Dr. Pauline Popplewhite was no bigger than my little finger. Well, actually she was a bit bigger than my pinkie, but she was just the same size as her big Uncle Prichard's little finger. That is, the same size as the pinkie on his right-hand.
I'll be honest with you. Uncle Prichard's right pinkie was slightly - just slightly - larger than his left. That's still pretty tiny. (Check out your pinkies. I bet you'll find that one is slightly larger than the other. It isn't? Well mine is, and so is Uncle Prichard's.)
If you've read about Tom Thumb and Thumbelina maybe you won't be too surprised by Pauline's size. But when you find out that Pauline wasn't always small, and that she became a world famous scientist, I think you'll be amazed. You don't think you will? Well you should be!
Polly Pinkie was called Pauline Popplewhite when she was born. She was the very large baby daughter of Percy Popplewhite and Pamela Popplewhite, perfectly proper parents who were proud as punch of Pauline.
Pauline was the youngest of four children. Her older sister was named Priscilla Popplewhite, after her aunt Amy who was called Priscilla by everyone in the family. Nobody had any idea why Amy was called Priscilla, but she was, and that's a fact.
Priscilla and Pauline had twin brothers named Pronald Popplewhite and Probert Popplewhite. (Pamela proposed naming the twins Ronald and Robert, but Percy convinced her that, like the rest of the family, the twins names should start with P.)
The Popplewhites were all quite famous, even before Pauline was born, because they had a family of four pandas living on their front porch. How the pandas came to live on their front porch is another story entirely. The pandas have very little at all to do with this story, so I won't mention them again.
Well maybe I will tell you that the pandas always let the children play on their swinging chairs.
And I should, probably, point out that there were only two swinging chairs for four pandas, and that the chairs were made of willow branches.
You are probably wondering why each of the pandas didn't have a swinging chair. And, probably, you're wondering why the swinging chairs were made of willow, instead of bamboo, like most of the swinging chairs you've seen. Well if you are wondering; and even if you aren't, I'll tell you why. Pandas eat bamboo! In fact that's all they eat, and those four pandas gobbled up their two bamboo swinging chairs the very day the four chairs were delivered by the furniture store.
But this story isn't about the pandas, it's about Pauline Popplewhite, who was soon to become Polly Pinkie to her family and friends.
I've already told you that Pauline was a large baby at birth. In fact she weighed six kilograms. That's more than Pronald and Probert weighed, together, when they were born. But even though Pauline had a hearty appetite, and never had a sick day, six kilograms was the heaviest she ever weighed.
By the time Pauline started walking, she was no taller than her teddy, but, said Pauline: "Every bit as cute and tubby". But when Pauline was ready to start school, she was no bigger than her Barbie doll, but not built like Barbie, at all. She was still as cute and tubby as her teddy. And you already know how big, or small, she was when she was an adult. If you've forgotten, you'll just have to go right back to the beginning, and read more carefully.
Pauline never did attend a real school. I'm sure you could come up with dozens of reasons why she didn't. (Did you think that she might get her head stuck in the pencil sharpener? Of course not, but, her mother was afraid she would.) But that doesn't mean that Pauline didn't learn.
Pauline's family hired a wonderfully wise primary principal, Professor Problems, who taught Pauline everything he knew, and a whole lot more.
I seem to be getting ahead of myself. I'll go back a bit, though not right to the beginning because I still remember how big Dr. Pauline Popplewhite was way back then.
You can be sure that Pauline's loving family was very worried about her shrinking size. Long before she started walking they had taken her to doctors all over the world.
They even had the veterinarian, who checked up on the pandas (I really shouldn't mention them again.), give her a good going over. Of course they didn't tell Pauline's doctor that they had had an animal doctor examine his tiny patient. Mr. Popplewhite thought that Pauline's physician probably wouldn't approve. But Mrs. Popplewhite was overheard, by Priscilla, pointing out to Percy: "We're all animals you know, Percy." Mr. Popplewhite replied with an "Mmmuugh" sound, very much like the ones that the pandas made when they were hungry. (Well that's the only way I could think of to describe the sound he made. Sorry.)
Even though the Popplewhites knew that Pauline would be very famous if they let the rest of the world know about her pre-, past-, present and post- condition, they decided to keep every bit of it secret. Percy and Pamela wanted their tiny daughter to have as normal a life as possible. And most normal children aren't at all famous. (Although Palmer Potter was quite famous in my elementary school because he could wiggle his ears. I don't mean that he could make them twitch: he could almost flap them.)
Every doctor who saw Pauline (including the veterinarian) had to sign a statement promising never to tell about Pauline's strange disorder. The doctors were allowed to write about her condition in medical magazines, but they couldn't use her real name. They all called her P. P. (What are you giggling about?) Well maybe it is kind of funny. One doctor, who'd only heard her name over the phone, referred to her in his article as Pee Pee. P. P.'s family was possitively peeved.
Even the veterinarian wrote an article, but he let on that it was an animal that was getting smaller and smaller. He called the animal Pandy P. (No! That doesn't count, because he certainly wasn't referring to a Popplewhite Panda.)
Did I tell you that there were now seven of them living on the Popplewhite's front porch? Well, if I didn't, I won't.
So even though Pauline was getting smaller and smaller, she led a surprisingly normal life. Once all the medical experts had assured Pamella and Percy that there was no way to help Pauline grow bigger, they stopped dragging her around the world, from one physician to yet another physiologist.
Her parents set about making a very comfortable little life for Pauline. They built her a very small house and set it on the table by the window that looked out on the front porch. And I know that you know why her parents set the little house on that particular table. (Oh my! Of course you're right, it was so that Pauline, who was always "Polly Pinkie" by then, could watch the pandas. And so that the pandas could watch Polly. They were always peering in her windows and winking at her.)
Polly's dad, Percy Popplewhite, had put telescope glasses in all of the windows of Polly's tiny house so that when Polly looked out through her windows, everything (including the pa - pan - - animals on the porch) looked very, very small. And when a person or a pa - pan- - creature, looked in through Polly's windows everything in Polly's house, including Polly, looked to be of normal size. "Perfectly practical, and practically perfect", Percy proudly pronounced.
Polly often came out of her little house to be with the rest of the family, and her many special friends. She even went on trips with them. Of course everyone was very, very careful to make sure that no one sat on her, or sneezed her out an open window. If you had a cold, you had to wear a gas mask when you were around Polly.
When travelling, Polly always sat in a very comfortable little chair, with her seat belt done up, you can be sure. Pauline saw to that. The chair was bolted into a box made of one way glass. The box was held onto the dashboard of the car or the boat, or the airplane, with well-chewed bubble gum, which worked much better than the suction cups that they first tried.
Polly could see perfectly well through the one-way glass, but nobody could see her. She had a microphone in the box, just like the ones in her house. The microphones made her tiny, tinkly voice sound loud and clear through the speakers in the vehicles and around the house. Of course she had her own special portable potty, but Polly asked me not to write about that. Although she did say that I could tell you that she never has gotten over her fear of being flushed down a toilet. (Neither have I. And I'm really, really big.)
Polly's family always made Polly's friends welcome. But the friends all had to promise that they would never reveal the Popplewhites' tiny- big secret. And they never did. Except for one friend, Prattler Prancer, who had a reputation for telling tall tales. So every time he told the very short story about Polly, the people he told thought that he was telling another of his very tall tales, and didn't pass the story on. Would you have believed him?
As Polly grew older, the Popplewhite's wished very much that they could find her a tiny little man to marry. Of course they knew about Tom Thumb, but thanks for suggesting him. Professor Problems and Polly's parents made a very careful search around the world for Tom, but they were never able to find him. Do you know where he is? If you do, please tell me so that I can pass his address on to Percy and Pauline.
Polly's parents tried to keep their worries from Polly, but she had guessed why they were looking so glum. She said: "Now that Priscilla, and the twins are married, I suspect that you are worried because there is never likely to be a husband for me. You have no need to worry, because I have no room in my life for a husband.
"Long ago I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life studying the habits of my favourite animals; the animals on our front porch. I love them and they love me. I have read everything that has ever been written about those pandas." (I have no choice. That's precisely what Polly said. So I positively must mention the pandas again if I'm ever to finish this story. You do understand, don't you?)
"I have seen every film that has ever been taken of pandas, and I have been in daily contact with the keepers of pandas in zoos all over the world. Along with my dear family and friends, the pandas on our porch have made my life wonderful. I don't need anything more. I have watched the pandas for many hours every day, ever since I can remember. I really believe that I can talk with them and understand how they think and feel.
"No one in the world cares more about pandas than I do, or wants the rest of the world to appreciate them the way I do. Let me continue to have a wonderful life, learning more and more about pandas, and sharing what I learn with the rest of the world."
And that's exactly how Polly is spending the rest of, what we all hope, will be a very happy, very long, little life. She earned a doctor's degree in pandology by post from a university in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and became world famous publishing papers on pandas.
Of course, Polly didn't use her real name in her books and articles. She wanted to be known for her work, not for her size. That's why all her articles were signed "Dr. Pauline Popplepink". Polly said, with a tiny wink and a teensy smile, "Who on earth would take anything seriously that was written by Polly Pinkie?"
P.S. With the money she earned from her first article, Polly bought a swinging chair for each of the fifteen pandas now living on her front porch. They were ever so pleased.
Can you guess what the chairs were made of? In my school, 75 kids guessed bamboo, and 75 guessed willow.
No, I can't tell you which group was right.
Only Polly knows, and there's no point asking her. I did, and she told me that I would just have to guess.
Copyright Bill Rollans 1994 All rights reserved.
illustrations by Ben Rollans (age 8) and Claire Rollans (age 5)
Return to the Bill Rollans Home Page