I awoke this morning in a stream of consciousness. I thought of the baby blue birds in my driveway and wondering if they had all left the nest. This led my thoughts to a story I saw on Facebook about a WDAM TV employee who “rescued” a baby bird the mother rejected. This thought led to Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep, “leave them along and they’ll come home”, which reminded me of my Daddy and his ability to recite any nursery rhyme and many poems. My mind is a jumbled and confused place.
As my head cleared and I remembered it is Father’s Day I heard “Little Bo Peep” again, this time in my Daddy’s voice.
My Daddy was many things in his life; farmer, laborer, Army man, war hero, civil servant, bingo caller, security guard, master of the magic knife trick. But to the children in the family he had the most important role of storyteller.
When Daddy was sent off to elementary school in rural Lamar county in the 1920s he went with one disadvantage; he could not speak English. He was born in the United States but he grew up in a bubble of native Hungarian speakers, so English was not his first language. When he learned his 123s and ABCs he was learning them for the first time in a foreign language. I guess that is one reason he remembered everything from those first grade primers. Unlike me he did not cut his literary teeth on the antics of Dick and Jane. He learned to read through real stories and poetry. Versions of these stories were the lullabies of the children in my family.
“Daddy, tell me a story” were the words I repeated each night before bedtime. I did not get a story every night, but probably more times than not. When it was story time I had to be ready for bed. There was no story telling unless I was in the bed and ready for sleep. This was not hard because for the first many years of my life my bed was either in my parents’ room or in my parents’ bed. When all was dark and quiet he would start in a low, almost a whisper, sing-song voice, dragging each word out until it stretched to its limit, “Once….upon….a….time…”
From that point on the stories from those long ago primers were played in my head in full Technicolor to the tranquil tempo of Daddy’s adagio. He told of gardens where sprites and brownies lived under toadstools and beside cool streams. He told of the lazy grasshopper that just wanted to play his fiddle all summer and the busy ants that had pity and took him in when he was cold and hungry. He told of foxes and grapes. He recited nursery rhymes and poetry. His favorite poem was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Where Go the Boats”. And, if we children begged hard enough he would tell the tale of the Mean Mama, a free-lance story of his own design.
Somewhere in this world I think there is a cassette tape of my Daddy telling a story to my nephew when the request changed to “Pawpaw, tell me a story.” If it does exist I pray it will surface one day.
When I was very young he surprised me with a collection of bound books with gold lettered titles. It was a fine gift for no reason at all, and he trusted me to keep them well. I knew the books were important to him because I can only remember my Daddy actually giving me two birthday gifts in my entire life. Gift giving was my mama’s job. Of these books one is a collection of Aesop’s fables, one is book of fairy tales, one is full of poems for children and the last is, of course, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. And from this poem my Daddy’s soul emerges any time I read,
"Dark brown is the river,
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.
Green leave a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating –
Where will all come home?
On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.
Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore."