MRS. FRAZZLE

Her name was Edna Fraser, but being only five and six years old, my sister and I couldn’t quite master the sibilants and just called her Mrs. Frazzle. She lived down by the power dam in a stinky old house and ran a tiny off-the-record, day care ... five or six toddlers or fewer ... where mother would leave us when she needed a day off ... which was frequently. Mrs. Frazzle had no carpeting in her house, all hardwood floors. There were three activities there. PLAY-TIME which involved a room full of plastic toys scattered about which interested nobody after the first day, NAP-TIME when we had to roll out plastic mats on the hardwood, lie down, and be quiet for thirty minutes, and STORY-TIME when Mrs. Frazzle ... whom I think must have been German ... would harrow us with fairy tales meant to be morally instructive. No disrespect intended, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her final years reminded me of Mrs. Frazzle so many years before ... short, thin, dressed in black, hair in a bun. Whenever RBG appeared in the news recently ... sad to say ... all I could think of was “NAP-TIME.”

But it was story-time that poisoned my infant psyche permanently with the rhyming tale she told of the DARNING NEEDLE. Mrs. Frazzle was on a perpetual language crusade to save children from the evils of lying, swearing, and tattling. The DARNING NEEDLE was a giant black insect that punished lying, swearing, tattling children by flying into their faces and sewing their lips together. Like most of her tales, we might have laughed this one off except she actually had a DARNING NEEDLE she used for a visual aid. Not a fake insect ... a real, huge, dead, black wasp she kept in a Mason jar and brought out to shake in our faces as she recited her poem. It had long legs and a five-inch abdomen she assured us contained a DARNING NEEDLE equal to the job. It rattled slightly in the jar when she shook it. When the internet came years later in my adulthood, I was able Google this horror from vivid memory. It is REAL. It’s called the BLACK GIANT ICHNEUMON WASP; it lives in trees, is native to north America, and does not build nests. You think I’m lying, but believe me, I would not dare. And she had one in a jar ... five inches long.

So try to imagine Mrs. Frazzle’s dry, crackly voice as she held up her jar and recited her poem ... which goes:

 

O, my children beware
Of the lie and the swear,
And beware of the tattle too,
For the DARNING NEEDLE
Is drifting about,
And he has his eye on YOU.

O, there’s nothing worse
Than a swear or a lie.
It makes the Baby Jesus cry!
And the DARNING NEEDLE
Is always by
For the child who likes to curse.

And the tattler too
Will get his due.
No use to cover your lips,
For the DARNING NEEDLE
Will pry open your hand
And go STITCH, STITCH, STITCH, STITCH, STITCH.

And your mouth will be sewn
As tight as a drum,
And you won’t be able
To eat or hum,
For surely the DARNING NEEDLE will come!
And go STITCH, STITCH, STITCH, STITCH, STITCH.

And when she did the stitch-stitch part, she jabbed the air with her bony finger in front of her mouth, both up and down, to mimic the DARNING NEEDLE.

 

And you’ll never hear him coming.
There’s no buzz,
No rattle to warn it.
But he’ll be there
The moment you swear
And DARN IT, DARN IT, DARN IT.

Oh, a lie is bad,
And a curse is worse,
But mostly he hates a snitch.
Beware of the DARNING NEEDLE,
My dears.
STITCH, STITCH, STITCH, STITCH, STITCH.

And I can believe the Baby Jesus part too, because the DARNING NEEDLE made me cry many dark nights back then ... and occasionally still. Darn it.