E.B. White, now thirty years gone, was a writer of the first order. He wrote endlessly for the New Yorker and penned beloved children’s books like Charlotte’s Web, Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little. White helped compose the writing style-book The Elements of Style (also called Strunk & White, or, at our house, the other good book).
Somebody (okay, it was a pastor in a pulpit) reminded me the other day to remember where I come from and who I am.
In short, he said remember Jesus.
The text: Paul chides young Timothy, who’s having a heckuva time finding his way at the church in Ephesus, to remember why he’s there and what he’s about. Paul went as far as to name-drop Timothy’s faithful grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice—were there ever two such matronly names?
Paul and the preacher, they were delivering a spiritual spanking (softened by lots of fine, encouraging words). Message from Lois and Eunice and the Lord: Straighten up and fly right! The admonition seems almost tribal or clan-like: Remember what you’re made of.
On Sunday, it was just what I needed to hear.
Two nights earlier, after a long, lackluster day marked (in my mind) only by one small trial after another, I couldn’t sleep, so I scoured the bookshelves for my love-worn copy of Charlotte’s Web. Not since childhood have I been in the habit of rereading books over and over, but the barnyard was calling to me. In those pages I found not only Wilbur and Fern and Charlotte but little Laura, young and dreamy and easily enchanted by story—and the wise nuggets within. I remember those pearls in my bones, like I know coffee is bitter and sugar is sweet:
“Children almost always hold on to things tighter than their parents think they can.”
“Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.”
And the bit that eulogizes Charlotte, choking me with tears every time:
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
I spent a lot of hot summer afternoons spread out on my itchy synthetic coverlet with cherished novels. Then I got big; went to school; married my true friend, a writer; and figured out E.B. White was a mad essayist. I left the Zuckerman animals on a shelf, save for a brief reunion when I read the book out loud to my now 17-year-old twins. Such is the way of things. (I can almost hear Charlotte saying so with one of her sighs.)
After a mixed-up, crazy year (farewell 2015—ha ha to the old year!) I’d lost my way a bit—don’t we all at one time or another? And so in January, I’ve instinctively turned to former favorites, perhaps in a subconscious search for the former, more idealistic me. How I need that girl!
January also brings projects. We’ve been cleaning the basement, which has unearthed tiny altars: a green Laura Ashley box of love letters* scrawled by Luke onto thick, ivory paper; a decade’s worth of Victoria magazines, organized by month; a forgotten stash of photos from special needs Sadie’s toddlerhood—pre-seizures when she had a certain spark. (She still does—it’s different, though.) I pore over the pictures and wonder: look at the four-layer cake I made for that birthday or check out the bursting perennial garden—where did I find the time or ambition?
Children grow and change. Unwelcome gluten allergies arrive (curtailing the baking), as well as weeds and exhausted, spent soil.
I think of the arachnid-philosopher, who tells Wilbur the pig,
“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
And I think of Charlotte’s creator, White, who said he found writing difficult and bad for one’s disposition.
Like most things worth doing, writing is a pain in the pork-butt—or the wrists (more so for White—he used a mechanical typewriter). But Not Writing is bad (very) for this scribbler’s disposition—ideally I need to write a little each day for optimum mental health.
I need to remember that.
And maybe it’s time to till up a flower bed or two and amend the depleted ground.
Other memos to self: You were enamored with how the husband’s ears kind of stuck out, like a Brit’s, and you taught your girls about poetry and proper tea like your nana showed you and they took it to heart, and your mom is kind, and your dad is bull-headed strong. (When I’m hemming and hawing about something, Luke says, “C’mon, aren’t you Ed’s daughter?”)
We get so busy, tangled in the here-and-now and our own tiny tragedies and triumphs—the car’s in the shop again or the kid’s college acceptance came (via email, not mail, which was vastly more dramatic). As adults we assume we’d left peer pressure shut in our last high school locker, but we immerse ourselves in what everyone else is doing, buying, Pin-ing, watching on Netflix. We forfiet any sense of what brings us joy, and even if we have a moment of remembrance, we don’t know how to trim the fat to get to the good stuff.
Mostly we’re afraid.
I am here to tell you, tidying the basement helps. And an admonition or two doesn’t hurt (too much).
What do you need to remember?
And to look forward to… happy January, friends.
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you… For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
*Excerpt from one of those aforementioned letters (I can’t help myself—sorry, honey) from the the prehistoric days (we’d been dating four months):
“Let me tell you again how I enjoyed my weekend in Louisville at the Laura Krainer residence. You were a delightful hostess—as usual—and I did have an enormous amount of fun and a good time of talking and smiling and flirting and talking some more. At all these activities (and others)** you thoroughly excelled… Trust that I think of you often—and fondly. I could scarcely do other were I to try—which I most certainly won’t.”
**Not what you’re probably thinking, rascals!
p.s. (Will this blog post ever end?) Mom: the words in RED (including the word you just read) are links. You can click on them and see other cool things, like books and songs.