Dad often read from Richard Scarry's books, especially What Do People Do All Day. (That is the book, there, to the left.) He and I would hunt for Lowly Worm or Goldbug, and we'd giggle at the antics of that mischievous character, Gorilla Bananas, along with the rest of the whimsical Scarry cast. These books were our favorite.
Usually I would be wide awake, revelling in my time with him. He, comfortably dozy, would open up the big book, and I would snuggle in beside him. And we would begin. Sometimes he would fall asleep in the middle of the story, but I thought that he was snoring just to tease me. And so I would tease back by pulling on his chest hairs to wake him up. This little girl didn't understand the demands of raising eight kids and working double shifts just to try to keep up with the bills.... I just wanted the whole story! But Dad never got irritated at that. And it's only been lately, as I am in my mid-forties, about same age he was then, that I've realized more fully the quiet effort that he had made to stay awake and keep reading. It's one way I know for sure that he loved me.
My mother seemed to favor reading me poetry. (I get her thinking now ... poems most always are shorter than stories!) Some of her favorites, and, therefore, mine too were Robert Frost, Edward Lear, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Christina Rossetti. I loved listening to her voice as she read the lilting verses, and this one by Stevenson is particularly nestled in my mind.
Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.
I've done a little digging around on the web about this poem, and apparently, Stevenson's inspiration for it were the terrible fears he experienced at bedtime as a child. "I had an extreme terror of Hell, implanted in me, I suppose, by my good nurse, which used to haunt me terribly on stormy nights, when the wind had broken loose and was going about the town like a bedlamite. I remember that the noises on such occasions always grouped themselves for me into the sound of a horseman, ...." http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/2896.html.
Now that's not the feeling that I got from my mom's reading of it. That poem wasn't scary. Wonderfully mysterious, exciting, a bit brooding, perhaps, but not scary. As I was digging about, I also happened to find it set to music on YouTube.com and ... eh, I suppose it's okay. No offense to the composer, but there is just no comparison. My mom's poetry readings of yesteryear still rule.
Even now, at night when the wind and rain make the trees whisper and sigh, and I am lying cozy in the dark, I can hear my mom's reading that of poem. And I sure am glad that she was the one reading to me rather than the likes of Stevenson's nursemaid.
I've shared the classic stories and poems that I have loved with my own kids. But I don't think I've read to them enough. It's never enough, really. Such a simple pleasure.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.