Posted January 20, 2012:
The Puppets Who Were All Bound Up

by Helen Porthouse.

This story is adapted from the narration for a puppet show in our 2010 summer program.

Once there was a pile of puppets, all arms, legs, and heads, and all wrapped up in string. They were bound together and could not get free. They had not been treated well.

The shopkeeper who had bundled them all together was only interested in selling them. He didn’t care about helping them get free. He said, "They are worthless, but I still might be able to get some money for them." So he tossed the whole tangled pile onto a shelf.

A woman who came into the shop saw the puppets and felt sorry for them. "I don’t have the time to untangle them all," she thought to herself, "but surely I can untangle some, maybe three or so, and buy them."

She tried pulling on one puppet and then another, but the strings held fast. She tried untwisting the string, but she only made them worse. The job was completely beyond her.

The shopkeeper wasn’t far away. "Can you help me?" she asked him.

"They are not worth it." he said and moved on.

"It’s not possible for me to do it by myself," the woman thought. "This pile of puppets is a scrambled mess."

But when she looked again at the heap of puppets, bound up and tangled in all that string, she thought they looked very sad.

"They need to be free to stand separately and to be able to move," she thought. "They need to be unbound. Is that never going to be possible?"

"Someone has to help me," she said aloud.

"I’ll help you," said a young girl.

The woman thought she had seen the girl before, but where? Maybe she had always been there. Maybe earlier, the big man had blocked her view.

The woman said, "I don’t know how to do this," and pointed to the twisted pile of puppets.

The young girl said. "I have lots of experience unbinding; you have to do it slowly."

The girl stood next to the woman and expertly began to untangle. She slowly undid the knots and untwisted the strings. When one puppet was free of the others, she moved it away and set it by itself. She did the same with another and another. Finally three puppets lay outside the pile.

"Now that they are separated," said the girl, "you have to learn to attach the strings so that they can move again."

"But how?"

"I am sure you will be able to do it." The girl smiled at her and then moved on to someone else who was saying, "This is tangled. Can you help me?"

The woman bought the three puppets, took them home, and fixed their strings so that they could move again.

One puppet, however, was not cooperating; it just lay down and wouldn’t even try to move.

"I’m so tired," the puppet said. "I’ve been in a big knot for ages. It was horrible; you don’t understand. If you had been in a big tangle like I was, you wouldn’t want to do anything either."

The woman said "You want to move again, don’t you?"

"No," said the puppet flopping down. "Just go away!"

The woman went on to the next puppet, the smallest one. Soon she had the strings all attached. He stood up and moved—too quickly. He fell over.

"It will take time before you are really familiar with moving again," said the woman.

"No! I want to do it now," said the puppet. "I know I can do it."

Once again, he tried to move quickly. And once again, he fell over.

It took a long time to get the strings in order for the third puppet. This puppet wanted to get them all done perfectly and know exactly what to do before she would try to move.

The woman finally got exasperated and said, "It’s time now."

"No," said the puppet, "I’m not ready."

"When will you be ready?" asked the woman.

"Leave me alone; I need time," said the puppet.

The woman didn’t know what to do. She had thought the puppets would be so happy when they got untangled and that they would soon be moving.

She went back to see the young girl at the shop who looked at her and smiled.

"This isn’t working," the woman said.

"It takes a long time," said the girl, "but it will work. Believe me."

The woman went back to the first puppet and said,

"You may be afraid, but I am going to help you get moving."

The puppet said, "It’s all just too much. It’s too hard; it hurts too much."

"Then I will stay with you."

"Okay," said the puppet.

She went to the second puppet, the small puppet. "You may want to rush, but we are going to take our time," she said.

"I want to get it all done quickly, and be totally, totally ready now!"

"It will take time, but we will work together, and I will be with you."

"All right," he said.

Then the woman went to the third puppet and said, "We are going to try and do it even if you think you are not ready."

"But I want it to be perfect; I want to be in control. This letting go is not possible."

"It is when we do it together."

The third puppet said, "If you say so."

Now, the puppets do not move perfectly, or as fast as they want to, and sometimes they do not move at all; but the woman knows that slowly they are becoming more and more free.

It’s possible because they are not alone.

There is a story behind this puppet show. I, Helen, was in trouble. I had promised to give a talk for our MH summer program, and now I was stuck. What should I talk about?

On a trip to Ottawa, passing a store that was going out of business, I went inside to take my mind off my talk or lack of talk. There I found a tangled pile of marionettes. They were only a dollar each, if you could untwist them, and with help, I untangled three. I bought them, took them to the car, and stared at them.

Something started working in my mind—a story. Later on, I got the idea that just having the puppets tell the story of how I found them would be as good as a talk.

I asked a friend, Carol Ann Gieske, to help. She had never worked with marionettes, but she found she had a natural talent for them. I narrated and Carol Ann worked the puppets.

After that first show, she learned to make marionettes, and she and I have since put on a few more shows.


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