This was one of the first Fairly Tales I ever wrote, probably 20 years ago.  Back then, everybody had land line phones, and so Stephanie put on her dancing shoes and tapped the neighbors’ phone line, and got into trouble.  When I began to revisit the stories and to rewrite them for the grandchildren, I thought that this story was so out-dated that I could never use it.  Then, as Stephanie was climbing into the fisherman’s truck to get his glasses, I got an idea.  Enjoy!

 

Once upon a time, there was a fairly named Stephanie who hated to write letters.  I’m not talking about letters like A, B, or C; I’m talking about friendly letters.  (I guess U and I are friendly letters, but that’s still not what I’m talking about.)  To put it plainly, Stephanie hated to write thank-you letters.

Stephanie’s mother was a New World fairy who believed that everyone should, in a manner of speaking, be polite.  She taught Stephanie to say please, thank you, you’re welcome, and excuse me.  She taught her not to talk with food in her mouth, and not to shake the rain off her wings in the house.  But when it came to writing thank you notes, teaching Stephanie was like trying to teach Mr. Grumpyface.

“How would you like it if you sent someone a gift and they didn’t send you a thank-you note?” her mother asked her when Stephanie complained for the umpteenth time.

“I wouldn’t care,” Stephanie responded.  “Winston never wrote me a letter thanking me for the hot pads I wove for him, and it doesn’t bother me a bit.  Winston was her twin brother—a leprefaun—who lived with their father in Ireland.

“That’s different,” her mother would say.  “Leprechauns like your father can’t write, so you can’t expect Winston to know how, either.  Besides, leprechauns have such notoriously bad manners that they wouldn’t write even if they could.  Fairies, on the other hand, always teach their children to do things nicely and politely.  And that, my child,” she said, “means that you need to write some thank-you notes.”

Now, maybe you don’t know it, but, for fairlies, gifts are not just given at Christmas or Easter.  Presents are in order for Groundhog’s Day, May Day, June Afternoon, Lewis Carroll’s Birthday,  the 4th of July, the 5th of August, all of September (which was National Imaginary Beings Month), and many other occasions.  And don’t forget birthdays!  Stephanie was growing so fast that she was having several birthdays each year.  In fact, while she was 8 at the beginning of this story, she may already be 9 and could be 13 next year.  Can you imagine how many presents that means?  Can you imagine how many thank-you notes that means?  Stephanie didn’t have to imagine it; she got cramps in her hand just thinking about it.

The problem came up on Flounder’s Day, which everyone celebrated by giving gifts.  Grammie knew how much Stephanie liked perfume, so she sent her a card with a few scents in it.  Her friend Joshua had sent her a royal caterpillar that was going to change into a monarch butterfly.  Fallon the Fairy gave her a pixie stick, and Stephanie’s mother gave her a gift-wrapped exercise wheel for her pet grubs.  But her favorite presents were from her father and Winston in Ireland.  Her Irish watch was broken, so her father sent her a new Irish spring; and Winston had mailed her an autographed picture of St. Patrick.  Stephanie loved the gifts, but dreaded the idea that she was going to have to write all those thank-you notes.

And then Stephanie thought of a brilliant solution.  “Mom,” she started hopefully, “now that we have a telephone, how about I just call everyone to thank them for my presents?  That’s what Dawson and Emilie get to do.” 

Stephanie had “found” a telephone in a fisherman’s truck, and had brought it home to play with.  Her mother had taken it away from her, and told her what it was and how it worked.  From the way she described it, Stephanie thought it must have come from a jail, since she called it a cell phone and talked about it having bars.  But then her mother said something about finding and taking things that weren’t really lost, and she called it stealing, or ironing, or something like that. 

Stephanie’s mother was not happy with her idea to use the phone instead of writing her letters.  “Young lady,” she said gruffly, “I told you that we were not going to use that phone except in an emergency.  Now sit down and get to work”.

A little later, while Stephanie sat at the table still thinking about how much she hated thank-you notes, her mother came through the kitchen, putting on her jacket.  “You keep working on those letters while I go and try to cheer up Mrs. Possum, if I can,” she said.

“Is she sick?  I could go with you,” Stephanie offered, hopefully.

“No, it’s just that every time she asks her new husband to do something, he pretends to be asleep.  I want to reassure her that that is normal behavior—even leprechauns and bigginses do the same thing.  You stay here and get those thank-you’s done.”  And she went out the door.

Stephanie pouted for a few minutes, and then decided that she was so sick of writing letters that it had become an emergency.  She knew where her mother had hidden a list of telephone numbers “in case of emergency,” and since she had already determined that this was an emergency, she got the list off the refrigerator where it was hidden under a picture of Uncle Jeremy.  And she got the phone and started working down the list.

She called her grandmother first.  After she figured out how to touch the right places on the telephone screen, she got through and left a message on Grammie’s answering machine.  “One down, and so far, so good,” she said, proudly.

But then Stephanie began to run into problems.  After several tries at calling Ireland direct, she had to stop and ask the directory assistants for help.  They offered to put the call through for her, and Stephanie waited nervously while the phone beeped, chirped, and clicked, until finally she heard it ringing on the other end. 

She had been away from her father so long that she didn’t even remembered what his voice sounded like.  While she waited for him to answer the phone, she imagined that he would sound a little like Grandpa, and would answer with a cheerful, “Top o’ the mornin’ to you!”

But she decided that she must have gotten the wrong number when somebody picked up the phone and shouted, “Who be callin’ me in the middle of me dinner?” and then the phone in Stephanie’s hand beeped three times and turned itself off.  And that was the end of Stephanie’s calling for that day, or any day for a long, long time.

Her mother came home, and after she let Stephanie off the time-out seat, she explained that they didn’t have a charger for the phone, and that even if they did have a charger, they didn’t have any electricity to plug it into.  And that meant that they would never be able to use the phone again, even in a real emergency.

After Stephanie had finished writing all her thank-you notes, she cuddled up with her mother and talked to her about her very short call to her father.  “I wanted to talk to my dad, but whoever answered sounded like a cross between a billy goat and a grizzly bear,” she said. 

Her mother smiled and said, “That’s your father.  I fell in love with him the first time I heard that wonderful voice—and now you’ve heard him and will have a wonderful memory.”  Stephanie looked at her mother and wondered if maybe she had been drinking a little too much Mountain Dew.  But she decided to look on the bright side.

“And to think,” she told her mother, “I will have that special memory all because I didn’t want to write thank-you letters.  It must be a sign.”

Her mother just shook her head and sighed.  As much as she wanted Stephanie to grow up to be a good fairy, deep down she knew that the leprechaun in her made that fairly unlikely.

 

And next time, if the elephant stays out of the refrigerator and the cream doesn’t beat it, I’ll try to tell you How Stephanie Got a Poppa.

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