Every time I decide to gift a copy of this book to someone special in my life, I spend the weekend before rereading it from cover to cover. The title is Carbonel and it was written the year I was born by Barbara Sleigh. She was a British author and when the children’s librarian recommended it to me during one of my regular Saturday visits it did not seem to be something I would be interested in reading. But I trusted Mrs. Keene implicitly and checked out the book before I even opened it.
I will preface this story by saying that I was in the fourth grade at the time, and had just that week encountered my first bully at school. It was a girl in my class who had come to our school as a new student after the Christmas break. Sue was loud and rude and unlike anyone I had met up until that time. She would ultimately be asked to leave our school after cursing at one of the teachers, but that would be several months after she arrived.
Bullies rule by intimidation. They poke fun at others as a way to take the spotlight off their own shortcomings. Weaker personalities are drawn to these people because they believe they will be protected from the harshness of the world if they are loyal and support the bullies cause and agenda.
During the first encounter I had with Sue, she made a face at me on the yard during our physical education class. Then she stepped back, put her hands on her hips and said in a high pitched voice that could be heard all over the playground, “What’s your name, fatso?”
I turned and walked away, attempting to escape her cruel remark and any further wrath. But Sue followed after me. My face was red and my stomach began to ache. It felt like I was going to cry but I was trying with all of my might to keep that from happening. I silently prayed that no one else had heard what she had said.
A couple of the boys laughed and it was only because Mr. Carter, the P.E. Coach blew his whistle for us to stop playing and get in line that this episode was defused. And I didn’t even think about until much later the fact that not one kid stood up to her for saying this for me. Perhaps that kid could have been me but her action took me by surprise and threw me off guard. Looking back over my life, this was a turning point in how I perceived myself and in my level of confidence. I spent many decades blaming this girl, and everyone else who was present that day, until I finally realized it was me who was responsible for everything that occurred after those four words were spoken and sent out into the universe.
That evening at home I had almost forgotten what happened until it was time to eat dinner. My mother served me a plate of food that included a ground beef patty, mashed potatoes, and peas. This was my favorite meal at that time, subject to change without notice. And even though the ground meat came from a plastic tube, the potatoes were instant from a box of flakes, and the peas were the canned variety, I thoroughly enjoyed each bite. So much so, that after my plate was clean I asked for more. My mother motioned for me to help myself in the kitchen and the second plate had even more food on it than the first. This would mark the beginning of my overeating, stuffing my feelings down with food so that the pain would subside.
Before I went to bed I stood in front of the full length mirror on the door leading into our small bathroom. Yes, I was overweight. I heard her words again now, as clearly as when she had said them to my face. I felt sorry for myself but wasn’t at all sure what I could have said back to her. I wasn’t a mean girl and would never have said anything to hurt her feelings. What did the other kids do under these circumstances?
I wanted to tell on her to my mother. That wasn’t going to happen because I had already begun protecting her from the world. Mom was a sensitive and creative person and she and I were pretty much alone in the world. There were a few elderly relatives back in her home state of Missouri, but I had only met two of them and didn’t feel a connection with them. So I didn’t say a word and went to sleep to dream of better times.
When we returned home from the library on that particular Saturday afternoon I sat down on my bed to think. Then I picked up the book and thumbed through the pages. It was longer than I had thought while Mrs. Keene was telling me about the story. Over three hundred pages! I had never heard of a chapter book this long. Even though I was in the “Red” reading group in my class (teachers always seem to think that kids can’t figure out their secret codes) I thought this book might be too difficult for me. But I read a few pages and the next thing I knew it was time for dinner.
Quickly gobbling down my macaroni and cheese and salad, I escaped back to my reading corner. I was mesmerized by this book, not knowing quite why and found myself getting caught up in the characters, the setting, and the story that was unfolding.
The main character is a girl named Rosemary. She is about the age I was when I first read it. Rosemary lives in three rooms on the third floor of a house that has been broken up into several apartments with her mother, Mrs. Brown. This could have almost been my story in 1965. It was my mother and I living in one small apartment after another. Even though we lived in southern California, a 90 minute drive south to Disneyland and Rosemary lived with her mother in a section of London located about 5 kilometers north of London Bridge on the River Thames, our lives had many parallels.
Rosemary ends up with a black cat named Carbonel as her pet and confidant. I had a cat as well, a long-haired snow white cat except for a splash of black at the tip of his tail and another spot on the tip of his nose. We called him Tippy and he was my best friend during my elementary school years because he listened to every word I said and consoled me when I was feeling down by snuggling up to me and purring loudly. Girls and their cats are capable of overcoming almost anything, it seems.
I won’t share the adventures of Rosemary and Carbonel with you and spoil the story. But I will say that as I continued reading the book that weekend, at all hours and in an assortment of locations inside and out, something powerful shifted in my thinking and subconscious mind. All of a sudden and out of the blue my world expanded around me and walls that had previously shut me out came tumbling down, exposing blue skies and sunshine. Most important of all, I now believed in magic and knew deep in my core that everything I wanted in my life was possible. Believing in the possibilities of a world that had been so cruel to my mother and I was an awakening and revelation of great proportions.
Another item of interest I will share is that this was the longest chapter book I had ever seen, let alone read at that point in my life. Coming in at just over three hundred pages within twenty-five chapters it seemed overwhelming to me when Mrs. Keene had slipped it into my hands on that Saturday morning. Even though I was an avid reader, I pretty much took the easy route by choosing to read books at or below my grade level, and many times ones I had read once or twice before. Perhaps it was a subconscious choice that kept me grounded in where I was rather than propelling myself further ahead. Staying in my comfort zone made my life simpler and easier to navigate. Leave it to Mrs. Keene, the librarian to gently persuade me to change, at least temporarily.
By Sunday evening I knew exactly what was going to happen in each chapter. Instead of losing interest I chose to read every detail as though I was reading through a transcript of a documentary that had transpired in front of my eyes at some point in the past. My favorite passage in the one in which Rosemary says the “summoning words” and Carbonel does not move a muscle. Then he steps down and comes toward her, purring loudly. She is overjoyed that he came to her when he didn’t have to and Carbonel says,
“I came in gratitude. That will be a stronger bond than any spell.”
And so it is, that we all find joy and fulfillment from doing what he are grateful for rather than that for which we feel obligated to do. Lead with your feelings of gratitude and happiness will be yours.
Please take my word for it when I tell you that you possess great power. You have it within yourself to do anything you want to do or be or have. If I could transform from being a shy, introverted child with little confidence and low self-esteem to someone who believes in myself and the magic of positive thinking then you can do this and more. Choosing exactly what you want will become the only obstacle you will encounter. Believe in this power I think of as magic and with believing in the possibilities comes responsibility and dreams fulfilled.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, believer of magic and possibilities and everything positive life has to offer. Come along with me, if you will and we will explore the world of entrepreneurship and authorship, together.