After the Inkygirl interview I asked Debbie about the first bedtime story she can remember, because this is still my favorite question to ask my fellow authors. She sent me this:
Although my Dad read me picture books, my Mom wasn’t as comfortable reading English. Instead, she used to tell me fairy tales that she remembered from her childhood in Japan, but would use Western names.
One of the earliest stories I remember was the tale of John The Fisherman. The story changed from time to time, probably because I kept asking my mother for it over and over again, but the basic story I remember is this:
— Story begins —
Fisherman John saves the life of a turtle during one fishing trip. As a reward, the turtle takes John to an underwater kingdom, where the fisherman is given a fine meal and a comfortable bed. He is invited to visit for a few nights, and he agrees. When the time is up, the Queen of the underwater kingdom tries to convince him to stay longer, but John misses his home and family too much.
The Queen gives him some gifts to take with him, including a small ornately carved box which she says will protect him but that he is NEVER TO OPEN.
After John thanks the Queen, the turtle takes him back to the surface and John returns home. To his shock, however, his house is barely recognizable: only a few broken-down walls remain, and there is no sign of his wife or children. The rest of the village has changed as well, and John does not recognize a single soul. After asking around the village, John discovers that while he spent few nights in the underwater kingdom, a hundred years have gone by above.
Grief-stricken that he will never see his family again, John opens the box. White smoke emerges and within a few seconds, John ages until he is a very old man.
— Story ends —
As a child, I remember finding this story extraordinarily sad but also fascinating, which is why I asked for it so often.
My mother died from cancer years ago, but the story still brings back strong memories of how I felt back then: deep sadness, horror at John’s predicament…but also the reassuring touch of my mother’s hand while she gently stroked my forehead as I fell asleep.
If you’re interested, you can read about the original Japanese story (“Urashima Taro”) in Wikipedia.