Imagination grows under a cabbage leaf

As far as I was concerned, the bronze cabbage leaf on my grandmother's table was there for my horses to jump into.

On hot summer evenings, after swimming and playing at the beach all day, I'd laze around my grandparents' summer home on Tomahawk Lake. This is where I spent my summers. I was only 7 so it was out of the question for me to venture a half-mile down the dirt road through the woods to be with a playmate in the evening. Instead, I amused myself with my herd of horses - eight toy miniature horses about 3 inches high.

Grandmother let me set up my paddock in the shadow of her cast-bronze cabbage leaf, which sat on a side table in the living room. The leaf was as big as half a watermelon. When I tried to move it, I found it was heavier than my dad's bowling ball. It was safe to say my horses would not trample it.

I glued string to rolled paper to make fencing and was frustrated when the fence wouldn't stand up. I knew it was make-believe, but I wanted it to work.

Granddad saw the problem and offered pieces of corrugated cardboard from which he'd punched holes and into which I set my fence posts. I was pleased when he came by my paddock, evening newspaper in hand, and asked, "How are your horses this evening? That palomino is looking mighty fine." I loved Granddad dearly.

My horses had to be hippity-hopped up a ramp made of Popsicle sticks to get to the edge of the bronze leaf. There they would ponder the scene before they jumped into the imaginary pond and swam to the opposite shore. The menace of the game was a mouse - part of the same bronze casting - which sat permanently crouched on the stem of the leaf.

Sometimes the mouse was the horses' friend - and two of the horses and the mouse would converse in pleasant voices about chipmunks and blackberries in the back yard, the bears who supposedly lived in the woods, watering Grandma's flower garden, and going to bed. My world was limited when I was 7.

Sometimes the mouse was ready to eat the little horses. It depended on my mood. When the mouse felt vicious there were screams and running, with eight horses trying wildly to save one another from the grasp of the nasty stationary bronze mouse. At this point my grandmother would generally suggest it was time for bed.

When I was grown and married and visited Grandma, she lovingly asked, "Is there anything you'd like from my home?"

My eyes fell on the cabbage leaf.

She saw my gaze and reached out with a tremulous smile, tears welling up in her eyes. "Take it, my dear," she said softly. "Your grandfather carried that home from an art show in 1911, the year your mother was born. I thought it was awful, but it turned out to be a symbol of love. When we argued, one or the other of us would threaten to buy the other a second cabbage leaf to get even. When we moved here before your granddad died, we talked about how the cabbage leaf had become part of our lives and how you played with it at the lake. I'm pleased to know you'd like to have it."

The bronze cabbage leaf is now on the table in my front hall and some day will go to my granddaughter, the one I've watched play with miniature ceramic horses.

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