Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stories on the Big Bed

Some of my most treasured memories of my childhood are of climbing up into my parents big bed and having Mom or Dad read to me.  And I am convinced that their reading to me sparked my own enduring love of reading and writing.

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. 

Windy Nights
Whenever the moon and stars are set,
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, ...."
My Mom and Me
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 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.


Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) said...


your sister said...

I feel like jumping back into the big bed right now; thanks for the trip down memory lane!

And you're right....Mom could read like nobody's business. I tried just now reciting that poem aloud, but it falls short of her rendition. She's the master. Just quiet enough, just slow enough to have us all drifting off into dreamland. How'd they ever lift all of us sleepy kids out of that bed?!

Anonymous said...

I agree with my sista, delightful. I read Richard Scarry to my kids and we love him! I always feel like I never read enough too.
Debbie Miller

Pat Washington said...

Sorry I've been remiss in acknowledging comments. Thanks, Di, big sister, and Di's sister!

I might just start up reading aloud to my kids again. If we all can get on the same page, so to speak. Older kids may never ask for it, but they often still like being read to. I know mine do. Reading aloud is cozy and relaxing - reminiscent of a slower, gentler time.