Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stories My Father Read to Us at Bedtime

My dad had a desk job--was a merchandise manager for Dennison in Framingham, Massachusetts, a paper-products company.  Every night he pulled into the driveway at the same time, and my mother always had dinner ready.  After dinner, he'd either wash the dishes while one or two of his daughters dried or, in growing season, he worked in the garden he dearly loved.  In my memory, he often read to us after we climbed into bed.  The first three of us--Marilyn, me, and Susan were spaced four years apart.  Sally the youngest was seven years younger than Sue.  That spread is probably why I remember his reading occasionally just to me.

What did he read?  I've had fun recalling the stories.  One of Dad's favorites was Old Mother West Wind by Thornton W. Burgess.  These were gentle tales of animals with distinct personalities: Reddy Fox, Peter Cottontail, Sammy Jay, Jimmy Skunk, and many more.  The Laughing Brook provided background.  Burgess kept these tales coming for decades.  My dad loved the natural world--no wonder he enjoyed these stories featuring the denizens of the outdoors in which he grew up.

My sisters and I often clamored for a series that also featured wild animals but were a bit scarier:
Uncle Wiggley by Harold Garis.  Garis remarkably published these stories for the Newark News, six days a week for thirty years.  Uncle Wiggley is an elderly gentleman who suffers from rheumatism.   There are bad guys: the bully Pipsiseqah and the Skeezicks.  Uncle Wiggley's housekeeper Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy keeps things calm.  I loved the endings best, I think.  They were cliff-hangers--funny cliff-hangers.  I'll try to find one and share it with you in a later post.

A rabbit also figures prominently in my most vivid memory of being read to by my father.  Hearing my dad read Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit when I was quite young entranced me.  The vividness is such that I can tell you which bedroom we were in.  (We sisters switched rooms from time to time).  What I remember best is hearing Daddy read the odd but apt words "lippety, lippety" as Peter wanders Mr. McGregor's garden, looking for the gate so he could escape.  After Peter got safely home, daddy gave me a goodnight kiss and wished me a loving "sweet dreams." I think I fell asleep murmuring "Lippety, lippety."

Did you notice that a distinguished rabbit is missing here?  It was years before I encountered B'rer Rabbit.  If I were still in academia, I'd be thinking of writing an article exploring this.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Books of My Childhood

My blog is headed "A Blog about  the Books of Elizabeth Segel."  That  refers to more than my three  published books.   "The Books of Elizabeth Segel" refers as well to books I read or listened to in early childhood, the ones that made me a lover of books.

We didn't own many children's books--perhaps a shelf two or three feet wide.  One of the books we owned was set in exotic India--I was fascinated by it but didn't understand it.  Instead of owning books, we went to the library every week.  The library was a handsome building that projected importance yet was very inviting.  One thing that fascinated me was a glass case of stuffed birds near the doorway. just occurs to me that those birds may have something to do with my becoming an avid--if not skilled--bird-watcher.

The photograph that appears on the back of my new book Duck Dreams: City Boy to Farmer Boy 

shows my mother reading to me (age three) and my big sister Marilyn (she would have been seven.)  My mother loved books.  Her mother had died of tuberculosis in a sanitarium when my mother was just five years old.  She was even younger when her father left to work on the Panama Canal--left for good.  An interesting footnote...the book my mum was reading to us in the photo doesn't look like a children's book: it's very thick.  My mother's uncle reported that she loved Grimm's fairy tales when she was little...even the gruesome, scary ones, and she confirmed this.  Perhaps scary stories helped her through the scary circumstances of her young life.  Fortunately, she was raised by a loving grandmother who did a good job of it.

Now back to my childhood.  Mother took us to the public library every week.  I remember that I always went right to where The Story of Ferdinand was shelved and took it to the check-out desk.  The visits when the story of the gentle bull was there on the shelf were happy ones.  The days when I had to return my much-loved story were sad.

When I was older, I began thinking about why I liked so much the story of the bull who rejected his appointed fierceness.  I decided  it was because, like him, I was shy.  Years later however my sister Marilyn remarked casually that she loved ...Ferdinand also.  She wasn't shy in the least, so there went that theory.

I remember my mother reading many other books to us: a favorite was The Poky Little Puppy. a Golden  Book which you could buy at the Five and Dime store.  Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey we asked for over and over.   We lived only forty miles from Boston and had the thrill of riding on the swan boats in the Public Gardens.  We caught glimpses of ducks and left feeling we surely had seen Mr. and Mrs. Mallard.

Memories of my Dad reading to me are particularly vivid ones--to be the subject of my next entry..