Beginnings for Mr. and Mrs. Payne
Skyler got married. My oldest son. That was a big thing for me to get my head around. And it also meant choosing a wedding gift. And as I thought and thought about Pyrex dishes and camping equipment, about gift certificates to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and even about gifts of money, I remembered my house – the house I grew up in – the house of my young married parents. And I thought about the things I treasured most in that house. And those things were books. And I remember with great happiness the first few books that were my own. My mother bought me a copy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the elementary school book fair (I read that book again and again, and drew flip cartoons in the margins). I bought a copy of Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows there that same year (Mrs. Searle, one of the third grade teachers at my elementary school, read that book every year to the entire third grade, and cried hard enough during the final chapters that another teacher had to come and spell her off. This happened for years, until my little brother was in third grade. That year she steeled herself and got through the book, to whoops and cheers). I got a complete paperback set of The Chronicles of Narnia (My second-grade teacher, Ms. Winger, read the first two books to us, and I asked for them for Christmas. I loved them so much, and had an early testimony-moment when I realized they were about Jesus. All through fourth grade, I stood the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, in their decorative box, on the top corner of my school desk in Mr. Bodel’s class. I was so happy and proud to own them). My dad brought me a copy of E.B. White’s Stuart Little when I was about eight years old. I still think it’s one of the most wonderful books ever written. He also picked for me, on a whim, books about the weird Finnish comic strip characters the Moomintrolls, written about by Tove Jansen; and he brought me a book called Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, one of a series of Danny Dun books that my dad had loved as a kid. I still have my old copies of most of these books. They are very precious to me. They opened the door to Ray Bradbury, Tony Hillerman, John LeCarre, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, and more. All my favorites. No time I've spent anywhere has been more beautiful to me than the time spent reading books.
While I was remembering the books that inhabited my very young life, I also thought about the reading Skyler and I did together when he was small. It is the activity between us that I most treasure, and the only parenting choice that I never, ever question. Skyler enjoyed being read to even as a teenager (or said he did), and we plowed through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, all the Harry Potter books, Louis Sachar's Holes, Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts, James Swanson's Chasing Lincoln's Killer: The Search for John Wilkes Booth (the for-young-people version of his remarkable book Manhunt), Andrew Clements' Frindle, and more and more. Skyler and I have a lot of important memories together, but, for me, none more dear than our reading memories. As for the wedding gift, in the end I decided that it might be important for a brand new married couple like Skyler and McCall -- my brand new daughter-in-law -- among all the pressures of school and jobs and renting their first apartment and keeping food on the table, to begin building a library together. And I thought that for a gift I might buy them maybe the first book of their married lives. And it may seem like a weird choice, but I bought them a fat book containing all of the stories about the two best friends, Frog and Toad, written by Arnold Lobel. It seemed somehow appropriate. I think those stories are the best relationship stories there are, and the pictures of those two friends are some of my very favorites. Sure, they’re written for children, but we’re all children, aren’t we?
As I said in the note stuck inside the Frog and Toad collection, "Books will change everything."
Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Payne. I love you.