When I was a little girl, I used to build homes, wedding venues, schools, campgrounds, you name it, for the fairies at my Grandma’s house. After nearly 11 years of reveling in the fairy magic, writing letters back and forth, and fostering mutual friendships between different kinds of fairies, I realized it was a beautiful fantasy that only existed in my mind. Looking back, my fairy-obsessed days were some of my best days. My mind and heart were so open and curious about the endless possibilities the universe had to offer, including tiny flying woodland people needing my architectural and interior design expertise.
This week, I tried my best to go back to those magical days of my youth by recreating that world for two lively boys who live down the street, Hascall and Solomon.
Socially distancing has been tough for everyone as we each slowly lose our connection with humanity, but kids are uniquely affected by staying isolated. They are still in the process of learning how to properly socialize, and without getting to go to birthday parties, to the park with friends, to school, and so much more, there’s a lot missing from the equation and way too many opportunities to feel bored. My hope is to suddenly bring some entertainment and mystery into the dull days of COVID.
I had to come up with a plausible way to introduce this magic. I decided that the sudden arrival of a garden gnome would be the best plan, and scoured Amazon for the perfect candidate. I also made sure to mention the plan to their dad, Gabe, so he wouldn’t file a police report. Once the gnome arrived and Gabe approved, my plan went into motion.
DISCLAIMER: If somebody out there reads this story and happens to spill everything to Hascall and Solomon, I will haunt their dreams. Let this be a warning.
Properly introducing Gnomy was a daunting idea. I was worried that they weren’t going to buy it: These are smart kids, a second-grader and a fourth-grader. What if they figured it out or saw me scrounging around their front yard like a burglar? It was risky.
After an hour of planning, drafting letters, scouting out their yard by flashlight in the dark (creepy, yes), and writing in a fancy yet easy-to-read handwriting, I ended up placing a letter from Gnomy on their front doormat. The letter formally introduced the gnome as “Peedlupon Stonybender” (I looked at a D&D website for gnome name ideas) but for short, Gnomy.
After a clue leading to their birdbath, there sat Gnomy in all of his glory, with another letter.
This letter contained two key items:
It asked them to find four perfect leaves that he could use as plates for a birthday party he’s throwing for his gnome friend, Blinky (socially-distanced of course), as well as a mask for the gnome.
The first clue for a short scavenger hunt. I’ll spare you the details, and tell you that the prize at the end was tiny spinning tops.
Looking back, I asked a lot from the boys today. I hope it didn’t feel like homework. Hascall and Solomon’s dad, Gabe, said “They are half speculating that it’s gnome magic and half thinking it could be from their friend Aaron, a few doors down.”
That sounds like success to me.
The boys’ responses to the gnome were written in impressive cursive and were pretty short and to the point, but proved that I was making inroads with them:
did you know I play guitar. I play soccer to. sincerely
p.s. what’s your favorite food”
“Hi thanks for coming to our house. Solomon”
While the letters were a sign I had made a connection with the boys, there were complications I hadn’t anticipated.
First, I needed to read their note before I wrote the gnome responses, so I had to wait until the boys were safely in bed, which is around nine, in order to retrieve the notes they left.
Second, I promised that the gnome was having a birthday party, so I also had to make it look like there had been some festivities.
So after grabbing and reading their note, I had to scrounge around their yard in the dark and make the very fancy leaves they collected look like they had played a central role in a birthday party. I sprinkled cookie crumbs and left a few bits of raspberry and blueberry for authenticity. The mask they made for the gnome was a great fit. This time, I made the scavenger hunt a bit more challenging and had them search for the gnome himself.
So far, I’ve learned that being a gnome experience curator is hard. I’m a tired, stressed, hormonal, and sleep-deprived teenager who does not usually incorporate an hour and a half into gnoming per evening (this is a verb I’ve made up to describe the action of creating a magical gnome scavenger hunt).
I waited with anticipation for the night to fall. This evening’s note from the boys was written on black construction paper with a black marker, very convenient. I had asked them for their favorite treat for a possible finale gift.
“Dear gnomy, I like cake sincerely Hascall.”
“Dear gnomy I like cupcakes” (presumably Solomon)
I thought I’d make the scavenger hunt a bit more free-ranging and challenging this time because I know they wander around a few blocks from home after school. At this point, I was slogging around creepily in the neighborhood at about half-past 11. Though my poor time management might be to blame, this was insane. I was having fun keeping up with their responses and figuring out what will happen next, but writing clues and finding good hiding spots was pretty tedious. At the end of the scavenger hunt, there was an electronic drone prize that I found laying around in my drawer untouched for some reason. Sadly, it was tiny, had only an on and off switch, and was not an actual drone.
I also asked for the boys to create a Halloween costume for Gnomy, nothing too complicated. I was curious to see what they would come up with.
I got a text the next morning from their dad saying, “Boys loved the scavenger hunt. Thanks for the mini drone. They left him a letter upfront.”
Texts like these make it all worth it, even though I have to wait until they are definitely asleep (which is around 11, just to be safe), get the letter they wrote, come home, devise a plan, write them letters and clues in fancy cursive, plant the letters and clues, and make sure everything is in the right place and is not insanely difficult or too easy. It’s an art.
This morning I had a text from Gabe saying that everything went well, “Don’t want to spoil the costume but it is great. The boys came up with it themselves.”
The costume was, in fact, genius. Using construction paper, they had built a candy corn costume around the gnome, encasing him perfectly. I was shocked to see the gnome completely disguised as a candy corn, totally unrecognizable.
The letter I got today addressed their favorite kinds of cake and things that they collect, very important matters of discussion:
“Dear gnomy my favorite cake is ice cream cake. sincerely, Hascall
My favorite cake is chocolate. Solomon.
We collect Bottle caps, golf galls, and hot wheels.
Sincerely, Hascall and Solomon
P.S say thanks to Blinky”
Today, I set out yet another scavenger hunt with a tiny Frisbee at the end.
Even though the experiment is going really well, I have to confess I’m becoming weary and impatient with the process of gnoming. Or maybe it’s more that I’m growing weary and impatient with online school, which is really hard and often time ineffective, which seriously cuts into my time for gnoming.
I realized today that I never specified how long this gnome experiment would last. Was Gnomy going to stay for only a couple of days or a few years? The thought of having to secretly manage this gnome project for a year made my brain do a backflip inside of my skull.
I received a text from Gabe saying, “I am just afraid that you are going to be on the hook for daily interactions. You should think about how to build in breaks for yourself.”
I clarified with him that this was only supposed to last a week, but now I was afraid of what the boys would think. If they were expecting him to stay much longer, how would I explain why Gnomy has to leave? I had too much power over their emotions and I wasn’t sure how to handle it.
I decided to tell them the truth, or some version of it: That Gnomy had to be picked up by his giant bird friend and return to his home village back to his family. Obviously.
Thank you for the present. My favorite subject in school is reading.
Knome thank you for the present. My favorite subject in school is math.
Today might have been the most confusing of them all. I went to grab the notes from Gnomy’s spot, and I found a giant shovel pointing at a big cardboard box, closed with a piece of duct tape and filled with a mixture of dirt and pennies. My mom and I tried to find the hidden meaning or metaphor behind the mysterious box, but we really couldn’t draw any conclusions.
I texted Gabe to try and solve the shovel and box crime scene-like display, and he replied with “The boys didn’t tell us exactly what they were doing. I guess Gnomy will have to ask them about it.”
So I took this as an opportunity for Gnomy to be bold and claim this box as a home, and made a leaf bed and tucked Gnomy in, hoping that this wasn’t ruining a potential science experiment or contemporary art project. I also decided to expand the mystery by leaving some of my own coins, including some Thai bahts and Euros.
Today I stayed up later than usual doing homework, leaving me very little time to organize any sort of scavenger hunt or game. So I ended up just asking them to go crazy with the house set-up and potentially make some sort of pet or friend for him. I also asked them if they could go anywhere in the world, where would they choose to travel. As an added flourish, I left them a jar of tiny gnome-sized scones that my mom had made that morning.
The letter from today:
Thank you for the scones they were great.
Hascall: If I could go anywhere I would go to new york
Solomon: Chinue because i like ther Food. sincerely Hascall and Solomon
P.S Sorry that the tree cutters were scary
P.P.S. is blinky coming When you leev?
P.P.P.S. We will hav a surprise for you tomorrow
To my surprise, there were many renovations to the box house. They had installed a flat-screen TV, a luxurious couch, a tiny plant/twig inside of a coconut shell, a pet bird sitting on a perch, and a perfectly tiny box and cloth for a bed. Gnomy was now living the life. How could he ever want to leave?
I carefully planned out two final letters, one to put at the spot where Gnomy usually sits and one to put at the final destination of the scavenger hunt with a gift. This gift was originally going to be two handmade cupcakes, but since an ice cream cake probably wouldn’t last and I was pressed on time, I ended up following Solomon’s order and getting two small chocolate cupcakes from Quack’s Bakery. I spoke to a barista about which cupcake would last outside overnight, and we came to the conclusion that the vegan cupcake with the thin layer of icing would probably work best, sadly (no offense to anyone vegan, I just imagine it’s not quite the same).
At this point in the game, I’m exhausted. Balancing all my schoolwork with being a part-time Gnome manager is hard. I’m sad that it’s all wrapping up though, seeing the letters and creations from the boys has definitely boosted my serotonin levels and given me something to look forward to each night.
I had to prepare them for the end. It was the last letter and scavenger hunt before Gnomy would sadly disappear into the night on his friend the grackle.
I made a promise from Gnomy that he would visit them from time to time and maybe even send them postcards from all his travels.
Sorry to see you leave so soon we had a great time with you. The hardest thing about being a child is not being able to do anything they want. We are giving you 2 goodbye presents. Goodby gnomy.
Hascall and Solomon”
This was the final note I received from the boys. Devastating, heartbreaking, yet honest. A work of art on a single piece of pink construction paper. I actually feel pretty bad for starting this relationship between the boys and the Gnome only to let it last a week. I wish I could carry it on for weeks, but I don’t think I have the mental capacity or time to devote every night to gnoming.
They also left Gnomy two wonderful gifts: One a painting of a bear in a forest with a beautiful landscape of mountains, the other a delicious loaf of banana bread sliced up into gnome-sized pieces.
Though it was a difficult task, writing letters and planning out quests for Solomon and Hascall, was a nice break from my usual, mundane routine in quarantine. It’s also been a project a little more bizarre than anything assigned in school, which for me personally has taken up most of my life recently. I’ve now been writing this blog for almost two months because I’ve been sporadically coming back to add things when I had time in between homework assignments, major projects, and studying for tests. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to how mind-numbingly boring and yet stressful this semester has been, which is why I would recommend taking time out of your day to do something nice for yourself or someone else.