This I Believe: Jane Bacon (1986)

I’m going to tell you a story.  Before I do that, I’ll tell you a little bit about where I’ve been.  My parents were both raised as Catholics.  When they reached adulthood, they rejected the teachings of the church and they really rejected religion altogether.  They saw a lot of destructive, negative qualities about religion and they just rejected the whole thing.  I find it kind of ironic because I think they displayed some of the qualities that I think really exemplify a religious life – tolerance, compassion, concern for social justice, and courage.  To that I would add a sense of belonging and a sense of community and that’s what I found here.  I pay tribute to my parents:  To Ann Galvin Aste, I wear a rose corsage in honor of her rose garden that was born with hard work.  For my father, Joseph Aste, I tell stories.  He’s the one who told stories to me.  The story I’m going to tell you is “The Fledgling” by Jane Langton and it begins this way:

The old goose found a present floating in the water at Walden Pond.  He picked it up and brought it to his favorite spot up the slope from the water.  This thing was a present.  Something in the air told him that.  It was a present and he must give it to someone.  But not just anyone – someone who would understand just how precious it was and someone who would take care of it.  But who?  That was the question.  In a different part of Concord, MA lived a little girl named Georgie.  Georgie was eight years old but she seemed smaller, younger, more like five even, because she was so small and skinny.  She was a child of nature, more at home outdoors than in.  That’s what her Uncle Freddie used to say.  Georgie lived in a house with her mother and Uncle Freddie, who was her step-father.  The house she lived in was a strange I-shaped old house.  It was also called the Concord College of Transcendental Knowledge.  Uncle Freddie was the founder and president of the college and his favorite book was Walden written by Henry David Thoreau.  In the front hall of this house was a marble bust of Henry, as the family used to call him.  The front hall was also the place that Georgie discovered that she could fly.  While her family tried to tell her that she had just jumped down those stairs.  Georgie knew better.

One day the geese came, flying overhead, over her house.  Georgie looked up, saw the largest goose at the end of the line, and knew that he was looking right at her, was coming down right towards her.  But something frightened him away and he rose back into the sky.  This happened several more times and each time something frightened away the goose.  So Georgie decided that she would go to Walden Pond early one morning before anyone was up and she would find the goose.  That’s just what she did.  Just as the goose came right towards her, again something frightened him.  This time it was Mr. Preak.  Mr. Preak was the president of the Thoreau Street Bank and he liked to say that he had to rescue that scrawny little girl from a vicious attack by a big duck.  He didn’t know a whole lot about nature.

Well, after that her family was worried about her so they made sure she was never by herself.  One night as she lay in her bed sleeping, actually the early morning hour, she heard tapping at her window.  She looked up.  Peering in the window at her, standing on the roof of the porch, was the goose prince – for that is what Georgie named him.  She opened her window, went out onto the roof, climbed onto his back, and flew with him to Walden Pond.  The next night he came back, and the next, and then he taught Georgie how to fly.  Up they went, high in the air, and he said “Try it.  Fly.”  Georgie was filled with longing but she was afraid and she hung on more tightly than ever. Not now, she thought, not yet.  But the goose prince said, “Just slide off, the wind will hold you – fly.”

For another moment Georgie held on, her shoulders pressed tight against the goose, and then, letting go, she slid down the feathered slope of his back until she felt something nudge her from below.  It was a pillow of air holding her, lifting her, supporting her.  She let all of her muscles go loose and just floated in the air; just floated.  Georgie could fly.  No one saw them.  Well, no one but Mr. Preak who peered with his near-sighted eyes into the sky for two ducks and wished hunting season would begin.  He had been practicing with his newly purchased gun and was determined to rid the world of this vicious duck.

Every night Georgie and the goose prince would float over Walden Pond and then hunting season did begin and Georgie saw the glistening light of the moon shining on the barrel of the gun.  She flung herself between the goose prince and the weapon.  She was shot and fell into the water.  The goose prince rescued her and then chased Mr. Preak across the road and into the brackish water on the other side.  He brought Georgie safely home.  She wasn’t badly frightened and she healed quickly but now her family was really frightened so they nailed her window shut and moved her bed into the other room.  Georgie was just as glad for, with hunting season on, the goose prince was in danger.  It was time for him to move south.

Finally, the last day of hunting season, Georgie found herself walking down the front walk of her house.  She wanted to say goodbye and there was the goose prince coming towards her.  He brought with him the present and he put it down on the walk in front of her.  “Take good care of it,” he said.  “I will,” said Georgie, and she hugged him one final time.  He turned and rose into the air, but only for a moment for Mr. Preak at last hit his target.  The goose prince fell dead at Georgie’s feet.

They buried the goose prince by the upright post near Walden Pond.  Georgie felt very sad but she did have the present.  The present was a small rubber ball streaked with blue and white.  That night before she went to bed, she showed it to Henry in the front hall.  When she held it up to the white marble statue, she noticed that the ball was glowing and she wondered how it would look in the dark clothes closet under the stairs.  She went in and closed the door.  When she held the ball up, it glowed more and more brightly.  Then it lifted up out of her hand and hung in the air before her.  It grew larger and larger.  The close muzzled darkness of the coat closet opened out into an immense vast darkness, empty except for Georgie and the great glowing ball which hung before her turning slowly and majestically in the immense night.  The blue surface of the ball was streaked with white clouds.  Beneath the clouds Georgie could glimpse continents and oceans.  “It’s the world,” said Georgie, “the whole world.”  It was true.  The present that the goose prince had given Georgie as an image of the world itself, the earth.  Take good care of it, he had said.  “I will,” said Georgie, renewing her promise, “oh, yes, I will.”