`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
These are the opening lines of the famous poem, The Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll. We read poetry last night, my 4- and 8-year old, snuggled on each side of me on the couch. We read some classic A. A. Milne poetry and then I pulled out another book of poems and read The Jabberwocky, which we already know, and which Ben will quote or write out in crazy language in letters on the pavement.
This morning as I’m waking up, I am realizing what a special language poetry is to me. Not only is it something I love, it is memory building. It is a secret language between friends, an opening line to a new friendship, a flash of recognition between people, that they share a common bond.
I grew up in a family that was wild and world-traipsing. Just this morning, I realized that my dad is a lot like the Dos Equis commercial – the Most Interesting Man in the World.
On every continent in the world, there is a sandwich named after him.
He lives vicariously through himself.
He shares inside jokes with people he has just met.
He is quite possibly the most unusual missionary of all time. He doesn’t just teach people or share his knowledge, or his questions about God, he has fun in everything he does. He practically invented the Ski Retreat, now a common thread in Church happenings. He was a missionary in Europe, surrounded by some of the most glorious slopes in the world, and figured, “Let’s put first things first. We’ll ski all day, and then at night we can talk about the great mysteries!”
Our house was always a buzz with people. People enjoyed being around him. He rarely converted anyone, I mean, he didn’t say a certain word or phrase, and then have them say a prayer and then smack his hands together and say Done! He lived his life in such love with my mom, and such devotion to his four little red-headed daughters, and such laughter, and fun and warmth and curiosity, that people would want to know what was different about him, and they would seek him out for answers to their dull and frustrating lives. He had converts everywhere he went, but he didn’t actively look for them. He lived his life, and ended up surrounded by people who wanted to learn what he was doing to be so happy.
One of the things I remember richly from childhood, was the language of classical literature and poetry. We were in Europe in the late 60’s and early 70’s so maybe it was just something people did more often back then, but we would have a bunch of people at our house and suddenly it would turn into a musical evening, with everyone grabbing an instrument and singing along or jamming in our living room. Sometimes it would be a poetry evening. These things were not planned, that I can recall, they were organic, they just happened.
I love the sound of my mother’s reading voice. We always read out loud together, around our dinner table, in the living room, and on long road trips. On these poetry evenings, mom would read a favorite, and then someone else would ask for the book to be passed around and one person after another would read a favorite poem.
My father could quote The Jabberwocky, with crazy, amazing voices. For extra drama, he would grab a candle off a side table and put it just below his chin to cast bizarre shadows over his face as he read. This was also a much requested little side-show at Pizza Parlours. My older sister, who grew out of being amused much earlier than the rest of us, would get up and walk to the other side of the restaurant, so dad would just do his act more loudly, until she came back to us begging him to be quiet, while us three younger girls would be howling for more.
I know that I’ve met people, and we’ve become fast friends because the language of books and literature was being discussed, and just knowing the same lines from a book, the same lines from a favorite poem, was like answering a riddle, and unlocking a door.
This weekend, we are installing a wood-burning fireplace in our living room, and that too is sending me into memory-land. There is nothing more bonding than sitting around a fireplace into the wee hours of the morning, watching the flames become little dancing creatures, or the dying embers look like a tiny world within a world. Falling asleep snuggled down and reading together before a fireplace has got to be one of the more picturesque of all childhood memories.
And from now on, we get to share that with our kids. I am a mess of jumbled words, and happy memories this morning.