Sunday, September 26, 2004

In Defense of My People 

My recent forebears are Scottish, English and German. In all of these cultures, I am sure, mothers cradle and nurse their newborns tenderly. As their little ones become a bit more independent, these same mothers must surely reach out and put their hands on their ailing offspring’s foreheads to see if they are running a fever. They probably also put their arms around them when they are dosing off during sermons, if only to keep them from falling off the pew and embarrassing the family. But as children mature in these societies, they are accorded more and more space. This means less and less touching. At puberty, when the adolescent is uncomfortable with touch, it ends.

Some decry these cultures as cold and unfeeling. I don’t agree. To me this is evidence of profound respect. It says, “You are your own person - not my personal teddy.”

Thursday, September 02, 2004


When my oldest son was little he wanted to find a leaf for, I think, a drawing assignment. He wasn't satisfied with any of the ones we found. They didn't fit, I suppose, his Platonic concept of The Leaf. Either it wasn't quite symmetrical, or a bug had munched upon it somewhere. All of those real leaves, fresh from the mind of God, were disappointingly imperfect.

I had a similar preoccupation when I was about his age, perhaps a little older. I wanted to illustrate "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree..." so I started looking for Joyce Kilmer's tree. I can still see it - perfectly symmetrical, standing alone in a summer meadow surrounded by unmown grass, not quite tasseling.

Whenever our family went for a Sunday drive I was on the lookout. An otherwise perfect specimen might be set against a ramshakled barn, or was it just a little lopsided here, a bit scraggly there? Something was always not quite right. So the moment never came when I could ask Mama or Daddy to pull over so I could snap it with my Brownie box camera and have it printed up for the first page in my scrapbook of illustrated poems.

Seems to me a lot of folks carry around something like those Platonic concepts - the perfect leaf, the perfect tree - that must inevitably be frustrated by reality.

All those leaves, all those trees... an endless variety never quite matching the obvious prototype...

But, just maybe, those leaves with the unsettling brown spots were perfectly delicious?

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