My mother was an only child, a careful girl preceded by an only-child mother, equally docile and precise, so their toys and books were in remarkably pristine states when I came along. I was also an only child and there any similarity ended. I was not destructive, not wanton; I merely was interested in how things were made; their components. I did in fact write on pages of books --- I had taught myself to read at a rather precocious age since I heartily disliked the laboriously slow process of being read to --- and I created my own versions of new books from the old, a pastiche of childish chaos, and a truly unfortunate choice for any potential collectible resale.
(Whatever was I thinking?)
Left to my own devices in the attic, rummaging through boxes of books, old magazines, any printed matter I could find, I devoured, gobbled, gorged. By inheriting so-called children’s books from another age, I inherited the stilted vocabulary of those authors as well. Unfortunately, my family’s storage was heavily slanted in the direction of the “moral” tales of Pollyanna, Elsie Dinsmore and the Bobbsey Twins, all loathsome for myriad reasons. I was temporarily rescued by Alcott (whom I still found insipid despite Jo’s gumption), was distressed by the cruelty in Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe, and thoroughly enjoyed Jack London and Frank Buck, and the nature-adventure life they portrayed, although I suspect if I revisited them today I would find the tales seeped in prejudice.
From kindly neighbors I was given hand-me-down Golden Books aplenty which seldom interested me since they were so short (a five minute read at best) and also decidedly lacked drama and character development, and moreover they were “pleasant” and I’ve never been particularly good at pleasant. Then I discovered 'Twain' as if some guilty secret under the covers: The Prince and the Pauper, Tom Sawyer and Huck. Here was some stuff! Boys got to do things beyond playing with dolls and keeping their clothes neat. What a fabulous idea! I still have a soft spot for ol’ Sam and I did indeed once build a raft, which floats forever in my memory. A lovely metaphor, but in actuality, it sank.
Perversely however, as is my penchant (that Edwardian vocabulary again), today I would award favorite childhood book status to the story of Miss Flora McFlimsey by Mariana, bought specifically for me (not inherited!) by my grandfather, who on the Christmas that he died, gave me the accompanying doll as well. A thoroughly charming story, Flora was a forgotten doll in the attic (I could identify) that was resurrected as a Christmas gift and freshly-beloved thereafter; lovely illustrations without becoming too saccharine. I believe there was a mouse involved ---isn’t there always? Contrary to Tom and Huck, Flora delighted in tiny lacy handkerchiefs, buttoned shoes, and arrived complete with a trunk full of feminine foibles to tempt even the most stalwart of denim-wearers; a book and a doll that I did not destroy. Flora was mine alone, she was instant memory, and you do not destroy memory.
Irrespective of their literary value, the characters in children’s books burrow deep into our subconscious, and sometimes we unwittingly parrot their personae, even into adulthood. We are Peter and Wendy, Tom and Huck, Jo March, Dorothy, Christopher Robin, and even some of us (I say with a shudder) Pollyanna. I myself shall always tiptoe out of that attic alongside Flora on a magical Christmas Eve to a place where there is a happily-ever-after fresh start, despite wearing the costume of a discarded century.
Flora, the doll, rests resplendent in tissue in my own attic, along with her book. The photographs of my grandfather are downstairs, with me.
Mara Buck writes and paints in the Maine woods. The manuscript for her novel Highway To Oblivion was named a Short-Listed Finalist for The Faulkner-Wisdom Prize. Recent prize-winning poems appear in Carpe Articulum and in Caper Literary Journal, with other work included in Vwa: Poems For Haiti and on Poets For Living Waters. She is the creator of the gallery-sized installation “A Year In Oblivion” a daily art chronicle of the life of a breast cancer patient, examples from which will soon be published in Drunken Boat.
More of her writing may be seen at: http://www.redroom.com/member/MaraBuck
Her videos may be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/user/marabuckAnd, an art/poetry/video for the World T