I was in the car listening to NPR when I heard Maurice Sendak had died. And at the news, my eyes stung and tears threatened. Not only for Mr. Sendak, I’d never known him except through his words, rather for the sudden memory of sons who sat in my lap, once, and listened while I read; for sons who were my wild things; for sons, now grown, who watch out for me. I could see, in my mind’s memory, the book’s pages open to trees full of wild things and a blond head on my chest.
Three books sit on the top shelf of my desk’s bookcase, just within an arm’s stretch if I ever need them. Along with Sendak’s wild things, there’s Winnie the Poo, with the line that never failed to raise a laugh, “Well, you didn’t exactly miss, but you missed the balloon!”
We read the same part of the story over and over, one son or another shouting the line.
The third book in the trilogy of sons’ favorites was How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen, by Russell Hoban. Tom, who liked to fool around with mud and fool around with sticks, “lived with his maiden aunt, Miss Fidget Wonkham-Strong. She wore an iron hat and took no nonsense from anyone.” I loved that line.
First son was more inclined to be a Poo Bear and second son fooled around. Both however, were wild things. I’d sworn that if second son lived to be six, I’d be happy. Inclined to wear an iron hat, myself, from time to time (although “maiden” has never been used as a modifier even when I was young and maiden), I warned him about fooling around, especially in old buildings with broken glass. He came home with a gash down his arm requiring ten stitches. but he lived through it all with plenty of scars and grew to be six-foot four.
The older son rode a motorcycle. I traveled across country once because my son had broken his collarbone and was driving, one-handed, on the same motorcycle that dumped him.
What a gift to have children’s books that live on in family stories and memories. What a gift to have two sons grown into men who like me: eldest still sort of a Poo Bear and an avid reader and youngest who still fools around except now he can put things back together again.
Stories shape our lives whether told on a page or around a table. And Maurice Sendak? He’s a master who lives on in the stories around our table.