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When I was a smaller and people were taller I was blessed with a lot of picture books. Some I read on my own and some were read to me. There were certain books I preferred one way of the other. I have only vague memories of most of them; it is interesting to reflect on which ones I remember, and why.* There were some books whose illustrations were unsettling. I found them upsetting even, yet fascinating, even alluring – enough to go back to them despite my discomfort. These have stayed in my memory as half-remembered haunts.

There were a series of books by a Richard Scarry. I loved his books, particularly their illustrations.** I remember a certain drawing in one of them was that of a witch-like character flying in a wicker basket. It was some sort of nursery rhyme, but one I had never heard. I don’t remember the rhyme, but it was haunting. I would not read this one myself; I got Mother to read to me. There was some sort of charm was evoked; I was safe from direct contact. What did I fear exactly? Perhaps I was scared of being carried away in the basket and never returning.

I hadn’t thought of this image in decades, then it came back, bubbling up from the depths of my unconscious last week, to remind me it’s still down there. It seemed to suggest I seek it out and face my fears. I grew curious to see how well I remembered the picture and the poem, and what sort of reactions would I have upon seeing it again. Thanks to the good folks at DuckDuckGo, it didn’t take me long to find it.

Here it is:

This is the picture and the poem.

Fascinating, to see it again and examine my reactions. The old woman (cat) looks cheerful, almost fairy godmother-like. I remembered her more mercurial, something “Hallowe’en” and definitely to be avoided. I don’t think this is a mother figure, although there is no suggestion the inquirer is a child/boy. The rhyming meter is a strange one; I can’t quite grasp the meter. I remember now it was the end with her promise that disturbed me the most. I wonder why would she return: to clean his place? To take him away in the basket? To tuck him in bed for the night?

I took to the WWW to find out the origin of the ditty and what it means. Alas, Babylon! I cannot find it. It seems to be a popular piece for there are versions sung on The Tube of Yous and there are countless illustrations of the rhyme. In most versions the inquirer asks if they can come along. Only then she replies ‘I’ll be with you bye and bye’, a promise but there is some doubt.

The versions on The Tube of Yous are sweetly sung and the old woman in the illustrations online look beneficent – in contrast to my memory she was lurking with intent to harm.

In my analysis it fits into a recurring theme in my psyche of a preoccupation (Freudians would say ‘fixation’) of a negative female figure (Anima and Shadow) that in cahoots to lure me away, Jenny Greenteeth and Yeats’s poem “Stolen Child” are examples of this, as are aspects of The weird sisters of ‘Macbeth”, The Norns, and The Fates carry this archetypal energy.

One of the best way to face a haunt is to get to know it better. “Nothing in life is to be feared, only understood”; this remains one of my favorite mottos.** Finding the picture and reading the poem was a brave move for me. Hearing these upbeat versions have shooed-away this long time haunt. The witch has transformed into a mother cat like in Mr. Scarry’s picture drawing.

She can be with me by and by; I would be glad to go for the ride now.

*One of them, “Jerome”, about a frog doing princely deeds, I can still recite by heart.

**Funny I never learned if Mr. Scarry was a pen name or a real person, and was he the writer or the illustrator? I still can recognize a character from his in an instant.

**Marie Curie said this.

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