Sometimes a book is just a book; an innocuous collection of pages and prose. But sometimes it is so much more. Its a friend, a lover, a companion. It's a warm place on a cold night, a crowded room in an empty house, or an island of solitude in a sea of chaos. It's an escape, a rescue, a saviour. Its an adventure, an odyssey, a sojourn.
Sometimes, it's a memory and an emotional touchstone.
My Mom has been dead a little over two years now. It should have fully sunken in by now, I suppose. And in some ways it has. But I still think and speak of her in the present tense most of the time. I guess that's a coping mechanism...I don't know. I'm sort of new to the grief thing and I'm trying not to overthink it, because in case you haven't noticed, I do that sometimes. So I'm trying to just let myself feel what I feel when I feel it.
Most of the time, I'm okay. Often, I'm able to think of her and smile. But sometimes, when I least expect it, something triggers a flood of grief that's almost as powerful as the one I experienced the day she died.
Today it was a weasel.
My Mom loved clever or beautifully illustrated children's books. She bought my kids oodles of them, to which they were largely indifferent. Although Diminutive One did enjoy "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" because it appealed to his irascible nature. Which she knew it would. She was really proud of that selection.
She read to us a lot when we were children. I can hear her voice still...although I suppose that will fade in time too. She had a lovely speaking voice and it made for a lovely reading voice as well. She always had just the right amount of inflection and animation, not too much, not too little.
She read us "Gus Was a Friendly Ghost"
and "Miss Suzy Was a Squirrel"
and "I'm TERRIFFIC!"
which featured a narcisistic young cub by the name of Jason Everett Bear.
I credit her with my own love of children's books. I have all my favorites from childhood, and those of my boys as well. Truthfully, I cherish them far more than my boys, who never did develop such a deep and abiding appreciation. Those books are in a box in the attic, waiting for the eager ears of my grandchildren. One of my particular favorites from their era was "The Napping House."
She liked that one too, because it was both clever and beautifully illustrated.
But her very, very favorite and thus, ours as well, was "Never Tease a Weasel" By Jeane Conder Soule.
With wisdom like.....
"You can knit a kitten mittens
And perhaps that cat would purr.
You could fit a fox with socks
That exactly matched his fur.
You could make a goat a coat
with a collar trimmed in mink
Or give a pig a wig
In a dainty shade of pink.
But never tease a weasel;
This is very good advice.
A weasel will not like it
And teasing isn't nice!"
.....it's the rare child who isn't completely charmed. And the rare adult as well.
After I was grown and had kids of my own, my Mom casually mentioned that she wished she had kept our copy of that book, because she loved it so much. She recited it word for word right then and there which didn't really surprise me, since I myself can still recite "Barnyard Dance"
from beginning to end, having read it to my boys at least a million times. (Stomp your feet and clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance! Bow to the pig, bow to the cow, bow to the chicken if you know how...
That was back in the early days of Ebay, when you could still get a real bargain and rare treasures were still relatively easy to come by. I got online and found a copy in mint condition, selling for $40. I thought it pricey, but I knew it would make my Mom happy, so I paid it. And it was worth every penny. She was tickled to death and to this day I think it's one of the best presents I ever bought her.
I got it when she died. I put it away in a pretty keepsake box, to "keep it safe". But the truth is, for a long time, I really couldn't bear to look at it.
Today I dropped an earring back and when I bent to retrieve it, I noticed the box, shoved under my jewelry armoire. It was covered in dust and the lid had sunken inward just a bit. I couldn't remember what was in it, so I flicked away the dust and opened it up with very little ceremony.
It was on top of the other vintage editions of my childhood favorites. The dust jacket, which was understandably a bit worse for the wear than the book itself, was encased in a plastic sheet protecter, where she had carefully placed it.
And there it was...that wave of grief; the kind that pulls you under and holds you helpless on the bottom while battering you to and fro in a maelstrom of longing and loneliness. I sat on the bedroom floor and cried for the loss of her lap and her words and her spirit. I fought the urge, but just for a moment, because I've learned that if you don't let it come, it will rear it's ugly head again and again until you acknowledge it and let it have it's way with you.
And then it was done. I picked up the book and began to read to myself, hearing her reading voice in my head and remembering the way I felt when she used it. Safe. Loved. Happy.
(That's me on the right)
I can only hope my boys felt that way when I read to them. I hope someday, they will confer that feeling to their children. I hope my sons will know the feel of silky just washed hair beneath their chin, and the crinkle of disposable diapers against their legs as they breathe life and love into words on a page for their babies. I hope they grow to cherish the words..."One more time, Daddy."
"Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice, the weasel wouldn't like it, and teasing isn't nice."
One more time, Mommy.
I won't ask again. I promise.