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.
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.