She read. They listened, staring at the pages.
As her voice rose in a loud whisper, their eyes would widen. In the story, an adventure was about to unfold for young, mischievous Max, sent to bed without his supper.
“And he sailed off, through night and day, and in and out of weeks, and almost over a year, to where the wild things are!”
I can still picture my wife reading “Where the Wild Things Are” to our boys as they peered over her arms at the monsters drawn so vividly by author Maurice Sendak, who died last week at age 83. Those sons are adults now, but they remember, not just the book but the bedtime narrations by their mom.
Reflections by millions of fans on Sendak’s masterpiece of children’s literature dovetail neatly with today’s celebration of Mother’s Day. The comforting sound of a mom’s voice reading a story lets kids drift into sleep more gently. The ritual can be a labor of love. Usually, the mother is exhausted and in far greater need of rest than the child. Like Max in “Where the Wild Things Are,” the youngsters may have just put up a fight over undesired veggies on the dinner plate, a TV show coming up after bedtime, or toys scattered in the hallway.
Yet, a truce occurs. Pajamas happen. The story begins. And, more often than not, both the weary mother and disagreeable child end up snoozing as the book slips from her grasp, over the blanket and onto the floor. It’s a win-win.
Memories of those instances linger. Years — OK, decades — later, I’ve not forgotten the vocal inflections my mom used for the characters in “The Adventures of Brer Rabbit.” That tale, buried inside a thick, brightly illustrated compilation of Walt Disney movie adaptations, made me laugh as a kid. Actually, Mom made me laugh, and then fall asleep.
Fortunately for me, I got to witness the magic firsthand, watching my wife read to our sons and our daughter. Their favorites tested her theatrical skills, especially the tongue-twisters by Dr. Seuss and the British dialects in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The academy still owes her an Oscar for those efforts.
The ultimate challenge was reciting the lines by the character Hagrid in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Our youngest son was still honing his reading skills when that first installment of the bizillion-selling series was released in 1997. Hagrid was a burly, lovable giant, almost 12 feet tall, with a choppy accent that author J.K. Rowling said she patterned after the Welsh branch of the Hell’s Angels. Makes your eyelids heavy just thinking about it, right? Well, for a 7-year-old in Prairieton, it was a saga he eagerly anticipated his mom picking back up, night after night.
“Where the Wild Things Are” required a Shakespearean performance. As the story goes, young Max, having escaped the punishment of solitude inside his room, sailed deep into the imaginary forest where he became the “king of all wild things.” Those creatures were noisy and frightening (to all except Max, that is). To capture the drama, my wife narrated in an escalating, animated voice.
“And when [Max] came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars! And gnashed their terrible teeth! And rolled their terrible eyes! And showed their terrible claws! Till Max said, ‘Be still.’”
Of course, Max eventually ends his getaway, deciding, “I’m lonely.” He “wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” Saying goodbye to all the wild things, he sails back home to his room, where he finds his supper, still hot. That last line always earned a grin from the boys.
Other bedtime tales were more contemplative. Our daughter enjoyed reading “The Giving Tree” with her mom. That book, written by Shel Silverstein and published in 1964, follows the relationship between a boy and an apple tree. Unselfish to its core, the tree repeatedly provides for the boy. Its branches anchor his swing. Its shade cools him on a hot day. Its fruit gave him something to eat. The tree loves him, and the kid is happy.
As the boy grows up, the giving becomes greater. Finally, on the brink of adulthood, the tree sacrifices all by letting the young man cut it down, so he can build a boat to sail away, leaving behind just a stump. Decades later, the boy — now an old man — returns, but the tree — now a stump — sadly reminds him it has nothing left to give. The old man consoles the tree, saying he doesn’t need much, just a quiet place to sit.
And so he does.
Turns out, after all of the years of giving and receiving, it’s love that actually bonds the boy and the apple tree.
“And the tree was happy.”
Sometimes our daughter heard my wife read that closing line, and sometimes she was already asleep. Either way, her mom always smiled.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connections made through bedtime stories linger through many Mother’s Days
She read. They listened, staring at the pages.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: City sparkles during premiere of ‘The Drunk’
William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner cast their hometown in a starring role in their debut effort as filmmakers.
MARK BENNETT: ‘Notes on a River’ exhibition brings Wabash scenes to gallery
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
You’ll need a broom, a pickup truck, trash bins, shop hooks and aspirin.
Filming a “Sanford and Son” remake? Preparing for the apocalypse?
MARK BENNETT: Illinois officials content their state has its business advantages, too
Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification
Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.
“That is illogical,” he’d say.
MARK BENNETT: Young at heart
Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
Debs film to debut at Indiana Theatre
Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
MARK BENNETT: Album turns memories into musical Christmas message for Terre Haute’s Dave Frey, band
In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
If insults are a form of flattery, Steve Martin still likes us.
Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river