Posts Tagged ‘humor’

“There’s no plainer way to say it: I write about monsters.


Illustration by Lucia Calfapietra for Read It Forward.com 2019

As in wolves that walk on their hind legs, Bigfoot, and man-bats—the spooky stuff that pounding hearts and cold midnight sweats are made of. Upon learning what I do, most people assume I’m 6-foot-3 and spend my time clomping around forests with a rifle and a rucksack, hunting for phantom animals. They’re always disappointed to learn I’m closer in size to a Hobbit than I am to Paul Bunyan and that I carry a camera rather than a machete. (I do clomp around in forests every chance I get.)

Some expect me to resemble a woodsy goth. “You look like you could be somebody’s mom,” I’ve heard young fans moan. I am indeed the mom of two somebodies, and happy for it. But the fact that I seem so ordinary may be why every interview I’ve ever had starts with something like, “So how did a rather short art teacher/journalist from Wisconsin turn into a werewolf investigator and author?”

Truth? It’s not just about the monsters. It never has been just about the monsters, as much as I adore their rippling, furry muscles and their fangs all-a-glisten with viscous drool. No, there’s something more intrinsic, something monster-like that we’re all on watch for in this world because we know it exists even if we won’t admit it. Stories and folk tales are full of this mystery factor, and they can serve to make us aware there’s a monster in everyone’s life. But sometimes the monster just stands and introduces itself.

It surprised me as much as anyone when, in 1992, I wrote a newspaper article on an alleged werewolf-like creature seen by eyewitnesses outside a small town in Wisconsin, and the story blew up worldwide. The universe then turned its astonished, glowing eyes my way, and the “hunt” ended up taking over much of my life. Somehow the creature just never seemed as strange to me as it did to most other people, and I credit a few special childhood books that I believe helped make it so.

One of these books made me decide at age 3 that I wanted to be an artist and writer, but again, it wasn’t for the love of bears, ghosties, or wolves jeering at little pigs in fragile houses.


This book’s protagonists were two feisty kittens named Hush and Brush, who invented every color ever seen by men or angels and went off to paint the world. I remember begging my mother to read it over and over because this story, Margaret Wise Brown’s 1949 The Color Kittens, showed me both the power of words and the miracle of color. It was as close to a religious experience as most 3-year-olds can have. And I’m not even a cat person.

Despite that fact, it was another cat tale that would give my world its second wakeup call. At Herbert V. Schenck Elementary School in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1957, I was 6 years old, lying on my kindergarten nap-mat waiting for the teacher to read us something dull. Then she announced the day’s story: The Cat in the Hat, by a man with the funny name of Dr. Seuss.

Cat? Hat? I perked up, and by the time she’d finished the first couple pages I was entranced in a state of joyful shock—not only at the rhymes but at the audacious rhythm, the unsentimental artwork, and the ludicrous Cat, who seemed more sinister than saccharine. Most riveting was the scary premise of the story: Mother leaves two children alone, extremely weird character enters the home, wreaks havoc, calls in two even stranger characters that go wild on the place, and then somehow the whole mess is cleaned up and the mother never finds out. Only the goldfish knows.

The teacher had read us many books, but this one felt completely new. I didn’t realize at the time, of course, that this was exactly what Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, had been going for when he was asked to create a children’s book that would make young kids want to read. But it worked on me. I felt the power. The Cat was a creepily benign monster, and I understood that intuitively, as young children do.

There have been other books that opened unexpected worlds. One of my favorites, by Katherine Gibson Isobel Read, was simply called Fairy Tales. Its cover illustration showed a small group of children sitting at the feet of a storytelling elf, watched over by an enigmatic and beautiful fairy. The back cover completed the scene with a high hill topped by the requisite castle and towers. I looked at this illustration so long and often that I wore the binding off the book.


My drawing of a rather stately fairy and elf quartet done in 3rd grade, age 9.

I didn’t believe fairies were real, but I wished very hard that they were. My sister and I invented a make-believe fairy universe of beings that lived in the clouds by day and danced in streetlights at night. They had magnificent wardrobes of gowns and tiaras, and left their tiny, polished teeth in a nearby quarry where we would spend hours hunting for small quartz pebbles. This world was strangely devoid of monsters, though there are many adult folk traditions that see fairies in an ominous light.

Together these books fused art, words, and unknown creatures into a corner of my youthful mind that always made me think, What if? Their message was a promise that though strange things may happen, and that these things may bring disorder to our lives—and though there may, indeed, be monsters—we’re strong enough to face the unknown beasts, clean up the messes, and leave some beauty in the world.

It was for the love of those books that I dared to write about werewolves, and still do.

See this and other essays at Read It Forward.Com!

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The Writer’s Prayer

I wrote this a few years ago with a collection of light verse that was mercifully never published. This little  item, though, I thought might deserve resurrection, along with a few others I’ll sprinkle in from time to time like those tiny M&M’s they make for cookies. If my wits ever do fail me, everyone will  know exactly why…

The Writer’s Prayer

Now I sit me down to write.

I pray the Lord my wit be bright.

If I should write aught that is fake,

I pray the Lord my wit to take.

Linda S. Godfrey

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Saint Nuggie

Something I’ve always liked about the Catholic Church’s saints – even
though I’m a Lutheran – is that they come with great stories. My
personal faves are St. George, who dropped a dragon, St. Christopher,
who was given a dog’s head by God to help prevent vanity, and St.
Columba, who scared away a water monster near Loch Ness.

I was pleased, then, the day the statue of St. Nuggie came to me. He
lay crammed into a Zip-lok bag with a handful of bedraggled dollhouse
characters that I found in a flea market. Only a few inches tall, sans
markings or labels, there was nothing remarkable about him. Just a
youthful, contented face and a hand making the peace sign that somehow
reminded me of the way my brother’s hand used to look just as he was
bending his fingers at the knuckle to administer a nuggie.

Saint Nuggie close-up

Saint Nuggie close-up

A nuggie, for the happily uninitiated, is a knuckle rub to the top of
the scalp, usually accomplished by holding the recipient in a firm
headlock. While physical nuggies are unpleasant in the extreme, I
thought perhaps a spiritual nuggie might be useful now and then. A
saint that could give me a light knuckle rap when I spend too long at
the blog or reach for a second Nonni’s biscotti would be a friend

So, St. Nuggie stood watch on the base of my nightstand lamp for two
years. Just recently, however, I got some new glasses, and took a much
closer look at him after he had toppled into the wastebasket for about
the 200th time. It was only then that I noticed he pointed to an eensy
red heart with his other hand.

Sakes alive. I realized with chagrin that this was no Saint, this was
a tiny plastic statue of a tween-age Jesus! I may be a Lutheran, but I
know a Sacred Heart when I see one. Eventually.

I was horror-stricken. Had I committed blasphemy by calling him St.
Nuggie all this time? I cringed for three or four seconds and then
decided not. This is, after all, a three-inch tall piece of hard
plastic with no name written on it. Perhaps Saint Nuggie just likes to
wear jewelry in the shape of a heart because – being a Saint — he’s
got a good one. Or maybe he had bypass surgery and the incision stayed
miraculously open. Yep, a mere deuce of rationalizations did it for
me. Saint Nuggie he will remain.

I do hope no one will report me to any canonization authorities for
making up my own saint. After all, that guy in Green Bay who dresses
like the pope and calls himself St. Vince has been getting away with
it for years, and he’s still admitted into Friday Night Fish Fry.

Besides, I’m sure that if there were anything wrong with the
misidentification, St. Nuggie would have had me rubbing my scalp in
penitence by now. Not that he’s ever stopped me from eating that
second biscotti. All he lacks is a good story. I’m hoping he will
reveal it to me one of these days, and if it’s any good, I’ll share.

It would be heavenly if it involved a monster.

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