I caught up recently, with a friend from another time. The usual type of banter ensued. That which suitably reacquiants; "how are the kids?", "how many now?", "everybody healthy?", "how's work going?". We were fortunate enough to work through these formalities and into more intimate realms of conversation which was nice because, as time tends to swirl and mount and center around offspring, it is exactly these moments of friendship for which I feel the most loss. Then, in a small conversational lull, he asked, "what have you been reading?"
Sheepishly, I admitted to not reading much although, with grand intentions I have fallen asleep into the early chapters of several seemingly wonderful novels. After a handful of exhausted, late night encounters I generally give up in frustration and exchange the book on my nightstand for a new writing soon to be neglected in the same manner. Nodding in an understanding way he leaned back with a comforting shift into his chair and asked, "Well, what have you been reading to the kids?"
I chuckled, remembering his knack for making people feel good about themselves and started to recount that which the kids are currently taking in. His children being older and long reading for themselves he recalled the nighttime ritual with a sentimental affection that reminded me of the special tenderness that is our right now. We carried on into the night, as time allowed, reminiscing and laughing at our younger selves. I was grateful for his familiar and grounding presence and his subtle affirmation of those bits which make our journey grand. We used to travel together, running rivers and sleeping in tents and laughing around late night campfires. We shared books and devoured them and searched for more. It's one of the small pieces of my pre-children life that I'd not thought about for some time. Sleeping in on a rainy day and reading a book from cover to cover.
I returned home that night and as I walked from room to room, shutting out lights and putting the place to sleep, I was stopped in my tracks by the books. Fresh from my stirred memories of the evening, everything had a slightly altered sense to it like seeing something with new eyes. There were books everywhere. Some stacked in piles on the coffee table, others laying open in the library with drawings that had inspired paper and pencils to be brought out for sketching. Amanda's studio, full of neatly organized volumes and then splashed with a few in disarray from some late night whirl of inspiration, to be sure. I walked softly to each bed, straightened the blankets, slipped their books from underneath them and placed them by the bedside. Something so beautiful and sweet and common that I had been taking for granted. The love of stories being handed down from us to them and now from the older kids to the youngest. Harper as excited as the rest for his bedtime stories which sway him into sleep. The oldest still come to us on occasion, book in hand, and ask if they could please be read to. As I made my way toward my own bed and slid a Wendell Berry book out of Mama's sleeping hands, I gave a nod to the stack on my side. The top book lay open and I smiled to myself, page 10. Ah well, perhaps I can keep my eyes open for a few more paragraphs. Before I started, I lay thinking about old friends and old times and that question from earlier in the night, "What have you been reading?"
Wow. I've been reading so much. Peter Pan, Misty of Chincoteague, Fireman Small, The Snowy Day, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, Calvin and Hobbes, Farmer Boy, Charlottes Web, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and as I thought my mind trailed off to that place between dreams until I woke a few hours later, rolled to turn off the light and put my book back on the table.
See you tomorrow night page 10.