Once upon a time two old ladies lived next door to each other in wee cottages at the east end of an enchanted village. (Even enchanted villages have old people.) Their houses were much the same: thatched roofs, climbing roses, flagstone walkways, windows divided into four panes, single brick chimneys. Each had one bedroom, a tiny parlor, and a cozy kitchen with a back door leading to the garden where the privy was hidden behind rhododendron bushes. One house was pink with blue trim. In that house lived Granny Tibbett and her cat Amelia. The other house was white with black trim and belonged to Granny Hubbard and her dog Ambrose. As these cottages were so small, they had been traditionally rented to widows or elderly spinsters. Fortunately, this fairy kingdom did not believe in witches, so they left the old women alone. Neither did they believe in fairy godmothers; they just knew that old ladies sometimes needed a place to live.
Their houses might have been similar, but the two old women were very different. Granny Tibbett had squinty blue eyes and white wispy hair which she wore in a precarious bun at the back of her neck. She had small and nervous hands, which moved constantly even as she sat and had her tea. Granny had one daughter who married, and the couple ran the livery stables and a small pub-and-snug that had been in Granny Tibbett’s family as long as anyone could remember. Granny Tibbett’s daughter and her family lived above the bar. Business was good, but so was family life and the couple had welcomed a new baby every other year for the almost two decades of their marriage. In the way of the village, they had added on to the back of the house twice, tripling the size of the property. There were now nine grandchildren. Granny Tibbett insisted that they come to her house for every Holy Day, which including the feast days of the saintly namesakes of all the children. Since the burgeoning family no longer fit in the little cottage, Granny would set up double sets of planks in the backyard and everyone would sit on benches and partake of the repast that Granny Tibbett had spent days preparing. The yard was full of tree swings and the house was full of old toys and children’s artwork. Granny Tibbetts almost always had a sick child at her house, isolating her grandchild from siblings and nursing him back to health. Needless to say, all of this was a lot of work for an old lady, and she generally had the reputation of being a fine grandmother indeed, and was called the “good Granny,” to differentiate her from her neighbor. Granny Tibbett never told anyone how hurt she had been when her daughter and son-in-law had taken her up on her offer to go off and live on her own. Of course, her silence was just another way in which she was a good Granny.
Granny Hubbard was very small and thin. She wore her brindled hair in a long braid whirled around her head, always neat as a pin. On Sundays, she often wound a ribbon or piece of lace into the braid. Her eyes were big and brown, and her hands were much too big for her tiny body. Granny Hubbard had four grandchildren, who lived with her son and his wife on the old Hubbard farm, which was called Blue Hominy after the blue corn that was grown there and milled into hominy grits (a favorite food in fairy land). It had been Granny Hubbard’s choice to leave the farm soon after her son married, taking almost nothing with her but her dog. Granny Hubbard took well to living on her own and was glad to tell anyone who asked how much she and Ambrose liked her little cottage. She never invited her family in but went to Holy Days and Feast Days back at the farm. It was quite a distance for an old lady, but she soon had the livery build her a little dog cart for Ambrose to pull her in. (Ambrose was large and Granny Hubbard was very small.) She would travel slowly to the farm with a pot of baked beans and linen sack full of sugar cookies snug between her knees. These dishes were her specialties and could be counted on for any social occasion. She never stayed on the farm more than a couple of hours, and never long enough to do the dishes. Ambrose would trot home pulling Granny’s cart, where she had the empty bean pot at her feet and a couple of her daughter-in-law’s tasty blue corn scones in her sack. She would give Ambrose an extra bowl of kibbles with his dinner and put on the water for a pot of tea to have with her scones. Granny Hubbard never had any of her grandchildren staying with her – even when a new baby was born, it was her daughter-in-law’s mother and the village nurse that helped out. She had a painted miniature of her deceased husband by the bed, but nothing in the house proved that she had any other relatives. For all these reasons, she was known as the “bad Granny.”
There were some pleasant things about Granny Hubbard which no one ever mentioned. For example, after Granny Tibbett had had a day-long visit from her family, eating goose and pudding in the backyard, her company would pack up the leftovers and go back to town, leaving the grandmother with a terrible mess and a traumatized cat (the little boys were mean). Granny Hubbard, who had barricaded herself in her house with Ambrose for the duration, would finally come over (when they were all gone) and spend the rest of the day picking up china and cutlery, warming water for the dishes, and trying to coax Amelia out of a tree. Granny Tibbett was too exhausted to speak, but she was surely grateful in her own way, even if she never said much.
The two old ladies did not socialize with each other much; Granny Tibbett was far too busy with her family to drink tea often with neighbors, and, when she did, she had nothing to talk about except her grandchildren. Because there were so many grandchildren and they were so much alike, no one could keep them straight, and it made for a fairly boring conversation. Granny Hubbard, with more time on her large and capable hands, helped out with the flowers at church, joined the lending library, and was part of a knitting group who produced sweaters, gloves, and balaclavas for sailors, who apparently were never warm enough. Granny Hubbard liked to walk Ambrose in the early evening and, while she could be seen talking to whoever she met, Granny Hubbard very seldom talked about her grandchildren. Perhaps people thought this was odd and not very grandmotherly, but were happy to talk about something they cared about – like how to split the day lilies, which were the best books at the library for reading in bed, and how to get the best cuts of meat from old Butcher Thompson.
The two old grannies passed away within a few days of each other as sometimes happens at the end of fall when death is in the air. Granny Tibbett died in bed, and no one realized it for a few days, and then there was a quick funeral, as was needs be. People thought that the family from the livery seemed more relieved than sad, and they quickly cleaned out the cottage by having a street sale and dumping what was left into a fire they built in the backyard. No one was seen to cry, although the youngest child, who was three, kept looking for her Granny on the day they emptied the house.
Granny Hubbard collapsed on her way to the lending library, and passers-by got her home and called Doctor McIntyre, who stopped by the Blue Hominy Farm later that day to tell the family that the old lady had only a day or two left. They all rushed into town and sat in the little house until it was the time for the undertaker to take her out to the Blue Hominy Farm to lie in the parlor for a day and then be buried in the family cemetery. Most of Granny Hubbard’s belongings were taken back to the farm, with the linens and china being packed away in a hope chest for the oldest granddaughter. The entire family was sad, and for the next few months they wore black armbands and were eager to talk about their lost Grandmother.
No one could figure out what happened. The good Granny seemed to not have been appreciated, while the bad Granny seemed to be deeply mourned. This was much discussed among the villagers, and they began to wonder if the bad Granny had cast a spell or something. There was some talk about the possibility that old ladies could be witches after all, but luckily the next two grannies to take the cottages were very gentle women, and the villages gave up the idea of witches and just accepted that there were some things which you can never understand. Which is, of course, the very basis of fairy tales and enchanted villages.