Monday, June 2, 2014

Morning Joe--very late at night

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson—

There was an older English couple, the Claytons, who lived around the corner from us in Santa Ana. I don’t actually know how old they were; as a child, I thought of them as very, very old. She was deaf and very kind. He was big and gruff; I think I was afraid of him, although I had little to do with him. They had a kumquat tree at the back of the house on the side, and I loved to eat kumquats. There was an old car parked in the backyard; it was her knitting room and, I suppose, didn't run. But it had a roomy back seat and she and I often were there.

I didn’t do much talking; she couldn’t hear me. (I think it had something to do with bombs and England.) But she was a talker and I was always a good listener. She loved the poetry in A Child’s Garden of Verses. She knew many—perhaps most of them—by heart and would recite them from memory. I loved the Englishness of her voice and the Englishness of the verses. Sitting in the backseat of that old touring car was like sitting in an English garden. Quiet, the clicking of her needles, surrounded by lovely flowers, the kumquat tree, and Mrs. Clayton. And her soft voice. That’s all she ever was to me—Mrs. Clayton; I remember his name was Harry. I knew that because that’s what my dad called him when he would bring the over or under filled five gallon containers of ice cream to our huge garage freezer.

One day she gave me a copy of it. I had it for years and don’t know what happened to it. It was a birthday present, I think. She inscribed it. I don’t know what happened to the Claytons either. The cover pictured here is, I’m pretty sure, the cover of my book. The illustration is the lovely art of another child’s world by Jessie Wilcox Smith. I loved that world and wanted to live there.
But it was my first real introduction to poetry. This poem in particular—"Foreign Lands." There is a larger world; someday I'll see it; perhaps, someday I'll live in such places. The poems, the art work, the Clayton’s garden, the old car and Mrs. Clayton’s voice—magical and never forgotten. Something inside awoke there, and I am ever grateful for it.

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