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Break Time: Uncle Wiggily Stories

Sometimes it is nice to return to one’s favorite children’s stories, even if only in one’s mind. I fondly remember my favorites, and I have even written some stories of my own, which I never tried to publish, though they received praise from the select people I have let read them. And with a good illustrator, I am pretty sure I could. Unfortunately, some of them seem to have been lost on the internet, the Cloud, whatever it is. It comes from having my typewriter break down, and then resorting to the computer to write them; and since I do not know anything about computers, and since AOL scrubbed immense amounts of mail, they are lost or mislaid somewhere. I still have a few, though, and maybe I might copy one or two at some point so that you could read them here.

Focusing on books that I loved as a child, I think of Uncle Wiggily stories. My parents had great taste in children’s books, and bought some wonderful ones for me. My mother probably had more to do with the choices, though they both contributed.

Many do not know of Uncle Wiggily now, but the stories, written by Howard R. Garis, were famous. He wrote a story a day for about twenty years, and they were published in newspapers and magazines. To show that Uncle Wiggily was virtually a household name, there is a short story by J.D. Salinger called, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” but it was unfortunately not about the rabbit gentleman. And in a good noir movie, “Scene of the Crime,’ Gloria DeHaven’s character called Van Johnson’s police detective “Uncle Wiggily.”

Uncle Wiggily Longears, that was his full name, was a somewhat elderly rabbit gentleman who lived in a hollow stump bungalow with his muskrat housekeeper, Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy. She would bake him cherry pies, just like my grandmother would bake for me. Sometimes she would send him to the store to pick up something, and he never minded, because he loved to walk in the woods, and encounter his little animal friends. In one set of stories, the items that he would pick up would invariably help him fend off a “bad chap” who would try to nibble his ears.

His young animal friends included Sammy and Susie Littletail, the rabbit children; Johnny and Billy Bushytail, the squirrel boys; and Alice, Lulu, and Emma Wibblewobble, the duck girls. There were many more. Uncle Wiggily had an adult friend, Goosie Gander, and he also visited Doctor Possum, when he had a touch of rheumatism. Actually, Uncle Wiggily, in a slightly out of character action, appropriated a red white and blue barber pole from a barber shop, and used it for a crutch if his rheumatism was bothering him. I guess the barber did not mind.

Now, there were bad chaps, as Garis called them, who would try to capture him and nibble his ears, which is all they ever threatened to do. But they never managed to. These animals were amusing, particularly as they were drawn by various artists in the books, I guess the most famous of these being Lansing Campbell. There were the Fuzzy Fox, the Woozy Wolf, and my favorite, the Skillery Scallery Alligator. There was also a bobcat. And then the Pipsewah, who was drawn as a somewhat unpleasant looking animal resembling a rhinoceros on two legs, and the Skeezix, who looked like a thin bird with a beak.

In one of the books, there was a Tiddlewink, who lived in the lake, and who mostly complained about things. He would come over to where Uncle Wiggily and his friends were roasting peanuts, and complain that he would rather have lemonade, but would try to take the peanuts, anyway, and they would burn his mouth, and he had to run to the lake to jump in and cool off.

A typical Uncle Wiggily story would have him going off for a walk, by himself, or with one of his young animal friends, and encountering a very small animal or insect who needed a little help, being stuck in a hole, or some leaves. He would extricate them, and they were always appreciative, and promise to return the favor if ever necessary. And sometimes Sammy Littletail would be dubious, saying, “how could a lightning bug possibly help you, Uncle Wiggily?” And the kindly rabbit gentleman would say, “Do not be so sure, Sammy,” and then the bug or little animal did help, as when the lightning bug and his fellows were able to light up the dark woods when they were flying on their airship, so that they could find their way home.

That was the very mild theme of some of the stories. Most of them really did not have a theme, they did not preach or try to instill lessons in the children who read them, except for the importance of being kind and thoughtful. And then very often, there would be a rustling in the bushes, and ALL OF A SUDDEN, out would jump the fox or the wolf or the alligator! And Uncle Wiggily would thwart them, and off they would go. My mother thought that the “all of a sudden” could be upsetting, but it was my favorite part of the stories!

And at the end of each story, Garis would write something like, “And now, if the rolling pin does not fall into the washing machine and roll up all the clothes, I will next tell you about Uncle Wiggily and the tree frog.” So you could look forward to the next one.

There were so many books. “Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures.” “Uncle Wiggily’s Travels.’ “Uncle Wiggily and his Airship.” (He actually had one made, and he would fly in it). “Uncle Wiggily in the Country.” (That is where he landed when he and Sammy Littletail were taking a ride in the airship, but the wind blew them far, and they had to land next to a lake, where they settled in for a while, had adventures, met a circus elephant who had run away from the circus, and encountered the Tiddlewink).

“Uncle Wiggily on the Farm.” “Uncle Wiggily’s Automobile” (He had that put together with some additions, such as the steering wheel being made of lettuce, the tires made of bologna, so that if he were ever driving along, he could stop and take a nibble of the car). “Uncle Wiggily’s Fortune.” (He went off to search for his fortune, did not find it, but had nice adventures; and when he got home, he found that the other animals had planted a large vegetable garden for him, so that he had indeed found a fortune). “Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book.” “Uncle Wiggily’s Happy Days.”

You can see what an impression the stories made on me, as I wrote all of this from memory. One time, my parents got me four new Uncle Wiggily books, and I stretched out on the rug and started reading them. I read quickly, but I could always read them again.

Very occasionally, I look on Amazon to see what Uncle Wiggily books there may be. Many of them have been reprinted in paperback. It is always touching to see when an adult writes that they loved the stories as a young boy or girl, and that now they read them to their child or grandchild, who loves them.

I was going to write about some of my other childhood favorites, the Burgess novels, the Oz stories and of course Winnie-the-Pooh, but this post would be too long, so perhaps another time.