Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The printed word

Did you know this? I had absolutely no idea.

Carter's bedtime story selection tonight was the classic Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans. It's one of my own childhood favorites that's only recently been garnering attention against stacks of books about pirates, trucks, dinosaurs and all things noisy and smelly. It's such fun to reread it with thirtysomething eyes: I love the rhyming cadence, I love the illustrations that evoke happy travel memories and I especially love the fact that I don't have to squint to read the type, because I have every word committed to memory.

Even if you have only a passing familiarity with the story, you're probably aware that there were twelve little girls (in, yes, it's coming back to you now: two straight lines) living under this one roof of... what? A boarding school? Some sort of camp for potential nuns? It's never been clear to me. In any case, the girls go about their daily lives until our tiny protagonist is rushed to the hospital for a brief spell.

Closing in on the end of the book this evening, Trey asked, "Now, how many little girls were left in Madeline's absence?" Geez, Trey, I thought, you're going to be no use whatsoever when the kids start asking us for help with their math assignments. "Eleven," I answered, in my most patient Mommy voice. He pointed to the picture of the sad faces gathered 'round the communal dining table, clearly pining for the smallest member of their group. "Count 'em," he said.

Sigh. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven... twelve. Eleven little girls returning from the hospital, brushing their teeth, going to bed and being soothed back to sleep by Miss Clavell. But in that one small illustration in the series, Bemelmans got it wrong. Not sure I'll ever see it quite the same way again. I do, however, adore these tidbits about the story and the author-illustrator here and here.

Words. Sometimes, they're just not enough. Oftentimes I worry about using the wrong ones, and so I say nothing at all. I'll probably err on both sides tonight, I'm afraid. These words aren't mine, but they've been rattling around in my head all day long. Here, they're meant for Ellie, my amazing mother-in-law... and a wonderful, loving, caring sister. You are on my mind and in my heart tonight.

...Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."

-- Christina Rosetti, Goblin Market


Anonymous Ellie said...

Thank you my wonderful Amy. You knew just what to say.

AS for Carter, maybe he has CLF,II's math brain. He could do worse!

Thanks again. Love, Ellie

7:59 PM  

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