Back in 1996 Mother was in her late seventies, and had recuperated from a major operation on the frontal lobe of her brain. She was fortunate. The lesion found in her brain was benign. She could still read, which she loved to do and continued to do. And she had cause to celebrate her continuing in this life. Her youngest daughter, the one born here in Canada, was pregnant and about to present her with a gift – her first real grand-child (Mother didn’t consider “Renaissance Man”, my son then 26 years old, a proper grand-child. I had had him out of wedlock. He was “illegitimate”, a “bastard” and had arrived on this earth in the wrong manner, and he reflected badly on the family and particularly was a public reminder of bad parenting – hers mostly?)
I was happy for her eager anticipation of this new grand-child. She had revered her own Grand-mother who I also had been fortunate to know for a few years as a growing child and had found great delight in. Here was my Mother about to embark on an experience of yet another stage in her life, as a loving and loved elder. This was something to celebrate!
Her birthday was coming up and I racked my brains trying to come up with a really good gift. Clothing items were out. Perfume, which she sprayed about her and on her she had more than a few years supply of, especially her favourite “4711” which was becoming more and more difficult to find. Aha, books were called for!
Surreptitiously, I browsed her bookshelves. There were many books of classic contemporary literature. Many had been on her shelf for numerous years and she kept adding to them. The only trouble was that they showed little or no sign of having been read. Whenever I asked her to tell me what she found with “book x”, she would say “It was all right, but not one of my favourites.” And she’d change the subject and pull out the latest Brother Cadfael mystery and express how much she had enjoyed it. So, I waited for the next book in the series to be published and bought it as one of her upcoming birthday presents.
While browsing in Chapters to see what else I could unearth by way of another book for her, it ocurred to me that she may have some fun with reading some current children’s literature, that she may find it amusing and interesting to read some fun books that are also instructive as well and which she may enjoy sharing with her anticipated grandchild. Aha! I thought – Shel Silverstein – a writer of inspired goofiness and someone who celebrated the individuality and quirkyness of children. I looked at the titles on the edge of the books filed on the S shelf. One entitled “Falling up” caught my eye and I pulled it out to look it over. Found it absolutely engaging and thought about how much “Renaissance Man” would have enjoyed being read to from it as a 5 year old. “Perfect! Mother will get a huge kick from this, I think! (There were some fun and silly poems that she could use to engage this new family arrival as he or she grew and started to converse)” I bought it for her!
On her bithday, I travelled loaded down with the two books and a flowering potted plant to have a visit and tea with Mother. She was like a little child at Christmas – just couldn’t wait to open up her presents. The plant she could readily see, and admiring its pretty blooms swiftly set it aside to get to the fun part of uncovering the wrapped package. The “Brother Cadfael” hard cover was lying on top of “Falling Up”. Her eyes lit up with pleasure, then she took it to her bookshelf to check the novel was not one she already had read and possessed. Satisfied, she came back and pecked me on the cheek.
She then picked up the Shel Silverstein book and asked “Why did you buy me this?” So I went through the whole song and dance of why I thought she might find the book amusing and fun to read to and with her new grandchild. She looked at me with suspicion. Then I said, she may find it a useful gift for someone else’s child, and that it just might give pleasure if not to her, then to whoever she chose to give this book. “Propel it forward.” I suggested.
The “Brother Cadfael” mystery took its place in the growing line-up on her bookshelf. “Falling Up” simply disappeared, never to be seen again, never discussed. I hope that she at least read some of this book before she made it disappear, and perhaps got a glimpse of illicit pleasure from it even if it may have embarrassed her to put in on her shelf for anyone to see.
I think that I will go to the local old book store where two weeks ago I unearthed a Hunter S. Thopson book now out of print, for which”Renaissance Man” expressed great surprised pleasure as I pressed it in his hand on one of his drop-in visits with us. The lady there will probably find me a copy of Shel Siverstein’s “Falling Up”. It can come home and sit in pride of place, waiting for my new grandaughter and for me to discover it together, one day soon.