March 8, 2012 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: These pages of history are priceless

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The spine is broken, the pages yellowed, and one corner has been gnawed on by tiny teeth. It’s been literally loved to shreds.

Twenty-two years ago, on my oldest son’s first Christmas, he cuddled with me in our rocking chair as I read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

When I turned the final page, Ethan was quiet for a moment. “Again!” he shouted. “Want mo!”

As an avid reader, I’ve found one of the greatest joys of parenting has been sharing beloved books with my children. And one of the first authors I introduced them to was Dr. Seuss.

In honor of his birthday Friday, I unearthed our Seuss stash from the back bedroom closet. Like old friends each book contains memories.

I picked up “The Lorax,” Alex’s favorite Seuss tale. He was – and still is at 19 – an active guy, not prone to quiet cuddles. But he would sit still and snuggle for “The Lorax.” At the far end of town where Grickle grass – “Grows!” Alex would shout. And the wind smells slow and sour when it blows and no birds ever sing excepting – “Old crows!” he’d chime.

This tome, too, shows the wear and tear of eager hands and pages turned a bit too enthusiastically.

Alas, our copy of “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street” has disappeared, but I can still remember the heft of Zachary in my arms as we turned the pages. I’d bury my nose in his soft blond hair and breathe in the sweet smell of baby shampoo.

When I unearthed “Green Eggs and Ham,” my eyes filled. Twelve years ago, when Sam was born, he was a very sick baby. One evening, exhausted and heartsick, I came home from the hospital. His condition had stabilized and his nurse insisted I get some rest. I stood next to Sam’s empty cradle and a flash of orange caught my eye. It was a copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” that his Grandma Shirley had bought for him.

I slumped to the floor clutching it to my chest. That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am! The tears I’d swallowed back all day ran down my cheeks and splashed onto the pages. He can’t die when I haven’t even read to him, I thought. He can’t!

Thankfully, three weeks later Sam was home in my arms, healthy and whole. There are no words to describe the joy I felt as I cradled him in the crook of my arm and turned to the first page of “Green Eggs and Ham.”

I read to my sons in the morning. I read to them at naptime. And I tucked them in each night with a story and a song.

As they grew, I enjoyed being part of their scholastic adventures. Watching the mysteries of reading unfold to 5-year-olds was the best part of helping out in each of their kindergarten classes. Not long ago, I ran into one of Ethan’s elementary school friends. I barely recognized the husky man with the full beard. “I remember how you read us ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ every year until, like, fifth grade!” he said. “You rocked the Seuss!”

I laughed, but honestly, Dr. Seuss is easy to rock. His delightful rhymes are perfect for read-aloud fun.

However, a friend of mine discovered Seuss can be an acquired taste. When he read “The Cat and the Hat” to his son’s kindergarten class last week, one little boy burst into tears. “I don’t like that cat,” he said. “That cat is bad!”

Hopefully, he won’t find “Horton Hears a Who” as frightening.

The benefits of reading to children are well-documented, but there’s no guarantee kids will develop a lifelong love of literature.

Of my four sons, two are avid readers, one reads strictly for information, and one, as far as I can tell, only reads the back of cereal boxes.

Still, the hours spent turning pages cuddled next to them are precious memories. As I gathered the Seuss books, I saw Sam zoned out on the couch in front of the television. Grabbing the familiar orange book I waved it in front of his eyes. “How ’bout we read for a bit?” I asked.

He sighed. Then he saw what I held. “Green Eggs and Ham!” he said. “Sure!”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists.

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