Once upon a time there lived a small girl. Quite small. When she was a newborn, you could practically put her in your pocket and carry her around.
Her birthmother was a drunk. The inebriated woman staggered into the hospital, had a baby and two days later she disappeared.
The nurses called the child Thumbelina. So that’s what we’ll call her, too.
Thumbelina’s little face looked perfectly scrunched up. Her hands were itty-bitty and looked like doll hands. All the maternity nurses said they wanted to eat her up.
But Thumbelina’s size did not work in her favor. It was the reason nobody wanted to adopt her. At the group home, she was often glanced over with disapproving stares, for she appeared to be underweight. The runt of the litter.
People associate small size with sickness. And not everyone adopting has room for a sickly child.
So Thumbelina began her life alone. She lived in many group homes throughout the 1950s. She moved in and out of foster care. She learned what it feels like to be a pinball.
She was a quiet child, it seemed as though she was unable to speak. Maybe she was going deaf? Perhaps she was mute? They had her tested. No hearing troubles, the doc said. No vocal problems. She was just a natural stoic.
This, too, worked against Thumbelina. Nobody wants to adopt a sullen child who has about as much to say as a municipal fire hydrant.
One of Thumb’s great talents was art. She loved to draw. You could put Thumb in a corner with a pencil and a notebook and she would draw for many hours.
Mostly, she liked to draw countrysides, with pretty flowers. Places she wanted to visit someday. Distant lands where people were nice, and everyone loved orphan girls, even if they were smaller than the rest.
Also poems. Little Thumb loved poems. There was a time in America when all average children cared about poetry. When common schoolkids were forced to memorize long passages of American verse, poetry, and presidential addresses at gunpoint.
Shortly after Thumb’s tenth birthday, an old woman came to work at the group home. The woman was tall, with a mane of white hair that looked like dandelion fuzz. She wore a pink floral dress, three-inch-thick nylons and the most glorious pair of cateye glasses.
The woman had already raised four children of her own, back in Maine. They were all grown now. So she knew a thing or two about mothering.
The old woman looked over all the orphan children with a an appraising eye.
When she came to Thumb, the woman remarked, “Lord have mercy, child, you’re awfully small, aren’t you? How old are you?”
Thumbelina told her.
“Lord have mercy,” the woman said. “I’ve never seen a girl so puny. You can’t possibly be 10 years old. You’re pulling my leg.”
But Thumb didn’t pull legs. Her hands weren’t nearly big enough for leg pulling.
Whereupon the old woman brought the girl into the kitchen to help cook supper. She sat little Thumb on the counter and taught her to peel carrots, chop onions, and how to lick the spoon after you make sugar cookies.
The old woman loved all the children at the home. But over the years, it was Thumbelina whom Oldy-Locks came to love the best.
And so it was, one spring day the old woman announced she would be leaving the group home and moving back to Maine.
Little Thumb heard this and fled outside. She felt her world evaporate. She wept until her little heart almost quit beating. Until her tears wet the soil beneath her.
The old woman found Thumb on the swingset, sobbing.
“Why are you crying, child?”
Thumb told the old woman that everyone she ever loved had left her. All her friends were adopted. All her foster guardians were now fostering other kids. All the group home workers eventually had children of their own and left the home. Thumb had nobody. And probably never would.
The old woman sat beside Thumbelina. She smiled and touched the child’s hair. She said, “What would you say if I told you that you will be coming to Maine with me?”
Life was never the same again.
The old woman had 22 years of mothering left in her. And she gave them to Thumb.
Little Thumb grew up to become the steadfast mother of eight beautiful children. Each of her girls were lovely, albeit tiny. All her boys were handsome, albeit rather short. And each child grew up to bless their mother’s name. Forever and ever.
And today, even though Thumbelina now rests in a small cemetery in Northern Maine, her sons and daughters can only say of her that she is again with the old woman who brought her here to this beatific state.
Today, they are in a distant land. Far, far away. Together. In a countryside with pretty flowers.
Where they now live happily ever after.