Do you recognize that line? In fifth grade, we read (or had read to us) a story about popcorn containing my title line: “Pony Pony went down to the watch factory to watch her father watch the watches in the watch factory.” Upon deeper reflection, she must have read it. Otherwise, why would I have memorized that lilting string of strange words if I had not heard them read to me? I do remember going home and telling my librarian mother about the story and the catchy phrase. Whichever way it happened, that sequence of frivolous, fanciful words with synonyms thrown in, stuck with me for over FIFTY YEARS!!!! But I did not remember the storyline. In fact, I have wondered, with the cadence of that phrase, could it be a poem. Occasionally, I have asked others if they recognized that sentence, including an old classmate or two. No one remembered or knew it.
Now we are in the age of the Internet with web browsers that can find anything. The brilliant idea of doing a search came to me. The first two pages of results retrieved the book, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On the third page, I found results for my exact search phrase! It comes from a short story called The Huckabuck Family: and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back by none other than Carl Sandburg! No wonder the well-written phrase stuck in my mind for so long!
The story was published originally in Rootabaga Stories in 1922. Sandburg was a master poet and could make his prose sound like poetry as this sample illustrates. He wrote for his three daughters creating American fairytales sprinkled with nonsense and planted in midwestern farms with trains and corn fairies in what he called “Rootabaga Country,” as opposed to the traditional fairytales with princesses and knights.
In this story, the family had to leave their Nebraska popcorn farm after a barn fire popped all their corn. They moved from town to town with the father finding whatever work was available. In Elgin, IL, he took a position as a watchman at a watch factory.
The story was probably in our 1950s fifth grade reader. In 1999, this Huckabuck family story was published separately in a picture book. Though no longer in print, some resellers have it. I now own a copy! The original collection of Rootabaga Stories can be purchasedavailable in print and as ebooks.
Since I studied children’s literature and was a children’s librarian for many years, it now seems odd I never cracked open a Rootabaga volume and found my beloved story!!! It sat on the shelves of my own library collections!