Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cut the Pickle: The RCMP, Children's Games, and the Rocky Mountains Matter to Storytellers

My daughter dances into the room. She never walks. Walking doesn't occur to her. She's 9--a true nine-year-old that loves imagination games, dress-up, and being nice to her friends.

Anyway, here she is, dancing all over the living room.

"High five," she says, hand up over her head. "Down low," she moves her hand to the height of her knees, palm facing me. "In the middle," hand at waist height.

Here comes the unexpected bit. Still at waist height, she turns her hands so the tips of her index fingers meet. "Cut the pickle," She says.

I know this. I was there when she learned it. So there's a short pause while we smile conspiratorially at each other. We know what's coming.

I reach toward her makeshift pickle and slice through with a delicate karate chop.

My daughter, nearly hovering above the floor in joyous anticipation, doesn't wait for my hand to finish its chopping.

"Tickle, tickle!" And I have child's hand buried in my armpits. I laugh, even though she hasn't come anywhere close to tickling me.

"I love that," she says.

"Do you remember who taught you that rhyme?" Her searching expression tells me she doesn't, even though I've told her before. She throws herself down on to the sofa, arranging herself in that most primal of postures that says, Tell me the story.

She's a good sport, so she ventures a guess. "You."



"You were three years old," I begin.

She snuggles in. It's not a long story but we both get comfortable. It's important to be comfortable when a story is present.

"We were in Banff," I continue. I tell her that it is a town in the mountains in Alberta, frowning a little because it's been too long since we've taken her there, and I realize she might have forgotten there are places where the earth rises to touch the clouds. "We were walking down Main Street, and Ben saw an RCMP officer all decked out in his reds."

For some reason, this delights my daughter. Perhaps it's the special feeling she has when I don't have to explain to her what "reds" are. She knows and the knowing makes her feel grown up, smart. She giggles.

"He crouched down to talk to you and Ben, and I thought, he must be a dad."

"Did he ignore you and Daddy?" Maybe she remembers this story after all?

I nod, feigning indignation. Can you imagine a grown up ignoring other grown ups? I don't tell her that the Mountie actually, in the milli-seconds before he bent himself down to my children's eye level whispered, "Is it okay if I do a tickle game with them?" I doubt I'll ever tell them that part. Permission spoils the fantasy.

"And this is what he did," I tell my daughter. And we go through the motions. Up high, down low, in the middle, cut the pickle. . .

"The pickle," I tell her. "That's the bit that really got you."

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police, decked out in full reds, bent his knee on Banff's cobblestone streets to play Cut the Pickle tickle game with two small children.

And that's how story works, right? Larger than life character, in a breathtaking setting, does something heroic (or at least, endearing).


The bit that matters to storytellers isn't the Mountie, or Banff, or even my children, darling as they are.

It's the Cut the Pickle game.


High five. We know this. It's ubiquitous to our culture. Ah, the blessing of familiar, this is the same thing we've known and loved for years--and we can't resist it.

Down low. Okay, cute. Put a little spin on it. We can go there with you. It's different, but not so different as to be unbelievable.

In the middle. We trust you by now. You know what you're doing, and you are able to be creative with it. Fine. In the middle we go.

Cut the pickle. Whoa. Where did that come from? We were high fiving, now we're chopping food? Except, your hands didn't move that much. Really, all you did was rearrange your fingers. It's different, but organic to the game we were playing. Still, why do we have this feeling like there's more to this?Okay. We will step a bit closer--we have to in order for our hands to meet.

Tickle, tickle! Ahhh! Surprise! You got us to trust you, drew us close, then sealed the deal with an unexpected, but perfectly logical ender. We didn't see it coming, but now that it's happened, it's the only way you could have ended the game.


So now, I move from my spot on the sofa to the chair in front of my computer. The story I'm telling is big and hairy. I'm in over my head. Ready to quit.

Then I hear my dancing daughter sing, "Cut the pickle!"

Fingers on keyboard. Shoulders back. Start storytelling.

After all, it's nothing more than an elaborate game of Cut the Pickle.

I bid you good writing.


Patti Hill said...

Bonnie, you have to do a video of you and your daughter cutting the pickle. And I love how you used this illustration to teach me something about story. You have a way of doing that.

Bonnie Grove said...

A good idea!