A Very Good Use of Technology

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by Mary Jo Shannon

Checking my email one evening, I was surprised to see one from my daughter Kathy with the intriguing subject line “I need to pick your brain.” I knew she and Skip were in France for a meeting connected with her job at NC State, and they had left a few days early for some personal time prior to the meeting.

Coincidentally, their daughter Sarah, who was enrolled at Sotheby Institute in London, was also in Paris on a week-end field trip at the same time. When Sarah asked the professor if she might stay in the hotel with her parents, an invitation was extended to include her parents on the visits to museums with her class. I could not imagine why Kathy would need information from her mother! I was even more surprised when I read the content of the email:

“What was the name of the story, a fairy tale or classic kid’s story, about the 4 traveling animals that talked: a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster?  At one point they climbed on each other’s backs to look in a window.  I’m almost remembering either ‘Beggars’ or ‘Robbers’ in the title.  Maybe a Grimm?”

I knew the story she referred to, but couldn’t remember the name, so I consulted a volume I had picked up at a library book sale – The Family Treasury of Children’s Stories, Book I, and soon located the story in question – “The Traveling Musicians.”

So I replied with a brief summary of the story and the title:

“WOW! What a request! There isn’t much to pick! Thanks to a book of children’s stories, I was able to find the answer. The title is “The Traveling Musicians.” Four animals — a donkey, dog, cat and rooster– are growing old and are no longer useful to their masters. The donkey decides to go to the city and become a musician. On his way, he meets the others and invites them to go too. When night falls, they stop in the woods to rest. The rooster goes to the top of a tree and sees a shining light of a house in the distance. They go the house to see if they can spend the night. The dog gets on the donkey’s back, the cat on the dog and the rooster on the cat, so they can look through the window. They see robbers sitting around a table eating. They decide to scare the robbers and eat the food after they leave. The donkey brays, the dog barks, the cat mews and the rooster crows. The robbers flee and the animals eat the food. They go to sleep in spots that suit them. The robbers return when they see the lights are out. One robber enters the dark house and sees the cat’s eyes glowing in the dark. He thinks they are coals and strikes a match, and the cat jumps at him hissing and scratching. The dog jumps up and bites his leg, and as he is crossing the yard, the donkey kicks him, and the rooster atop the house crows loudly. He runs to the other robbers and tells them a witch got into the house, spit at him and scratched his face, a man hiding behind the door stabbed his leg with a knife, a monster in the yard struck him with a club and a ghost on top of the house cried out, “Throw the rascal up here!” The robbers never dared to go back to the house and the animals made it their home.

Now, let me know why this story came to your mind!”

Immediately, I received this reply:

“That’s it!  That’s it!  I remember it now!  I remembered the robbers, but thought that was part of the title.  Very well done!  Was it possibly a Grimm? OK, why do I ask?  For some reason, Skip and Sarah were watching a TV show in German.  I was getting dressed.  Came out of the bathroom and they were trying to figure out if the animals were actually talking, or was it the narrator?  (Remember, all the dialogue is in German.). I said, ‘Oh I know that story.  The animals are traveling together.  Yes, they can talk and understand each other’s languages.’. Then they said ‘you’re making that up.  You’ve never heard that story.  What’s it called?’ All I could come up w/ was the word ‘beggars.’. So I figured you’d remember since you were the one who read it to me so many times.  I think it was in that old worn book that had the story of the old woman who turned into a woodpecker, or did a woodpecker turn into an old woman! Sure wish we still had that book….Thanks for again being my ‘Momapedia.’

What amazes me is that all this discourse took place in less than ten minutes, across the ocean, involving two languages!  Welcome to the 21st century!