This is not a true story but the expression of a wish of a poor Bronx girl on Christmas Day.
There were Christmas gifts but they flew out the window in a drunken father’s rage.
There was a menagerie set with a Jesus in a manger, cows, sheep, pig, donkeys, two collies, a pony and a camel, but all was shattered to pieces, now existing as porcelain dust among the faded gold carpet, the beer cans the dripping rum bottles, the vomit on the wrapping paper stamped with jolly Santas.
But this is not his story and will never be.
This is not even the story of her, the 6 year old girl huddled in a dark room with a fading lamp and peeling rose wallpaper, and the dying mother in the hospital.
But, she will be spending this Christmas night in the land of make believe with her kindly grandfather Uncle Alm who lives in Dörfli, a small Swiss village nestled in the Alps.
Heidi is not her name, but in this place, it is what she is called.
There are plenty of animals with not enough legs between them.
You see, this is an animal farm for hurt and abandoned creatures large and small.
There are a herd of three legged Skudde sheep who no longer fear the sound of the wolf wind snarling through the mountains. Two one-eyed Continental Bulldogs freed from a hot poker and the loss in the pit. An Alpine goat who faints no more at the sight of a billy club pointed at her.
Even a few Alley cats rescued from the dark, cutting streets who now curiously explore the open green all around them, and who, when it fancy’s them, crawl up the legs and ride bareback the five Freidberger horses spared from the glue factory when they no longer could service the Swiss Army.
But this is not the story of a zoo, but that of a girl harnessing the woe around her to to her gentle imagination.
This is not even a story. A story has conflict and thus some sorrow and loss. It is just a series of images that comforts a terrified girl on a long winter’s night.
It has enough animals to be a fable but a fable has a moral and there are no lessons to learn here. And thou there are humans, there is no folly and sin, at least not enough to make a parable.
It’s not a dream. She is not asleep. It’s barely an idea where rainbow unicorns occasionally wander through.
She laughs. She knows that silly. She knows unicorns are not real but they make her happy and so she leaves them in. She likes keeping things that make her happy.
And so she keeps the snow, even though it is cold, because it doesn’t hurt her fingers when her mittens are on. And it tastes like laughter.
And she also keeps that hovel of logs with the snow plied around and in neat soft layers on the silvered metal roof.
Grandfather with his long white beard is there tending the fire. The smell of hot chocolate greets her from the iron stove. “Oh, so yummy to fill her tummy,” she thinks.
The only animals not abandoned or hurt, a paddling of Blue ducklings, had followed her home from the edges of the frozen lake, knowing the imprint of a pink petticoat to snuggle on, awaits them near the yellow warmth. Nearby, there will be a pan of warm goat milk to drink from, and to fill their gullets, day-old Zopf bread crumbs fed to them from her tiny gentle hands.
There is no television just two pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus hanging from nearby wood paneled walls.
And even though today is Christmas there is no tree or even presents.
Outside, she knows there are enough Stone Pines with cone ornamentation, enough unbroken birdsong hopping in the evergreen branches for a thousand Christmases to come.
Inside, she also knows that The pines have gifted their souls to be the everlasting bench she sat on, the table she ate from, the headrest, footboard and the bed frame she slept on, the very walls all around her, the door that opened easily to the world outside just as it effortlessly swung open to reveal the warmth inside.
“And oh, how they joyously shared themselves with the wild grass, the larches, the wild blueberries, all around,” she thought.
“In the spring, after Easter, after the lake had thawed, maybe Grandfather would drag out that old pine canoe from the shed and row me to the other side.”
“Why give presents when the whole world is such a joyous gift,” was her final thought as she drifted off to sleep sixty years later, this imaginary world so joyously comforting her.