THE STEGGY ON PAGE 36
She was a 4-year-old girl who loved dinosaurs. Her library was full of books about the great lizards and her jigsaw puzzles were all pictures of Brontosauruses or Tyrannosauruses - who Jerilyn Ballentine suspected were not near as scary as the picture made them look. “I wish they were still alive”, she told her father one night. And that very night, two hours later, she saw the giant, green head that filled up her bedroom window. “Mama, Mama”, she cried, “there’s a female Stegosaurus poking her head in my window”. Right away she recognized her visitor as a Stegosaurus. Who else would have that spiky ruffle down her back.
“Go back to sleep, Whitney, it’s just a dream”.
“I promise there’s a dinosaur in our backyard”, yelled Whitney in the direction of her mother’s bedroom.
Finally her mother came. “OK young lady, where’s that real, live dinosaur?”
Of course, by then the bigheaded visitor was gone. Probably munching on the sweet, green leaves of the Sycamore tree three backyards away. Her mother was mad. “No more dinosaur puzzles before bedtime for you”. She stomped her foot. “Now go to sleep”.
So now, two nights later, the Stegosaurus returned. Yes, it was a Stegosaurus, all right, but she didn’t have the fangs and flinty, enameled choppers that decorated her mouth in all the books. She had the mouth and eyes of a curious and hungry cow. Jerilyn crept slowly to the window. She knew you must move slowly around animals so they’re not frightened. The shape of the head was beautiful - almost like a giant puppy. It was bright green in the moonlight. The skin smooth and shining.
Jerilyn was not an unusually brave little girl. She was frightened of the older girl next door who took her toys and called her “creepy”. That’s what all the neighborhood kids called her because she loved insects and was always down in the dirt chasing after caterpillars. She had the best collection in town.
Most of the kids in the neighborhood liked Jerilyn, but they thought sometimes she stretched things a little too far.
If she found a garden snake, she described it as a cobra.
A trip to visit her cousins in Atlanta was described to her neighborhood pals as an expedition to a Brazilian rain forest. Well, it DOES rain a lot in Atlanta.
And she lost considerable points with the wiser neighborhood kids when she told them a Pterodactyl had circled her house all day Sunday.
Jerilyn had been taught by her papa to explore nature. To pick up the bugs of the earth and let them crawl through her fingers; even the green snakes that curled around the squash plants in her father’s garden. She followed her cat as he prowled the backyard. Where did he go, she wanted to know. And she watched the birds in the tree by her bedroom. She learned their songs and their names out of her big yellow and blue bird book.
Jerilyn was the kind of little girl who would rather look through her picture book than watch TV. She also liked to hunt in her back yard - which she imagined to be an Amazon jungle - for caterpillars, or roly-polys, or spiders. She had many books of insects and dinosaurs, which she loved. But her dinosaur book was her favorite. It had pictures and stories, which her mother read to her, of every one of the giant lizards; from the playful ornitholestes to the fierce Tyrannosaurus. Her favorite page was 36, where a Mama Stegosaurus sat in her swamp, surrounded by babies. There they were, as real looking as Whitney’s cat.
She remembered her dinosaur book every time she went to the zoo. The first animals she wanted to see were – guess what? Her parents explained she’d have more luck with the bears.
“Are you sure there isn’t just one alive somewhere? Maybe in a jungle surrounded by high mountains?” Her father said no. They were all dead. And Jerilyn cried a little bit and said she wished she could have a pet dinosaur for the back yard.
So this dinosaur at the window delighted her. She wasn’t frightened. She had learned that ages ago when the world was young. The giant lizards had been birds chirping in the Sycamore tree or maybe green garden snakes. That’s what her book said.
So, slowly - as slow as an excited little girl can move - she approached the window. That big green head didn’t move, but the cow eyes got wider. Finally, Jerilyn put out her hand and patted the creature on her broad nose. Now she closely examined her face. And she could see the rest of her that supported the head. That enormous body filled up the backyard like the 100 year old Oak next door.
“I know you”, Jerilyn said calmly. “I’m gonna call you Steggy. “You’re the mama on page 36 of my book. But in the book they made your teeth too big, your tail too short, and they didn’t really show us how beautiful that spiny thing is that runs all the way from your head to your tail. Besides, they made your complexion more like an elephant. They didn’t get the watermelon green of your skin right”.
“Yeah, I know”, said Steggy. “That bothered me the whole time I was in that book.”
“So how’d you get out of the book?”
“Some things are for dinosaurs to know and little girls to find out.” Jerilyn scratched the big, green head and thought about that. “We didn’t last for zillions of years because we’re stupid”, said the big, green head in the window.
“But how’d you get out of the book”? Jerilyn repeated. This was the same trick she used on her father; you keep asking and sooner or later you get an answer.
“Well”, said the dinosaur, “you know there’s all kinds of magic in nature. Why does a bird with a brain like a pebble build a nest? What makes a mushy, old caterpillar in a cocoon turn into a flying thing? How does the salmon find its birthplace in the river? And how do ants and bees know to build a home? Nobody knows. They call it instinct. That’s just another word for magic. So jumping out of a book and sitting by your window on 1423 Prescott Lane is no big deal.”
Steggy went on to explain that frogs go from the world of water to the world of earth. Caterpillars move from a bunch of DNA to the world of flight. “I only went from the world of books to the world of dreams”. “But I’m not asleep”, said Jerilyn.
“Oh dear, I thought I escaped to the world of dreams. I must have gone straight to the real life world. Oh well, I’m here”.
“I’ve got to show you to my mama”, said Jerilyn. “Will you hold still this time until she comes?”
“Yes I will, but while I’m waiting why don’t you put that box of cookies, that’s on the shelf, into my mouth. I haven’t eaten since I left the book. There’s no swamp plants in your backyard, you know”.
So Jerilyn went to get her mother as Steggy munched her first cookies (they were chocolate chip). Which by the way you could tell she lived them she loved them because she wagged her tail, which flattened a pine tree.
“Oh my goodness”, shrieked Jerilyn’s mama, who knew all of her daughter’s books. “It’s the mama dinosaur on page 36”. Which pleased Steggy very much. She liked to be recognized.
So the mama dinosaur went through her explanation again. And Jerilyn’s mother, whose name was Mrs. Ballentine, touched her and by poking her head out the window, examined her length.
By now Steggy was hungry again so Mrs. Ballentine ran down to the kitchen and brought up all the cookies in the kitchen and several boxes of cereal.
Jerilyn was talking all the time. At last she had a real live dinosaur for her backyard. “You’ll stay with us”, she said just as Steggy swallowed a large box of Corn Flakes. “You’ll live in my backyard and we’ll go hunting bugs together. And on stormy nights, you’ll put your head up to the window of that nasty little girl next door who calls me “creepy”. That ought to keep her awake all night.”
“I dunno,” said Steggy. “It wouldn’t be fun to live in this backyard. I can barely turn around and I think I already mashed your father’s garden. I really need that big swamp on page 36. Besides, I don’t think cookies and corn flakes are a healthy diet for a mama dinosaur. There’s plenty of swamp grass in the book, which reminds me, my babies are wading around looking for me right now”.
Jerilyn started to cry as the big head disappeared, leaving an empty window. And then a booming, “SEE YOU ON PAGE 36”, echoed through the piece of sky that covered Jerilyn’s neighborhood. Lights went on all over town. Heads poked out of bedroom windows. Some families in pajamas ran out on the front yard and searched the sky.
“What was that?”
“I guess they’ll believe you this time”, said Mrs. Ballentine.