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between two worlds

Sometimes thoughts just...converge. It's most compelling when they do and they leave me no choice but to write about them. It's like a gaggle of ideas has ganged up on me and said, write about us or we shall pummel you!

It started when, quite by accident, I came across one of my favorite childhood books on Amazon, The Witch Family. I must have read it a dozen times at least while in elementary school, and I've read it nearly every summer since, as recent as last year. I read it for the memories, mostly. Not so much the memories of being curled up under a table in the children's room at the library, reading as fast as I could to get to the part with the spelling bee, or the memories of being sick, clutching tissues in one hand, the book in the other, once again feeling sorry for the witch. It's the memories of where the book - and all books for that matter - took me, that wondrous place between here and there, where maybe witches and aliens and talking frogs do exist.

Interestingly enough, the Booklist blurb for Witch Family reads:

To those children who move unhesitatingly between the real and unreal and are equally at home in both worlds...

I think a lot of people who lived the sort of childhood I did - nearly friendless and filled with a solitude that I was comfortable with - books of fantasy and science fiction and magic offered other worlds for us to live in, however briefly. And not even necessarily just those genres; the world of Little Women or Encyclopedia Brown or The Boxcar Children were just as enticing, because they weren't my world. They offered something different, and if even the book contained no magic, just being transported to the world inside the pages was magic enough.

As I was thinking about all of that, I came across - through that wonderful place known as The Sneeze - the art of S. Britt.

Immediately, Britt's art harpooned that spot in my brain where I was still thinking about books and the library and childhood. His art speaks of simplicity, innocence, fun. The style is reminiscent of the illustrations found in my old textbooks or the joke books that lined my shelf (you'll have to click on portfolio and look around, you can't link to specific pieces of art). I was not surprised to see he notes as his inspirations Ed Emberley and Ezra Jack Keats; I spied the connection right away.

The one particular piece that made me wistful to the point of melancholy is Underneath The Sockberry Tree. Three children, stretched out under a tree, one of them reading. The tree is brimming with berries and, yes socks. There was a time, I'm certain, when I would have believed that socks could grow on trees. There was a time when whimsy and nonsense were part of my everyday life.

Oddly enough, right as I was looking at the art, I was having an online conversation with a friend about earliest memories (this is where the convergence comes in, if you're still looking for it). The drawing brought back a previously lost memory - I suppose it had been laying dormant for all these years in one of those dusty corners of my mind where the stuff I don't need to know or remember lays. I think our brains have a sort of recycle bin, or a holding cell, where it sticks memories and facts and figures that are unnecessary for us to know to get through daily life and would only clog up the works if left out in the open with the important stuff. Occasionally, one of those memories or facts will be called for and the little monkeys that work inside our head open up the bin and release the it into the front of our lobe. This comes in handy when one is playing Trivial Pursuit or when trying to make a family member feel guilty for some past transgressions.

Anyhow, upon seeing the drawing, I was immediately overwhelmed by a vision of my mother and I laying underneath a tree, reading. A memory had come unloosed, one where I was in my backyard - maybe six years old - reading through a tome on fairy tales (I had started reading books at four) underneath the shade of an enormous maple tree. I had a terrible cold and my mother insisted that the warm spring air was good for me. So I laid on a blanket and read about magical things and then, for a time, I crossed that line between the here and there. I went inside, took my mother's good silver spoons and started digging around the maple tree, sure that there were magic coins buried there; coins that would take me on all kinds of fantastical trips. Alas, there were no coins, of course. But I did find several odd shaped rocks that I imagined were magic in some way. I cleaned them, stuffed them in my pocket and waited.

I was still waiting when my mother came outside with lunch. Grilled cheese with tomato and a glass of chocolate milk. She stayed out there with me while I ate and when I was done, we laid down on the blanket and looked at clouds. Because I had been reading tales of knights and such, I saw castles and queens and a few dragons. As I pointed out each cloud, my mother strung together a story about them. That was - and is - the greatest thing about my mother, in that she always encouraged my imagination. She fueled it, even, by buying me books upon books about mystical, unbelievable creatures and characters. And she joined me so often in crossing from the here to the there. I'm realizing now that it was probably that day, underneath the maple tree, making up stories about clouds, that I learned it was not just okay to walk into other worlds, it was a good thing. I learned then how to suspend my disbelief so that books and movies would always hold amazing adventures for me - the world of make believe, whether it be on print or screen - is the one place where I can keep my cynicism in check.

That's not my earliest memory, however. That would be when I was three years old, dancing to the Moody Blues' Go Now in the basement apartment in my grandmother's house.

And now I'm looking through the rest of Britt's art and becoming increasingly nostalgic for the simple days of my childhood, for the un-complex world of purple smudged ditto sheets and Richard Scarry stories and one cent gum and my Close 'N' Play record player.

In some ways I've held onto the thing that makes childhood so special:

To those children who move unhesitatingly between the real and unreal and are equally at home in both worlds...

If you never lose your ability to do that, to walk between both worlds and be at home in each, then you never lose your ability to imagine, to wonder, to be a child, even as an adult.

I think it's time to read The Witch Family again. Or maybe Half-Magic.

Comments

that was beautiful.

I keep a shelf of books I loved as a kid on hand, for those times when I just want to escape to a simpler world. I've also been tracking down and reading some of the "classics" (or at least, well-known children's books) that I somehow missed as a child - just read "Half-Magic" for the first time this spring.

one of the things I loved about Richard Scarry, were the food-cars - the cars shaped like bananas or carrots. I still remember those books and as soon as I become an aunt, I am going to buy as many as are still in print and send them to my new niece/nephew so she or he can enjoy them too.

. She stayed out there with me while I ate and when I was done, we laid down on the blanket and looked at clouds. Because I had been reading tales of knights and such, I saw castles and queens and a few dragons.

As I pointed out each cloud, my mother strung together a story about them. That was - and is - the greatest thing about my mother, in that she always encouraged my imagination

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It brings to mind a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy and Linus and Charlie Brown are lying on a hill staring up at the sky. Lucy wonders whether Linus sees anything in them.

Linus looks up and says, “Well, actually, yes. This cloud on the left looks like the outline of British Honduras; and the middle one looks very much like a painting by Thomas Eakins, the great sculptor and painter; and that one over there looks like a depiction of the stoning of Stephen, with Paul standing to one side looking on.”

Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “Charlie Brown, when you look up at the clouds, what do you see?”

He replied, “Well, I was going to say a duckie and a horsie, but somehow, I’ve changed my mind.”
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Put me down for one duckie and one horsie.

:)