My father would recite poems at bedtime instead of reading books with us, like my mother did. He would turn off all the lights so we could listen better. In pajamas, clutching stuffed animals, we huddled together for protection. His voice in the daylight was scary, but the darkness made it worse. He should have been an actor instead of a math professor.
"Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley
1912 phonograph recording of the poet reading his poem
Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
This particular poem always terrified me, mostly because I only pretended to pray (almost religiously), was afraid of the dark, of going to sleep, and of dying and going to Heaven. Plus at family gatherings, without meaning to, I "mocked 'em and shocked 'em, and didn't een care".
It was made worse by my father explaining the background of the poet and the convoluted story of the poem, originally titled "The Elf Child" after a girl named Mary Alice. I always knew that my mother had lost a baby at birth, named Mary, born before me, though my father never talked about her until he was dying, almost eighty years later. Since Hell seemed rather an absurd place, even as a child, and Heaven not much better (who wants to be anywhere for ETERNITY ?); I guess I was afraid of being nowhere. Snatched away, like the Lindbergh baby, who everyone talked about, which explains my lifelong fear of ladders.
a part of The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest