Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 27, 2006

Do Drop In for a Spell

by Kerry Blair

One cloudy October afternoon of the year I turned twelve years old, I ventured across the street from my house, pushed my way through reedy honeysuckle vines that had been left to run wild, and climbed thirteen stairs to the witch’s front door. There I rapped lightly and waited to be turned into a toad for my audacity. Everyone I knew, young and old alike, shunned the old woman who lived in that house. I always had too, but that particular day I was a girl on a mission. I was selling magazines. If I sold just two more I would qualify for the grand prize drawing for a portable TV. Unfortunately, every house in our small town had already been canvassed by prize-crazed adolescents. Every house except the witch’s. Nobody went there.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Before I could sneeze, a miniature tiger wrapped itself around my ankles, purring so loud it sounded like a growl. The autumn breeze was cool on my bare arms and I shivered. Or maybe it wasn’t the wind that raised the goose bumps. Maybe it was fear.

The witch opened the door and I stared in open-mouthed wonder. I’d never before seen white carpeting or black lacquer furniture. (This was the olive-green/harvest-gold 70s, after all.) And nobody I knew had red Oriental silks or a crystal chandelier, so a living room of gingerbread and gumdrops would have surprised me less. Even the air was bewitching—Verdi, I learned later. (In our house, if the stereo was on Slim Whitman was yodeling.) The witch was appropriately garbed in a long black sheath and wore slippers of emerald satin—presumably because the ruby ones belonged to her sister in the East.

I couldn’t speak, but the old woman saw the brochure in my hand and took it from me. She invited me in and I went. It’s not so surprising when you think about it. Gretel fell for the gingerbread. Snow White fell for the poisoned apple. I fell for the witch. And I fell hard. It was four years before I left that enchanted parlor again any time I didn’t have to. I only left then because she left me first. Even the best witches are not immortal.

Ardena Leer (the most beautifully named enchantress since Morgan LeFay) introduced me to a world I never knew existed. I’d long been a reader, but I’d never dreamed there were books like hers. Leather bound, gilt-edged works of Emerson and Browning and Dickens, they were the source of her magic. All the beauty and all the wisdom in the world was at her fingertips. She wielded it with power, reverence, and great generosity.

In the first of many books she gave me—a small tome of Shakespearean sonnets—Ardena wrote in a spidery script: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit. It was a spell of the strongest variety. She wouldn’t tell me what it meant and she extracted from me a promise that I would ask no one else. I must learn to read the magic words for myself. Twelve university hours of Latin later, I am probably the only girl on my block who speaks a dead language. (Frankly, Latin hasn’t done me much good in life, but I figure it might still come in handy when I die. I’ll be able to take the gospel to any Romans Paul might have missed.)

I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this paragraph, but I’ve long subscribed to only two magazines besides the Ensign: Writer’s Digest and Smithsonian. I probably don’t have to tell you they’re the same two the witch bought from me. Alas, my carpet is regrettably beige and my furniture is shabby chic, but my slippers are emerald (or ruby) and my silk scarf is Oriental. I have copies of most of the books that were in Ardena’s library and Verdi is among my CDs. In my lap is a cat, purring so loud that it almost sounds like he’s growling. The honeysuckle vines along my fence are dying back now, but I’ll let them grow wild again next spring.

So while I’m not a crone quite yet, I’m becoming. At least I hope I am. Every October (and many months besides) I think of Ardena Leer, town witch. It’s the noblest calling to which I’ve ever aspired.


At 10/27/2006 3:43 PM, Blogger FHL said...

I wasn't sure at first if you were writing a fictional account and even less sure once you named the witch. Isn't "leer" the Spanish verb for reading? Me gusta leer. Or maybe that just means that I like to ogle.

I suppose you're not going to tell us what the magic words mean, either? (nevermind: googled easy enough: Click if you want to know...

Reading is good. =) My wife is reorganizing the books under the bed and I just remember wishing that I could forsake all of my other duties and just re-read some of those.

If any of you haven't tried reading fantasy, I highly recommend Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince books (aka Sunrunners). My wife, the English major, hadn't read anything fantasy but Tolkien and um, some YA series that I can't remember. She loved them and started reading other stuff I suggested. Now we have two full under-the-bed-boxes full of them. Dragonlance, Vlad Taltos, the David Eddings books, Myth books. Great way to slip into another realm for a while.

At 10/27/2006 4:01 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Kerry, having you on this blog is like having Rembrandt join preschoolers at fingerpainting. You continue to astound.

At 10/27/2006 4:16 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I leave blog fiction to Robison I-don't-feel-Wells. The story about "the witch" is true -- even her name. (Perhaps that's why Ardena married Ronald -- she coveted his surname.) How perceptive, fhl. It's one of the things I admire about you.

I have boxes of fantasy myself -- most of it belonged to my father. I've always loved the Perelandra trilogy best. (Or is that science fiction?) I have to confess there was a name in your list I'm not familiar with - Vlad Taltos. Author or character? Forgive my ignorance, but anything you love I'd like to sample.

On the other hand, shame on you for giving people a cheat. I expected everyone who visited this blog to go out and learn Latin for themselves. Ah, well. Modo vincis, modo vinceris.

At 10/27/2006 4:44 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

Thank you FHL you saved me a bunch of time and work trying to find the translation.

At 10/27/2006 5:39 PM, Blogger FHL said...

I bow to your compliment, and blush a little. =)

Vlad Taltos is the name of the main character in a series by Steven Brust. He's a human assassin in a world of mostly elf-like creatures (although, they insist THEY are the humans!) It's very witty and has an amazingly crafted world that it's set in. If you want to pick up the first one, it's called Jhereg. There are a couple of books with the same setting, only several centuries in the past, called the Khaavren romances. They're done in the style of Alexander Dumas. Some people find the (paid by the word) style to be irritating, but I take quite a bit of pleasure from it.

Sorry about the Latin cheat - I was just glad it was a recognized phrase.

Veni, Vidi, Volo in domum redire

At 10/28/2006 12:51 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Kerry, you truly are a Rembrandt with words. What a wonderful blog and what an amazing woman (both you and Ardena).


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