Books and memories…for me they go together in a way that elicits feelings of love. When I look back as far as my mind’s eye will take me, I can’t see a period of time that didn’t include books.
According to my mother, my first favorite was Pat the Bunny.
Mom had a story, which by all appearances was always at the ready, it was as if it was tucked deep inside her hip pocket. She would pull it out and tell it anytime the subject regarding her decision to change my name at 9 months was raised.
… It didn’t seem to matter where I went during that time — everywhere — there were women screaming for their daughter, Wendy. I remember thinking, What on earth have I done? It didn’t help that Mother insisted people would refer to Elin as, The Wendy Bell, because her name sounded as if it belonged to a boat.”
Rapt with attention, her listeners would nod in agreement, all while I worried over whether or not they had a Wendy in their life.
Then, in her breathy way, she’d continue.
I’ll never forget while reading, Pat the Bunny — of course you know the children’s book — the part where Judy looks in the mirror?…”
Again the court she was holding would nod in agreement — I’m guessing whether they knew, Pat the Bunny — or not.
I’d say, Look there’s Elin! And Elin would shake her head and shout, “NO! Ninny!”
Therein’ lay the first of what later would be countless disagreements between us during my growing up.
Perhaps reading, Pat the Bunny, was my way of planting my new name like a seed into my dreams. I will say my affection for the book remains, although my children are well past the stages where a copy would be on our shelf, I can imagine the feel of the card-stock pages, scratchy face, soft rabbit and smell the talcum-like-scent of the flowers.
My mother also said that Stuart Little, James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte’s Web, were favorites as I got older, but not before, Winnie the Pooh, My Bookhouse In The Nursery, First Delights, Make Way for Duckling and The Adventures of Twinkle and Bear Cub, filled up the corners of my imagination.
A couple of years before Mom died she gave me her collection of The Bookhouse Books.
When I got them back to California and unpacked them a flood of memories rushed through me.
Moments of being curled up with my mother, a recollection steeped in the scent of Lily of the Valley and wrapped so close to her that the murmur of her voice blended with her beating heart.
Indeed, books carry a well of memory with them…
When my kids were little, I loved rediscovering all the treasures from my youth, books whose meaning only became deeper seen through their eyes. Nothing would get them to correct poor behavior faster than threatening to cancel a bedtime story. Each of them cleaved to that ritual as if it were pure gold.
I wonder now, will my kids one day hear my voice or the voice of their father inside their heads when they have children of their own?
Will the dramas told from the well-worn pages of Boris & Amos, Two Bad Ants, Mike Mulligan and The Leafman, read over and over again, resurface? Or books like, 10 In the Bed and Down on the Farm that I turned to song? We have a treasure trove of well-loved stories stored in our garage, each sealed inside boxes marked “BOOKS FOR GRANDCHILDREN.”
The countless bedtimes trickle through me now.
Long before his siblings were born, Max and I nestled into his lower bunk, gnashing our terrible teeth while roaring with the beasts from Where the Wild Things Are…. “we’ll eat you up we love you so…”
Then, with the lights turned out we’d lie together beneath his upper bunk — a canopy of sorts — littered with a galaxy of glow-in-the-dark stars. There, in a near whisper, I cobbled together the story of the guitar man for the millionth time.
The guitar man lived in the clouds by day and at night he transformed into a musical sandman, he would visit children all over the world in order to help them sleep. The story always ended with the James Taylor song, Close Your Eyes, sung to him by me.
Kodiak was so in love with his books that it wasn’t uncommon to find him hours after that last kiss, light on and asleep with a book. He never tired of hearing the same stories, “Again!” he’d shout as soon as the cover of the book was closed. His joy was contagious enough to spread to his sister, Chandler, 20 months younger, she refused to be left out.
Her nightly routine included carrying as many books as her little arms could carry to where we sat cross-legged on the floor, “I get to pick too, I do it!” She would shout, a routine that more times than not would exacerbate her brother.
We made the time.
Bedtime started early, there simply was no rushing. Baths signaled the wind-down that led to that sacred time where stories were read and told.
I miss those days.
But, not in a way that usurps the now. No, it’s more the idea that I could steal one more kiss from anyone of my small children.
Sewn into my heart are memories of my Max, wrapped in Fuzzy his beloved blanket, Doggie, clasped in his palms. Kodiak, his bear, Nanook-of-the-North, chewed apart nose, tucked in his arms. And Chandler, Baby, cradled over her heart begging me for one more kiss. Each of them pulls at me to tuck them in, keep them close.
And I do.
I tuck each of my babies back into the past this morning and marvel at the miracle that I am their mom.
What beautiful memories, shared through the generations. Pat the Bunny was one of my favorites, too. And The Giving Tree. And The Velveteen Rabbit. Could never get through those last two without tearing up.
Ah, The Velveteen Rabbit…thank you for reminding me of it, Sheryl.
Life Breath Present says
Beautifully told, those memories of yours. I thank you for sharing such special moments.
Although Baby Boy and I can still snuggle up, sit cross legged, or he on my lap, I really enjoy reading to him. I love that he loves reading and will gran a book (or 5) demanding they’re read one after the other, until he tires of reading for the time. I look forward to sharing more and more reading moments with him as he ages and hope that he’ll share that time with any siblings he may get. 🙂
Love that, I can picture all of what you describe, he will be a wonderful big brother when the time comes.
Tam Warner Minton says
Lovely. Books can bring back sensory images, memories…and longing. I need to use my imagination to tuck my babies back into bed.
Beth Havey says
Thanks for taking me back too–what a wonderful world motherhood can be.
And literature and music highlights it, fills us up. And now when I see the covers
of the books I once read or read them to my grandchildren–it just doesn’t seem that long ago.
Trite, maybe, but time with your children is a brighter light than time with just
about anything else. Beth Havey
I agree, Beth! Thank you for taking the time to read and share here, very appreciated.
Ruth Curran says
I love the stories of your mom “holding court”. I just feel like I am standing right in the middle, hanging on every word…. Books carry so many memories and I have so many of my mom’s and my grandmother’s books – all tucked away, waiting for me to have the time to comb through them.
We always made time for stories every night as well. Never matter how much else was going – story time always happened. Thank you for the wonderful stories!
Ha! My mother seems to have a fan club here on Backyard Blues, something she would so appreciate! Thank you for your kind words, Ruth.
Lisa at GrandmasBriefs says
This post feels soft and warm like bedtime story time. Lovely, Elin.
I don’t recall many stories read to me as a child. With seven siblings and unhappy parents, I don’t think there was such a thing in our house as bedtime stories read to kiddos. Which I believe is partially the reason I was determined to provide it for my three precious girls. It warms my heart to see it has now become a priority for my daughter with my three precious grandsons.
How wonderful to know that you created traditions for your children that are now being passed on, Lisa. <3
Okay, perhaps I missed the post in which you discussed your name change. I would love to read about it. Can you direct me there? Or are you just teasing us? Making us want “just one more story” — my daughter’s battle cry.
We had a routine here — Bath, Book, Bed. My husband, who did bedtime more than I did, owing to my work schedule, was a sucker for “just one more story”. Some nights it was like they were in there for hours, LOL!
When I did get to do bedtime, I loved it. I loved that she could “read” along with the books. I remember the first one she ever memorized. It’s still on her bookshelf 🙂
As for me, I remember my father reading us books far above what we should have been reading — books like “The Wind in the Willows” and “A Little Princess”. When we would ask what a word meant, he would say, “Just listen. You’ll get it. It’s not about a single word, it’s about the whole story.” That’s pretty good advice — advice which can be applied to all sorts of situations.
Your father’s words of wisdom are just that, Jackie, thank you for sharing them here! As for the name change…there is a whole post about that one buried in NaBloPoMo 2013 😉