I love the message in this tale and delight in telling it any chance I get! This story was also a favourite of my very special auntie Flo who passed away last May at 86. I must have told her this tale a dozen times in the year before she died. She never tired of hearing it... always requesting it again and again and just sighed every time she heard it. I miss our phone calls (at least once a week since forever) but most of all I miss her and her cute giggle!
So just sit back with a nice cup of tea or coffee and imagine you are on a tiny, remote island in the warm South Pacific. Are you comfy? Good, now let the tale begin.
Now Johnny Lingo wasn’t exactly his name. But that’s what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house where I was staying called him. You see, Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the villagers on this tiny island in the Pacific.
Everywhere I went on the island, Johnny’s name was mentioned.
If I said that I wanted to spend a few days exploring one of the neighbouring islands, talk to Johnny Lingo they’d say. He’ll show you around.
If I wanted to fish, talk to Johnny Lingo they’d say. He’ll take you to where the fish are biting.
If it was pearls I sought, talk to Johnny Lingo they’d say. He’ll get you the best buys.
The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke of him, they smiled, but those smiles were slightly mocking.
One morning, as I sat chatting with Shenkin, even he advised: "Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want. Let him do the bargaining. Johnny knows how to make a deal."
"Johnny Lingo!” hooted a boy seated nearby. “Ya he sure knows how to make a deal”.
I didn’t get it, so I turned to Shenkin. "Hey Shenkin, what’s going on here?. Everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then they break up in gales of laughter. What’s the big joke?."
"Oh, the people like to laugh about Johnny." Shenkin said. "You see, Johnny's the brightest, richest and most handsome young man in the islands. But five months ago, at the fall festival, Johnny came here and found himself a wife. He actually paid eight cows for her! Nobody here pays eight cows for a wife, but Johnny Lingo did.”
“Guess there’s no accounting for love,” I thought to myself, but I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.
"Good Lord!" I said, "Eight cows! She must be a beauty that takes your breath away."
"Sarita is not downright ugly," Shenkin said. "But she’s… well rather plain. Skinny. Walks with her shoulders hunched and her head down. Why, that girl is scared of her own shadow. Her father was pretty worried that he’d have her on his hands for the rest of her life. But then along came Johnny and he got eight cows for her. Now the villagers get a lot of pleasure from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands got the wool pulled over his eyes by her father… dull old Sam Karoo. And that’s why they snicker and laugh when they talk about Johnny."
Now I was really curious. So I asked Shenkin, "How did that happen?"
"Well no one really knows for sure and everyone still kinda wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was absolutely certain Johnny’d pay only one. But then Johnny went to visit Sam and said, ‘Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.” Well old Sam nearly fainted on the spot. He was mighty relieved when they married the next day before Johnny could change his mind."
In that moment I knew. I definitely wanted to meet this Johnny Lingo.
The next afternoon I beached my boat on the island where Johnny Lingo lived with his bride. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny’s house that the mention of his name didn’t bring any snickering smiles to the lips of the villagers on this island.
I knocked on Johnny’s door and he graciously welcomed me in. As we sat and talked he asked where I had come from. When I told him, he smiled gently and said: "My wife is from Kiniwata."
"Yes, I know." I said.
His eyes lit up. "Ah…They speak of her on Kiniwata? What do they say?"
The question caught me somewhat off guard. I wasn’t sure how to reply so I said: "They told me you were married at fall festival time."
The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.
”They also said the marriage settlement was for eight cows and they still are wondering why."
His eyes sparkled with pleasure. "Everyone there knows about the eight cows?"
"Well everyone here knows about it too." He said. His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forevermore, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."
So that’s the answer, I thought: vanity.
And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she swiftly left the room.
She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful, poised and confident woman I had ever seen in my life. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle in her eyes all spoke of a pride which no one could deny her.
I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me. "Oh Johnny, she is absolutely gorgeous. I.. I.. don’t understand … why they would snicker and laugh about you.”
Johnny looked at me and said. "I know you probably heard that she was homely and they think that I let myself be cheated by her father. But have you ever thought what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And later, when the women of the village get together and talk, they always boast about what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe five, sometimes six. How do think the woman who was sold for one cow must feel? I would not let this happen to my darling Sarita."
"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman. I wanted her to be happy, but I also wanted an eight cow wife.
Now you say she is different than what they told you. This is true. She is. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. You see, on her island, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. but when I paid eight cows for her and treated her like an eight cow wife deserves, she began to believe that she was an eight-cow woman. She discovered that she is worth more than any other woman in the islands. And what matters most is what a woman thinks of herself.
************************************ SIGH ************************************
I won’t be posting until the 21st again. This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and hubby and I are taking a four day weekend together to buzz around, have some fun and stuff ourselves with turkey dinner and pumpkin cheesecake pie. Hey with all the economic woes going on, we need to do something to get our attention away from the stock market! Laughter and tasty comfort food seem to be the only commodities left that can actually make you feel good these days.
Next week I will be at a storytelling festival for four days. While I am there, I'll be doing a workshop with Donald Davis... North Carolina storyteller extraordinaire... and boy am I looking forward to that. I sure do miss North Carolina storytellers (and that lovely N.C. drawl) since moving back to Canada. I am also looking forward to seeing Gay Ducey, as southern a woman as they come, a librairan and a storyteller who can spin a tale out of nothing and make you laugh till your sides ache! And of course, all my storytelling buddies plus my dear friend Kathy from near Seattle who will put up with me being her roomie while we are there LOL.
Perhaps in the meantime, it will give you a chance to get caught up on all the posts you may not have read yet or go back and re-read some of your favourites!
Thanks for stopping by my blog. Have a lovely weekend.
P.S. I've been tagged by my South Dakato art buddy Mar... what a little devil she is... but I won't be able to do much about it until later in the month. Be prepared... you might be next LOL!