Category Archives: Dad

A Self-Education

Civilization

The Story of Civilization on my bookshelf.

When I was 16 years old my father gave me the complete set, which at that time was 9 volumes, of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization. I was both thrilled with and overwhelmed by the gift. I love history, as did my Dad, but 9 volumes (soon to be 10, and then eventually 11) with fine print just overwhelmed me. Although I’ve used them like an encyclopedia, looking up information needed, in all this time I’ve never read them cover to cover, although they have traveled with me through every move and have survived every purge of books in my lifetime, thus far.

You will understand, then, when I tell you why I am extremely proud of my son. In the last few years, our son, Dan, has had a long commute to work. He has made that time spent in the car both productive and bearable by listening to audiobooks. He has just completed a huge project listening to the complete unabridged set of the 11 volumes of The Story of Civilization!  If I added correctly, that’s over 424 hours of listening time! But it’s more than that because along the way on his historical journey, he took many “side roads” and listened to much of the classic literature of the time period he was immersed in.

We have had the most wonderful and fascinating long talks with him about the different historical time periods, about the amazing people involved, about human nature and culture, and about the writing of this epic life’s work by Will Durant and his wife, Ariel. What an amazing education Dan is giving himself over the miles! I know my college professor Dad would have been incredibly proud of him, too, and they would have had amazing discussions about all that Dan has learned. The pleasure of learning is certainly a powerful gene in our family, and I’m so very proud of the self-education Dan is giving himself through his reading.

“Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts – between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.”

— Will Durant

Our son, Dan, reading to his son…

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From my Archives: Sparking a Passion for Reading

To celebrate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s 210th birthday today, I want to share with you a post I wrote and originally published on this blog on February 27, 2008.

 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

born February 27, 1807

Teaching young people how to read is one thing, but sparking a passion for reading is another. As a teacher, I’m highly trained in how to teach children to read, but after 22 years of teaching, I think it’s my own passion for reading that is the most powerful tool I have as I try to ignite that spark in my students. I’ve wondered exactly where my passion came from, and I’ve been able to identify a couple of things that certainly fueled the flames. One was being lovingly read to by my parents. The other was a book experience I had when I was seven or eight years old.

My father, a university professor, asked me to go with him to visit an older, retired professor in town. Dad prepared me on the drive over to this man’s house, letting me know that he was an unusual person, old and always very grumpy with people, sort of a “hermit,” he said. What he didn’t tell me was that the man was a book person extraordinaire.

I don’t think I could ever adequately describe what this man’s house was like. I walked in the front door, my father introduced us, then I looked around. I had never seen so many books in all my life. Bookshelves were everywhere and overflowing with books. Books were piled up everywhere…and I mean everywhere! The living room was completely full of books, so there was no place to sit down. The kitchen was piled high with books — the stovetop and a small space next to the sink were the only places without piles of books. The chairs and table were piled high. There were stacks of books in the bathroom, towers of books in the bedroom. Books were piled high along the hallway. Then, he took us downstairs into his basement, which was also filled with books, except that those books were on rows and rows of bookshelves, just like in a library.

Old Professor Poulson must have recognized me as a fellow book person, even though I was only eight and he was over eighty, because he very proudly showed me his entire collection, was gentle and kind to me, and before I left he gave me a book. That book has always been my most treasured book. It was a very old, lovely volume of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems, called Voices of the Night. I still read it and treasure it.

I remember spending hours and hours reading those poems and looking at the beautiful art “plates.” I memorized his poem, “The Wreck of the Hersperus,” which fascinated me, and I can still recite it today. And when my father passed away, it was a stanza from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” that I chose to use during my remarks at his memorial service:

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”

Looking back, I think my Dad knew exactly what he was doing by showing me this striking example of a person’s passion for reading. It had a tremendous impact on me at a very young age! So, in searching through memories to answer the question of where my passion for reading came from, I realize that, first, my dad and mom taught me to read … and then, in so many different ways, they taught me to love reading, passionately.

Goodbye, Ivan Doig

IvanDoig

Sad news yesterday about Ivan Doig. We’ve lost yet another wonderful author. I have a special place in my heart for Ivan Doig. My father loved reading his books, and so did I. When I read his memoir, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, I felt that we were most definitely kindred spirits. In this memoir, his stories of his Dad and his Grandmother and their Montana ranching lives reminded me in many ways of my own Dad and my own Wyoming Grandmother. They didn’t ranch, but they, too, were real characters shaped in similar ways by that western landscape.

As a girl from mountains, I also loved his descriptions of the western landscape that was so familiar to me.

The western skyline before us was filled high with a steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen…

When my husband and I decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest from the Intermountain West 25 years ago, I read his books, Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America and The Sea Runners. Both were amazing stories that capture the heart of the Northwest, and those books, along with Wintergreen, by Robert Michael Pyle, and The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan, helped turn us into Northwesterners at heart.

If you visit Doig’s website, he has a note for his readers. He didn’t consider himself a “western” writer, and this is why:

One last word about the setting of my work, the American West. I don’t think of myself as a “Western” writer. To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate “region,” the true home, for a writer. Specific geographies, but galaxies of imaginative expression—we’ve seen them both exist in William Faulkner’s postage stamp-size Yoknapatawpha County, and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nowhere village of Macondo, dreaming in its hundred years of solitude. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.

Ivan Doig was a writer of caliber, and his “poetry under the prose” spoke to me directly and touched my life in many ways. King County Library, on Twitter today, paid him a wonderful, simple and perfect tribute:

“Scene: The flat plain is a brilliant green. A lone figure walks toward the distant mountains. Goodbye Ivan.”

 

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Author Ivan Doig for Seattle Magazine © Jeff Corwin

 

When Books Went to War

My Dad, fourth from the left...

My Dad, fourth from the left…

My Mom told me that during World War II, my Dad always carried a paperback book in his pocket. Although I knew my Dad was an avid reader, I had no idea what that book in his pocket really meant until I read Molly Guptill Manning‘s, When Books Went to War.  It is a well-researched book and a very interesting story. From the publisher’s description:

When America entered World War II in 1941, we faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war.

The A.S.E. (Armed Service Editions) became a highly successful program, and the story of what those books meant to the troops is quite fascinating. Anyone who loves books will be interested in this story and especially interested in the list of books published as ASEs.

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Photo from Molly Guptill Manning’s website. Click on the photo to visit her “museum” of photos.

 

It’s a Wonderful [Reading] Life

Young Woman Reading a Book, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875.

Young Woman Reading a Book, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875.

2014 has been a wonderful reading year for me. It was a year of re-reading old favorites, finding new authors to love, and just enjoying the book journey. The year began and is ending with two beloved books: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, and The Collected Stories of Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne, both audiobook versions of childhood favorites. What pleasure to listen to both those books again! What warm memories of hearing them read over and over by my Dad, gone now 20 years. That’s the magic of books — book memories are timeless, and the pleasure never gets old. As we welcome in the New Year, this is my wish for you, dear book friends: May you have a wonderful reading year that adds many warm and timeless memories to your reading life!  Happy New Year everyone!me cg presenter.indd

A Guilty Read: Emil and the Detectives

Emil

It’s not what you might think from the title of this post… Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kästner, definitely IS a book I’d recommend to anyone who loves young people’s classic literature. It’s a sweet, fun mystery about a young boy who goes alone to visit his grandmother in Berlin, and runs into trouble and adventure on the way. But when I saw Emil and the Detectives on the shelf at my library this week, I was flooded with guilt. Why…? Well, it’s a memory that goes way back…

Dad's_studyMy father was a university professor, and his home office (which we called his “study”) was a wonderful, magical room full of books and art. There were very few children’s books in his library, though, but Emil and the Detectives was one that I discovered on his shelf and read with delight. At that time, I had a friend who was German, and who had never read it, so I happily loaned it to him — without asking my father’s permission, as if the my father’s library belonged to me and the book was mine to loan. Unfortunately, my friend’s family moved and he never returned the book. I had to tell my father what I had done and that his book was gone forever. Oh the guilt!!

So, yes, I checked the book out of the library and read it again and found it even more delightful than I had remembered it. Emil is a “model boy,” (meaning a very thoughtful, kind, and considerate young man) because he chooses to be. He dearly loves his widowed mother and does everything he can to make her proud and to help her in every way he can. He runs into some pretty rough characters in Berlin, but also finds a group of young friends who help him after his money is stolen on the train. It’s a fun adventure.

The book, itself, has an interesting history. It was written in 1929 and survived censorship by the Nazis during the Second World War. It has been translated into 59 different languages. My father was nine-years-old when it was published. Did he read it and love it as a young boy? Or did he read it after his war experiences in Germany? I would love to be able to ask him those questions and discuss this delightful little book with him. Sadly, we never discussed it when I was little. I wasn’t punished for lending his book without his permission, but it was a life lesson for me, and I will never get over knowing that he was disappointed in me for my poor decision.

But, please, read it — guilt-free — and enjoy it. It’s a worthwhile read.

emil-1

Dandelion Wine

DandelionWine_Tomislav Tikulin

Cover art by Tomislav Tikulin

Ray Bradbury captured my heart with this novel, Dandelion Wine. It is the story of a young boy and his brother during the summer of 1928, and Mr. Bradbury infused it with magic and wisdom, gifting us a journey through life and death and family and community, all through the eyes of a young boy just becoming aware of it all. It is beautifully written, almost poetry in some parts, and full of warmth and love.

I thought of my Dad throughout the entire book. Born the same year as Ray Bradbury, he was eight years old in 1928. He was named Ray, too, and was a wonderful storyteller and writer himself. The stories in this book reminded me of many of his boyhood stories that we now treasure, so I was already familiar with the “time machine” experience of family stories that span generations, and loved that Mr. Bradbury could put that warm and embracing feeling of family into such beautiful words.

And I also thought of our Grandboy throughout the entire book. Looking at his experiences and our relationship with him through Mr. Bradbury’s lens makes each shared activity seem extra special. Memories of my own grandparents came flooding back, and it is simply incredible that I am now the Grandma. What special memories will the Grandboy have of us in years to come? It gives a poignancy to every moment we spend with him. Ray Bradbury reminds us that we carry those loved ones within us, within our family stories. “No person ever died that had a family.” 

Young Douglas in this book becomes poignantly aware during that summer of 1928 of just what it means to be alive. That first awareness is a universal experience, captured and distilled into a wonderful ‘wine’ of words by Mr. Bradbury, to be savored again and again.

Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.

This book is now one of my very favorites. It’s an honored position.

Ray_Bradbury

From the Archives for Father’s Day: Dad

I originally published this post in 2009 and am reposting it today for Father’s Day in memory of an extraordinary man: my Dad.

Leading the way...

Leading the way…

It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since we lost my Dad. The years since that sad morning have been filled with a lifetime of “would-haves,” as I call them … Dad would have loved this or would have enjoyed that. We have a list a mile long by now! We still miss him, and this time of year is always bittersweet for the family.

He was an extraordinary man. His view of the world was formed by his first hour in combat in World War II, when he somehow cheated death. “If we only have assurance of life day-to-day, we should also have daily incentive to live well and appreciate deeply.”  Out of the cauldron of war, his simple credo was:

Try for a little honesty,  a little courage,  and a little love.  

He believed in the power of love and compassion. “I believe that the hope of the world rests in healthy individuals in supportive environments.”  And he reminded us often that “The differences which divide mankind are inevitable and are relatively superficial compared to our similarites…”

It was very difficult to say goodbye to this courageous, gentle man fifteen years ago, and that empty space was and still is huge. But I keep in my mind the image of him wearing that hat, leading our family along the paths of Yellowstone… and along the paths of life with humor, pathos, and keen intelligence.

Aubretia

my brother, my mom, and her aubretia

When Spring comes round nowadays, it brings a family melancholy with it.  We remember my Dad in early May, celebrating his birthday and mourning his loss sixteen years ago. My brother’s birthday is sandwiched between those two days, now always a bittersweet celebration for him.  And when the Spring aubretia blooms here in the Northwest, I am always reminded of my mother’s rocky mountain garden and the family home. Her aubretia made people stop their cars to take a closer look.  Now I’m the one who will pull over the car so that I can take a closer, contemplative look at the aubretia in a stranger’s garden.  The aubretia bloom doesn’t last long, but when it blossoms, I savor all those happy and melancholy Spring memories it triggers.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

teatime

The last six weeks of the school year is always a mad rush to get everything done. There are units to finish teaching, assessments to give and correct, report cards to fill out, field trips, special school activities, and all the hundreds of little details of closing out your classroom before the summer break.  Even after 23 years of teaching, it still all takes my breath away.  That’s what I’ve been feeling this week: breathless. 

So it was a miracle, and a pleasure, that I was even able to read a book this week.  And no surprise that it was Alexander McCall Smith’s new book, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.  As anyone who loves his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series knows, these books are perfect antidotes to all the hustle, bustle, and stress of everyday life.  I enjoyed it immensely. It reminded me to focus on what’s really important in life; it inspired me with wonderful little nuggets of wisdom and common sense; and it warmed my heart with it’s gentle kindness.   And because this is a week of remembering my Dad (today would have been his 89th birthday), I was particularly touched by Mma Ramotswe’s memories of her own beloved father, who is also late.

She closed her eyes.  She was standing next to her father, the late Obed Ramotswe, that great man, and he was handing her an ice cream. He was wearing his hat, his battered old hat that he wore until the day he went into hospital for the last time. And he smiled at her from underneath the brim of that old hat, and the sun was behind him, high in the sky, and the ice cream tasted sweeter and purer than anything else she had ever tasted in her life. She would give anything — anything — to have her father back with her, just for a day, so that she could tell him about how her life had been and how she owed everything to him and to his goodness to her.

botswana-sunrise