The Talking Eggs
This is a Creole story from African- Americans in the south of the USA. It was first collected by Alcée Fortier, published in Memoirs of the American Folklore Society in 1895. Here’s my own retelling….
Once upon a time a mother had two daughters. Millison and Blanche. Millison looked just like her mother. Blanche didn’t. Millison reminded the mother of herself so much she could never tell her off, or deprive her of anything Millison wanted. How do you think Millison was growing up? What kind of grown-up was she likely to become?
The other sister, Blanche, on the other hand, was always being told off and given all the hard jobs to do. Her sister shared none of the housework and her mother wasn’t very fond of it either. Blanche’s life was really all about hard work and being shouted at, called nasty names. Everything good she did was laughed at, name-called or ruined on purpose. Can you believe these two girls lived in the same house and had the same mother?!
One morning the mother sent Blanche to the well with a bucket to fetch some water. When Blanche arrived she saw a tired-looking old woman struggling to get herself water fro the deep, deep, well. “Young lady,” said the old woman, “I am hot and thirsty. Would you please help me?” “Of course!” said Blacnhe, because after all, what kind of person would refuse? "Thank you, child, you are a good girl!" said the old woman and after Blanche made sure the old lady had had all she wanted to drink, and had some spare for later, Blanche collected her own bucketful of water and went back home. She was smiling because someone had thanked her - that was a very unusual experience and feeling for her!
It wasn’t long before the girls’ mother was shouting at Blanche for taking so long to collect the water. She called her stupid, threw the water over her and told her to go back and do it again, quicker.
Dripping wet, frightened and very sad, Blanche ran away into the woods. It was getting dark and she hadn’t got any more water and she was afraid to go home when she saw the old woman from earlier that day. “Dear girl, what’s wrong with you? Why are you crying? Why are you all wet?”
Blanche explained what had happened, but she wasn’t sure the old lady would believe her. She wasn’t sure the old lady wouldn’t shout at her either, she was so used to people being horrible. But none of that happened. The old lady smiled kindly and said, “Come with me, let me give you a safe bed for the night and a warm meal for your tummy. Everything will be alright.”
Now, you know you should never talk to strangers, and you definitely should never go anywhere with one! But this is an old, old story and things were different then. So this is what happened. Blanche nodded at the old lady’s kind offer and the old woman said, “Very well, dinner and a bed. But you must promise me you must not laugh or be rude about anything you see.” Blanche promised she would not laugh at anything she saw and the old lady led Blanche through the woods. As they walked, prickly bushes of thorn bushes opened up all by themselves, and then closed behind them.
As they walked through the woods, Blanche saw unimaginable things. First, she saw two axes fighting each another. Part of her wanted to laugh but she had made a promise and didn’t want to be rude, so she kept quiet. A few steps later, she saw two separate arms playing clapping games - not attached to a body! Just beyond that, there were two dancing legs and after that, two heads without any bodies at all were rolling in the ground, chatting away about the weather. But not once did Blanche comment, or laugh or smile.
At last they arrived at the old woman's cabin. "Make a fire, please, to cook the supper," said the old woman, and she sat down near the fireplace. As Blanche prepared the fire, the old lady took hold of her own head and twisted it off! Then she laid it on her lap, like a football. This was the strangest thing Blanche had ever seen, but still, she didn’t say a thing. Then, holding her head in her lap, the old woman combed her hair, then popped her head back onto her body. “Much better!” she said.
She handed Blanche a large bone. You can make soup from bones, but from just one bone? Blanche didn’t think this would work, but she wasn’t going to be rude, so she put the bone in the pot. And before you could say, “I prefer tomato soup to mushroom,” the pot was bubbling full of hearty meat stew.
Then old woman handed Blanche a grain of rice. “Pound this rice in the bowl,” she told Blanche. One grain of rice? That wasn’t going to do much good. But Blanche kept quiet and did what she was told. And lo! Before you could say, “can I have mine egg-fried?” the bowl was spilling over with steaming rice.
They down on the back porch steps to eat their meal. Some rabbits came out to play. But these were no ordinary rabbits. The boys were in bow ties and the girls were in dresses! An older rabbit played a banjo, and while the rabbits danced to the music, the old lady sang along. Although it was all happening in the very weirdest way, Blanche was having a lovely time and she clapped in time to the tunes, and even sang along a bit. But before long, she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer - it had been a very long day and her brain needed rest. The old lady made her a bed and Blanche slept deeply.
The next morning, the old lady told Blanche that she should return home, but not to be afraid: everything would be alright. “I promise you, life will be better from now on. And because you have been such a good girl, I’m going to give you a present. Go into my chicken house and help yourself to as many eggs as you can carry. BUT - you must do as the eggs say.” Blanche was about to laugh, but remembered just in time and listened instead. The lady carried on: “Any eggs that say, ‘take me,’ you can take. But any eggs that say, ‘don’t take me,’ then of course, you mustn’t. When you’re almost home, throw the eggs over your left shoulder, so that they break in the road. Then you’ll get a surprise.”
Blanche thought this was very odd, but she was getting used to things being very odd. She was learning pretty quickly that while she thought she knew how things worked, she really didn’t know very much at all. So she went to the chicken house and saw all the eggs. Half of them were golden! And half of them were ordinary, speckly, with feathers sticking to them: dull, ordinary eggs. Blanche was amazed and went to pick up a golden egg. “Don’t take me, don’t take me!” it said. She took her hand away. “Take ME! Take ME!” said all the plain eggs. So that’s what she did. She said goodbye to the old lady, thanking her for her generosity and kindness, and started to go home.
When she was almost home, she decided that if she was ever going to waste an egg by throwing it over her left shoulder, then the time was now. She picked up the plain egg and hurled it, and it smashed on the ground. And instead of egg-gunk, out tumbled diamonds and rubies and pearls. Blanche gathered them up in her pockets and walked a little further before throwing another over her shoulder. When this one cracked, out came new shoes and warm clothes! Egg after egg after egg smashed to bring Blanche all she could have ever wished for: a strong and beautiful horse to ride on; soap to wash with; coins to buy things; seeds for a garden; pens and paper for drawing and writing… By the time Blanche arrived home, all the eggs had been cracked and she had a lot to tell her mother and sister.
When her mother saw all the riches Blanche arrived back with, she decided she wouldn’t scold Blanche, but would take advantage of these magic eggs. She would send Millison - who, you remember, she much preferred - to get herself much finer things than a horse and seeds and shoes. Millison would have fine dresses and a golden carriage and shoes made of crystal!
That night, while Blanche was asleep, the mother shared her plans with Millison and sent her off into the woods. “But, Mother; it’s dark out there, and you just spoilt my lovely dream,” said Millison. “The sooner you go, the sooner you’re back, with much more riches than Blanche ever got. When you get back, I’ll take all Blanche’s treasures, and we can run off to the city and live like fine ladies!” Millison smiled, and off she went into the woods….
It wasn’t too long before Millison came across the old lady. “My sister Blanche told me all about you,” she said, smiling sweetly. “She said you have the loveliest house - I’d love to see it.” The old lady looked at Millison, and said, “Follow me. But do not laugh or be rude about anything you see.” But when Millison saw the axes, the arms, the legs, and the heads, she couldn't help but laugh and laugh. And when the old woman took off her head and set it on her lap to comb and braid her hair, the girl shrieked, pointing, "Well, now, if that isn't the stupidest thing I've ever seen!” and she grabbed the old woman’s head and said, “I’m going to keep your head until you give me all the presents like my sister got - that’s only fair!”
The old lady’s head said, “Well, I need to have my body and head back together or I can’t do that, now, can I?” So Millison gave the woman back her head and the old woman said, “If you desperately want the same treatment as your sister, I will tell you exactly what I told her. Go to the chicken house and do what the eggs tell you. Then when you’re almost home, toss them over your right shoulder.” Greedily, Millison ran to the chicken house. Inside, all the plain eggs cried, "Take ME!,” and the golden ones said, "Don't take me.” "You think I'm fool enough to listen to you stupid eggs? You think I’m going to walk away from golden eggs?!” And she grabbed all of the golden eggs while they called out, “Don't take, me," and she ran into the woods, desperate to get her presents.
While she was still in sight of the cottage, she tossed the eggs over her right shoulder as fast as she could. And out of the cracked golden shells came clouds of snakes and toads and frogs and wasps and they all chased after her, all the way through the woods until she reached her mother’s house.
Her mother tried to protect Millison by shoo-ing away all the creatures with her broom, but they just started chasing her, too, and they hurried that horrible pair all the way into the mountains where they had to hide in a gigantic pile of bear poo, until they were sure that all the beasties had gone away.
Blanche felt very sorry for her sister and mother, but there was very little she could do about their behaviour. So she tidied the house for when they might return. And after several months when there was still no sign of them, she left to explore the world, enjoy her life, and plant her seeds in a garden of her own.
As for Millison and her mother, while her mother moaned bitterly, Millison spent a lot of time thinking. She realised that - just like Blanche - she had found exactly what she deserved in the chicken house.
It was the choices she had made about her behaviour that gave her a very different ending - and from now on, she vowed, she was going to make some very different choices indeed.
1. Why do people laugh and be rude at things that are different?
2. If you think that people are going to say horrible things to you, can you be yourself? How does it feel?
3. What different choices could Millison have made when she was growing up?
4. Can you decide to make new choices, starting right now?