In childhood I could count on two items under the Christmas tree: One would be “from Santa Claus,” the other a book.
I still have “Pantaloons,” a still-fuzzy but now wobbly grey elephant, “from Santa Claus.” I think I named him from a story my parents had read to me which included the word pantaloons, but I have no idea now what that story could have been. During the Second World War, when toys were hard to come by, a home-made doll house gave me an unforgettably special Christmas. Until I grew beyond “playing house,” I could count on a new doll.
The first book, I remember, given before I could read, I called “The Big Book” for its size. It is an anthology of fairy tales, poetry, and legends designated as suitable for grades 1 through 6; it was my most requested “read to me” book, and a favorite once I could read it myself. One year Cousin Mabel gave me a collection of English poetry signed by its editor. Another year, the grandmother whose limited income meant her gifts were usually a dollar (In those days I much appreciated a whole dollar to spend as I wished.) gave me the collected poetry of Rudyard Kipling—probably with my parent’s financial assistance. Cousin Mabel had introduced me to Kipling and that book has been well worn over the years. The year I was 16, my father had taken me to hear Robert Frost read his poetry and then, because of Mr. Frost’s association with my father’s Alma Mater, I found an autographed book of his poetry under our tree.
Obviously, I enjoyed poetry. The books included fairy tales, biographies, and classic children’s literature, but which were Christmas gifts and which birthday gifts or other acquisitions, I don’t remember.
Now I have passed on some of those vintage books to three more generations with the hope that they will love printed words, appreciate the history, the moods, the alternate worlds, the heroic possibilities, and the clearly imagined images as I do. Many of those books I can’t yet turn over to others because they are like family I can’t leave behind.