This morning, Julia strong sitting and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. Where does this child find such joy just sitting looking at me? After I give her instruction after instruction and order her world, her life, like a drill sergeant. And she is still smiling, closing her eyes in a Buddha-like pose. When she isn’t squirming, when she isn’t looking at spiders or wondering about when other kids will be at the bus stop, she is my Buddha.
Julia wakes up each morning asking what she is going to do today. I tell her, school, then therapy with which therapist if I can remember (or else we check on her calendar downstairs when she gets there). She is beginning to refer to her therapists, who have been formerly called “friends,” as her “therapist friends.” This signals at least to me that she knows about friends, kid friends, and knows that she does not really have them. To put an optimistic spin on my pessimistic fears, if she recognizes that other kids have kid friends, she will make an effort, a bigger effort to learn behavior that will help her to make and keep friends. She still has no idea. She is still incredibly inappropriately friendly.
This morning, I told her that after Ellen comes over, we will go to school and watch the movie Up at school. Franklin Movie Night! My project for the spring and fall. I am hoping to show Myasaki in the Spring at Randall. The licensing corporation only has permission to license “Howls Moving Castle” which is one of our favorites but not really suitable for the littlest of kids. It would have been great to show “My Neighbor Totoro” or “Ponyo,” but neither is available.
Julia looks forward to the movie -- wearing pjs to school at night, bringing her dinosaurs. Lizzy will be coming -- purple T-Rex, born in DisneyWorld -- but there is also Sally, sent from London who I always imagine has a British accent when she roars, and Lukey, a Jersey dino with a big head who was a gift from a grocery store manager. I routinely kiss them all good night and wish all my girl-dinos sweet dream and a good night’s sleep. It can be breath taking to watch Julia arrange stuffed animals in bed as if she has always been safe and warm and well-loved.
May I be safe,
May I be happy,
May I be healthy,
May I live with care.
Julia can rip through our loving kindness meditation which we say twice a day -- once after strong sitting in the morning and again before I turn on the night light at bedtime -- but she still likes when I say it back to her, and she never fails to add “with me” when I do the second set of ‘mays’.
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you life with care . . . . with me.
This morning, I am still surrounded by books and boxes of books -- 20 down, unpacked that is, and sitting either in shelves if they are novels, or on the dining room floor in piles with tags like, travel, theater, poetry, short story, plants, film, reference/writing, religion, art, history, biography, memoir, general non-fiction, and DS/SB writing. Six more boxes to go. I imagine that I will have opened all of the boxes and sorted books before the weekend ends. If I had room on my shelves, and if I was contemplating never leaving this house, I would just sort, alphabetize and put them all up, but, and here is the rub, there are simply too many for the very ample new bookshelves that are installed in the living room and dining room, and truth be told, I really do not want or need all of these books.
Now, also truth be told, I have opened box after box and felt like I was at a lovely reunion party. All my Allcotts and Austins and Joyces and Tylers and Irvings and Woolfs and Yezerskas. Yes, I have been alphabetizing the novels. All back for my view and available to be touch, taken down, skimmed, and read. Can I tell you my joy? Such inspiration! Such a feeling that I want to read every one that I love. Now. Again. And then dive headlong into those wordy friends that I have never read.
I make a quick resolve to give myself some time -- maybe a week or two this winter, after the kitchen is finished and all is clean and put away, maybe as a break from the sorting which will need to be done and finished this year -- to just spend days in front of a fire, with an infinite supply of tea in Uncle Harold’s lovely, humongous cups, reading. Browsing my ‘collection’ and making a stack to read for pleasure. No deadlines, no agenda, except for pleasure. There were years when I’d read all my Austins just to hear the sound her her voice in my ears. Salinger could grab me the same way -- swallow it whole, read every word.
A bit less than half of the books had been out of boxes and on shelves since I moved into this house, but the rest have been stored in moving boxes under the basement stairs. The boxes are dirty and I dreaded cleaning, dragging, lifting, and getting them up to the dining room. But what a reward once they are there. I know this is such a confession of a geek, but I could almost tear up over each box, packed in Indy, books taken down from my first set of built in bookcases, sorted and considered back then. And now, again, on my shelves. My old friends.
Oh, and I wonder about Julia’s choice of friends. My own may be suspect. How will I ever teach her appropriate behavior. Ha!
Still, one of my goals, that simplification streak running though my this year, is to cull the collection to the size of the bookcases. To have no book in a box and out of view. I suspect that I will have to get rid of at least 20% and probably closer to a third of what I own. Gazing over the piles right now, I can let some go because my interests have shifted and David’s interests do not have to be considered in this culling. I really have no need for books on experimental film making and countless movie scrips. The plant pile is surprisingly small, or is there more in one of the last 6 boxes? Some reference books can go, some theater, and some outdated travel books. I know there will be a few hard choices, but I also know that I don’t need “Stanislavsky Directs” or “The Complete Book of Food Counts.” Most of the easiest to cull were expelled in Indy, I steel myself for decisions.
I find I have an extraordinary number of books related to history -- and this is apart from biography and memoir of which there is also ample numbers. Most of the history books are mine, some collected very intentionally as Cheshire was reaching for independence and before Julia arrived on the scene. They are books of pure interest -- no school project inspired them or major study required them. Of these books are a few that my parents took from my grandparents’ house when that house was broken up after my grandmother died. These are a few -- maybe 6 or 7 -- pictorial histories of the Civil War. I never saw them as a child. They were boxed in the cellar somewhere. I am loathe to let these books go, even though I have never had an interest in the Civil War but these are a sort of literary bequest from my family of origin. They are the only books of theirs that I have ever seen.
I do suspect that my grandfather picked up these books, a whole box of them, on one of his walks. My grandfather loved to walk and he loved to pick up other people’s junk, bringing home pieces of furniture, broken machinery, parts, parts, parts. And the man always found money. And probably, one box of books.
You see, my grandparents did not read. Yes, they could both sign their names. I have a vivid image of my grandfather signing the papers to get his citizenship when I was a very young child and he had been in the USA for at least 40 years. I remember his carefully forming the letters in a style that was somewhere between Ukrainian Cyrillic and standard English. Even as the young child that I was, and I must have been in first or second grade, I was in awe that my grandfather, who was intelligent, creative, caring, and so very interesting to me, needed to be so deliberate to do something that I did with ease. I remember thinking that we were different and the thought both scared and excited me.
There were no books in their house. My grandfather would bring home the New York Post, not even the wordier Newark News or Star Ledger, after work and he would sit down at the kitchen table and look at the paper. Sometimes my grandmother, who was probably better able to read English, but still very slowly, would read the caption under a photo. By the time I was in fourth grade, they would ask me to read, which I would do in my halting, stuttering manner. Now, I wonder if my father and uncle had done the same for them when they were children. And now, I also wonder about my parents’ generation, children of immigrants, maybe first readers in their families all, children of peasants who had made the journey to the New World leaving an Old Country behind. But they lived in community with families that were just like theirs and possibly these thoughts of difference never entered their heads. And here I pause and realize that I have questions, at least one that I will never be able to ask anyone.
We, my parents and siblings, were better integrated into the American way but on my block most visiting grandparents had accents and cooked great pots of ethnic food. And probably did not really read any better than my grandparents.
Reading and later writing, were the province of children. Of my generation, even more than of my parents, who although both of their careers -- printing and office administration -- were necessarily heavily involved with words and grammar, did not read for pleasure. Gosh, I remember my father putting up a wall of kid wallpaper in my East Village apartment before Cheshire was born, commenting about our extensive book collections -- which was no where near what I am looking at on my dining room floor! He said, “What do you do with all these books?” and “Do you really need them?”
Again, our difference. And I reveled at that difference at that time. My unborn child would grow up with the New Yorker in the bathroom and the New York Times on the kitchen table. She would have book cases in her room and have books available to her at any time.
I don’t regret my reveling in the difference. Although I would like to ask my father, “how could you not have books in your house?”
There were a few but not many books in my parents’ house. An encyclopedia. Two sets actually -- one adult and one for kids. I did, as so many similarly situated children, read book after book, A through Z. For pleasure. My parents were, at least in the early years, proud of my reading. I think I read very early. I have visceral memories of walking to the Belleville Library holding on to the side of the big baby carriage and then strollers as one after another sibling was pushed and napped quietly inside. I was one of those kids who librarians loved and took an interest in, pointing out biographies that I might take out and allowing me to take books from the “young adult” section long before my child’s card allowed it.
And I imagined, no, just took for granted, that parents did not read much, that magazines were for doctors’ offices, that my desire to eat up the library was something for children, maybe no one before me had had these longings. I do remember when I realized that the authors of the books I read were my parent age, or of my grandparents generation, or even older. I think I was in second or third grade when I realized that there were probably children, just like me, who lived with parents who wrote books. I remember this revelation, sitting on the floor of the kids second of the library, reading the short bio at the back of a biography. “She lives with her husband and children in . . . “
How fortunate I was to have been taken to that library and to feel comfortable sitting on the floor. How fortunate I was to have been read to, at least in my youngest years, and to be asked to read to my grandparents. How fortunate I was to have been encouraged to do this thing, to read and do my school work, and to want more and more of it. How fortunate that I was raised strong enough to be able to revel in the differences between myself and the generation that was before me. I hope my girls can recall such specular gifts that David and I managed to give them. And I wonder at the gifts that they will give.