Are you very tall?
Or are you very short?
Or are you just right?
Gertie Groundhog was very, very, very small; so despite the fact that Gertie was practically grown-up, folks were still always mistaking her for a young kit and ignoring her. She tried not to let it bother her when nobody asked her to go on shopping trips with them, or to go on sleepovers at Camp Black Twig, or even to be on the All-Forest Swim Team. And she really tried not to let it bother her when most folks would talk around or above her like she didn’t exist. Fortunately Gertie realized her worth. She knew she was a super-duper secret-keeper, she could swim back and forth across Merkel’s Pond without having to rest even once on Moe and Milly Muskrat’s den, she could whistle louder than anyone in Moss Creek Valley, and now she even found out she loved to paint. Why Gertie loved to paint more than anything!
Being a painter hadn’t been easy at first. Gertie didn’t have any painting supplies or any money to buy them, but she knew most problems could be solved if you just sat down, took your time, and gave the problem some long hard thought. First of all, she knew a painter needed paint brushes. When she examined the paint brushes for sale at the village shop, Gertie realized they were simply made out of different kinds and lengths of animal hair. Soon she was plucking short thick hairs from her dense undercoat and longer coarse hairs from her outercoat from her hairbrush, sorting them by size and texture, and tying them securely with strong thin vines into individual brushes. One day when she was out walking, she found a lovely gray feather, then another one, and another and she immediately realized the soft feather tips would be perfect for making delicate brush strokes.
Gertie knew she needed paint in various colors so she experimented with everything she could find. In less than a month, Gertie blissfully was producing different colors by using eggs mixed and blended with treasures she discovered in nature. Moss and juniper berries created different shades of green; crushed wild grapes, strawberries, or blueberries gave her the purples, reds, and blues she needed; finely ground birch bark provided soft pretty earth tones; while finely smashed walnut shells and hickory bark offered her shades of black and gray; and finally, dandelions and sunflower petals were perfect for supplying her with bright yellows. Every sunny day, Gertie could be found outside painting on flat rocks, on birch tree bark, and even on big leaves. As Gertie cheerfully painted, she dreamed of becoming a famous artist.
Her mother, however, was not happy about Gertie wanting to be an artist. Why couldn’t Gertie be more like her two sisters? Gertie’s sisters had been eager to learn how to keep house and now were happily married with families of their own. Gertie was getting too old for foolishness and should be concentrating on how to keep a proper home, her mom thought. Unfortunately for her, the only recipes Gertie wanted to experiment with involved creating and mixing new paint colors and the only cleaning she wanted to do was washing and carefully drying her paintbrushes. Gertie's mother simply refused to listen to her daughter’s explanations on the importance of painting in her life. Finally, one night after supper, Gertie’s mother told her, “I have decided to send you to my mother. Your Grandma Florence is a strong independent lady with a good head on her shoulders; hopefully she can talk some sense into you!”
And that’s how Gertie came to live at her grandma’s home at Black Twig Hollow. Grandma Flo’s place was known as Honey Creek Burrow and had been in the family for generations and was huge, even by groundhog standards. The burrow was over a mile long and filled with twisting halls and passageways, large and small rooms, a Grand Chamber, and even a formal vestibule for the main entrance. Since the burrow was too large for one lady groundhog, Grandma Flo had turned it into a boarding house where woodland animals could stay for a night or a week or, well, forever. Most animals came when they needed a safe place to go, like when they were flooded out, or there was a forest fire, or humans with long guns were stalking them. Some came to stay because they were all alone and lonely. All were welcome as long as they promised to follow Grandma Flo’s three simple rules:
- Never threaten or harm any other visitor or boarder.
- Always say, “Please” and “Thank you.”
- Keep your room clean and tidy.
As for room and board, Grandma Flo didn't care about money; she simply assigned some basic chores to each animal in return for providing them with a place to stay and food to eat. Why she had even embroidered “Many paws and claws make for light work around the burrow” on everyone's pillowcases!
Within a few days, Gertie was amazed to find that most of the boarders at her grandma’s burrow were happy to take the time to get to know her and they didn’t seem to care she was so little. But then again, there were animals living here that were even smaller than her! Gertie felt she was one lucky little groundhog. To make things even more perfect, Grandma Flo didn’t care if she spent all day painting, just as long as she kept her room clean and washed dishes after each meal. Gertie was so grateful that she painted a picture of yellow marsh-flowers to give her grandma. Grandma Flo loved the picture and hung it in her kitchen where she could gaze at it as she worked.
One day, one of the day visitors to Honey Creek Burrow, Speckles Green the Fourth, a rather large bullfrog who thought very highly of himself, knocked at Gertie’s door. When she opened it, he harrumphed, “Miss Gertie, it has come to my attention that you are a painter. I have always wanted a portrait of myself. Would you like to paint me?”
And that was how Speckles came to be sitting on his favorite lily pad in his best red and blue plaid vest while gazing off into the horizon and attempting to look very, very dignified. This was particularly hard since he couldn’t wiggle or twitch despite the fact that the hot sun was beating down on him while Gertie concentrated on capturing his likeness. Poor Speckles hadn’t realized that sitting still would be such hard work. He was hot and itchy all over and longed to jump into the cool water and just scratch and stretch and scratch some more.
“Are you done yet?” Speckles croaked for the tenth time that afternoon. “Not yet” Gertie muttered, wishing bullfrogs could be more like the rocks and flowers she painted and just sit quietly. Suddenly a huge sassy horsefly, who had been watching Speckles for some time, decided to buzz right under the young bullfrog’s nose. That was just too much! Nobody could expect a bullfrog to sit still while his dinner teased him!
SPLUNK! In one blurred movement, Speckles soared into the air, tongue-grabbed his dinner, and plopped into the cool water where he happily crunched and scratched and stretched and scratched some more - in total bliss.
Gertie, who had been sitting nearby on the riverbank, got splattered with water and so did the painting. HUMPF! She sniffed! She had had it with grumpy impatient bullfrogs! Grabbing up her paints, brushes, easel, and the picture, she stomped back to the burrow ignoring Speckles and his garbled protests.
Back in the burrow, Gertie carefully wiped the droplets of water off her painting and went back to painting. As she finished putting the last touches on it, there was rapid tap-tap-tap sound on her door. Gertie had only opened the door a crack, when in raced Timothy, Pansy, Teasel, Violet and Petunia Vole. Soon they were jumping and tumbling all over each other as all five mice squeaked: “We heard your painted Specks!” “Yeah, good old Specks!” “We hope you will paint us too!” “Please paint us too!” “Pretty please!”
“Of course I will,” said Gertie and before she knew it her room was filled with portraits. She had paintings of Speckles, the Vole youngsters, Clover Whitetail, Gabby and Silvertail Chitterly, Tip Turtle, Moe and Milly Muskrat, the very distinguished Fletcher Fox, a reserved gentleman ferret with the unfortunate name of Buttercup, and Phoebe Possum, who was also new to the area, and rapidly becoming Gertie’s best friend.
To everyone’s surprise, Gertie refused payment for any of the portraits. Instead, she insisted that she be allowed to keep them till she could present all her paintings and sketches at her own art show. It would be her first BIG EVENT.
Gertie’s friend, Phoebe, helped make posters and put them on trees all over the village.
WILL BE HOSTING HER FIRST ART SHOW
IN THE GRAND CHAMBER OF HONEY CREEK BURROW
ALL ARE WELCOME!
Meanwhile, unknownst to Gertie or Phoebe or anyone else, Grandma Flo made sure her daughter, Gertie’s mom, received a special invitation to the art show.
On Sunday everyone in the village and surrounding wood dressed in their best clothes and hopped, skittered, slithered, or walked to the Grand Chamber at Grandma Flo’s. Tables with vases of wildflowers in the center were set with honey cookies, seed cakes, carrot and crushed bug cupcakes, tea and lemonade. The walls were covered with Gertie’s colorful portraits, a painting of Grandma Flo and the boarders seated around the kitchen table, and even sketches of Honey Creek dancing in the summer sun and the Old Oak where you could see Phoebe’s Possum’s hollow and the Chitterly squirrel family dreys.
As everyone crammed into the Grand Chamber a hush filled the air.
Nobody said a thing.
They were speechless.
Abruptly the air exploded as everyone burst into cheers!
Speckles stood in front of his portrait, stunned. He had only seen his reflection in the water, this was the first time he actually got to see exactly what he really looked like. “Oh, my! I really am a handsome fellow!” he softly croaked as he puffed out his chest with pride. (Secretly Speckles had always harbored some worries about his looks, but always tried to hide his concern by loudly drawing attention to himself.)
Clover White Tail, who had always been a little embarrassed about being the fattest rabbit in her family, stared at her picture in wonder. Why, she was pretty and she didn’t look fat at all! Her fur looked velvety soft and her blue eyes sparkled! Clover had never felt so happy!
And the five tiny voles were ecstatic over the portrait of them playing among the wildflowers in the meadow! It would be a wonderful gift for their mom and dad who were still recovering at the Black Twig Hospital from a farm cat attack two months ago.
Fletcher Fox stood in deep thought in front of his portrait and stroked his pointed red beard. This young groundhog certainly had a talent and there was no denying it. She had painted his solemn scholarly demeanor yet hadn’t made him look stuffy or staid. Perhaps little Gertie captured some quality in each of us because she knew what it was like to be overlooked, and so she looked deeper than what was merely on the surface, he pondered.
Gertie's mom was stunned as she stared in awe at the artwork before her. Her Gertie was really talented! Gertie really was an artist! She had always loved her daughter but now for the first time she respected her.
When all the excitement calmed down a little and everyone was munching on treats as they examined the pictures more closely, Mrs. Pippin-Bear bustled over to Gertie’s side. “I would love to sell any paintings you do in my shop,” she said to the stunned little groundhog.
“Why, why, that would be wonderful. An hon-honor.” stuttered Gertie for it was well-known that Mrs. Pippin-Bear had a reputation of being extremely fussy and sold only the best merchandise in her shop.
Gertie's mom, who was standing just a few feet away, looked in astonishment first at the village shop owner and then at her daughter. Without realizing what she was doing, she swooped down on Gertie hugging her fiercely to her chest, her eyes welling up with guilty tears over how she had treated her daughter in the past.
Gertie’s mouth fell open in astonishment. Was this her mother?!? Suddenly Gertie’s eyes started to fill with tears of happiness at finally feeling accepted for who she was by her mom.
Behind the food table, Grandma Flo smiled in satisfaction.