A Story Full of Books
Many Moons ago When I Was Young in the Mountains, I lived in The Cabin That Faced West, as my Daddy liked to call it. I loved The Little House in which my brother, Simeon, and I grew up. It reminded me of a little Bunny Bungalow Mama would describe to us from a book When We Were Very Young. For a "cabin", it was Just Plain Fancy with a stone chimney that I always thought looked Too Big for the house. In and around that home, my childhood was a Time of Wonder so here’s The Memory String that winds it way around my heart.
One year, Nine Days to Christmas, The Big Snow came. It covered the mountains like The Keeping Quilt that covered Simeon’s big bed. It was The Quiltmaker’s Gift to Mama when he was born. Officer Buckle and Gloria, who once was The Dog That Belonged to No one, had braved their way up the mountain to check on Miss Hitty, The Old Woman who Named Things. Everything. She even named her rocking chair Emily. The officer and his faithful canine companion became our house guests for the evening when The Snowy Day turned into One Wintry Night with hidden danger underneath the massive quilt of white.
That was the same Christmas in the Country Daddy made A Chair for My Mother. On Christmas Eve, he carried it in as proud as the Drummer Hoff. The carvings were exquisite and the cushion just had to be as soft as The Velveteen Rabbit. It was fit for A Little Princess which is precisely what my Mama was. On the bottom, Daddy had carefully carved the words, You are Special and You Are Mine. Through tears she said, like I'd heard her say many times, "You know how to make My Heart Glow." For the rest of the evening, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart. That night I fell asleep to the sounds of Verdi and pictures of my Mama in her Dancing Shoes being twirled around the tree by Daddy.
I had a friend, Leah, who lived a mile or so east of The Bee Tree right behind The Animal Hedge, as we liked to call it. To my delight, she would come to visit Around the Year. Once On a Summer Day, we took a ride on Leah’s Pony. We passed Two Cars on a dirt road and then rode right by our teacher from the Skippack School, Miss Rumphius, who was planting lupines on the shallow mountainside by her home. She looked like the Queen of May in one of The Hundred Dresses that must have hung in her wardrobe. On that particular day she invited us in for a piece of her famous Thundercake. Simply Delicious!
Simeon and I never dreaded the words, “Time for Bed”! Before Daddy prayed with us, he read us stories from God’s Word that made it hard to become a Sleepyhead. He read from other books as well, but Daddy was always quick to tell us that only one book, the Bible, had the power to truly change our lives and change us, it did. My brother and I would lie awake thinking of the incredible stories from the Bible and the God who wrote them. We would close our eyes rehashing the bravery of David, the shepherd boy and Esther, the Queen of Persia, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the unfathomable trip in Henry’s Freedom Box, the mysteries of The Secret Garden, the ingenuity of Robinson Crusoe, the details of Christ’s birth, the drama of The Little Women, the antics of Anne of Green Gables and the bravery of The Heroine on the Titanic. When sleep finally did come, Dreams took over as we found ourselves helping The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, or riding in Grandma Essie’s Covered Wagon, or watching Degas and the Little Dancer create a masterpiece, or sailing on Noah’s Ark, or walking with Mirette on the High Wire, or getting to see for ourselves that Julia Morgan Built a Castle, or helping with The Escape of Oney Judge. Books invaded our lives and took our imaginations to thrilling far away places, but the stories we knew to be true were the ones that impacted us the most.
We had a tree house that Daddy let us paint Yellow and Pink and every Saturday The Lemonade Club met at 2:00 sharp. We served Stone Soup and creek water to all sorts of dolls and stuffed animals with names like Betsy-Tacy, Little Toot, Knuffle Bunny, and Ginger Pye. We always served the leftovers to the citizens of our imaginary town, Roxaboxen which was full of families like The Rumpoles and The Barleys and places like Rabbit Inn, The Snail House, the office of Dr. DeSoto, and The Treasure Tree.
While Daddy tended to business in town, Mama, The Gardener, worked from Dawn till Dusk filling the land around us with beauty. She would always tell us, A Seed is Sleepy but When Spring Comes, it wakes up in a glorious mood. She was always right. Mama never saw a Petunia or a Chrysanthemum that she didn’t think was “the most lovely flower ever”. For Mama, when it came to flowers, there was Always Room for One More.
Speaking of room for more, when The Relatives Came, life only got better. My Great Aunt Arizona reminded me of the character Sarah, Plain and Tall except there wasn’t anything “plain” about her. She was known as The Lady Who Put Salt in her Coffee but always made Tea with Milk and Sugar. She had hair like Rapunzel, her laugh was more like a Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and one of her favorite expressions was “Fancy That”! Secretly, she was by far my most adored aunt and only to myself did I call her Pollyanna. Just sitting with her and listening to her stories made for a perfect Night in the Country.
Her children, Rachel and Obadiah, were our only cousins. They were twins and Rachel had always been content to let Obadiah do all the talking. However, I remember one visit when as soon as they jumped out of the car Rachel announced, “Now We are Six”! After only an hour into the visit, it was official. She had A Voice of Her Own asking me questions like, “Does God Know How to Tie His Shoes?” and “Why is it that An Egg is Quiet?”. Obadiah seemed the most proud of “finally” being six even though The Teddy Bear was still clinched under his arm.
That was the same visit that Rachel took The Best Loved Doll from my collection for a picnic By the Shores of Silver Lake. She was special for she had been Simeon’s Gift to me on my fourth birthday. On The Way Home, Rachel dropped my doll without knowing. That afternoon, looking for Dahlia was like trying to find The Cricket in Times Square. As the day wore on, I felt like the last Shrinking Violet in the April sunshine. Once I found my doll, darkness seemed to come quickly and I found myself feeling like I was Where the Wild Things Are. I quickly began wishing for The Courage of Sarah Noble or the steel nerves of Brave Irene. With each step I would tell myself, “Now One Foot, Now the Other”. Every shadow I saw looked like The Biggest Bear I had ever imagined. It never occurred to me that one of those shadows could have been one that was kind like The Bear Who Heard Crying. How relieved I was when I saw a familiar sight just beyond The Blue Hill Meadows. When I could see A Light in the Attic window I knew I was almost home.
When my cousins visited, I remember waking up with the chickens lying there Wishing Dawn at Summer. How it seemed to tarry! On our way out in the mornings, we would always stop on the porch to see the intricate work The Very Busy Spider had woven Under the Quilt of Night. As we crossed the path to the pond, many mornings we had to Make Way for Ducklings headed to get their breakfast or go for their morning swim. Once At the Smiling Pool, as my brother had named it, we loved to watch the Otters Under Water. Before lunchtime, we would lie in the grass to listen to The Wind in the Willows and to watch clouds roll over forming curious shapes like a Duck on a Bike, a Fox in Socks, an Umbrella or a Turtle in the Sea of blue.
On Indian Summer nights, we would put on a Shadow Play by the Long Night Moon for our parents. Afterwards we would try to show our cousins When Lightening Comes in a Jar because they didn’t have "flashing bugs" like we did. However, the highlight of our long Summer Story was to hear The Nightingale sing. Her sound was more beautiful than all The Musicians of Bremen.
After one of my Grandfather’s Journeys, he brought Simeon and me a gift-- our very first puppy. We gave him the distinct name of Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge but called him “Willie” for short. Originally, the puppy had been "The Wednesday Surprise" for my Nana (and that's a whole other story), but Grandfather said all Willie did was chase Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs! Once settled in with us, he strutted around these parts like The King of Capri. We had A Whistle for Willie so however far he chose to roam in the mountains, all we had to do was blow the whistle and home he came. Thanks to his ferocious bark, Willie made us feel quite comfortable at night as though we had A Lion to Guard Us.
Living in the mountains far away from the sea always left my imagination to wonder what One Morning in Maine would be like. I always wished for a day on The Little Sailboat our friends from the east described to us in their letters. What was it like to See the Ocean to or to watch a Seabird fly over the water and secure its breakfast? On the other hand, my brother had secret wishes of being The Paperboy in a suburb somewhere wondering what it would feel like being the Boy on the Brink of morning delivering the news that no one had heard quite yet and actually riding his bike to Where the Sidewalk Ends.
The Seasons Sewn by our family in and around our Little House in the Big Woods were purely magical. One wall of our home saw more sweet moments than some people see in a lifetime. We loved each other and for this I will forever be grateful. Ever so often, we took short trips away from home, but No Matter What we did or where we traveled, the sweetest words I ever heard were, “Let’s Go Home!”