Years upon years ago (OK, roughly a dozen), my husband and I were looking for our first home. We were expecting our third child (now twelve-year-old Margaret), and our young family was bursting out of the one-bedroom apartment that had made such a perfect honeymoon suite. All through the weary winter, we scoured real estate ads and pounded the pavement, hoping to find a house in time for the new baby's birth.
Then one day, we toured a certain tidy colonial on a postage-stamp lot in a nice neighborhood. The house had nothing in particular to recommend it--it was neither beautiful, nor ugly--and, to tell the truth, I was not especially interested in it. That is until we entered the last of three bedrooms. The walls were an appalling shade of crayon green--you could not even pretend that it was something pretty like Kelly or Chartreuse--and the floors were a deep dark red. Anyone else would have backed quietly down the stairs never to return again, but I--young mother that I was--could only stand on the threshold to that room and sigh, "In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon."
Suddenly, my dreams of a pink frilly bedroom for the girls departed with a "goodnight room," and I imagined myself in a rocking chair, the quiet (young) lady whispering hush. The room we would have and all its appointments were already etched in my mind from a thousand bedtime readings--bears, chairs, kittens, mittens, clocks, socks, house, mouse. In less than a week's time we were sitting at our lawyer's kitchen getting ready to sign a contract, not on a house really, but on our own personal setting of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
I do not even remember a single other thing about that house we almost bought in back in 1997. Just as we were about to sign on the dotted line, I felt a wave of indecisiveness. Our lawyer sent my young husband and me to a diner to talk it over, and two cups of coffee later, we phoned him to say we would keep looking. My husband promised that if ever we did find a house we wanted to buy, he would give me carte blanche to paint the girls' bedroom in any garish colors I liked.
It is funny to think how nearly that simple picture book came to charting one of the earliest courses in our lives. Literature has a way of affecting us deeply, but perhaps not so demonstrably as that.
Goodnight Moon was not a book I ever recall reading as a child, and, to be honest, the first time I thumbed through it, I could not for the life of me understand why it had such a following. But anyone who has ever read the book to a child knows that Goodnight Moon is like a battered lamp lying forgotten in a cave. It goes unnoticed until some childish Aladdin sits by your side, rubbing the lamp by way of his rapt expression as you read, "Good night light and the red balloon"--words that seem mundane without him there to show you otherwise.
Not far from where we live on Long Island, there is a cozy little restaurant with paneled walls and horse finials standing guard over each booth. Until becoming a regular there and reading a newspaper feature framed on the wall, I did not know that Margaret Wise Brown was a Long Islander and that she enjoyed fox hunting on foot--or, more accurately rabbit hunting--not far from where we live. Sometimes, I like to imagine the rolling hills, the blare of horns, and the yip of dogs so different from Long Island today. (Might some hidden hollow of rabbit kits sniffed out by her eager hounds have inspired "the great green room"?) Margaret Wise Brown looks radiant in the photo, and I love that her two male companions are drinking tea from cups and saucers. Perhaps one of them was her fiance, a Rockefeller no less.
As you can see from the blurb about her life, she died tragically and young--actually at the very same age I am now. She never did get to marry that fiance--or see the books she had written brought to life by the rapt expression of a child of her own. From now on, when we read her book--especially when we read it before bed--we will say a prayer that she rests in peace.
in the Cottage Garden:
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (unabridged)! [Captions from the script appear above each corresponding photo.]
"If music be the food of love, play on."
"What country, friends, is this?"
"By my troth, Sir Toby, you must come in earlier o' nights."
"I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal."
"He's but mad yet, Madonna, and the fool shall look to the madman."
"I will on with my speech in your praise, and then show you the heart of my message."
"I am bound to the Count Orsino's court. Farewell."
"Were not you even now with the Countess Olivia?"
"Would you have a love song, or a song of good life?"
"What a caterwauling do you keep here!"
"My masters, are you mad?"
"Mistress Mary, if you prized my lady's favour at any thing more than contempt, you would not give means for this uncivil rule."
"If I do not gull him into a nayword, and make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed. I know I can do it. "
"My purpose is indeed a horse of that color."
"But if she cannot love you, sir?"
"Get ye all three into the box tree: Malvolio's coming down this walk."
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."
"I could marry this wench for this device.
--So could I too"
"Nay, but say true, does it work upon him?"
[The scenes above were from Acts I and II.]
Too bad the rhododendrons weren't blooming!
Gorgeous scenery by Mary Maggio-Smith and others
Beautiful costumes by amazing seamstress Hope Giambalvo (age 16) assisted by Mary Smith and others
Directed by Kari Riess
Our children's parts:
Margaret: "Feste the Clown"
Marie, Patrick, and Maureen: sign carriers
A day in May begins with Twelfth Night practice.
Our director gave notes to the cast:
in the shade of a large oak:
A sword fight broke out (and, no, this was not part of the play):
We observed the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a small altar (can you find it?):
Here is a closer view:
And here it is again after the younger ones (the brothers and sisters of cast members) spent the day adding flowers to it!
A birthday was celebrated:
Make that two birthdays:
And a good time was had by all!
[From left to right: Maria, Feste, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek conspire against Malvolio.]
A week or so ago, our family discovered the most wonderful website ever: Storynory.
We are all enjoying listening to classic stories beautifully narrated and unmodernized, and there are dozens of them, so it will be a great while before we have heard them all.
When Spring returns, I am always particularly eager for the children to be "unplugged," avoiding computer activities in favor of time spent outdoors. This is one site I will always encourage, particularly if I can sit right by their side and hear the tales myself!
[Please note: We have not come close to listening to all the stories. Based on what we have heard so far, I am assuming there are not problematic elements in any of them.]
I am the pillars of the house;
The keystone of the arch am I.
Take me away, and roof and wall
Would fall to ruin me utterly.
I am the fire upon the hearth,
I am the light of the good sun,
I am the heat that warms the earth,
Which else were colder than a stone.
At me the children warm their hands;
I am their light of love alive.
Without me cold the hearthstone stands,
Nor could the precious children thrive.
I am the twist that holds together
The children in its sacred ring,
Their knot of love, from whose close tether
No lost child goes a-wandering.
I am the house from floor to roof,
I deck the walls, the board I spread;
I spin the curtains, warp and woof,
And shake the down to be their bed.
I am their wall against all danger,
Their door against the wind and snow,
Thou Whom a woman laid in a manger,
Take me not till the children grow!
--Katharine Tynan (1861-1931)
[My father's favorite poet, William Butler Yeats, advised Katharine Tynan to specialize in Irish Catholic poetry. I think he made the right call.]
Mom: So, Patrick, do you like The Long Winter?
Mom (surprised): Really, why not?
Patrick: It's long!
Life imitated art in the cottage tonight.
To begin with, I served the family a meal to mirror the one we had been reading about in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder--pot roast, pan gravy, mashed potatoes--it was everything a snowed-in pioneer family with dwindling provisions could desire. The girls, bless their hearts, instantly recognized my purpose, entering right into character. With one or two pointed remarks about "running low on flour," "the train from the east" and "burning straw," dinner was passed most pleasantly, although we all missed Pa who was apparently out in the stable tending to the stock.
Later on, Ma was washing up with Mary and Laura, when Mary remarked upon how determinedly cold the kitchen seemed. (Blindness sharpens the other senses.) The indefatiguable Laura looked wide-eyed and shivery, and even Ma had to admit that the sink water was running rather icily.
Sure enough, our heat was out--in real life--and no crisis has ever been better timed!
With all the gravity and unflappable level-headedness of Ma, I told the children we must pass the time as best we could until the heater could be fixed, ordering them to wear their warmest nightclothes. [They change into pajamas every night--why is it that tonight the process seemed--and was--magical?] They were back in a flash and all smiles, with Marie sporting an ensemble that could best be described as a "get-up": a too-short red plaid nightgown, stray ballerina pajama pants, and a lamb-studded pink button down sweater. Crowning the effort most emphatically was mommy's brown felt hat, absurdly cute when worn by a seven year old and tilted just so. Our intrepid girl looked as if she could have held out until Spring and quite possibly intended to do just that.
Still in character as Mary and Laura, the older girls swaddled Maureen (our Grace) in toasty blankets, and we all huddled together in the big four poster bed upstairs to read. The advancing chill added to the ambiance, so that it was a joy to begin each new chapter--The Wheat in the Wall, Not Really Hungry, For Daily Bread, Four Days' Blizzard--surrounded by those bright-eyed blanket-bound listeners. Patrick and Maureen dozed on a pillow next to me, and the older girls lounged comfortably on all sides. I half expected to hear Pa's fiddle ring out in the distance or perhaps the windswept whir of a storm brewing, but the next sound we heard was a smart rap on the front door.
No, gentle readers, it was not Mr. Edwards or even Almanzo Wilder, but only the oil burner repair man. The moment his unmistakable poundings met Ma's ear, she thrust baby Grace (by this time played by understudy Eileen) to the nearest empty-handed girl and bounded off to let him in, returning to 2007 by way of the front stairs and ending our little fantasy for the night.
But, oh, it was fun while it lasted!
It was getting late in the day when I asked Agnes to write the three letters to Jesus on behalf of our family for our Christmas and Epiphany Tea. I told her my vision for the project, rattling off the top of my head something akin to the sample I posted here yesterday. She said, "Sure, Mom," and returned 45 minutes later with these, each separate letter written in careful script with a line drawing of the individual Wise Man kneeling before the Infant to offer his gift.
Letter Number One:
His gift of gold
For he had legions
Of wealth untold.
But You were poor
And had nought but rags
And a stable to shut out the cold.
So do we give
The gold that we make
Away to the Church
For Your people's sake.
And with Your help,
May we not withhold
From those that You love
The least scrap of our Gold.
Letter Number Two:
Caspar was wise
And he knew not to bring
A gift that was meant
For an earthly king.
He neither gave livestock,
Nor clothing, nor wine--
He gave you a gift
That was for the Divine.
May all that we offer--
Our thoughts and our prayers--
Rise to heaven like incense
For all of our years.
To Thee do we cry, Lord,
For You we are yearning--
May the incense we offer You
Never stop burning.
Letter Number Three:
As Balthazar watched
A tear came to his eye--
How could he tell Mary
Her Son would soon die?
He knew of the sorrow
It would give to her.
He spoke not a word
Yet he offered You myrrh.
As, surrounding the manger,
We witness Your birth,
Let us offer our sorrow
As well as our mirth.
When You leave the world
It will be a great loss--
Perhaps, by our pains,
We can lighten Your cross.
Me (reading Mother Goose to Patrick and Catherine):
"What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and . . . . "
Patrick (earnestly): No, Mommy, they are made of the love of God.