WOODBINE - Once upon a time there was a woman who had three children.
When her first child got to be about 2, she read stories to him to keep him entertained.
And when the little boy started asking the "Why?" question, well, the mother just started making up stories.
"I guess that's how I got started reading to my kids," explained Mary Eleanor "Molly" McEvoy, 34. "But some of my own earliest memories are of being read to. My dad told wonderful stories to my brother and me."
With three young children -- William, 5; Andy, 3; and Maggie, 18 months -- McEvoy ran into another problem whenever she wanted to take one of the children to a story time at the library.
"You have to go in with the younger ones for story time, which is usually during school, so you can't get a baby sitter, and what was I going to do with the other two?" she said.
The solution, of course, was just to read to her own and to neighbor children who would be at the house playing.
Last year, McEvoy had an idea she decided to take to Melinda Byrd, a neighbor who happened to be the head naturalist at Piney Run Park.
"I thought there must be other mothers with the same scheduling problems, so I called Melinda and said, 'Give me a slot and I'll tell nature stories,' " she said.
"I wasn't even sure how much market there was for it, but I started 'Story Time With Me' -- my initials are M.E. and I'm Me," said McEvoy, who also is a registered nurse.
The Nature Center advertised the story times through its newsletter, and to McEvoy's gratification, sometimes as many as a dozen mostly 2- and 3-year-olds would be brought for the activity.
"I do the stories around a theme," she said. "An animal, the weather, seasons. I even do a nighttime story at night. Sometimes we'll do a craft project, but that's not the emphasis -- the emphasis is on the spoken word and images through stories and poems."
Roughly every other week through the school year, McEvoy can be found at the Nature Center telling her stories. Parents can bring their preschool children and sit with them or wander the center with babies who may not be old enough to appreciate the tales.
"A lot of times I just read stories," she said. "I find with smaller children their attention span is shorter, so I show the pictures while telling the story and that gives them something else to hold on to."
But occasionally McEvoy goes elaborate, like with "Peter and the Wolf," where she uses the narrated symphony to let the kids themselves act out the story.
"We have a ball with that," she said. "I'm not sure who has more fun with these things -- me or the kids."
The young mother has so much fun, in fact, that she volunteered for yet another story time project at Carrolltowne Mall.
"She was buying children's books one day," recalled Linda Olson, manager of Little Professor Book Center. "We got to talking, and I said I'd like to get somebody to tell stories (during summer) and she said she'd love to."
The bookstore set McEvoy up in the gazebo in the middle of the mall Saturday afternoons. The summer story time proved so popular that when McEvoy said she'd like to do more, Little Professor was happy to schedule her for a fall program.
McEvoy went back to the mall Oct. 27 with an hour's worth of Halloween stories. Yesterday's Thanksgiving stories finished up the four-week series.
Last week, despite heavy rains, some 20-plus children gathered around the gazebo to hear McEvoy, who started by introducing herself as "Me." Then she asked the youngsters how every proper story starts.
"Once upon a time," they chorused. The phrase could be called Molly's Motto: She firmly believes that's how all proper stories begin, whether they really do or not.
Then out of her bag comes "Peter and the Wolf," "Lon Po Po," "The Barn Dance" and several other animal stories. As she goes along, she shows the pictures and stops to answer questions and take comments.
Surprisingly, most of the children, and even some parents, sat through the whole hour, enthralled, although several families stopped by just for a few minutes and other kids came and went.
"She has a magical way of telling a story and talking to the kids," said Margaret Korcie of Eldersburg, who has three young children. "When they ask a question, she listens and brings that into the story."
Korcie's son, Kevin, 5, said he liked the story time, especially "The Barn Dance."
McEvoy modestly insists she's "not a storyteller like some of those wonderful real storytellers. To me, real storytellers function on a much higher level."
Rather, she said, she's just another mother fascinated with books who wants to share the stories they have to tell.
"What a marvelous gift to pass on," she said. "It preserves something important about our culture. So much has come to us through stories. And these stories are what distinguishes us from other people."
And, of course, what makes up those stories are the words we speak.
"Words are wonderful things," McEvoy said. "To be able to paint a picture with words -- that's as close to magic as you can get in this world."