The parrot and the tiger

There was a narrow closet in my parents’ bedroom in the big house in Glencoe; in that closet were stacks of crisply laundered shirts fresh from the dry cleaner. Each shirt was neatly folded around a rectangular cardboard stiffener to prevent it from wrinkling. The cardboard was oatmeal brown on one side and shiny white on the other. It was perfect for the purpose to which my father put it. With scissors in one hand and a Crayola in the other, he would sit at my mother’s dressing table overlooking the front yard and begin work.

Nobody ever wielded a heavier crayon than Samuel Reuben. On those bright white cardboard sheets, he laid down thick, globs of colors so vivid that the creatures springing to life under his hand seemed to vibrate with vitality.

My father could do with a Crayola what Van Gogh did with paint.

And vibrate (throb? oscillate?) is exactly what the birds and tigers did behind the wide, evenly spaced bars of the cage he had fashioned out of a second cardboard sheet. Reminiscent of his three-sided sign, the sections of a brilliantly red, green, blue and yellow parrot alternated with those of a fearsome striped tiger, and if the cage was pulled one way, the fierce, ferocious tiger gazed out at you, but if it was pulled the other way, what you saw was the festive plumage of a tropical bird.

Toyland! Toyland!

Mystic, Merry Toyland!

Samuel Reuben. My father. Lucky, lucky me.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

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