As you may have been able to tell from previous posts on this site, I come from a very tight-knit family. My father, mother, older sister, and I have always been very close, even through the worst of times (i.e. puberty – bless my parents for going through that with not one daughter, but two). We’ve always talked openly about our thoughts and feelings, our views on the world, and while we haven’t always agreed, I do believe we have a respect and admiration for each other’s points of views.
I think this ability to have an open and intelligent dialogue stems from my parents encouragement of reading when both my sister and I were growing up. Trips to the library were never a chore, and there wasn’t a book on our house’s overstuffed shelves that was off-limits. Both my mother and my father read out loud to us, but my dad in particular took great joy out of regaling us with texts far out of our range of understanding. When my sister was ten, she asked our Dad to read her Shakespeare’s Othello. He graciously acquiesced, pausing often to take her questions and explain various details of character and plot and word play.
With me, my dad took time to read aloud the entirety of Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful book, The Wind in the Willows, when I was six and seven. I was an impatient and easily distracted child, and it is a deliberate book, so it took us quite a while to get through the whole thing; but my dad’s enthusiasm for the nightly sessions never waned, even as the months went by.
The Wind in the Willows tells the story of the woodland creatures Ratty, Mole, Mr. Badger, and the infamous Mr. Toad. Rat and Mole, two denizens of the forest who live by the river, become friends and share in each other’s daily trials and tribulations, and certainly those of their mutual acquaintance, Mr. Toad, an obsessive, boisterous fellow, who throws himself headlong into his pursuits without any thought of how his actions might affect others. Still, with the help of Rat, Mole, and the wise Badger, Mr. Toad realizes the error of his ways and makes amends. The Wind in the Willows is also peppered with side stories, smaller adventures of the individual creatures and their quiet forest lives.
At the time, I don’t know how much of the The Wind in the Willows I really grasped. Certainly the allusions to Pan and other mythic gods of the wilderness went straight over my head, and I was more on the side of Mr. Toad than his sensible friends when it came to how to entertain oneself. But what did stick with me was the understanding that books and the stories inside them were magical. They were a safe place that I could go whenever I needed, a shelter as secure as my father’s arms as he held me close, letting me drool all over his thick sweater as I nodded off on the basement couch, Grahame’s words echoing in my ears.
Out of all the presents I’ve been given by my parents, this might be the most important. Life is not easy, nor is it fair, or always fun. But stories are always there, waiting to comfort you, to excite you, and to let you imagine a world which works the way you want it to. And now, I’m trying to become a writer of such stories myself, thanks in very large measure to those evenings in the basement with my Dad. That’s what parents are supposed to do – give you the tools and the courage to see the world and decide what you want your place in it to be.
Thanks, Dad. I mean it when I say you are a true inspiration to me.
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