Friday, March 1, 2019


Today marks the birthday of my great-granddaughters, Kate and Lillian, and tomorrow I'll travel to Baton Rouge to celebrate the occasion with them. This morning, in a telephone conversation with my daughter Stephanie, before I thought about what I was saying, I commented apologetically, "I'm just giving them books."

My mother probably turned over in her grave when I made this remark since she believed that books were the most valued possessions in any home. During WWII, she regarded them as more precious than rationed food.

In the introduction to my now out-of-print book, Their Adventurous Will, a volume about Louisiana women, I wrote that she read aloud to us every night and related how that nightly reading contributed to my development as a writer: "When I was three years old, she'd seat me, cross-legged in the middle of our small kitchen, and open for me giant editions of Mother Goose, A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Marigold Garden…She read aloud the entire series of Uncle Wiggly in the Cabbage Patch, The Little Colonel, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Greek Legends, Black Beauty and Grimm's Fairy Tales, even after all the children in our family had learned to read…"

In that same introduction, I wrote about another family member, my Godmother Dora, who built a library of books that would challenge my own 2,000-and-more book collection. "Books by mystics, theologians, poets, and Christian apologists crowded the bookshelves in her home," I wrote. "A visitor might be engaged in intent conversation with her, and she'd suddenly scurry away on her tiny feet, select a book from a shelf nearby and begin reading some lengthy passage. On the flyleaf of a small, yellow-gold volume entitled The Fruits of the Spirit by Evelyn Underhill, which Dora gave me in 1963, she inscribed in her elegant but often-illegible handwriting: "For Diane, for whom we wish the fruits of the spirit above all else…"

Lillian and Kate with Christmas toys, 2018

Dora was a stern critic of literature and had she lived to read my books, she would've referred me to those disciplined writers who put in their 10,000 hours before calling themselves poets. However, a friend recently told me that her band leader in high school often admonished, "practice won't make you a great musician if you practice wrong." 

Recently I loaned a copy of Their Adventurous Will to a friend and when she returned the book, I found a message on a sticky note within telling me that as she read the introduction about my mother, she journeyed back to her own childhood and the times her Mama had read to the family long after they could read themselves. "It was a special bonding time," she added.

Just yesterday, when I visited a funeral home to pay respects to an old friend, her daughter told me that in her mother's demise, she often requested that "someone read aloud to her." Her daughter would protest that there were mostly children's books available in the house. "I don't care," her mother had said. "Just read to me!" And the implication was that, like my mother, she probably enjoyed children's books as much as any contemporary novel or tome.

When Sister Elizabeth came down to New Iberia from the Convent of St. Mary in Sewanee, Tennessee last year, she did a "walk through" of my home and gave us her candid appraisal. "I always go into a home and find myself thinking about what their major interests are," she said. (Now there are many crosses scattered about and I'm a deacon, but she didn't list them as a major interest). 

Instead, she commented, "Books and art…you really value them." She was spot on. So now I'm wondering why I apologized about giving my great-grandchildren "just books," and this blog is an apology for making such a foolish remark.

As Piglet (in Winnie the Pooh) said to Eeyore: "Many happy returns of the day" to precious Kate and Lillian. May you always have an abundance of beloved stories of adventure, friendship, and fun in your home.

No comments: