Stella and I are tearing through the Little House books. These are the books of my childhood: I read them again and again and again and again, until my mother told me to stop and directed me to her fiction shelf. (Here I pause to give my mother some side-eye about that one.) Stella has not been as eager a read-aloud listener as her brothers, until now. She cannot wait to read more about Laura, and I cannot wait to read it to her. I am also watching her reading skills burgeoning as she tries with alacrity to figure out what's coming next. I love it more than I can say. Having four boys was an enormous gift, but being able to talk sunbonnets with my daughter is even better than I thought it would be.
It is strange to be immersed in the world of Little House again after so many years away, and it is making me think lots of thoughts that I may attempt to untangle here. Just a few quick notes today-- I have finished my Saturday housekeeping jobs except for a basket of laundry, but I have some grading to do and a run to squeeze in. So, quickly:
We're in the bleak bit of The Long Winter; it's February and the storms won't let up. The Ingalls family has eaten all of the potatoes they grew last summer (you know how that first planting on sod makes for lower yields), and the wheat sack is suddenly, ominously empty. And what do they do? They recite things they've memorized from the McGuffey Fifth Reader -- an ode to Tubal Cain, the defiant speech of Regulus. Pa, who is rail thin and (one assumes) wound tight, says he finds the words more warming than the fire.
This was a powerful idea for me as an 8- and 10- and 12- and 14-year old, this notion that words could be a comfort and a bulwark and a means of escape from the most difficult circumstances. I have posted before about memorizing poetry in imitation of my childhood heroines. It was a quirky thing to do in 1982, and it is even quirkier here in 2016. I think it's worthwhile anyway.
Last night my basement was host to a pack of teenaged boys, one of whom belonged to me. Elwood told me he overheard a snippet of conversation, in which the boy in question said: "Well, my mom can recite the Iliad in Greek." (Insert another pause, for me to crack up at the memory. My dad can beat your dad at arm-wrestling; my mom can recite more ancient epic poetry than your mom.) This is the same kid who was recently learning about scansion in his English class, and he came home grumbling about the teacher's definition of a metric foot. "She said it was a collection of syllables including at least one stressed and one unstressed syllable, and of course you know what I wanted to know," he announced at dinner. I raised an eyebrow. "WHAT ABOUT THE SPONDEE?" he burst out, a picture of indignation.
The next day he told the teacher about our conversation. She said, "First, it wasn't my definition; it was the textbook's definition. And second, who talks about that at dinner? Don't you have anything better to talk about?"
But my answer is no: I can't really think of anything I'd rather talk about with my family. It makes me fiercely happy to hear my son thinking about how words can fit together to make something beautiful and memorable, something transcendent. At this point my daughter is mostly focused on how the Ingalls family will get through the winter (and when there will be something besides blizzards to read about), but I hope she hears what their voices are telling her: part of how you get through hard times is by holding on to what's beautiful and right.
Whatever things are true, ...whatever things are lovely-- think on these things.