Monday, October 25, 2010


I once heard the author Mary Clearman Blew say something to the effect of, most people don't have the humility to write about their childhoods until they are at least middle-aged. I don't know that it requires humility, though. Blew's point was, I think, that until someone has lived a certain amount of time, she does not have the wisdom or clarity of sight to look at the experience of childhood, with all its joys and desperate heartbreaks so uneventful to the grown-up mind, as honest narrative, rather than the confusion of half-true facts and guarded memories we see in young adulthood. In other words, it takes time to take our childhoods seriously.

There is too slight a disparity between ten and twenty for a young adult to completely detach herself from the wildness, adventure, and wonder of being a child, and the danger that is no less real for being imaginary. And there is too great a disparity for her believe in that world still.

My childhood is full of stories. My earliest adventures were with the likes of Madeleine and little girls in lines, the Poky Little Puppy and Ferdinand the bull. I explored a split-level tree with the Berenstein Bears, and I sailed through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year with Max and the Wild Things, time and again. A few years later I made fast friends with Laura Ingalls and Sara Crewe and Anne Shirley. And I discovered Narnia rather by accident, just as Lucy did. These were the stories that mattered to me. These are the memories that are most vivid in my mind's eye.

I've lived my life through books. When I was child, the imaginary worlds of orphans and talking animals (for an orphan was to me as strange and mystical a creature as a talking animal), of gloom and brightness and magic, were far more exciting, and far more bearable, than the real world.

In the real world there was school, which had by turns its delights and its atrocities. There were trips to the lake, to the park, to the library, to any other number of interesting places. There were slumber parties and marathon games of make-believe (that wasn't what we called it, but that's what it was). But most of all, in the real world there was the seemingly endless drudgery of living. I was a child for a hundred years.

I couldn't wait to grow up.

When I imagined myself grown up, I pictured an impossibly beautiful and sophisticated woman. At five, I didn't know the word "sophisticated," but that didn't stop me from idolizing the concept. And, inevitably, I suppose, the adult me of my mind's eye often resembled some variation of a Disney princess, a heroine from a book, or a Hollywood actress.

(To be continued...)

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