Monday, July 28, 2008

"This Is Now"

Tonight I finished reading "Little House in the Big Woods" to Arabis as she fell asleep. When I was a child, Laura Ingalls Wilder's tales of her girlhood were favorite books. So much so that my mother still laughs at the memory of me being offended when the televised series came out. Oh, I watched every episode and afterward would indignantly rip them to shreds, to my mother's glee (keep in mind that the series premiered just a month prior to my ninth birthday. I was {and still am} very protective of my literary loves).

My friends and I used to play a game based on the little house books which we called "Pioneers." We would take our little red wagons and stand an empty cardboard box in the back. Then we would put our dolls, our mess kits, apples, bread, cheese, a washboard, anything we had that was "old-timey" and go out into the fields to play (this was when we lived in Marin, before it was the overgrown yuppie-ville it is today).

My childhood friend Jenny's dad (who is an artist) made her a covered wagon frame that slid onto the rails of her Radio Flyer. We marched in the Fourth of July parade with it one year, all dressed up in our costumes. I'll have to post some photos (now that we finally got the scanner hooked up).

I haven't read these books since I was young, but found a complete series in a used bookstore about a year ago and promptly snatched them up. In reading to Arabis, I take myself back in time and so many things become clear to me.

My father always said that he was born a hundred years too late. I think that trait was passed on to me. I learned to spin and dye when I was nine years old from a woman named Ida Grae (who wrote the definitive book on natural dying, "Nature's Colors"). I used to do my homework on my old-fashioned desk by the light of a New England oil lamp. The first major purchase I ever made with my own money came at age 14 when I bought my Ashford spinning wheel (which I still have - along with the original receipt!). I collected the Foxfire books and learned crafts from my father (carving, shooting) when we were together. I devoured history, my own and anything else I could get my hands on. I sat at the feet of my great-grandparents and aunts and uncles, listening raptly while they told of their lives in the old country and here. Tales of what was. Of how things were.

Arabis had fallen asleep a few pages from the end, but I continued reading aloud:

"What are the days of auld lang syne, Pa?"

"They are the days of a long time ago, Laura," Pa said. "Go to sleep, now."

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

That final passage just struck me hard. It was so poignant and real to me, living in the moment, in the now, with my daughter's head cradled in my arm and her breathe moist on my skin. One of those beautiful, transcendent moments that I wanted to cherish forever.