Every young child is rocked to sleep or put into bed by a mother or father who accompanies the “good night and happy dreams” with a story, read from a book or made-up as it goes along.
My nightly tales were about the imaginary adventures of Humchee and Poki, a bear and an indian who lived deep in the forests of Russia. My father recited this nonsense to me every night until I could recite it back to him, word for word.
Probably it came from Papa’s imagination or his recollection of the woods and forests in the Russian village of his youth. How do I know that? Because one of the frightening characters in the otherwise loveable tales was the dreaded Baba Yaga, an old witch who would snatch away naughty children. It is very much part of Russian folklore.
Poki would go into the woods carrying a large pail. On his way, he would be met by his friend, Humchee the bear. “Where are you going with that pail”, Humchee asked. I’m going into the woods to pick berries so mama can bake pies”, replied Poki.
“What kind of berries are you going to pick?”
“Well”, answered Poki, “I’ll pick lots of berries… bloomberries, razzemberries and maybe even a few stromberries.”
“Oh”, cried Humchee in delight. “I’ll come with you and I’ll help you. I love picking berries in the woods”.
So the two friends jaunted happily deeper and deeper into the woods, to the place where berries grow.
“I hope we can find our way home out of these big thick woods”, said Poki.
“Don’t worry, my little friend. I know the way. I’ll show you,” said Humchee. And the two continued walking together, the pail swinging at Poki’s side.
After a while, Humchee thought he smelled the scent of fresh berries. “Follow my nose”, he told Poki.
And sure enough, they arrived at a huge berry patch and the picking began. Poki was on all fours picking each berry and gently putting it into the pail. Humchee watched him but did not really do any berry-picking. “I’ll watch the pail so that it does not tip over”, he said. And so Poki continued to pick and to pick and to pick. When he thought that his pail was half filled he sat down, wiped his brow, and looked at the pail of berries.
“Hmm”, he declared. “I thought I had picked more berries than this. The pail almost looks empty”.
Humchee shrugged his paws and said nothing. So Poki moved aside to the next berry patch, full of ripe blue bloomberries. His mouth watered as he thought of his mama baking a delicious bloomberry pie. Eagerly with both hands he picked as many berries as he could hold in each fist and deposited them gently into the pail.
When he thought he had a sufficient amount he looked into his pail and once again he saw that it was only half full. He looked at Humchee and asked, “Humchee, have you been eating my bloomberries”. And the bear, with a sheepish grin on his blue-stained lips replied, “Me? Not me, Poki. You probably didn’t pick as many bloomberries as you thought”. And Poki only replied with another “Hmmmm”.
From the bloomberry patch they walked carefully to the patch where stromberries and razzemberries grow. And the picking began again. Each time Poki looked into his pail, he saw fewer and fewer berries.
But satisfied with what he had, he told Humchee it was time to return home. The pail was only half full but Poki’s heart was happy, thinking of the delicious baked pies his mama would make from the berries.
It was very dark but there was a full moon and many stars to guide the two friends through the woods.
Suddenly, they heard a loud noise. Branches were crackling on withering trees, the leaves under their feet were crunching and Poki thought that he saw a figure approaching them. And sure enough, in the wink of four eyes, appeared the dreaded witch, Baba Yaga.
“Where are you going, my friends?” she asked. “And what are you carrying in the pail? Let me see it.
Oh, glory be. I see berries. I love berries. Are you going to give Baba Yaga some of your berries?”
”No”, replied Poki. “These berries are for my poor mama. She is waiting at home for me to bring them to her so that she can bake berry pies”.
“Give me your pail and I will help you to carry them”, said the witch and she reached down to grab the pail from Poki’s hands. At that moment, Humchee let out a great big roar and lifted his paw, ready to strike old Baba Yaga. She let out a shrieking scream and ran quickly, disappearing into the woods.
“Thank you. Thank you, Humchee. Thank you for saving the berries. Now mama can bake berry pies.
“Good”, said Humchee. “I love berry pies. Can I have a slice of pie”?
“Of course you can, Humchee. You are my friend. I will ask mama to bake a special pie for you. Which kind do you like best.. bloomberry pie or stromberry pie or razzemberry pie?”
“Oh, my goodness. I love them all”, replied Humchee.
So the pail with the berries were brought safely home and Poki’s mama began baking her pies. Now… which pie do you think Humchee chose? I cannot tell you but I’ll leave the answer to little David who fell asleep on his papa Shimon Avrom’s lap. “Good night and happy dreams, my little son”, said papa.
And Poki and Humchee both smiled.