Katie’s grandma was celebrating a very special birthday. She was 100 years old .
Yes, you heard that right: 100.
It’s a big round number, but these days more and more people are ripening to that grand old age.
Katie made a huge carrot and pumpkin seed cake and placed 100 candles on it. While the family sang “happy birthday,” Grandma was on the point of snapping her fingers to snuff out the blaze with magic. But before she could do that, Katie’s mum held her hand and said,
“No mother, you have got to use your puff. You are blessed indeed to have plenty left! ”
So Grandma spent ten minutes blowing out all 100 candles.
When they were all drinking tea, Katie sat on the floor by her Grandma’s chair and asked, “What were you like when you were my age?”
Grandma squinted her eyes and said, “Well, I wasn’t so different from you, dear.”
“Did you go to school?” asked Katie, “And did you have to pretend to be normal, without any magic powers?”
“Oh, yes,” said Grandma, “My parents were very strict about me not doing any magic at school. In those days, you could get into an awful lot of trouble for being a witch. It was still against the law.”
“What was your school like?” asked Kate.
“It was a school with a very good reputation,” said Grandma, “ a boarding school. I was very fortunate to go there, or so my parents told me. Although we were not that well off, I won a scholarship, and my uncle, who made money importing magic spices, helped out with the expenses.”
“Oh, do tell me what it was like,” begged Katie, “Did you like boarding?”
“Not very much,” said Grandma. “I missed my mother and father. But if you insist, I’ll tell you the whole story one day when there aren’t so many people around.”
Katie was extremely eager to hear the story of Grandma’s school days, and a few days later, when grandma had a chance to recover from all the celebrations, she dropped round at her house. This is what Grandma told Katie:
“The school was in a large country house with extensive grounds. Most of the girls arrived by steam train, but my mother and I flew by broomstick. We had to travel by night so as not to be seen and I accidently landed in a haystack. When I arrived at the school in the morning, the first thing Matron said to me was, “What’s this girl, did you sleep in a haystack?” I wondered if she could read minds, but in fact all that had happened was that she had spotted a piece of straw in my hair, which was dark and tangly like yours, by the way.”
“Many of the other girls were crying, because they did not want to leave their mothers. I was strong though, because I knew I had a tiny crystal ball in the heel of my shoe, and in an absolute emergency I could call home. No other girl had that chance in those days. We could write letters, but they were censored by the headmistress.”
“Mother kissed me goodbye, and told me that the 12 weeks of term would fly past as fast as a phoenix. As soon as she left, everyone started calling me by my family name, which was White. There were some girls who had titles like “Lady” or The Honourable Miss so and so.” The teachers called them by their surnames too, but never harshly, just to show that they understood they were from the top drawer, so to speak.”
“In lessons, we had to learn a lot of things by heart, such as the names of all the rivers in England and Wales. Fortunately I was used to learning long spells, so I was good at that. I picked up French and Latin easily for the same reason. Maths was my weakest subject, because, well, we witches don’t use logic so much . In our world, 2 plus 2 does not necessarily make 4, and that’s a disadvantage for mental arithmetic.
“Were the other girls snooty, grandma?” asked Katie.
“Well, some of them came from very well to do families, they had a way of letting you know. It was quite subtle. They just spoke to you in a tone that was slightly formal and cold, to make it clear that friendship was not an option. The real problem was with the prigs, not the snoots.”
“Prigs?” asked Katie.
“Yes, killjoys, and self-righteous types, who love school rules. In fact, all the girls were encouraged to be very priggish and follow the school rules to the letter. We were always told that it would be a stain on the honour of the school if we did the slightest thing wrong. So if a girl had a secret supply of sweets, some other girls would order her to surrender them to the head prefect because it was against the rules. And if some girls wanted to lark around after lights out, and jump on the beds or have pillow fights, there would always be some priggish girls who would tell them off and threaten to call Matron.”
“What were dinners like?” asked Katie. “I bet they were better than at my school.”
“The school food was not fit for animals, but we were forced to eat it all and thank cook personally for her efforts. We also had to take a spoonful of ghastly medicine before bed, and I always used to keep it in my mouth and spit it out before brushing my teeth. It tasted disgusting all the while it was on my tongue, but I did not care to swallow it.”
“It sounds awful, did you have any friends?” asked Katie.
“Yes, like you, I had a best friend. She arrived in my second term, and I knew right away that at last I had found a kindred spirit. You see, she came from the USA, and she was, to use the modern term - an African American. I think most of us had never seen anyone with black skin before. At first, everyone used to stare at her, including the teachers. She and I both recognised that we were a bit different and we soon became inseparable - almost like sisters. Her name was Amy Jefferson. Her father had made a fortune in the beauty business, I believe.
When nobody else was around, Amy and I called each other by our first names, just to defy the school rules. We used to go for long walks around the grounds, and when we were out of sight, she taught me to do jazz dances from New York. She was brilliant at sports, and won all the races and jumping events, but the headmistress, Miss Heavy, would not allow her to keep all the cups and medals because she said it was not fair for one girl to win all the prizes. We suspected that she took them down to town and sold them. Amy was also a leading light in the drama club, but again the headteacher would not let her have too many good parts, because she had to give other girls another chance. Amy could do a very good imitation of Miss Heavy, saying, “Let no-one say that I am not fair.”
“Did Amy know you were a witch, Grandma?” asked Katie.
“Not at first. I kept my word to my parents and did not do any magic, unless it was a dire emergency. But then I think she began to suspect. One night, Matron raided our dormitory. She came in suddenly, turned on the lights, and made all the girls stand by their beds while she conducted a search for illegal sweets, books, and teddy bears. Amy kept a diary under her pillow in which she wrote down everything about her day at school, including lots of untoward remarks about the prigs and the snoots and teachers who toadied to them, and especially about Miss Heavy and how she always picked on her. Amy thought she was done for, because Matron went straight to her bed and found the diary. She opened the book and tried to read a random page, but she was baffled. ‘What’s this?’ she demanded to know, ‘Is it a secret code?’ She thrust the book in front of Amy’s face. Amy read the words, and smiled, ‘No Matron,’ she replied, ‘It’s not code, it’s Latin. Those verses are from the Aeneid by the Roman poet, Virgil.’”
“You see, I had saved Amy’s life with a quick spell to change the words in her diary. After that unusual happening, I think Amy suspected that somebody was helping her, and the most likely person was me.”
“Were any of the girls bullies?” asked Katie.
“There was a small group who did not like Amy and me, but they soon learned to keep their distance. One time, they cornered us in the bathroom, and tried to make us wash our hair with sodium peroxide to turn it blonde. The chief bully was a girl called Glendora Taylor. I fixed her with my eyes, and her hair immediately turned white. At first she did not know what had happened, but the others soon let her know, and after she saw herself in the looking-glass she ran out of the bathroom screaming that I was a witch. That did not do much good for my reputation as a normal person, but they didn’t mess with us anymore.”
“Not long after that, Miss. Heavy accused us of stealing an ancient magic book from the library and performing a witch’s ritual in the Open Air theatre at the end of the school grounds. In fact, Amy was showing me how to dance the samba. Miss. Heavy threatened to write to our parents with her accusation of witchcraft, and I knew that my mother would be furious with me. It was a total lie about the book. I had felt its magical presence in the library, but I had avoided it. Apparently, it was very valuable.”
“We both denied knowing anything about the book. We were locked in a small room for an entire day with just bread and cheese to eat. Frankly, the food was an improvement on school meals and we did not mind missing lessons. We still refused to confess to the charges against us. Then she called a police sergeant.”
“Wow!” said Katie. “That’s far worse than anything Miss Vile has ever done.”
“Oh yes, Miss Heavy was no friend of ours,” said Grandma. “The police officer interviewed us in the headmistress's study. He asked Miss Heavy to leave the room. She looked pretty put out, but he insisted. You see, he was clearly very interested in Amy. I don’t think he had ever met an American or seen anyone with black skin, and he wanted to know all about her life, and why her father had sent her all the way to an English school. She replied that he wanted her to lose her New York accent and to learn some European “refinement.” Eventually he opened up his notebook, licked his pencil, and said, “Now what’s all this about magic rituals?” We told him that we were doing jazz dances, he replied that he played popular tunes on the piano, and we got chatting about the latest numbers from America, and about the movies at the picturehouse, about Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin... He clearly thought it was all nonsense about witchcraft and wasn’t a bit interested in it.”
I began to relax, and as I did so, my magic powers grew stronger. I had a sudden strong intuition. I felt the presence of the missing Magic Book emanating from Miss Heavy’s desk. In fact, I was sure that it was in her drawer. The sergeant was so taken with Amy, that he did not notice me focusing on the table, opening the drawer with my eyes, and moving the book, by telekinesis, onto the bookshelf next to “Rivers of the World, by Mr. Niles Creek.”
Katie of course knew that telekinesis is the power to move objects from afar.
“When Miss. Heavy returned to the room, she said one word, ‘Well?’”
“‘I have concluded my investigation,’ said the Sergeant, ‘And have discovered no evidence of witchcraft, only two charming young ladies as proves that your school is doing a very fine job at bringing them up.’”
‘“What about the stolen book?”’ she demanded, “Aren’t you going to search for it?”
“It was then that I looked over to her book shelf, and said, ‘Isn’t that it?’ ‘Watch what you are saying, White,’ she rebuked me sharply. But the police sergeant had already spotted the golden spine with magic symbols on it. “
“‘If I may, I’d like to take a closer inspection, Miss,’ he said. He pulled out the book and read the title, ‘Magical Spells and Enchantments.’ Inside the cover, he found a page with the names and dates of borrowers from the school library. The last entry was for ‘Miss JW Heavy.’
“‘I see no crime here,’ said the Sergeant, ‘But you may owe sixpence to the library for an overdue book.’”
“I managed to suppress my snigger, but Amy was not so restrained. She laughed out loud and raucously, and all Miss Heavy could do was to fume with fury.”
“Well, I think that’s enough for today,” said Grandma looking at the clock, “I must be boring you with all this chatter.”
“Oh, no,” said Katie. It’s all fascinating for me. I’ve learned that however much I grumble about school, it’s nothing compared to what you went through.”
“The main thing to remember is this,” said Grandma, “When you go through some tricky times, you often make your strongest friendships, because you are sharing in adversity. Amy is going to be 100 next week, and I’m flying over to Florida to join her for a party. ”
“AMAZING ! Are you going by broomstick?” asked Katie.
“Oh no, haha!” laughed Grandma, “Once you get past 98 you are too old for that sort of thing. I’m taking the airplane.”
And that was the Story of Katie’s Grandma at school.
Nellie is an American who discovered Story Nory at age 2. She will turn 5 years old in October 2018. Nellie would like to tell Bertie, "You are a really good storyteller." Nellie's current favorites on Storynory include Baba Yaga, the Oscar Wilde section, Katie the Witch, The Secret Garden, and Robin Hood. She loves Natasha's narrations and often tries to imitate Natasha's pretty accent. Nellie's special interests include performing in and attending musical theatre, playing with stuffed animals, learning Spanish, and making new friends wherever she goes.