There once was a girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good,
she was very VERY good.
But when she was bad,
She was HORRID!
This is a rhyme that belongs to my Memories Of Childhood folder of the filing cabinet that is my life. It’s the same file that holds the times of me laying on the grass at the city park, staring up at the clouds rushing by. And leaping from shadow to shadow, cast by the big trees onto the road, as I, barefoot, would make my way in the sizzling heat to the Butcher’s place on a summer jaunt. Also, jumping from puddle to puddle joyously, after a rare spring downpour, not realizing how dirty it was. Not caring that it was dirty.
It’s the FOND MEMORY folder.
Now, this particular rhyme came out of one of the fascinating books that lined the wall of the library that was my mom and dad’s Answer Place. The answer to everything that they were baffled about but didn’t want us kids to catch on to. It was their answer to 8 children’s whine’s of, “I’m BOOOORRRRDDDD!! WHAT CAN I DO???? CAN I TURN ON THE TV???? OR GET SOME FOOOOOOODDDDD??”. They would direct us to the books for everything from a How-to on making a submarine out of shipping boxes, to what do people in Mongolia do, exactly? Entertainment to fill up the time before bed came from the books. Killing time when waiting for Sunday to end came from that library. It was located in the living room, which, I believe, was meant as a quiet area. A receiving room for guests, and study, and contemplation. It was supposed to be, serene, even. It was, in fact, not.
Let me explain.
The living room looks different now, of course. Updated. Clean lines, yet inviting. But back then, when I was a child, the room had a more… chaotic… vibe, in spite of any intention. It paired a pine green sofa, embossed in velvety random patterns, (perfect for tracing fingers around in times of quiet) with golden yellow comfy chairs, jarring to the eye, but perfect for scrambling over when playing Carpet Creature! and Stay Off The Boiling Hot Lava! with the siblings. (Don’t tell my mom. She was a stickler for feet belonging firmly on the floor, and behinds ONLY on seats. Bless her…) Add next, an un-friendly brick fireplace, also used for scrambling, but at one’s own peril.
Wall to wall imagination, if you will.
The flourescent light hummed loudly, paling our skin subtly. . Cocooning it all was the striped wallpaper that was so prevalent in the 70’s/early 80’s. Two sets of doors closed off the room, which let us be privately chastised, interrogated in a loving but stern way, or even used as a sanctuary on the rare moments that the parents had together. Dishes and food were NOT to be brought in this room. Harrumph.
I loved it.
The central purpose of this room, however, was the function of the far wall. Shelves covered it, with reluctant allowance made for the picture window, in chocolate brown. One half of the wall was dedicated to paper, crafting, and used wrapping paper, carefully preserved for use in rewrapping gifts. (This was only if the said wrapping paper made the cut. No wrinkles. No rips or tears. We were very careful opening gifts that had shiny beautiful paper. Or ribbons. Those had a purpose, as well.)
The desk under the picture window was useful for hiding under and making the beginnings of forts. And then there was…The Bookshelf. Floor to ceiling shelves, cram-packed with books. Books of all sorts. Old books, hardbound, with Classic subjects, meant to round out our childhood and make us grateful for what we had. Stories such as “Little Women” and ALL the books from Laura Engalls Wilder (oh how I loved those!) worked to keep us thankful. Poetry, serious and deep, mingled with whimsical Dr. Seuss and Disney Old Yeller and Brer Rabbit scripts. History books, and Primers were kept to enhance our perspective. Also, my dad’s thesis from the seventy’s stayed as a testament to his dedication in higher learning. (I didn’t read it. Now I am regretful.) Oh. And we proudly used and displayed, the ENTIRE set of something called The Encyclopedia Brittanica, for anyone under 40. (It was the equivelant to Google.)
Along with these books were a set of wonder books. I think they actually WERE called the Wonder Books, but don’t quote me. They were in a set, color co-ordinated in the colors of the 70’s. Mustard yellow, worn out purple, puke green, Flower Power oranges and browns. Not pleasant to look at, but what was inside… INSIDE THOSE BOOKS… was magical. In fact, I was usually looking for the sibling that was reading the current volume I was interested in.
And, THIS is the point of the memory.
One volume spouted poems from far and wide. It was geared for young minds, without all the high-falutin mumbo-jumbo (Nod to Gil in Anne Of Green Gables). I learned about cultures in other lands, and what was considered romantic (and boring, to a kid), and what rhymes with Orange (Not much, it turns out.) What stuck out for me, though, were the rhymes from Mother Goose. Each page had pictures that went along with the rhymes, and were very engaging. Peter Piper picked his peck of pickled peppers there. Jack jumped over a candlestick, and Old Mother Hubbard looked perplexed, alongside her dog, as she stared at her cubbords. Sad, really.
It sparked my imagination.
It brought the what-if’s and the what’s-the-story-behind-this-picture’s… to life. My next step, then, was to use these poems to illustrate the situations I found myself in throughout life. (Not the Miss Muffet one, though. I have no need for a tuffet, or curds and whey…). It is also why, when I find myself pouting, or whining, or throwing a temper tantrum (um, yes I am an adult, but still…), this particular rhyme comes to mind.
My dad would quote it to me when I was yelling about an injustice done to me, years ago. My mom would quietly lilt it out while washing dishes when I would storm in, demanding she do something about the arguement I was having with…(fill in the blank. Pick a sibling. I argued a lot.). It would stop me in my tracks because, Heaven Forbid!, I be like this wretched girl. Which was exactly what they were going for. “UGGG. Just…Just stop it! I don’t even HAVE a curl there. SHEESH!” But, I’d stop.
What I discovered through the rhymes in that library, was a joy in learning lessons. In finding out how people interact, and the stories that live BEHIND the people, I learned about choices and consequences. I got to witness, through rhymes both true and fictional, how to relate to cultures, and families, and friends, and strangers, through words handed down from parent to child, author to reader, community to posterity. The fascinating world of customs vs. laws. What you could do, and what you should do.
Oh, how I wish I for those actual books. They bring such a smile to my face when I get a chance to pull out my file of Fond Memories. But for now, I pass on the rhyme of the little girl… with a little curl… on to my daughter. She thinks I’m a bit odd anyway, so what’s a little more? My own library has grown. By download or paper, our tradition moves on.
Being horrid is something I can learn from. Now if I could just find a rhyme for Orange….