The Old Woman Who Lived in the Vinegar Bottle

I first heard this story in either kindergarten or first grade. I love old European fairy tales, Grimm’s and otherwise (and I love re-telling them). They teach children all sorts of life truths and lessons. There is one that is unspoken but undeniably true: Never trust a fairy.

THERE once was an old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle. Don’t ask me why. It was a common old vinegar bottle. Maybe a little larger than most, but, still, it made for a very small house. The old woman would often sit on her front steps and complain. “Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in a tiny house such as this. Why, I should be living in a charming cottage with a thatched roof and roses growing up the walls. That’s what I deserve.”

           One day a fairy happened to be flying overhead and she heard the old woman’s complaint. “I can do that,” thought the fairy. “If that’s what she wants…that’s what she’ll get.” And to the old woman she said, “When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. In the morning, just see what you shall see.”

           Well, the old woman thought the fairy was likely batty, but she decided to give it a try. When she went to bed that night she turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again in the morning … She found herself in a charming cottage with a thatched roof and roses growing up the walls! “It’s just what I’ve always wanted,” she said. “I know I will be so happy here.” But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.

The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. “I wonder how that old woman is getting along. The one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I’ll just stop round and see.”

           When she got to the charming cottage the fairy found the old woman sitting and complaining. “Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in a tiny cottage like this. Why, I should be living in a smart row house with lace curtains at the windows and a brass knocker on the door! That’s what I deserve!”

           “Well,” said the fairy, “I can do that. If that’s what she wants … that’s what she’ll get.” And to the old woman she said, “When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you shall see.”

           The old woman didn’t have to be told twice. She went right to bed. She turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again in the morning, she found herself in a smart row house with lace curtains at the windows and a brass knocker on the door. “It’s just what I always dreamed of!” she said. “I know I’ll be so happy here!” But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.

The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. “I wonder how that old woman is getting along. The one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I’ll just stop round and see.”

           When she got to the smart row house, there sat the old woman in her brand new rocking chair … rocking and complaining. “Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in this row house with common neighbors on either side. Why, I should be living in a mansion on a hilltop with a manservant and a maidservant to do my bidding. That’s what I deserve!”

           When the fairy heard this, she was much amazed. But she said, “Well, if that’s what she wants … That’s what she’ll get.” And to the old woman she said, “When you go to bed tonight, turn around three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you will see!”

           The old woman turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the next morning … She found herself in a mansion on a hilltop with a manservant and a maidservant to do her bidding! “This is just what I’ve always deserved,” said the old woman. “I know I will be so happy here!” But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.

The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. ” I wonder how that old woman is getting along. The one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I’ll just stop round and see.”

           But when she came to the mansion on the hilltop she found the old woman in her velvet chair … sitting and complaining! “Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in such a drafty old mansion. Why, I should be living in the palace. Oh, yes, I should be the queen with musicians to entertain me and courtiers to bow to me. That’s what I deserve.”

           “Good heavens,” thought the fairy. “Will she never be content? Well, if that’s what she wants … that’s what she’ll get.” And to the old woman she said, “When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you shall see!”

           The old woman could not wait to go to bed that night. She turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the next morning, she found herself in the palace and she was the queen, with musicians to entertain her and courtiers to bow to her. “Oh, yes! This is what I’ve always dreamed of. I know I will be so happy here!” But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.

The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. “I wonder how that old woman is getting along … the one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I’ll just stop round and see.”

           When she got to the palace there sat the old woman on her throne … sitting and complaining! “Oh what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should be queen of such an insignificant little kingdom. Why I should be Empress of the Universe. Oh, yes, Empress of the Universe! That’s what I really deserve!”

           “Well!” said the fairy. “There is just no pleasing some people! If that’s what she wants, that’s what she’ll not get!” And to the old woman she said, “When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you shall see.”

The old woman hurried to bed that night. She turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the next morning, she found herself right back in her vinegar bottle! “And there she shall stay!” exclaimed the fairy. “If she can’t be happy here, she won’t be happy there. For, after all, happiness comes from the heart! Not from the house!”

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