Tom Builder had not built a house all year. He and his brother, Bob’s house building business was not doing well. The town where they lived already had almost enough houses for everyone.
Tom thought about his wife, Hilder, and two children, Milder and Gilder. He loved them very much and he wanted to make sure they had a nice place to live, enough food to put on the table, and every now and then, a few presents to make them happy. He went to his brother, Bob, and told him he was going to move to another town.
“You can stay here and keep building houses, Bob,” he said. “I am moving my family to Eltopia. Maybe they need houses there.”
Tom loaded his family, their furniture, Milder and Gilder’s toys, and their pet cat, Shilder, into the truck and off they went on the long drive to Eltopia, which was way off in the south eastern part of Washington State.
When they got to Eltopia, Tom dropped his family off at the Eltopia Hotel and drove right over to the courthouse to talk with the mayor of Eltopia, Mayor Milford Mayer.
“Hello Mayor Mayer,” Tom said, shaking hands with the Mayor. “I’m Tom Builder and I’ve come to your town to build houses.”
Mayor Mayer pushed his glasses up on his big, red nose, put his hands on his big, fat hips, and said in his little squeaky voice, “We have plenty of houses already, mister… what did you say your name was?”
“Builder, Tom Builder. Are you sure you don’t need a few more houses, Mr. Mayor?”
Mayor Mayer leaned forward and looked Tom Builder right in the eye and said, “Look Mr. Builder, we have houses of every description here in Eltopia. We have big houses, we have little houses, we have wood houses, and we have brick houses, we have one story houses, and we have two story houses, why, heck, we even have a three story house. That’s my house,” said the mayor, with a satisfied smile.
When Tom Builder got back to the hotel he told his wife, Hilder, what the mayor had said. “Gosh, Hilder, I don’t know what to do. There’s no work for me building houses here in Eltopia. How will I make enough money to take care of you, and little Milder and Gilder?”
“Don’t you worry, Tom Builder,” said Hilder. “You’ll think of something.” But Hilder was worried, too. Christmas was coming. Would she and Tom be able to buy the children presents? It’s not important, she thought. As long as we have a place to live and can put food on the table, we’ll be all right.
Tom Builder kept looking for people who might want a house built, but he had no luck. Everyone in Eltopia seemed to have a house.
One evening, after a few weeks without work, Tom found a few dollars in his pocket and stopped at Sladko’s candy store to buy Milder and Gilder some licorice, which they dearly loved. While he waited for his candy to be wrapped, he glanced in the candy story window and saw a beautiful little house made entirely of cake and candy.
When Tom was paying for the licorice he asked the candy store owner, Pecivo Sladko, about the little house. “Do people buy candy and cake houses like that?” Tom asked.
“Do they ever,” said the candy man, enthusiastically. “People here in Eltopia love their sweets.”
Tom rushed right home and told his wife, Hilder, about the little candy and cake house. “It gave me an idea,” he told Hilder. “I’m going to build a big candy and cake house.”
“How big?” asked Hilder.
“Yes, Daddy!” shouted Milder and Gilder. “How big?”
“Big enough for a family like us to live in,” said Tom Builder, beaming.
“Oh dear,” whispered, Hilder Builder.
Tom started right in on his house building project. First he drew a house plan, showing where the living and dining rooms were, where the bedrooms would be located -- there were three bedrooms -- where the bathroom would be, where the front and the back door would be, and how the house would look from the inside and the outside.
Hilder looked over Tom’s plan and made a list of all the things needed to make the cakes, cookies, sweet tarts, candies, and other goodies with which to build the house according to Tom’s plan.
Tom and the children went about collecting huge sacks of flour, sugar, chocolate, raisons, and nuts, and fruit, and cinnamon, and nutmeg, and other spices. Tom spent almost all the money he had saved to buy the supplies, but he didn’t mind, because he was so sure he could make a lot of money selling the house -- after all, everyone loved sweets, didn’t they?
Milder and Gilder started making candy canes, and strings of twisty licorice, and dark chocolate candy kisses, and fruit-filled hard candies, and just about every kind of candy they’d ever heard of and some they invented on the spot, like chocolate-filled licorice straws, licorice covered strawberries, and figs stuffed with licorice -- the children did love licorice.
Everyone had a job to do to make the materials needed to build the candy and cake house and they all worked very hard to do their jobs well. And the most amazing thing was, nobody, not Tom, not Hilder, nor Milder, nor Gilder ate any of the cake or candy they were making for the house. Only Shilder, the cat, was tempted. He jumped up on the counter and took a couple of licks of licorice. He wrinkled his nose and made a sound like,”Phfft Blah,” and jumped right back down and started licking his paw and wiping it across his mouth to clean his whiskers.
“We’ll have money to buy lots of sweets once we sell the house,” Tom Builder told his family. “And we’ll have enough money to buy Shilder his favorite liver and fish treats, too!”
“Liver and fish!” said Milder and Gilder, at the same time, “Blah and double blah!”
Tome Builder, and Hilder, Milder, and Gilder Builder worked day and night on building the candy and cake house in order to have it ready before Christmas.
Hilder Builder worked so hard her hair turned white from all the flour she was using. But worry was also turning Hilder’s hair white. They were almost out of money. If Tom didn’t finish the house soon and sell it quickly, they would have no money for food, and no money to pay the hotel bill, and certainly no money for Christmas presents.
Finally, Tom put the finishing touches on the house and the whole family went to look at it.
“Why, Tom,” said Mrs. Builder, “it’s utterly beautiful.”
“Yes, Daddy, said Gilder. “It looks scrumptious.”
“It looks very well built, Dad,” said Milder, who, when he grew up, wanted to be an engineer.
“Now we need to sell the house,” said Tom Builder. He went to a real estate agent and asked how he could quickly sell his house. The real estate agent told him to hold an open house, so people could come and see the house for themselves. And that’s what Tom did. He called the newspaper and told them he wanted to put an announcement in the paper.
“And what are you announcing?” asked the copy boy who answered the phone.
“I’m selling a candy and cake house and inviting the good citizens of Eltopia to come and see it,” said Tom.
The copy boy, Fant Neumen, got some additional details from Tom and told him the ad would run in Friday’s paper. He was in a hurry so he wrote the ad himself and skipped sending it to the ad editor. It went in the press just the way he wrote it and ran in the Friday morning edition.
Candy and cake at Tom Builder’s house on First Street, open to all, the ad said.
The open house was held that Saturday and so many cars, and vans, and even buses were driving up that people had to park around the block. Loads of people piled out of the vehicles and ran up to the house, where Tom and his family stood proudly on the peppermint porch to welcome the people and show them around.
“May I show you the house?” asked Tom to a portly man and his portly wife.
“Oh, that’s all right. We can take care of ourselves,” said the man, and he and his wife waddled right in.
Soon the house was full of people wandering here and there, opening doors, and closets, and even the pantry and refrigerator, and looking through everything.
“May I help you find something?” Tom asked a group of children, who were searching under the lemon meringue bed.
“Where’s the candy and cake?!” they all shouted at once.
“Yeah! Where is the candy and cake!?” everyone shouted.
“Why you silly people, Gilder said, “The whole house...”
“No Gilder,” said Mrs. Builder, realizing that something was wrong.
But it was too late. Gilder opened her arms wide and twirled around and said, “The whole house is made of candy and cake.”
And before their very eyes, the Builder family watched in dismay as the townspeople of Eltopia proceeded to eat Tom’s candy and cake house, They ate the cupcake door handles, and the white chocolate doors, and the dark chocolate countertops, and the ice cream refrigerator, and the lollypop drawer handles, and the licorice window frames, and the taffy putty around the windows, and the sour cherry light switches, and the gingerbread desk and chairs, and someone even ate the vanilla cookie toilet seat.
When they were though inside, the crowd rushed outside and starting eating the peppermint porch, and the Baked Alaska pillars, and the Potika porch swing, and the apple strudel roof, and the Ponhanje chimney, and even the wintergreen candy sticks used for the lawn. They ate the house right down to the foundation. They would have eaten that too, but it was made of hard candy that was too hard to chew.
Tom Builder and his family stood with tears in their eyes looking at the empty space where their beautiful candy and cake house once stood.
“Oh, dear,” whispered Mrs. Builder.
That night the Builder family sat around the little table in their hotel. They were all very sad. No one said anything. They didn’t have to. They all knew what a terrible disaster had befallen them. Tom couldn’t even look at them. He sat with his head in his hands, staring down at the table. All their hard work, all their money, had gone into that house and now it was gone.
Finally, Mrs. Builder said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get along somehow. We just need to pull together.” She tried to smile, but tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Just then there was a loud knock on the door. Tom Builder jerked his head up with a start.
“Who can that be at this hour?” he said.
“Maybe it’s the landlord come for the rent,” Hilder Builder said.
“Daddy, did you pay the rent,” Milder Builder asked.
Tom Builder shook his head. “No, I didn’t have the money.”
Gilder Builder started to cry.
Tom finally got up and opened the door. In walked Mayor Milford Mayer the mayor of Eltopia.
“Good evening, everyone!” he said, smiling broadly. “And what a very fine evening it has been,” he said looking from one Builder to the next and fixing them with his gap-toothed smile.
Gilder Builder wiped her eyes with one hand and grabbed at her Daddy’s sleeve with the other. “Daddy, Daddy,” she said loudly, “That’s the man who ate the toilet set.”
The Mayor looked at Gilder and laughed. “Yes indeed,” he said. I have a great fondness for vanilla cookies and that was the biggest, most delicious vanilla cookie I ever saw. Ha, ha, ha.”
All the Builders just stared at the mayor. He looked back at them smiling. Then he remembered why he’d come and said, “You’re probably wondering why I’ve come?”
All the builders nodded, yes.
The mayor started pacing the room, back and forth he went, talking very fast. “That house you built, that candy and cake house. Why that was the finest, sweetest, most delicious house I ever ate. Why come to think of it, that’s the only house I ever ate. Ha, ha, ha.”
Tom Builder looked at his wife, Hilder, and smiled for the first time that night. He was proud of the work they’d all done, even if they were now broke and likely to be put out on the street.
The mayor went on, “Tom Builder, you and your family are the most famous people in Eltopia. People have been calling my office and asking that I have you build another candy and cake house. Why, Mr. Horace Wholewheat, the president of Eltopia Flour Company even came by my office and demanded that I have you build a candy and cake house at Christmas, every Christmas, and one every Easter -- he wants giant, marsh-mellow bunnies at the front entrance -- and another on Valentine’s Day -- be sure to have chocolate hearts -- and, gosh... I can’t remember all the holidays he wants candy and cake houses for.”
When the mayor paused to take a breath, Tom started to tell him that they were out of money and couldn’t build anymore houses, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, the mayor started talking again.
“The City Council has decided to give you an advance on the Christmas house, and Mr. Wholewheat wants to hire you to be a spokesman for his flour company, and Sladko’s candy store wants to hire your wife to make candy and cakes, and, well...” the mayor took a breath, “When can you get started?”
Tom, and Hilder, and Milder, and Gilder Builder just stared at the mayor. They were speechless.
“Oh...,” said the mayor. “I forgot.” He opened the briefcase he was carrying, reached in and came out with more money than any of the Builders had ever seen. “Here’s the cash advance. They’ll be more coming. Now, get some rest. You folks are going to very busy from now on.”
And with that, Mayor Mayer turned and rushed out the door, late for another meeting, leaving the Builders standing with their mouths open. Finally, they all started to laugh and jump for joy.
“We’re in the candy and cake house building business!” Tom Builder shouted.
“Yea!” shouted Hilder, Milder, and Gilder.
“Meow,” meowed Shilder, wondering when he was going to be fed some liver or fish; anything but that terrible licorice.