I’ve been waiting all week for today: it’s National Readathon Day! (“Or,” said my son the bibliophile, “as I call it, ‘Saturday.’”)
The idea is that we should all spend from noon until 4 p.m. today curled up with a book. After recently reading the three novels in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead series, I’ve been wanting to reread her first novel, Housekeeping. I picked it up at the library this week and have been saving it for this afternoon.
Yesterday I was sorting through a box of my kids’ old picture books, some of which were mine when I was little. I was thinking, for the thousandth time, how grateful I am that I had a mother who instilled in me a great love of reading. Besides reading to her own kids and grandkids, my mom, in her retirement years in Bethel, became “Gramma Wight” to half the kids in town, and she read to them, too.
Just then I flipped open a dog-eared copy of One Morning in Maine and found, tucked inside the cover, the words I read at her funeral, nearly 11 years ago. Here’s an edited version.
My mom, an elementary school librarian, loved words, and she taught me to love them, too. In Milford, Connecticut, where I grew up, we subscribed to two daily papers, and she read both of them, cover to cover, when she got home after a long day of teaching other people’s children to love words.
She loved newspapers, magazines, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, and, most of all, books. She read to me when I was too young to understand the words, and she read to me when I was, in my own opinion, too old to be read to.
Family lore says that I learned to read at the age of three and a half, beginning with street signs and soon progressing to books, which I loved, too. This was a source of great pride and delight to my mom, although, true to form, whenever I overheard her brag about it, it was always with a tinge of dismay, as in, “She’s always got her nose in a book!”
My mom read me poetry—Robert Louis Stevenson and Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost—and anything she regarded as “good” books—Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie and Winnie the Pooh.
(She did not introduce me to the Hardy Boys books, but when I discovered them on my own, she was smart enough to realize that, no matter her opinion of their literary merit, anything that kept me reading under the covers with a flashlight long after bedtime had some value, after all.)
These are some excerpts from my old favorites. Perhaps your mom read them to you, too, or—if you are lucky enough to have called her “Gramma Wight”—perhaps my mom read them to you.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live. But every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good. There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles. So they flew on and on.” (Robert McCloskey, Make Way for Ducklings)
“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night / Sailed off in a wooden shoe— / Sailed on a river of crystal light / Into a sea of dew. / ‘Where are you going, and what do you wish?’ / The old moon asked the three. / ‘We have come to fish for the herring fish / That live in this beautiful sea; / Nets of silver and gold have we!’ / Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” (Eugene Field)
“When she reached the Green Meadows, Old Mother West Wind opened her bag, turned it upside down and shook it. Out tumbled the Merry Little Breezes and began to spin round and round for sheer joy, for you see they were to play in the Green Meadows all day long until Old Mother West Wind should come back at night and take them all to their home behind the Purple Hills.” (Thornton W. Burgess, Old Mother West Wind)
“Who has seen the wind? / Neither I nor you: / But when the leaves hang trembling, / The wind is passing through. / Who has seen the wind? / Neither you nor I: / But when the trees bow down their heads, / The wind is passing by.” (Christina Rossetti)
“She held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly—slowly. Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight. She was standing inside the secret garden.” (Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden)
“‘No!’ said Ramona, and stamped her foot. Beezus and Mary Jane might have fun, but she wouldn’t. Nobody but a genuine grownup was going to take her to school. If she had to, she would make a great big noisy fuss, and when Ramona made a great big noisy fuss, she usually got her own way. Great big noisy fusses were often necessary when a girl was the youngest member of the family.” (Beverly Cleary, Ramona the Pest)
“How do you like to go up in a swing, / Up in the air so blue? / Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing / Ever a child can do! / Up in the air and over the wall, / Till I can see so wide, / Rivers and trees and cattle and all / Over the countryside— / Till I look down at the garden green / Down on the roof so brown— / Up in the air I go flying again, / Up in the air and down!” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
“‘How do you do Nothing?’ asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
‘Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Pooh.
‘This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Pooh again.
‘It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.’
‘Oh!’ said Pooh.” (A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner)
“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. / All mimsy were the borogoves / And the mome raths outgrabe. / Beware the Jabberwock, my son! / The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! / Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious bandersnatch!” (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass)
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” (E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web)
“Pippi had not forgotten her father. He was a sea captain who sailed on the great ocean, and Pippi had sailed with him in his ship until one day her father was blown overboard in a storm and disappeared. But Pippi was absolutely certain that he would come back. ‘As soon as my papa has built himself a boat he will come and get me.’ Pippi was sure that her mother was now in Heaven, watching her little girl through a peephole in the sky, and Pippi often waved up at her and called, ‘Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top.’” (Astrid Lindgren, The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking)