The Clover Patch is my second or third attempt at a children's story. I appreciate any feedback - especially from parents - and am looking for an illustrator who loves this story (and Herbert) like I do and understands that there will likely never be any money in it.
Hillary (in Heels)
The Clover Patch
It was a sunny September day that Herbert first emerged from the Mouse Hole. He followed his older brother, Matthew, out of their candlelit underground home into a world much larger than he could ever have imagined.
“Herbert, come on!” urged Matthew, who was just one year his senior, but who felt greatly superior because of this fact. Herbert ran hard to keep up with his older, bigger brother, and he was breathing heavily by the time they reached a small patch of clover.
“This is my favorite place to go,” said Matthew, and Herbert could see why. The green clover grazed softly against his small body, and the air smelled sweet and purple.
“What do you do here?” Herbert asked.
Matthew shrugged. “Sometimes I play games with my friends. We really like to play Hide and Seek. Other times I like to look up a the sky.”
“That sounds fun,” said Herbert, who was immensely enjoying his newly found freedom. He settled onto his back and looked up at the almost perfectly blue sky. “Look, Matthew!” he said. “That cloud looks like Auntie Mia!” Quickly lying down beside his brother, Matthew followed Herbert’s pointing paw. Giggling, Matthew saw the fat body of the cloud and its round face and puffy cheeks. “Matthew, it even has the wide-brimmed hat Auntie Mia always wears on the top of her head!” Their giggles cut through the early autumn breeze like twinkling chimes.
Warmed by the sun, the brothers took turns pointing out clouds that looked like friends and family until they heard their mother calling them. “Matty! Herby!” her squeaky, but loving voice beckoned. Matthew rolled his eyes and reluctantly got up, but Herbert’s heart swelled to hear his mother’s voice and he eagerly began the run home.
He wrapped his arms around his mother the minute he returned to their warm den. She kissed his sunny cheeks, her dress catching the air as she spun him in a circle. “What’s for dinner mom?” he asked, his eyes large and curious.
“Yes, mom, what’s for dinner?” Matthew chirped. “I’m hungry.”
Mother put her paws on her hips in mock-anger. “No dinner for you, Matty, until you come give your mother a hug.” Matthew groaned, but warmly embraced his mother, who smelled like cinnamon, chives, and freshly dug dirt. She held tightly to him, laughing as he tried to break free, and even Matthew couldn’t hold back a mischievous smile. “You’re getting cheekier everyday,” she said affectionately. “Just like your father.”
When Matthew finally broke free, he smoothed down his fur. “What’s for dinner?” he asked again.
“Go wash up,” Mother instructed, shooing them gently off.
Matthew and Herbert scrubbed their paws and white faces free of dirt and anxiously returned to the table. In the brief few minutes they were gone, Mother had laid out steaming hot bowls filled with carrots, spinach, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and radishes. The smell of fresh, warm bread made Herbert and Matthew’s hungry mouths water. “And for dessert,” Mother said, smiling, “a special treat.” She winked at Herbert.
“Peanut butter pie?” Herbert asked, his sparkling eyes growing wide.
Mother smiled a knowing smile. “Maybe,” was all she said.
During dinner, Mother playfully reminded Herbert that he needed to be ready to leave early tomorrow. “It’s your first day of school, remember?”
“How could I forget?!” Herbert exclaimed, wriggling his little feet excitedly underneath the table. Herbert was counting down the days until school started. He couldn’t wait to have new books to read and make new friends. For weeks before, Herbert had been trying to choose what he would wear for his first day of school. He had tried on his corduroy overalls with the big pockets, his black dress pants and a crisp, red shirt, his worn out jeans and a t-shirt, and even his pajamas, but none of them seemed quite right. His whiskers twitched thinking that he would have to make a decision about this by tomorrow morning.
“Are you ready for your first day of second grade, Matty?” Mother asked.
Matthew shrugged. “I guess so.”
“I packed all of my school things in my backpack already!” Herbert announced. His mother and Matthew smiled.
“You would,” teased Matthew.
“Good for you,” said Mother.
Herbert slurped down the last of his stew. “I’m ready for the special dessert!” He clapped his hands together.
Mother laughed, but shook her head. “Wait for your brother and me to finish, please.” Herbert did wait, but, in anticipation, his right foot shook under the table.
It was ages before Mother and Matthew had finished their bread and stew, and Herbert was practically bursting at the seams to get a taste of what he knew was a big, creamy peanut butter pie. Herbert raced to clear the dishes from the table, dropping them with a loud crash in the sink.
“Herbert,” Mother warned, looking into the sink to happily discover that none of the plates and bowls had broken.
Herbert ducked his head and blushed. Mother only called him “Herbert” when he’d done something wrong. “Sorry, Mother,” he said quietly. “Next time I’ll be more careful.”
Mother leaned down and kissed the top of his head softly. “I know you will,” she whispered. An impish grin crossed her face. “If the two of your aren’t sitting at the table in five seconds, we’re going to give our special dessert to the neighbors. One…” Herbert didn’t have to hear the next four numbers. He darted to his seat at the table, a windy blur as he sped by his brother. By the count of four, Herbert and Matthew were seated at the table, their eyes wide and their tummies rumbling, despite being quite full from dinner. Both Matthew and Herbert always had an appetite for a delicious dessert, which they inherited from Mother who had an affinity for baking delectable morsels to pack in lunchboxes, to give to the neighbors, or just for fun. Their father had never been overly fond of sweets, but always loved when Mother baked sugar cookies in the shape of flowers.
The minute mother entered the dining room, the overwhelmingly delightful smell consumed Herbert. Fresh peanut butter, cream, a buttery crust, and – was it? yes, it was – the tangy sweet scent of shiny, green apples. Herbert licked his lips. He was certain he could eat the whole pie himself. She cut three big slices of pie, each overflowing with peanut butter and chunks of apple. Matthew practically stuck his whole face in his piece, but Herbert didn’t want the experience to be over so fast. He lifted a heaping spoonful to his mouth and, very slowly, ate it, letting the smooth peanut butter slide down his throat. He hadn’t had peanut butter pie since his last birthday in March, six months prior. Although Matthew asked for different treats – three layer chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, ice cream sandwiches, fruit tarts, doughnuts, or bags of candy – Herbert always asked for peanut butter pie. Mother knew just the right amount of every ingredient so that they swirled together on Herbert’s tongue like a sugary symphony.
“So, you like the pie?” Mother asked smiling, although she already knew the answer. Herbert sighed happily, still tasting each morsel slowly. Matthew, his face engulfed in pie, muttered something that sounded like yes. “I hope you like these as well.” She handed one package, wrapped in blue paper, to Matthew and another package, wrapped in green paper, to Herbert.
Matthew tore into his and pulled out a brand new, brick red backpack with lots of different pockets. “Dillon’s mom got him this bag back in June!” Matthew said happily. “I wanted one so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” He jumped up and down, hugging his mother.
Mother laughed. “Look in the small pocket.”
Excitedly, Matthew unzipped the small pocket and found a new set of colored pencils and a handwritten note. He unfolded it. “My dear, Matthew,” he read aloud. “I know that you are going to do very well in the second grade. I cannot wait to hear more of your stories and to see more of your drawings. I hope the pencils will help your artwork. Love always, Mother.”
“My drawings will finally be better than Dillon’s!” Matthew declared.
“They always have been,” reasoned Mother.
“Yes, but before I only had red, blue, and yellow pencils. Now look!” He waived his new box of colored pencils. “Look, Herbert. There’s purple, two shades of green,” with each color Matthew grew more and more excited, “orange, three shades of blue, pink, brown! There’s every color in the world in this box!”
“Orange,” said Herbert, knowingly pointing at the orange pencil. “That’s my favorite.”
“What did you get, Herbert?” Matthew asked, nudging his brother in the side.
Herbert carefully unwrapped his package, making a decided effort not to rip any of the beautiful paper. He first pulled out the note from his mother. “I may need help reading it,” he said quietly.
But Mother disagreed. “Give it a try, Herby,” she urged. “You’ve been practicing so hard all summer.”
Herbert unfolded the note and started at it a good while. “My little Herby,” he read. “I am so very, very proud of you.” He had to sound out the next word: “T-t-to-mah-tomah-row, tomorrow is your first day of school and I know you will be,” he stared at the next word, before he finally turned to his mother. “What does this say?”
“Brilliant,” she smiled.
“Oh.” He continued. “Tomorrow is your first day of school and I know you will be brilliant. Do your best and you will do wonders. Love always, Mother.” Herbert smiled as he gently placed the note on the table. He continued unwrapping his present. When he saw what was inside, his eyes lit up like the brightest stars. “Mother,” he exclaimed, “I love it!” He held in his small paws a dark orange jacket with big, chocolate brown buttons. He rubbed the soft fabric against his cheeks.
“Look further,” said Mother.
“There’s more?” Mother nodded. But Herbert did not want to put down his new jacket, so he put it on over his clothes, even though it was very warm in the house, before he found the two remaining parts of his present: grey corduroy pants and a forest green t-shirt with a lighter green clover on the front. “Can I wear these tomorrow for my first day?” Herbert eagerly asked.
“Of course,” said Mother. “On one condition.”
“What?” asked Herbert.
She smiled. “That you come give me a hug right now and let me walk with you to school tomorrow.”
Herbert ran around the table and jumped into his mother’s lap, resting his head on her shoulder. “You can always walk me to school,” he told her. Mother wrapped her arms around her smallest son and made a silent wish to always hold onto this memory, for soon Herbert would be older and would not need her to walk her to school and not want to sit on her lap.
“Are you picking us up tomorrow?” asked Matthew.
Mother shook her head. “Sorry, but I can’t. I have some very important errands to run tomorrow and I won’t be home until dinnertime.”
“How will we get home then?” Herbert asked, his brimming with worry.
“Do you think I’d leave you alone to get home by yourselves?” Mother asked, tickling Herbert’s sides.
He laughed a big laugh. “No!”
“No! No!” said Mother, still tickling him. “Are you certain?”
“Yes! Yes!” Herbert wiggled around on his mother’s lap, laughing so hard he could barely catch his breath. This, in turn, made Matthew laugh and soon the room was loud with roaring happiness.
Mother stopped tickling Herbert. “Good, because I wouldn’t.”
“Who’s picking us up then?” asked Matthew.
“Auntie Mia.” Matthew and Herbert exchanged knowing glances and both quietly groaned. It wasn’t that Auntie Mia wasn’t nice or that she made them eat gross food or do lots of chores, she was actually very pleasant and kind. She was just a bit weird.
Mother sighed. “I know she’s not your favorite, but she’s family.” Auntie Mia was their father’s twin sister. Unlike their father, who played soccer, liked checkers, and sang Christmas carols only on Christmas, Auntie Mia played loud, funny songs on the piano, liked to paint with her fingers, and always loved to be outside, even in the pouring rain. “Besides, it’ll only be for a few hours. And who knows? I might come home to some more lovely paintings on your dressers.”
“Mom,” said Matthew, “it won’t be exactly like last time.” The last time Auntie Mia had babysat Matthew and Herbert, she had encouraged them to paint their dressers as they saw fit. She brought with her big and small paintbrushes and many different colors of paint. Matthew had made the front of his dresser a beautiful work of art, a detailed painting of the clover patch, and Herbert had dipped his hands in various colors and put handprints on the top of his dresser. At first, Mother had been none too pleased with to discover this, because Grampa Arnold, her father, had handmade the dressers from light, knotted pine, but she decided that the new decorations were not the worst possible outcome. Her walls were clean, as were her floors, and Matthew’s dresser had transformed into a lovely work of art, while Herbert’s dresser was so delightfully Herbert.
“You know the rules, right?” she asked her sons, thinking that they might remember better than Auntie Mia.
In a dull tone, Matthew and Herbert recited the rules: “No mess on the floor, no mess on the walls, no chopping legs off the furniture, no fire, nothing that explodes, no cutting up your sheets, or your brother’s sheets, or my sheets, and absolutely no sticky food in hard to reach places.”
Mother nodded approvingly when they had finished. “Whose turn is it to help me with the dishes?”
Matthew groaned. “It’s my turn.”
“Could I help, too?” Herbert asked softly.
Mother laughed. “Of course you can.”
That night, the dishes were done in no time. Mother washed them, Herbert dried them, and Matthew put them away. Mother thanked them for their help and suggested that they go play for a little while before it was time for bed.
Matthew was very excited to use his new colored pencils, so he decided to spend his time drawing. He drew pictures of his mother, of Herbert and him in the clover patch, of Grampa Arnold and Gramma Rose, of his new backpack, and of his father. Herbert, on the other hand, wanted to do something else entirely.
“Would you come read with me?” he asked his mother, who happily nodded. Herbert went to his room to pick out a few books.
“Let’s start with this one,” he suggested, holding up a well-loved copy of Tea with an Old Dragon. Herbert followed along as his mother read. He loved the beautiful pictures in the book and like the way the words flowed together. Herbert loved words and often thought he might be able to invent some very useful ones, if he only knew more of the ones that were already available. Herbert and Mother read three more books before Herbert felt his eyes dropping. “One more story?” he asked.
“Brush your teeth and settle into bed and I will read you one more story.” Herbert went to brush his teeth while Matthew picked up his colored pencils and Mother taped Matthew’s drawings on the wall. “Bedtime in fifteen minutes,” she told Matthew.
By the time Mother got to Herbert’s room, he had already picked out a book, The Giving Tree. “Read me this one, please.”
Mother smiled, but inside this book made her sad, though it was a favorite book that she and Herbert shared. Mother read to Herbert in a soft voice and did not stop until she had turned the last page, even though Herbert had fallen asleep somewhere in the middle. She put the book back on the shelf, kissed Herbert’s forehead, and turned off the light. “Goodnight, my love,” she said to her sleeping son. “Big day tomorrow.”