the pages turned…
sometimes it’s in the immeasurable glimmer flashing by that we catch notice of the years slipping by.
so it was when i got word that eric carle, he who cut and glued the tissue-paper colors of the first childhood i inhaled by heart, he who wrote the rhymes, and pounded out the rhythms of measured bars of caterpillars and brown bears and grouchy ladybugs who ate the page, he would be among the short list of honorees at my firstborn’s college graduation.
suddenly, i was back in an overstuffed armchair. a navy plaid. one we’d bought when my belly was full and round, one we’d bought — on what for us amounted to a whim — because suddenly i was overtaken with the urge to have a sitting place, a nesting place, for me and my soon-to-be-born. that boy was not a week old before i cradled him in my arms, plopped him on my lap, perched a book before his eyes, and began to turn the page. one ear pressed against his mama’s heartbeat, and through the other ear, his mama’s voice rising and falling in sing-song brown-bear rhythm.
and so it went, through bedtimes and lull times and any time we happened to be curled together on the floor of his room, where a nook carved along the wall cradled all the books of childhood i had gathered for this and any other child.
suddenly, in my mind’s eye, in that tumble of remembering, i was perched atop my firstborn’s hand-me-down four-poster bed. he was nestled beside me, my long-legged boy in his little boy pajamas. i could see his little hand, dimpled hand, his hand that loved to turn the pages — no pages more so than the ones of eric carle.
every child has their natural-born predilection for a certain page. there must be something about the words, the rhyme, the color, or maybe just the humor deep inside. it’s indecipherable, and unpredictable, just what that book, that page, might be. but in the case of our house, our bookshelf, there was no more-loved page-turner than eric carle’s brown bear.
“brown bear, brown bear,” i can begin to recite. and i can take it — still — clear through to red bird, and yellow duck, and blue horse, and green frog, and purple cat. i stumble on white dog, but pick right up with black sheep, and goldfish, and then, skipping right by teacher and children, crescendo comes: in which, in rat-a-tat retelling, we tick through the whole menagerie of curiously-colored critters.
if i read that book once, i read it three million times. it was in these pages, i’m fairly certain, that my sweet boy learned his yellow from his blue. and for some reason, one that might forever escape me, it’s where i heard him laugh on cue, each time we came to that horse of blue. did he know that horses were not blue? is that what struck him silly?
and here we are, the pages barely touched in years. but when i got the news, the news that mr. carle would be presiding, i tumbled up the stairs to the nook in his little brother’s room where the books now stand, forgotten soldiers, stiff-backed, listing, and i pulled out the trinity of carles — hungry caterpillar, grouchy ladybug, and brown bear — and there, i turned the pages, and there i saw the years-old crinkles on a page that once upon a time must have so excited a little page-turner that he up and scrunched that charming goldfish that swims across two pages.
that the author of the cornerstones of my firstborn’s childhood would, all these years later, be there, in the flesh, at his college graduation, the ceremonial whirl that is the close of college, well, it just put a zap to my heart, and melted me. and washed me over in a sudden measure of just how many years have passed. how many pages have been turned. and made me ask, again and again, how did we get here? how did we get to this brink of college graduation, a moment that shimmered in the far-off distance, an indecipherable mirage that felt miles beyond my reach?
and as is my wont to do, i tick back across time, i hold the celluloid frames up to the light. i study one after another. measured bars all unspooling toward this moment of glory-be, he-made-it. i think of the shadowed hours, the ones when darkness descended, the ones when that blessed child bared his deepest fears and worries. i think of the broken hours, when a dream slipped just beyond his fingers’ reach. i think of the occasional glory, when that beautiful boy felt invincible and whole and understood just why it was he was planted on this holy earth.
and so there is symmetry, full circle, weaving together the beginning and the end of this particular chapter, the chapter called school life (even his little brother announced the other afternoon, as if he’d just put two and two together: “gosh, willie is about to be a real adult!”). the beginning and end here seem to have serendipitously been marked by eric carle, a fellow who found his joy, his purpose, in making shapes of brightly-colored tissue paper, and who wrote the score for a childhood measured out in the joy of turning pages, the delight of stumbling on a page that makes you laugh out loud.
i wonder if i might wiggle my way through the crush of all those college kids, and yank the wise man’s sleeve, and whisper my almighty thanks for the animation he stitched into our long ago just-beginning picture-book days?
who wrote the score of your childhood, or a childhood you’ve been blessed to watch up close? which picture books can you close your eyes and still recite, page by page, word by word?
on this particular morning i am particularly tied to my firstborn, who is about to step into the defense of his thesis, his 180-page page-turner. with all my heart and soul i offer up this morning for his prayers and dreams to come tumbling true….
This is absolutely delightful, dearest bam. If it were within my power to show this post to Mr. Carle, I’d do it. Find your way through the crowd and shake that man’s hand!
Willie graduating … wow, the years are slipping far too fast. xox
sweet angel, i love you for even wishing it was in your power to slip this to mr. carle. maybe the magic of the world will somehow slip this under his drawing room door…..xoxo
This too me back to years of reading Eric and others! Such a lovely tribute!! And as a mother with grown kids, very sweet to read your poetic story!!
My childhood score would have been a piano song I played and played because of the words – “Climb Every Mountain” and now here I am to say did climb lots of mountains to get through tough times as a child.
i love hearing the score that carried you. can launch that tune — and every word — at the mere sight of the title.
oh so many books and songs carry us, syncopate our years. i’m certain there is just as much joy buried in other pages of our bookshelf, but eric carle popped out simply because his eminence will be there, among the deeply honored, at the soon-to-be-here graduation….
I hope you will indeed be able to slip through the crowd to shake Eric Carle’s hand. What a moment that would be! I, too, hope “the magic of the world will somehow slip this under his drawing room door.”
My childhood score includes “Never Never Land” and “Tender Shepherd” from the 1954 musical, Peter Pan; “Love is a Song That Never Ends” from Bambi; and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, to name a mere few.
My childhood authors were Louisa May Alcott, E.B. White, Farley Mowatt, and Tasha Tudor, to name a very, very few.
The indelible author/illustrators of my children’s childhood were Reeve Lindbergh, Jane Hissey, Margaret Wise Brown, Kay Chorao, Tammy de Paola. . . . the list goes on and on.
Children’s literature has always been my passion, and my library shelves are still stuffed with the treasured books of my once-upon-a-time days – now long flown, yet ever-present and indelible in sweetest memories.
Congratulations and all best wishes to your dear Willie as he defends his thesis. So proud of him, so delighted for you!! xoxoxoxox
dear amy, as i read your litany of favorites, the ones who etched their images across your imagination and your soul, i melt in the name after name we share. children’s literature is one of the greatest loves of my life — the power of imprinting children with the beautiful, the possible, the depth of empathies explored across the page. oh my friend, we have SO very much to discuss when we pop out of this virtual world and into the one where we hear the sound of each other’s footsteps walking side by side……
Yes, we do, my dear. My deep love for children’s literature has a great deal to do with my youthful choice to become a teacher. I wanted to share these vast riches with sweet, young, impressionable minds. I so enjoyed my years of teaching and tutoring. More than anything, I reveled in the precious years of story time with my own darling three.
It’s a delight to share so many common interests with you, dear B. Blessings~ xoxo
Like dear Teddy, I, too, come late to the realization party sometimes. I distinctly recall looking at our eldest in the kitchen one May evening and thinking, he’s leaving for college soon; how did this happen? May Will’s defense go perfectly so that he can again feel “invincible and whole” and understand “just why it was he was planted on this holy earth.” Amen and amen. Blessings upon all of you, with much love!
you sweet angel. blessings from you are a bountiful and beautiful thing. you always always pick out the line with the deepest volume of heart……i can barely read that line without crying. i just feel “overflowed.”
Barbie, for God’s sake take the brown Bear book with you and ask the man to write something to Willie without Willie’s knowledge!
I never ask for autographs (it comes from growing up in Nashville) but this is full circle – the man who taught your child to love books because of this book!
Blame it on me!
you sweet angel! so i stick out my hand, and say “my friend mary rita dwyer told me you’d sign this for me?” it goes something like that, right? xoxo
My thought too – take the book, have a pen ready, don’t miss the moment I pray will be there for you.
I’m with them. You must! What a beautiful reverie on this most potent aspect of childhood. That your boy is graduating from college shortly somehow hit me like a ton a bricks more than that his counterpart in this family is as well…something about the perspective of a little further back. Eric Carle is that far away from our daily encounter?
oh, dear jan, finding you here at the table on a quiet saturday morn, one in which i am so filled already with thoughts about what lies ahead for that sweet boy. finding you here is the soothingest thing, to have an old dear friend, a comrade-in-arms in the raising of our babies. where would i have been without you on that journey? i am more than certain that some of the readings of that brown bear had a beautiful little girl, one with a shock of deep-black hair, also nestled in my lap.
i think some of the reasons i’ve always dreamed of writing for young children are nestled above. to write the words, to set the rhythms that settle deep into a child’s first musical/literary score….maybe some day i will get brave enough to try to write for young children….
thank you for wandering over to the table this morning. sending much love, dear mountain climber…..
*sniff* I can still see G’s tiny hands turning the thick pages of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” I can still sing to myself (out loud would frighten others) the little tune I made up set to “Brown Bear.” He remembers none of it, I’m sure, but it’s embedded in his soul somewhere. Isn’t it wonderful that they can take it with them, whether they know it or not, wherever they go? All best wishes to W. as he does this very grown-up thing that I cannot imagine being able to do even now!
aren’t we so blessed that our “picture book” of our children’s growing up is the one with the clearest pictures. and, at the drop of a hat, they can be brought to vivid life in our mind’s eye. the thick pages of caterpillar, indeed. those stiff cardboard pages intended to be indestructible….
embedded in their souls…the pictures and sing-song rhymes, but more than anything their mama’s love…….
that’s what puts flight to my soul……that deep in their DNA is a love like no other. and we were blessed to put it there…..xoxo
My dad used to rollick through Dr. Suess books for us, so naturally I rollicked through them for my boys. I always thought if Dad hadn’t been an engineer and gone into the family business, he’d have been a great lit teacher. Ah well. Perhaps Mr Carle’s speech will be as memorable…and memorizable…as Dr. Suess’ 1977 speech at Lake Forest College.
Theodor Seuss Geisel
Lake Forest College Lake Forest, Illinois, USA
JUNE 4, 1977
My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things,”
said my uncle,
“you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid
you must spit out the air!”
as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,
that’s darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.
See? Brief, to the point, and plenty of time to get to brunch. And because there’s always a good story, here’s the story of the event…
Have a good graduation. I’m going to buy stock in Kleenex.
i LOVE that! oh, i love the things that come to the chair. the bits of whatnot and esoterica. the poetry and commencement wisdoms. oh, the best part of the chair is the people who stroll by for a visit or a word. thank you much for sending, and now to go read the backstory!!!!
AND, a totally wonderful backstory it is. bathrobe. recalcitrance. and, best of all, the way the college president tells it…..
oh like bookends are we–several years and states separating the raising of our young sons, yet somehow it’s the same story…your reminiscences are my here & now. and brown bear, brown bear ! oh how weathered each of our multiple copies of that beloved book are. now a favorite of my wee one, at nearly 2.5, he makes a most delicious “fish face” every time we reach the goldfish page and, of course, as his mother, i dutifully grab those chubby cheeks, still round with baby fat, and pull them close to smother them with kisses that barely do justice to my overwhelming love…how far off in the distance his college graduation seems…and yet, and yet…you remind me of how swiftly it will arrive…thank you, always, for being my glimpse into the future, my fortune teller, my prophet. walking steadily in your trusted footsteps…xo (and oh! i cannot wait to hear about this momentous graduation!)
sweet! you know you melt me right off my chair with your delicious description of those chubby oh-so-kissable cheeks. and smothering with all those kisses. oh, honey, so blessed to be on the same path, just a few footsteps ahead. there is no greater joy than turning to the blessed mamas along this trail, reaching out a hand, and saying “love the course,” the twisting, trying, tumultuous and ultimately life-giving course…..
the depth you pour into it — into your two loves, your motherlode and your writerly love. one informs the other, one heightens and deepens the other.
i want to see that fish face….”still round with baby fat”…..sigh……
thank you thank you for wandering over to the chair…..xo
dear chair beloveds,
i would feel like i was hiding a treasured secret under the table, if i didn’t share this. but i also shyly do so.
through the wonders of wonders that are this small world, a beloved friend of mine knew someone who knew eric carle. my beloved friend, unbeknownst to me, passed along this little bit of heart to her friend who passed it to mr. carle himself. through the same chain in reverse came this little wonder this evening:
Dear Friends, Thank you for sending this mail. We are touched, Bobbie even had a tear or two.
E is well, yes, mr. eric carle himself. B is his beloved wife.
prayer answered. thank you from the bottom of many many hearts, mr. carle, for writing the score to our children’s childhood…..you’ve made our lives and the lives of the little ones we love so brilliantly colored…..
Oh my! Giddiness! And you know, during the event, he may look out over the massed heads and wonder which graduate goes with which mama who penned such thoughtful memories. You will share with us afterwards, won’t you?
BAM! I loved this so much I’m rethinking my decision not to have children… For some reason, even though I’m following you, your posts don’t popup in my email or my blog feed… Anyway, I love the rhythms of your voice. xo
oh, sweetheart!! wow.
as for the not popping into your email, i’ve had that off and on with a couple blogs i follow. suddenly they just stop popping in and no idea why. i’ve gone back to check settings when that happens and i just made sure the little box was checked to send emails when published. computers have minds of their own. the ol’ chair pretty much gets a new post every friday….i’m thrilled, though, WHENEVER you wander by…..if you have a baby, i’m signing up to read the little darling stories…