Friday, April 7, 2017

The Luckiest Old Woman Around: An Elder Tale


Photo by Paul Downey.
Once long ago in Northumbria near the village of Hedley, there lived an old woman.

She earned a living by doing chores and errands for the local women.  They would pay her with some fire wood here, some tea, sugar, and flour there.

It wasn't much, but she made do.

This post is part of a series on elder tales. An elder tale features an older adult who relies on strength of character and wisdom to solve problems. This contrasts with tales about younger heroes who often rely on riches, magic or a mentor to help them solve problems.  

One afternoon she was headed home and spotted a black iron pot by the side of the road. She hadn't seen anyone else on the road for a while, so how would she find the owner?

She thought to herself, "Perhaps it has been cast aside on purpose. Maybe it has a hole in it?  Still, I could make some use of it as a flower pot."

Even though it was a smallish sort of pot, the old woman discovered it was quite heavy. She opened the lid and saw, to her great astonishment, that it was full of gold coins.

"Oh, I am the luckiest old woman around. But how will I carry this home?"


She decided to set the iron pot inside her shawl so that she could drag it home.  As she did so, the load seemed a bit lighter, so she looked inside.  The gold coins were gone. In their place were silver coins.

Image by Bruce.

"Well, how about that?  This is better. I won't have to worry so much about how to spend the money or how I might be robbed."

She continued on her way, making better time as she progressed, feeling as though the load grew lighter with each step. She unwrapped her shawl again. This time she found the pot and silver were gone. In their place was a lump of iron.

"Well, I am the luckiest woman around. I can more easily use this iron to barter with the blacksmith."

As she continued home, the sun sank further and the shadows grew longer. She was almost to her cottage when she unwrapped her shawl. This time she found a stone.

"Well, how about that?  This is better. I don't have to haggle with the blacksmith. I can simply use this stone to prop open my front door."

With a bit of a spring in her step, the old woman walked down the path to her cottage. She wanted to prop open her door for a time with her new stone.  The old woman felt the stone shake inside her shawl, so she dropped her package in front of her door.

Photo by Andrew.
Just as it hit the ground, lanky arms and legs emerged from the shawl followed by a creature as big as a horse.

At one end was a pair of long ears. At the other end was a thrashing tail.

"Oh, my! It's the Hedley Kow!" the old woman exclaimed.

This boggle-goblin was the fabled local shapeshifter, the subject of many tales told on market day.

Just as the old woman got a very good look at the Hedley Kow, it ran down the road and out of sight.

As she reached down to retrieve her shawl from the porch, she declared, "Well, I am the luckiest old woman around. I've seen the Hedley Kow my own self!  Don't I feel grand."

That evening, she sat by the fire--drinking tea, eating a biscuit and smiling about the wonders of that day.

About this tale. 

This is my retelling of this elder tale.  The "Hedley Kow" is an English tale about an old woman's encounter with a shapeshifter. This page from Mostly Medieval defines "kow" as goblin or spirit.

This book about Northumbria words categorizes the Headley Kow as a type of boggle. Fans of Harry Potter might recognize its similarity to the boggart, which is also a shapeshifter.

I initially read this tale in the book The Women We Become: Myths, Folktales, and Stories about Growing Older by Ann G. Thomas, Ed.D. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1997.

Related

The Old Alchemist: A Tale from Burma
The Wise Merchant: An Elder Tale with Jewish Roots

8 comments:

  1. What a charming story! This reminds me of the hundreds of stories I read to my primary class many years ago. Thanks, Karen!

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    1. I be those kids (now adults) still remember many of those stories. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Diane.

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  2. Great story! The woman is my hero. I could only strive to be as positive and flexible!!

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  3. I've never heard this story...what a lovely little tale...Thank you!

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    1. I'm glad you like it, Renee. I like looking for stories that feature mature protagonists like this positive-attitude gal.

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  4. I came over from Sightings Over Sixty to say hi. This is a charming tale and new to me.

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  5. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

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