Mrs. White was our elementary school librarian. She looked like the typical librarian with her pale skin, long plaid skirts, and crisp white shirts. To complete the look, she wore sensible shoes. But Mrs. White had a talent for picking out book to read aloud to us.
I must have been in kindergarten or first grade the first time she read us Tailypo by Joanna Galdone. Our group was relegated to the little kid section of the library, filled on two sides with cubbies and well worn books. We all sat indian-style in front of her as she read ot us.
For those who don’t know, the Tailypo is figure in Appalachian folklore. It’s a creature with glowing eyes, large ears and a very long tail. It’s about the size of a dog and it looks just like the picture above. It looks harmless. This book scared the crap out of me when I was six. It kind of, sort of scares the crap out of me now and I’m thirty-three. I’m not too proud to admit this.
Tailypo is a story of a man who lives in an old, dilapidated cabin in the woods with his three dogs. Food is scarce. One night while the man was out hunting with his dogs, he manages to secure the tail of a creature. The man brings the tail home and eats it.
The details of the story are a bit fuzzy. It’s been more than twenty-five years since I have read the book. (I tried to order it on Amazon but it won’t be shipped in time for this post.) The man, tucked in bed in the stillness of the night, hears scratching at the door and the words, “Where’s my tailypo. I want my tailypo.” Frightened, the man sends his dogs out into the night after the creature. They don’t return. The man finds himself alone in the cabin. I imagine he was lying contemplating his fate, not to mention the fate of his three dogs
He hears the creature’s words again and the scratching at the door. To the best of my recollection, the thing gets his tailypo back. I think you can fill in the blanks.
For years after hearing this story, I wouldn’t let me feet hang over the side of the bed. If I were honest, I’m still not too keen on it. Those words: “I want my tailypo. Where’s my tailypo?” have haunted me.
Some people may say that the story is too scary for small children. Maybe it had been too scary for me, but it sparked my imagination. And isn’t that what younger generations are lacking – imagination. I wouldn’t trade in those late nights worrying for anything. This story helped to shape who I am as a writer.