to their father even
once. They were too busy playing in the flour, climbing on the hearth,
and wrapping up the furniture in bed sheets and yarn. The old man was
'Such creative, wonderfully inventive children I have.' He thought, and
retired to his chair to smoke.
It was while he was smoking happily in his chair that he noticed the children
had managed to pry open the window and escape into the yard. At first
he was pleased because they had not really spent any time in the wooded
areas around the cabin; actually, he couldn't remember a time when he
had taken them outside at all. So in his curiosity, he went to the door
to watch their behavior. It was the end of the sixth winter since his
wife had died and the snow had completely melted. A nice vernal wind came
through the door as he opened it. Upon looking outside, the man's feelings
of pleasure left as he found that his children were no where in sight.
He walked out into the yard a few steps but retreated in when he found
that the ground was colder than it appeared. His stocking feet were damp
and he stepped profusely and cursed to warm them. He then reproached himself
for teaching children so young about curiosity.
'A rather dangerous ailment it is to be curious' he concluded, and began
immediately to plan a new lesson to teach them. He thought long and seriously
to ensure that he would not worsen his children's characters. He changed
his socks, and lit another pipe, and continued thinking. He cared deeply
for his children and reprovingly spoke against his ability to save them
from the troubled life he had lived. To give them an education that would
ensure their happiness would mean he would have to have a key to the pulse
of happiness himself. This thought troubled him for some time. But it
was in a dream, many nights later that he decided what he should do. He
rose immediately from bed, put on his robe, and devised a song that he
would sing into the open air. It was a song to teach them shame.
The old man wrote on a tablet while drinking a beer and eating broth.
By dawn, he had the words he would give to his young ones.
Opening the door let in the sad bluish light of dawn and the old man perched
forward and began to sing. To no avail he offered the story of shame to
the morning - to the wood, until his words grew more firm and deeper.
It was after an hour of his hoarse and virile crooning that he saw the
tops of his children's little blond heads approaching from the tree line.
They were hunched over, watching the ground as they came for the cabin.
The man stopped singing and stood akimbo, erect and proud, as his children
came to his feet and clutched his legs in tired, rueful whimpers. The
boy held his fathers left leg firm and let his body drag as his father
retreated into the cabin. The boy's sister held the man by his right leg;
both were silent, neither looked up.
Standing in the smoky cabin that smelled of cedar and leather, the old
father patted his daughter's blonde head and stroked his son's pale neck.
He was quite glad at what he had done. He had taught them to go out into
the world and to return again. He had taught them well what they needed
to know to live long, and strong, and happy. And with a languid smile,
the man tapped the ash from his pipe and took to slumber in his chair.
When he awoke, it was well into evening. His young ones were still clutched
to his legs as they had been when he fell asleep. They were not sleeping
though, and he wondered if they had. His daughter was chewing on her lip
and rubbing her ear against her shoulder as she stared sadly at the floor.
Her brother appeared as though he was going to cry but remained faithfully
caressing his father's leg all the while.
'These great loyal creatures' the father thought, lighting a pipe, 'Why
should they look so sad? I have given them envy, which allows them to
desire life; I have given them guilt, which keeps them from abusing others
with such desires. I have given them curiosity, which lets life continually
unfold with perennial interest and allure; and I have taught them shame,
which keeps their curiosity from developing into destructive and wanton
lust. What more do I need to give them so they can be happy?'
This thought the man shrugged off for a time. He finished his pipe and
ate a little; he drank beer and he whittled - then he thought.
'This cannot go on much longer; my legs are beginning to hurt; I'm sure
I have red marks from their little fingernails - come on
' The man
pried his daughter from his thigh and patted her bottom to send her away,
but she just collapsed in tears.
'I have to educate these children - I will teach them to have pride.'
And with this decision, the father welled up all of the pride that was
in his aged body and demonstrated this emotion to his children. And it
was almost immediately that the young ones drew off and walked to the
corner of the small cabin smiling and pleased. The daughter sat on a small
rug and sang to herself. Her brother found some wooden blocks and began
to play - happily throwing them at the wall and the hearth. So pleased
were the children and so pleased was the father who sat watching the success
of his lesson.
'Now my children have the world, and they have themselves - and I can
say that I have done my job', the old man looked again at his happy children
and fell peacefully to sleep.
The weather had warmed up again and the old man delighted in spending
his evenings on the porch, whittling and smoking. It was an idyllic late
spring and the perfect time, for the mosquitoes had not yet hatched. Cedar
smoke billowed from the chimney and the young children played happily
Occasionally he would beckon the young ones to accompany him on the porch
in the early evenings but they preferred to stay on the little rug or
on the hearth, keeping themselves amused. Regardless, the man was in good
spirits; he had the summer awaiting; he had a nice home; and he had two
content and intelligent children.
Thus the summer passed, the old man watched the rhododendron buds bloom
and wither, dry and fall on the barm beside his porch. The children grew
quickly and their healthy bodies began to take the shape of adolescents.
The boy's voice deepened and his awkward limbs sprouted hair. The girl's
breasts were forming and her father noticed that she began to display
the playful and sexual nature of a young woman. When winter came, the
father again resorted to spending his evenings in the cabin. So delighted
he would have been to do so if his children remained at his side, playing
and laughing beside a blaze in the hearth. But after the first snow, the
children ventured into the woods, and despite their father's warnings,
stayed out till very late into the night. So in worry, the old man tarried
through each day wondering when the children would return and how he could
entreat them to spend theirs at his side as they had for their entire
lives. The man realized that it would be impossible to restrict them from
leaving him, as they would neither look at him nor speak to him.
'This pride I had taught them long ago is a burden that I will carry and
a vice that will certainly lead them to ruin.' A damp wind came through
a crack in the old cabin one morning the following spring as the man spoke
to himself, looking to the tree line, awaiting their return.
Another season was spent smoking and lamenting in his chair, and the old
man was growing lonely to the point of despair. One afternoon in August,
the man whittling on the porch, was surprised to hear his children enter
the cabin. They had not been home for days and he had begun to think the
worst. In hope he stood at the doorway, seeking acknowledgment from the
lad who stood across from him looking on after his sister. The man then
looked to his daughter who leaned over the counter in the kitchen, pouring
fresh water into a jar. She was wearing a summer dress that he had not
seen; her form was graceful and her now developed body stood so feminine,
her eyes cast softly downward upon the cascading water flowing from the
bottle against her breast - for the first time, he saw her as a woman.
The old man looked again to his son and back to his daughter. Emotions
fluttered despairingly upon him and the moment became crucial.
The girl finished pouring, and turned to her brother to leave with him.
'The pride I have taught them long ago is a burden that I will carry no
The old man raised his voice to them with the decision to teach his children
more. And without hesitance or further thought he began to speak to them
His words came quick and in earnest, and the two children stopped at the
door where they listened in silence. The father offered his children everything
he had come to know of compassion and with his trembling words, the children
turned and looked into his eyes for the first time. He did not approach
them. They came to him; and he cried freely. The daughter set the jar
of water down and stood beside the son who caressed his father's hand.
When the old man had finished speaking, when his honest words had ceased
and the tears gleamed in his eyes, his children knew all about compassion.
And while his son, from the table took, his father's whittling knife,
and pushed it deep into the man's stomach, the daughter covered her brother's
eyes, so he would not have to watch his father die.
© David Payne - Paris 2000
(let us know if you want to read more of David's storie - firstname.lastname@example.org)
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