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A Norwegian folktale from his first-grade teacher put a spell on author

Bob Cox • Feb 9, 2020 at 12:00 PM

In the fall of 1949, I enrolled in West Side School, a stately brick building constructed in 1907 and located at West Main Street and West Watauga Avenue. 0ur teacher, Miss Mildred Taylor, was a kindly lady who resided in nearby Jonesboro.

I had to skip part of my first grade because I was recovering from Rheumatic Fever and not allowed exercise of any kind. Mom would slowly walk with me to school every weekday morning and return promptly at noon to take me home. On the very first class in the fall of 1950, Miss Taylor informed us that she was going to tell us a story. We eagerly waited for what she had to say.

It was one she opened up with every school year. Parents were encouraged to sit with their sons and daughters. What made her story entertaining was how she acted out certain parts to entertain her students. She didn't just read it, she added to the story line and became an integral part of it. She was an amazing teacher.

“The Three Billy-Goats Gruff,” is a Norwegian Folktale (now in the public domain). Miss Taylor obviously knew the story line fluently and acted out certain parts without the use of notes. She used her hands and feet to articulate the storyline. Here is a paraphrase of what she told us:

“Once upon a time, there were three billy-goats who decided to go up to the hillside to make themselves fat. And the names of the three billy-goats were “Gruff,” “Gruff” and “Gruff.” On the way up the hill was a bridge and under the bridge lived an ugly troll who had eyes as large as saucers and a nose as long as a poker.

(I didn't know why Miss Taylor used this story for her story time, but I did not question her. After all, she was our teacher and our parents were there. We just had to grin and bare it.)

“According to the book narration, the first billy-goat Gruff crossed the bridge. Trip, Trap! Trip, Trap! We were glued to our seats, allowing Miss Taylor to elaborate the awful details.

“All of a sudden, a voice called out: “Who's that tripping over my bridge?” roared the awful Troll.” I didn't dare utter a word when the bridge went Trip, Trap! Trip Trap!. I was ready to climb under my desk, but I didn't. I did not want to appear as a crybaby. Besides, my mother was there with me.

“The youngest goat shouted out, ‘Oh no! Please don't take me because I'm too little, that I am,’ said the billy-goat. “Wait for the second billy-goat Gruff. He's much bigger than the first.”

“Well, be off with you!” said the Troll.

“A little while later came the second billy-goat Gruff to cross the bridge. Trip, Trap! Trip, Trap! went the bridge again. 'Who's That tripping over my bridge?' inquired the Troll again.

“Oh, it’s the second billy-goat Gruff. I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat,” said the billy-goat.” And his voice was not so small. “Now, I'm coming to gobble you up,” roared the Troll.

“Well, come along! I've got two spears. And I'll poke your eyeballs out at your ears. I'll get beside two great, flat stones, and I'll crush you to bits, body and bones.” And that was what the big billy-goat did. I could just imagine the carnage.

“After the billy-goats got so fat, they could hardly walk home again. “Oh no!, don't take me. Wait for the third billy-goat Gruff. He's much bigger.” “Very well, be off with you!” said the Troll.

But then up came the big billy-goat Gruff. Trip, Trap! Trip, Trap! went the bridge. “Who's That tramping over my bridge?” roared the hideous Troll.

“It's I! The Big Billy-Goat Gruff,” uttered the billy-goat. And he had a very loud voice of his own. “Now I'm coming to gobble you up,” roared the evil Troll.

“Well, come along! I've got two spears, And I'll poke your eyeballs out at your ears. I've got besides two great, flat stones, And I'll crush you to bits, body and bones.”

“That was what the big billy-goat said. And that was what the big billy-goat did. And after that, he went up to the hillside. There the billy-goats got so fat they could hardly walk home again. And so... “Snip, snap, snout. This tale's told out.” The story was concluded by our teacher.

When I got home that afternoon after our story, I went to our apartment kitchen on Watauga Avenue so as to make me fat. That was the happy ending (except for the Troll) of the Norwegian folktale, and to this day, I do not know why Miss Taylor chose that story to dramatize the story line. I never challenged her choice of a story. She turned out to be one of my favorite teachers.

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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