very young

Sometimes a thought train follows me through a day. The other morning the folks at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford posted one of her quotes on Facebook that caught my attention:

I’d love to put the experience of fifty years at once into your young hearts to give you at once the key to that treasure chamber every gem of which has cost me tears and struggles and prayers.
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
(Letter to daughters, Eliza & Hattie, 1862)

It seems to express a wish that is common to all loving parents, to spare their children from learning things the hard way, to let their children benefit from the parent’s experiences. But parents somehow know that this is not always possible or even to be desired. Children will have their own struggles choosing paths to follow, finding their own adventures in the world. Some of the hard-won gems in our own hearts are simply non-transferable, being unique to our individual personalities and the way we have come to terms with life as we find it.

In the middle of the day, I found myself pulling out a well used book my grandparents gave me when I was very young, two and a half years old. Wondering what gems my maternal grandparents were hoping to give me… A love of poetry, certainly. When I graduated high school, they gave me Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I soon found myself photographing the words my grandmother left on the title page for me to treasure some future day, which has come. When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne was my first volume of poetry.

HALFWAY DOWN

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
Other stair
Quite like
It.
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
Where
I always
Stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up,
And isn’t down.
It isn’t the nursery,
It isn’t the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:

“It isn’t really
Anywhere!
It’s somewhere else
Instead!”

~ A. A. Milne
(When We Were Very Young)

Well, I’m a sentimental sort, so I smiled at reading: “The beginning of a wonderful adventure – with Milne.

Halfway Down was one of my favorites – how much I identified with that little person with all sorts of funny thoughts running round her head! When I was three years old we moved into the house my parents built themselves, and there was a staircase with a railing halfway up, open to the dining room. My sister and I were the youngest cousins on my father’s side of the family, and his relatives were a loud, boisterous and rather scary bunch, at least they seemed so to me, a frail sickly sensitive little girl, small for my age. Since relatives were packed into all the bedrooms for the duration there was no place for me to escape the over-stimulation! During their visits I sat on that halfway down stair for hours on end, except when required to eat or go to bed. I could lean back and hide behind the wall or lean forward and “spy” on the activities through the railing. On that stair, sometimes reading a book, I could “be” somewhere else instead.

By the time it came to start cooking dinner I was humming a Cat Stevens song from my teen years… Oh Very Young. Hmm — it would seem the day had a theme. There are days when I wonder what gems my grandparents would try to give me now, at this juncture in my life, if they could. Mid-life is kind of like that halfway down stair. I’m not old and I’m not young. I suspect there is no other stair in life, up or down from here, quite like it. A chance to stop and be anywhere, or somewhere else instead… Fading up to the sky like a pair of favorite old blue jeans…

Oh very young,
What will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans
Denim Blue fading up to the sky
And though you want them to last forever
You know they never will – you know they never will
And the patches make the goodbye harder still

18 thoughts on “very young”

  1. Barbara,

    Oh very young… I am not at the bottom nor am I at the top, I am somewhere else instead… somewhere else indeed!
    I found this very touching and in touch with who you are! Always seeking, always asking, taking the gifts from the past and making them fresh gifts of the present!
    Beautifully done!

    I am Love, Jeff

    1. Thanks so much, Jeff, for your very kind comment! Your words warmed my heart. 🙂

      I guess it’s the genealogist in me – always asking, seeking to understand why people did or said what they did… Some of their behaviors and motives will remain a mystery simply because we lack the frame of reference to understand them. Our eyesight and lenses for looking at history change our view as we grow, too.

  2. This reminds me of times when I was in one place and wished myself into another one. In my grandmother’s room, I would peer through her window that peered through flowers and bushes and wonder if I was looking into a jungle. Or the window in my room that saw only sky – when I looked through it I could imagine myself…anywhere!

    1. The possibilities are endless, aren’t they? Thank you for stopping by and sharing a little wonder from your childhood, too, Aubrey. Children know the truth Thoreau offered us: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

  3. If you look at ‘The Dormouse and the Doctor’ you’ll see one of the poems that I treasured when I was a tiny wee thing! This book and the other one (‘Now We Are Six’) were probably my first poetry books.
    🙂
    And your experience of sitting on the stairs echoes mine, too.

    Oh, one day, Barbara, I must write about my similar experiences.

    1. I think I can see why you treasured that poem, Val. Did you have similar encounters with your doctor dad? I like the lines:

      “I suppose all these people know better than I.
      It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
      Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).”

      I still have “Now We Are Six,” too! What would we have done without books for helping us understand we weren’t alone in experiencing our little “attacks!” Looking forward to that day!

      1. Almost the whole of this could have been me:

        “his relatives were a loud, boisterous and rather scary bunch, at least they seemed so to me, a frail sickly sensitive little girl, small for my age. … During their visits I sat on that halfway down stair for hours on end, except when required to eat or go to bed. I could lean back and hide behind the wall or lean forward and “spy” on the activities through the railing. On that stair, sometimes reading a book, I could “be” somewhere else instead.”

        I was also a frail sickly and sensitive child, I also sat on the stairs ‘spying’ on relatives (and other visitors to the house) and I always had a book with me or was engaged in daydreaming in my own world.

        A.A.Milne had another special place for me in that those poems got me to take my medicine. I’ll write about that in a post sometime!
        🙂

        1. We have so much in common, Val, and I’m so happy to find friendship with another dreamer who understands what I mean about so many things.

          I remember when I got to school and the librarian gave us a little talk about how books were our friends and how much they would help us in life. I felt a little smug thinking to myself, I already know that! Looking back I don’t think she was thinking about the same kind of help, but at the time I marveled that this would have to be explained to anyone…

          Looking forward to hearing how Milne’s poems helped you to take your medicine!

    1. Oh dear! My mournful posts are causing so many tears! Sometimes I blame this all on menopause — it seems to trigger a certain melancholy in me about my childhood… But what is really nice about blogging about it is a sense of validation I get from the kind comments of others. Thank you, Rosie! Now I’m off to read your post!

  4. Barbara,

    I am at this post by way of Val. Isn’t it funny how this blog-o-sphere works?

    Your post has me tearing up. I love A.A. Milne. (Not just for the AA – hee, hee.) I love that Cat Stevens song. I love that your grandparents gave you that wonderful book, and that it and your grandmother’s words meant so much to you that you’ve photographed the page and written a post about it. I have a silly, little book that my grandparents gave to me. Somewhere, in all of the stuff that I moved from CT to MD. I treasure it.

    I’ve tried to Google one of my favorite books as a child, called something like “A place to ourselves.” I didn’t have any luck finding it, but it, too, is in the boxes getting moved here in October. It’s funny how our childhood influences stay with us for a lifetime and shape us as adults. In the book, children find secret hiding places, under a table with a tablecloth, for example, or curled up in a wing-backed chair, where they can’t be seen but can hear what’s going on around them. Wall flowers, essentially. That was me, as it was you and Val. I no longer hide beneath tables (awkward!), but do blend in … as in a blur … as much as possible … or find just a few people to chat with in big groups.

    I also recalled that I somehow ended up “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson. It belonged to my father as a child. Because my parents were divorced when I was two, and I never much liked my father, I can’t bring myself to enjoy the poems (stupid, I know), except for “The Swing.” I’m probably reading too much into it, but I think it speaks to the characteristics of wanderlust and independence that have been and continue to be so important to me.

    AA (not of the Milne variety)

    1. “How do you like to go up in a swing,
      Up in the air so blue?
      Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
      Ever a child can do!

      Up in the air and over the wall,
      Till I can see so wide,
      River and trees and cattle and all
      Over the countryside –

      Till I look down on the garden green,
      Down on the roof so brown –
      Up in the air I go flying again,
      Up in the air and down!”

      I love the way the blogosphere works! I hope you find your treasured book when you can finally unpack. “The Swing” calls to mind the swing my father hung for me from my favorite hemlock tree in the yard. Freedom and joy!

      What Alex Haley says of grandparents is so true:
      “Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”
      ~ Alex Haley

      Mine sure did! Well, my maternal grandparents did. My paternal grandmother died before I was born and my paternal grandfather was a frightening person, terrifying this little wallflower while swinging his ax and shouting at us in Ukrainian.

      You made me think of one of my favorite lines in Dave Matthews’ song, “Ants Marching.”
      “And [he] remembers being small, playing under the table and dreaming…”

      Thank you for your nice long comment, AA! I loved every word of it!!

      1. Thank you for “The Swing!” The poem and swings just make me smile – even if I can’t fit my 50-year-old butt in a swing anymore! 🙂

        That is a beautiful quote by Alex Haley!

        I didn’t know my paternal grandparents (thank you, divorce), and we lived with my maternal grandparents until I was five (again, thank you, divorce). My grandmother was already in the grips of Alzheimer’s at the age that I could form memories of her, and my grandfather was a stressed caregiver – understandably grumpy – and frightening, like your grandfather – most of the time. But he did do magic tricks, and performed many of them happily at my birthday parties. Given all that, I treasure the book from them that much more.

        I don’t know that Dave Matthews song, but love that line! I’m excited to find the book so I can share it with you and Val.

        Have a safe weekend with Irene!

        AA

        1. I feel for your grandfather – it’s rough caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. I feel fortunate I had so many years with my grandparents when they were still healthy because when my grandmother became ill with it I had so many happy memories of wonderful times spent with her – it gave me something positive to focus on when the going got so tough.

          I hope you came through Irene safely, too! Looking forward to knowing the name of your special book when you get it unpacked!

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