Hal and Margy were such the odd couple. Married and career-driven, both working on Capitol Hill, my parental units (as I often referred to them in the late 70’s) followed quite different paths with child-rearing than their natures might suggest. Bless those unassuming, well-intended, masters of of all things literal and French, the Coneheads, for the name.
My father, already a twice published author of poetry books, expected me to develop any appreciation of prose through either osmosis or spontaneous creation. My mother, on the other hand, would read poetry to me each night at bedtime, a rather unusual habit for such a reserved and brooding woman.
Margy would tuck me in most nights by eight and read from her favorite poets: Milne, Frost, Carroll, and many, many others. I assume that her purpose was two-fold: to eventually instill a fondness for the lyric and melody of poetry, as well as to lull me to sleep from the patter. It seemed to work on both counts.
By age ten, I was reading poetry all the time, usually alone and still at eight o’clock, as my parents were unusually strict with my bedtime. When I had privacy and was so bold, I would attempt my own versions of poetry, but never chose to share them with anyone, including imaginary friends. Such friends can be the harshest of critics for they know no boundaries … and can keep you up long past bedtime.
My mother’s favorite poem to read was etched into my conscious from years of recital. It was one of those Robert Frost chestnuts. Margy loved the simplicity of his prose and the integration of nature imagery. Hal, of course, had introduced my mother and me to his actual “living, breathing, and direct” self when I was yet in kindergarten … kindling what would become her lifetime appreciation of his words.
I met many accomplished writers through my father, yet it was my mother who taught me to read and write when I was in pre-school. Again, I think my father just assumed I would wake up one morning, having had some literate epiphany of language, and then join my peers in preschool. Most of those memories are now muddled with the years: some details lost and others, well-hidden.
I do, however, remember that one poem that best epitomizes those years and reminds me of my mother and the framed photograph of my father with Mr. Frost. It was memorized long before my seventh grade English teacher assigned such as homework. My mother would often repeat prose and such that she had to commit to memory as a young girl in Washington. I just assumed there’d be a day, not unlike today, that I’d without forethought or provocation, I’d break out in a latter-day “mash-up” of Milne’s “Disobedience” and Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”.
This is the point at which my smile becomes an unflattering chortle, a fact that I can so conveniently deny. It’s funny how selective memories come and go when we most need them to do such. At eight each night, my thoughts still automatically direct toward bedtime, regardless as to when I will eventually “commune” with my pillow. It just takes me a long, long time these days to ready my soul for slumber. Of course, my body is always prepared for what my mind can never do: that is, to blissfully put the world on hold, while I recharge and just sleep.
Miles to go, my friends. I have miles to go.
(Image: “Untitled” by Marion Peck.)