Marla the Adorable
A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
"Marla!," Daddy Longlegs implored. "Marlababy! Look, baby! Listen to
daddy!" He began to sing, "Oh, it rained so hard the day I left, the
weather was so - What, baby? What was the weather? What was the
The child, of course, ignored him. There is some justice in the world. Marla the Adorable sat in full serenity and authority upon her movable throne.
"She's just being contrary," said Mother Hen, a fastidious woman with the twin disadvantages of stray hair and poor muscle coordination: the result was visually disquieting. "Keep after her. She'll get it! Won't you, babikins? Won't you? Huh? Huh? Look at Mommy! Won't you?"
That Marla, she's sturdy over the rough spots. Her eyes swept the room in delightful dignity and dignified delight, enfolding, enveloping, embracing the wonders within her view. She missed nothing in her collection of perceptions, reaping the grains of sight and sound and smell with the joyous solemnity of a scientist in a laboratory or an astronaut on a spacewalk... The sense of wonder in being alive that so many people 'forget to remember' from childhood...
Here's the whole story: I was a few bucks ahead and decided to splurge on a full, sit-down meal. I guess splurge might mean a different thing to you than it does to me: I went to Steak-Out, a name I hope Marla's parents never entreat her to explain.
I was nearly finished with my meal when Marla's varlets occupied the table next to mine, in her name. Longlegs, a tall, almost emaciated man with a pock-marked face, wheeled the wooden high-chair over and Mother Hen secured the wriggling child inside. Marla, who must be about five, was striking in a red snowsuit and boots. She threw all of her muscles into every motion, and the wild blur of her shiny brown bangs was fixed in space by the beacon of ready eagerness in her eyes.
"I still say she's too big for the highchair," Longlegs had said. To which Hen replied: "It keeps her from getting into things."
The attempted singalong didn't start until later, but I confess that the Varlets are not easy to sit by, even when they're not trying to pressure their child into concluding that the weather can be both wet and dry at the same time. Perhaps simply because the child wanted nothing more than to observe and reflect, they insisted on forcing her to converse. Is it the babies who are attention starved...?
And, though I'll deny no glory to a man with an itinerary, it only has to 'rain so hard' so many times before I'm ready to pick up and head for Arizona... I confess that I let it annoy me, the grating of the mindless repetition of a preventable evil, like the drip of a faucet or a leaking roof... After a while it got to me. No excuses: like Popeye, 'I can takes just so much and I can't takes na' more!'
"Come on, Marla?!?," Longlegs pleaded. "It rained so hard the day I left, the weather was so - what is it, baby?! What's the answer? Tell daddy, Marla! What was the weather?!?"
Marla interrupted her inspections for the briefest instant. "If it's raining it's raining," she said serenely and, I think, most becomingly. She resumed her supervision as though nothing had happened.
"No, baby!," said Mother Hen. "You know that's not right! It's dry! The answer is dry! How many times do you have to be told!!"
What follows is the root of my few troubles: I said: "Not many more... Keep it up, and you'll be there before you know it."
"Huh?," Hen started, more surprised than anything else. "Be where?"
"Where you're headed. You'll have a daughter who's afraid to say that it isn't dry when it's raining. Who's afraid to treat anything that you say as what it means, for fear that you might be making it all up. Another year or two and you'll be there, good and plenty, and no turning back."
"Just exactly what are you driving at, mister?!?," Longlegs demanded.
"That you're teaching your daughter to be stupid. She doesn't know how to be stupid yet - she's too ignorant for that. But in a year or two you'll have her all trained up, right and proper."
"I don't know what you mean!," Hen clucked.
"Can't take it straight, huh? Few can... I can put it another way by saying you two are doing a very good job at what is called childrearing in America today. Like that any better?"
Mother Hen looked demure. Daddy Longlegs shifted nervously in his seat.
I shut out the two Varlets and turned my full attention upon glorious, imperious Marla. I said: "When it's raining it's raining."
"I know that!"
"Oh, yeah? How do you know it?"
"Hmph!," she said adorably. "Because I see it raining!"
"That's right. Because you see it raining. Not because somebody else said so, right?"
"You're a smart person. Did you know that?"
She giggled delightfully. "I guess so..."
"Not just 'guess so': you are a smart person. You know why?"
"Because you know that when you see it raining, it's stupid to say it's dry."
"And it's stupid to let anybody push you into acting like it's dry, right?"
"That's why you're a smart person. Are you interested in staying smart?"
"Well," I said gravely, "the thing you have to remember always is that the only way to prove you are right is to prove it so you can see it. So you can understand it in here." I pointed to her kissable forehead. "If somebody tells you something that just can't be - call 'em an idiot!"
She laughed charmingly. "I like you, mister. You're fun!"
"You're fun, too. We can have fun together because we're both smart."
"Do you think you'll remember how to stay smart?"
"You'll make it! I'm sure of it. And your brain will grow as your body grows, each day stronger and more sure. And one day I'll swing back through town and give you a long, slow wolf whistle - " I whistled and she giggled. " - as the most beautiful woman of all: the woman with a beautiful brain. Do you think you'd like that?"
"Okay, lady. You be good. And remember: to be good, you have to be smart."
"Ahh...," said Daddy Longlegs, his face a mask of knowing confusion, "'but children are apt to forget to remember, with up so floating many bells down'..."
"Some are..., some are," I replied. "But others remember never to forget... And everybody's gotta take a side..."
"Dad," Marla said in the authority of certainty, the genius-child monarch in the kingdom of fact, "you're an idiot!"