Do you ever have the experience that, for several days, maybe weeks, your life seems to have a recurring theme? For some reason, you keep stumbling across articles and stories or overhear conversations about the same thing over and over again and you wonder if the cosmos are trying to send you some kind of message?
The theme of my week has been the Voices of My Childhood, and nostalgia has been the overwhelming side effect.
I hadn’t been able to put the 9/11 anniversary to bed, mostly because I’d been plodding through a seemingly endless article in my double issue New York Magazine on it, well into this week. Timed just right, I tuned to an interview with Maurice Sendak. We all know him, the young ones because Spike Jonze has now done a movie adaptation of his most famous work. He, and his ruminations on old age and loss in a tearful interview with Terry Gross, which was supposed to be on his new book, were terribly sad. But they were also perfectly in sync with my mood, not being able to shake the tragic stories I was reading about (and I’m telling you if you click that link and read it you will cry your face off). Maurice spoke two days after he lost a dear friend. As he said: “…I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more…There are so many beautiful things in the world…” When he closed the interview with the triplet “Live your life, live your life, live your life,” I actually burst into tears. Yes, Maurice. He was Voice #1.
That day or the next, an article on Shel Silverstein rolled across my screen. The beloved bard of our youth is long gone, but his family is putting out a book of 145 of his unpublished poems. Yes. An actual tingle of excitement. Like I just read that J.K. Rowling was about to publish an eighth Harry Potter. (No Devon, that ship really has sailed. Move on.) This time I giggled as I read over some of Shel’s poems that I had forgotten about over the years, like:
“There are kids underneath my bed,”
Cried little baby monster Fred.
Momma monster smiled. “Oh, Fred,
There’s no such things as kids,” she said.
I thought of The Giving Tree, and what big concepts I absorbed when I read it as a little girl, without really realizing it. I thought of what vast imagination and empathy Shel had, and how I would be satisfied to be half as creative and prolific in my life. He was Voice #2.
So here I am in my week of death and missing my imagination and things are feeling a little crappy, and I read a blurb in a magazine (okay, it’s Real Simple and I’m obsessed with it and I don’t care what you think) on one of the childhood greats: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. And its perfect last line that if you read it once, you’ll remember: “Some days are like that, even in Australia.” The author whose name I didn’t know (Judith Viorst) got a smile and silent nod from me. She was Voice #3.
Then I get to thinking of Goodnight Moon and Blueberries for Sal and the Berenstein Bears and The Ox Cart Man, a book that no one else remembers but sent me into a yearlong phase of wanting to be a pilgrim. And I get excited to have kids so I can read them all again. It’s nice that it’s been so long since I read all of them, but I still see so much in front of me. But really, I’ll probably pull down my old Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends tonight and stay up late. Yes, Maurice. Yes, Shel. Yes, Judith.
Shel once wrote to his young readers from the future: ““Although I cannot see your face / As you flip these poems awhile, / Somewhere from some far-off place / I hear you laughing—and I smile.” Tonight, wherever he is, he’s hearing me.
Who was your favorite childhood voice?