Did you ever find a place that was magical ... a place that radiates a mysterious charm that draws your attention to it like a magnet and you look forward to walking or driving past it every chance you get? I was lucky enough to discover a place like that over nine years ago. Brian and I had just gotten back from our honeymoon and were settling into our new home. One Sunday afternoon we were taking our new puppy, an adorable little Westie named Bea Bop, for a walk around our little neighborhood and as we were walking down the sidewalk that lead to the park, I saw it ... the Fairy Tale House. A cute little sunny yellow vinyl-sided Cape Cod house with white shutters that had dusty rose colored mini hearts painted down the sides. It had a storm door, with a three-quarter length glass panel that had a circle of leaves and flowers in muted shades green, mauve, yellow and blue etched into the center, protecting the pure white front door. The lawn was meticulously mowed. The flowerbed in front of the house was a mass of glorious red, yellow and blue flowers. There was a cherry tree in full bloom with the pinkest flowers I have ever seen at one corner of the property. The other side of the property was flanked by the most unusual twisty branched tree I have ever seen. I later learned it was called a curly willow, but at the time this mysterious tree added to the mystique of the house. As we walked past the house the windows were so clean they glistered like diamonds. Every weekend when I would take Bea Bop out for her walk I found myself drawn to the Fairy Tale House. As I approached the house my heart would flutter with excitement. The house and property were always immaculate. I never saw a spent flower in the flowerbed and the dandelions and other various weeds growing along the sidewalk would never dare to take root in the lawn. On warm days the crisp white Cape Cod curtains would be gently blowing from the open windows while the sweet smell of baked goods wafted enticingly in the air. After the births of my sons my walks increased to four or five excursions a week. I had gotten to know ever crack in the sidewalk, watched the families and the trees grow and change with the passing of the seasons and enjoyed many chats with the people living in the houses along the way. The one thing about my walks that never changed was the Fairy Tale House. No matter what the season, it was always so perfect. The sunny yellow vinyl siding and white shudders were never dirty, the windows were always sparkling clean and the flowerbed seem to always be in bloom. Even in the winter there were steadfast crocuses poking their tiny heads through the snow heralding the promise of warmer days. The air surrounding the house completed the aura of fairy tale perfection with the sweet smells of home cooking no matter what time of day I walked past. I never met the people who lived there, but I knew that they had to be very loving and kind. No matter what problems or worries I had in my life all I had to do was walk past the Fairy Tale house and bask in the warm glow of its magic ... until today!For the past year my walks to the park had been greatly reduced. In fact, I hadn't been able to take a walk to the park for six months. It had been a very cold snowy winter and I had just given birth to my third son, Joey. The boys and I waited impatiently for the first warm day to take our walk to the park. Finally it arrived. Mickey and Tony scurried around getting dressed while I fed Joey and packed a picnic lunch. There was so much excitement in the house you would have thought it was Christmas. Soon we were on our way to the park. The boys were anxious to play on the swings and slide down the slide and I couldn't wait to see the little Fairy Tale House. I could just picture the little house-- the windows shining in the afternoon sun, the daffodils and hyacinths in bloom and the smell of home cooking gently wafting on the crisp spring air. Today it took us longer than usual to get to the park because a few friendly neighbors stopped us along the way to see the new baby and chat. I was having a really great day. It doesn't get much better that this, I thought. Nothing could spoil this day. I know...I know, you should never think that thought or you will jinx it … but it was too late, I already did. As we were walking up the sidewalk toward the Fairy Tale House I heard a horrible man yelling at some boys for running across his lawn. "Oh no guys, never run across his lawn if you know what's good for you,” I whispered to the boys. "Mr. Curmudgeon”, my name for a grouchy, crabby old man, "has moved into our neighborhood," I added with a giggle. I wasn't worried; we live far enough away from the terrible man that he wouldn't be a problem. I told Mickey and Tony to hold onto the handlebar of the baby carriage and we walked cautiously up the sidewalk. The grouchy old man was still arguing with the boys as we passed his house. I was heartsick when I realized the man was standing on the lawn of the Fairy Tale House, which no longer looked magical. It had become old and dirty. The flowerbed had weeds and the dead remains of last season’s flowers. The few flowers that did manage to peek through were straggly and pale. He hadn't cut the grass before winter set in and now it was over-grown and brown. The windows were dirty and the shades were pulled down. The warm magical glow was replaced by an ominous black cloud that enveloped the whole house, spilling over the front yard and onto the sidewalk. I was getting nauseous from the smell of moldy burning leaves that hung thick in the air. Was it possible for a house to change overnight? Did the sweet people move out and this horrible man buy the Fairy Tale House?There was no time to ponder these questions because as we were passing the house, Mr. Curmudgeon started yelling something at us. Frightened out of my mind and somewhat annoyed that he was yelling at us for no good reason, I hurried the boys along to the park, pretending not to hear him.I marched down the sidewalk to the park, my mouth was dry and my heart was pounding in my chest. By the time we reached the park I was fuming mad. The nerve of that man, he ruined that beautiful house. In the blink of an eye, he destroyed all the work and love the other people put into the house. He is an ugly man and he has made that house ugly. How dare he scream at me like that, I thought ... What is his problem? That man had made me so furious; I had forgotten Mickey and Tony were still holding onto the baby carriage. The poor little guys were running just to keep up. "What's the matter Mommy?" Tony timidly asked. "Are we in trouble?" Mickey asked apprehensively. "Did we do something to make that man mad?" "No honey, you guys didn't do anything wrong. He is a very nasty man who thinks the world revolves around him. I just wanted to get away from him before he started yelling at us and seeing what he did to our Fairy Tale House made me so sad my heart hurts. He's made mommy so upset I can't eat lunch right now, so why don't we swing on the swings." Determined not to let this man ruin my perfect day, I walked over to the swings. I parked the baby carriage under the tree next to the swings and felt my heart lighten as I peered in at Joey's angelic sleeping face. Soon I was caught up in the joy of watching Mickey "go high... up to the sky" and pushing Tony on the swings, that Mr. Curmudgeon's harsh words started having very little effect on me. By the time the boys had slid down the slide, see-sawed on the teeter-totter, climbed the monkey bars and we ate our picnic lunch, I had forgotten all about Mr. Curmudgeon and the Fairy Tale House. Happy and exhausted we headed home. Mickey and Tony were walking a few steps ahead of the carriage; stopping occasionally to pick up a leaf or stone that caught their fancy. All of a sudden Mr. Curmudgeon came running out of his house. I tried to get the boys and make a run for it, but it was too late, I was face to face with Mr. Curmudgeon."Wait, I want to talk to you. I have something for you," he panted. "Stay here while I go into the house and get it." Swallowing hard to get my heart out of my throat and back into my chest where it belongs, and then taking a deep breath I managed to blurt out, "I'm sorry Sir I can't; I have to get my sons home for a nap." As I looked into his face I didn't see a sour old curmudgeon mad at the world, but a sad and lonely old man. "Please, just for a moment," he pleaded. He sounded so forlorn I agreed to wait. Within a matter of minutes he appeared carrying a box full of toys with a delicate rainbow-colored knitted baby blanket placed on top. "Please take this, my wife wants ...” His voice cracked and tears glistened in his mournful brown eyes. Clearing his throat he continued, "I would like your boys to have this." I was stunned; I didn't know what to say. I just stood there looking into his large moist brown eyes. "That's very kind of you Sir, but .... I ... we can't." Before I could get another word out, he started to tell me his story. "My wife and I moved here about twelve years ago, after I retired from Westinghouse. We had lived in an apartment in the city all our married life. When I retired my wife wanted to buy a house and move somewhere that had lots of children playing outside. You see, Emily and I couldn't have children. Well, when we saw this place my wife just had to have it ... being so near the park and everything. She wanted to fix it up and turn it into a day-care center. I worked on the outside of the house and Emily worked on the inside. She took some classes at the community college to learn about child development, first-aid and CPR. It took her a while but she finally got certified and we were open for business. I never saw my wife so happy." The boys started to fidget a little, interrupting Mr. Curmudgeon in mid-thought. "I'm sorry Sir; the boys are getting a little restless maybe I should get them ..." Before I could finish my sentence, Mr. Curmudgeon had taken Mickey and Tony by the hand and led them up to the house calling back to me, "Ma'am can you manage the pram on your own? I'll come back for the box of toys." "Wait!” I screamed. “You are not taking my sons inside your house!" "Not to worry," he said as he opened the front door, "They can't hurt anything."There was no way I was going to let him take my babies inside that house. Thank goodness the carriage had large wheels; I bolted up the hill so fast that I almost shoved Mr. Curmudgeon through his front door.Stunned, he stared at me for a second and then picked up the front of the baby carriage leading me through the doorway into the dimly lit living room. The room was quite charming, if you looked past all the clutter, and had a stale medicinal smell which was making me a little queasy. "I'll be right back," said Mr. Curmudgeon as he headed out the door to get the box of toys he left near the sidewalk. "I want to get the toys before those wretched kids take them. Make yourselves at home." "Boys, come on let's get out of here." I whispered. I took hold of the boys' hands and in my haste woke Joey trying to maneuver the carriage back out the door. I felt bad for waking Joey up, but now I had the perfect excuse to leave this house. I took Joey out of the carriage and with the boys help I had successfully gotten it out of the house, only to be greeted by Mr. Curmudgeon's sad face. "You're not leaving are you?" "I'm sorry Sir, I better be getting home. We woke Joey up bringing him into your home. I need to rock him to sleep; he will be fussy if I don't. I really enjoyed meeting you but I ..." Mr. Curmudgeon cut me off again in mid sentence. "Oh please stay. You can use the rocking chair in the playroom," he gently urged.Mickey and Tony's eyes lit up when they heard the word playroom. “Mommy, can we stay for a little and play with the toys," they asked. Even Joey seemed contented to stay. Reluctantly I agreed to stay. Leaving the carriage in the cluttered living room, Mr. Curmudgeon led us down a small hallway into a large dark room. When he turned on the lights and raised the window shades, it took my breath away. The walls were painted a very pale blue and the trim around the door, baseboards and windows were painted a glossy white. On the right side of the room, there were nursery rhyme characters painted here and there on the wall. The left side of the room had faintly painted cumulus clouds floating over a sweet little flower garden that ran along the bottom half of the wall. In the left corner of the room next to a window with crisp white Cape Cod curtains sat an over-stuffed platform rocker covered in pink gingham. Beside the rocker in front of the window sat a round table covered with a pink tablecloth with a white lace over-lay. On the table sat a delicate lamp with a ceramic base in the shape of Cinderella's carriage and a white ruffled lampshade. In front of the lamp sat a box of tissues with a handmade cover that had bedtime story characters embroidered on it, a small heart-shaped crystal candy dish filled with rainbow colored mint, a large bedtime story book and a pair of reading glasses. In the far right corner of the room stood a tall bookshelf filled with storybooks, coloring books and puzzles. In front of the window on the right side of the room sat four large beanbag chairs -- one red, one blue, one yellow and one green. They looked so bright and comfortable; just waiting for a child to snuggle into them to read their book. There was a short round table in the middle of the room with six little chairs neatly tucked around it. In the center of the table sat a lazy-susan with different sized cups that neatly held crayons, markers and glue. Walking further into the room I saw a little plastic sliding board and a Sit-‘n- Spin. There was a long countertop that ran down the right side of the room with shelves underneath that held all sorts of board games, blocks and every kind of toy a child could wish for. When I glanced over to the left side of the room my heart skipped a beat. There stood the play kitchen of my childhood dreams. It had a little stove equipped with pots, pans and small utensils, a refrigerator with plastic meat, eggs and veggies and boxes of play food lined the shelves of a tiny cabinet. The sink had real running water to wash the plastic plates, forks, spoons and cups when they got dirty. A toy box filled with stuffed animals and a small child's rocking chair with a rag doll sitting on it sat motionless, waiting for the children to return. While I was admiring the playroom, Mr. Curmudgeon had gone into the kitchen and returned with a teacart. He had two colorful plastic cups for the boys, two beautiful china teacups for the two of us and an assortment of goodies. "I wasn't sure what snacks you allowed the boys to have, so I brought out everything I had in the pantry. I hope this is okay. I put on a pot of coffee and I have fresh milk for your sons. You do drink coffee?" I was over-whelmed and a little frightened. Why was he doing this for us? He doesn't know us ... I didn't even know his name. Oh no, no one knew we're in his house. I could hear the newscaster saying, "TONIGHT ON THE 6:00 NEWS ... BEAUTIFUL YOUNG MOTHER DISAPPEARS WITH HER THREE ADORABLE YOUNG SONS!” "I appreciate your hospitality Sir, but we really ..." "Nonsense,” he interrupted. “I appreciate you taking the time to listen to a silly old man. Please, call me Victor." he said extending his hand. "Nice to meet you Sir ...Victor,” I answered tentatively extending my hand, "I'm Alisa Rose and this is Mickey, Tony and Joey."His handshake was soft and gentle, I started to relax a little ... I knew I could take him, if I had to. "Oh, you had another son” Victor said glancing at Joey, “how wonderful. Emily had a feeling you were going to have another boy." Victor's eyes started to fill with tears. He quickly went over to the teacart and poured the boys a glass of milk. "May I give them some cookies or maybe a box of raisins? Boys, get a coloring book or a toy to play with while your mommy and I talk, if that’s okay with you, Alisa Rose." I didn't know who looked more pathetic ... Mickey, Tony or Mr. Curmud ... Victor. "Sure," I said. I knew it would be useless to try and protest. "Please sit in the rocking chair. I'll be right back with our coffee." "Please, don’t go to any trouble," I called after him, but it was too late he had disappeared out the doorway. Joey and I settled down into what has got to be the softest rocking chair in the world. I gave Mickey and Tony my usual behave-don't make a mess-play nice speech. Victor popped back into the room carrying a chair and two TV trays. He placed the chair next to me and set up the two trays. Then off he went to get the coffee. "Now we're all set," Victor announced. "I bet you think I'm some sort of kook," he added with a chuckle. Nah, I thought, I’d say more like a lunatic, psycho, nut case ... man this rocking chair is nice. Victor poured me a cup of coffee and then went on with his story. "As you can see, Emily worked so hard to make this a wonderful place for children. Unfortunately, her dream didn't last long. One day when she went to pick up one of the children, she felt this horrible pain in her back. She thought she had just pulled a muscle and took some aspirin. But the pain kept getting worse. I could tell that something was wrong and I insisted we go to the doctor’s office. She was referred to a doctor at the clinic that turned out to be a quack. He gave her some pain pills and told her to take it easy. No babysitting for a while was his only advice. I had a feeling it was something more serious, but he was the doctor. I guess we both only wanted to hear good news. Emily went home and just sat in that rocking chair and cried. She didn't want to call the parents and tell them she couldn't babysit for a while. They depended on her. She was afraid they would find someone else and not bring their children back to her when she felt better. We had both grown very attached to the children. As she sat there rocking and looking out the window she saw you pushing that beautiful pram of yours. The chrome on it glistened in the sun. The way you walked... so happy and proud... it moved Emily so much. She called me over to watch you. We watched as you disappeared over the hill into the park. Emily remembered seeing you a few times walking your little dog and now you had a baby. The next day when Emily was sitting in the rocking chair with her heating pad, she saw you again. Soon, we both started looking for you. We would try to see what color blanket you had on the baby, to find out if you had a boy or girl. Before we knew it your little son was too big for the pram and you were pushing him in a stroller, always with that little dog prancing along beside you. Off and on Emily would feel well enough to babysit for a neighbor or two, but mostly she sat in that chair looking out the window, waiting for you to walk to the park. If she hadn't seen you in a while she would worry. I remember when you were expecting your second son. You hadn't walked to the park for over a month. Emily was so worried. "She must have had her little one. I hope everything is alright," Emily would repeat day after day until you finally appeared with that pram -- your little son holding onto the shiny chrome handlebar. "Look," she called, "She's had the baby. I wonder what it is." "I can't explain it ... she fell in love with you. She would often refer to you as our granddaughter." Victor stopped talking and just stared at me. "You were her angel, you know," he whispered.We both just looked at each other, tears streaming down our cheeks. Clearing his throat Victor continued, "When we found out that she had cancer, our world ended. I think the only reason Emily got out of bed was to look for you. When she noticed that you were expecting again, she was overjoyed. She wanted to meet you, but I kept talking her out of it. I didn't want her to get upset if things didn't go well. We saw you leaving your obstetrician’s office the week after Christmas. Emily was going for her last chemo treatment at her doctor's office in the same building. She begged me to run after you. She said she had to meet you, “Just to look into your eyes and tell you what a lovely family you have.” I convinced her it wasn't you. She was so thin and sick, I was afraid seeing her might upset you. When we got home Emily insisted I pack a box of toys for your sons. She was determined to invite you into our home the very next time she saw you walking to the park, even if she had to hobble down the hill after you! I hadn't seen her with that much fire since she got sick. Well, I did as I was told. One by one I placed the toys she wanted your boys to have in a box. Lastly, she ordered me to get the baby blanket she knitted. She never got to use it; all the children she babysat for were older. We talked all evening about your visit. By the time she went to bed she was exhausted, but happy. She slept through the night, something she hadn't done for over a year. When she awoke the next morning, she took my face in her hands, kissed me and made me promise to give the box to you the next time I saw you. I promised her WE would give it to you and went into the kitchen to get her breakfast. When I came back into the bedroom she was gone. So you see Alisa Rose, you have to take the box, it was Emily's dying wish." "I will," I whispered. I had been crying so hard, I hadn't the energy it say anything else. I felt like I had just lost a member of my family. I placed my hand gently on Victor's shaky hands and gave them a squeeze. "Thank you for sharing your story with me. I wish I had met your wife. I know I would have loved her. Even though she is gone I can still feel the love she had in her heart, this room is filled with it."Victor and I chatted a little while longer about the weather, the nasty children next-door and how well behaved the boys were the whole time we were talking. I glanced over at Mickey and Tony who were sitting in the beanbag chairs half asleep. “I better get these little guys home," I giggled. “Please let me help you clean up”. "Oh no, I won't hear of it. You were my guest. Emily will haunt me if I let you lift a finger," he added with a chuckle. Victor collected the coffee cups and glasses and put them onto the teacart and took it into the kitchen. I gently woke the boys and help them put the toys back on the shelf before Victor returned. When Victor returned he praised the boys for the great job they did in cleaning up the playroom and gave them the coloring books they had used, along with a box of crayons. "Thank you very much Mr. Mudgin," Tony politely said. Victor looked slightly confused, but smiled brightly. “You may call him Mr. Victor," I quickly said. "Thank you so much for the toys, goodies and stuff, Mr. Victor," Mickey added. I took one last look at the adorable playroom to make sure we had put all the toys away and to soak in a little more of the magic. Victor led us through the house to the front door. Mickey and Tony helped Victor get the baby carriage out of the living room and down to the sidewalk -- their little chests puffing out with pride as Victor told them how strong they were. As I was laying Joey peacefully into the carriage, Victor appeared once again carrying the box he and Emily had prepared for my sons. I was grateful to have Emily's blanket to place over Joey because the sun was starting to set and the air had gotten a little chillier. Victor carefully placed the box of toys on top of the carriage and tied it to the handlebar. His eyes glistened a little and his voice was a little shaky as he said goodbye. I thanked him again for his hospitality and promised him we'd stop in on him from time to time when we went to the park.As I stood on the sidewalk waving goodbye to Victor, I couldn't believe my eyes; there it was … my Fairy Tale house! The warm magical glow the house always had was back. I could see it in the light shining through the windows of the playroom, in the daffodils and hyacinths doing their best to hold their heads high above the forgotten weeds and in the undying love of a sweet old man for his beloved wife.
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