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Touch the Whole Elephant

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.57.44 AMSix years ago, while five-year-old Elsie and I ate breakfast, I flipped the pages of my new poetry book, Great Poems for Grandchildren. I read a few nursery rhymes aloud and then happened upon The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. Little did I know this poem would become one of all my Grands’ favorites and little do they know that it was written in the 1800s.

Last week, Elsie’s sister Lucy, age 7, asked, “Gran, will you read poems?” It’s become a tradition: breakfast and poetry. Lucy looked thru a stack of books close to the kitchen table. “Where’s the book with the blind men and elephant?”

“It was six men of Hindostan to learning much inclined,

Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind);

That each by observation might satisfy his mind.

“Gran, stop,” Lucy said. “What does that satis word mean?”

“Satisfy?” I asked. Lucy nodded. “Well, when you eat pancakes you satisfy your stomach and aren’t hungry. They wanted to learn about an elephant and satisfy their minds. They were learning.”

Lucy nodded and said, “Keep going.”  She leaned toward me and waited for the last word on the next stanza.

“The first approached the elephant and happening to fall

Against his broad and study side, at once began to bawl,

‘Bless me, it seems the elephant is very like a ….”

“WALL!” Lucy shouted and laughed. She knew the last word of the next five stanzas.

The second blind man felt the elephant’s tusk and declared the wonder of an elephant is very like a SPEAR.

The third happened to take the squirming trunk and said the elephant very like a SNAKE.

The fourth’s hand felt the knee and said the mighty beast is very like a TREE.

The fifth chanced to touch the ear and marveled that an elephant is very like a FAN.

The sixth groped the swinging tail that fell within his scope and said the elephant is very like a ROPE.

“And so these men of Hindostan disputed loud and long

Each of his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

Lucy shook her head. “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Lucy has heard this poem many times, but until now she hasn’t ask questions. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, if they had or just talked to each other, they’d know what an elephant looks like,” my young Grand said, the same conclusion that her sister and two other older Grands have made.

Saxe’s last stanza isn’t included in my poetry book for children.

“So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween, tread on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean, and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!”

My Grands and I have laughed about this poem. Those silly blind men. An elephant with a snake trunk. A rope tail. And each has asked the question: “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Yes, why?

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Family Vacation – Not as expected

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 7.05.03 AMRecently, I heard a friend lamenting that her grown children are so busy there’s no time for a family vacation. I suggested a weekend getaway, like the couple of nights Husband and I spent with our college-age children many years ago. But I warned that her vacation might not go exactly as she expected.

When Daughter and Son were college students, there was a narrow window of time between their summer jobs and the beginning of fall semester. I was happy that they would spend a weekend in Atlanta with Husband and me. We planned to go to a Braves game and eat good restaurant suppers, but I was most looking forward to family visiting time.

Returning to Atlanta brought back memories of two previous trips to Turner Field and the many nights we’d watched the Braves’ televised games. During a night baseball game, we reminisced about where we sat when Dale Murphy played first base and how Son had wanted to eat everything offered at the concession stand.

We stayed in a two-level condo with a kitchen and living room so we could eat breakfast in and have a place to gather. While watching Saturday Night Live, we agreed that we’d sleep in and make our own breakfasts.

I awoke first, made coffee, set out banana bread and fruit, and then curled up on the sofa to read a book until everyone else got up. Son came down the steps first, poured his morning Mountain Dew, and we talked a few minutes. Daughter joined us. She poured orange juice and sat on the couch beside me. This was perfect: my two children were all mine. I got up to freshen my coffee, and when I came back into the room, Daughter and Son both held paperback books in their hands.

I asked a question and got short responses. My attempts to start a conversation fell flat. My children kept their eyes and attention on their books while I talked. Then Son laid his book on his lap, looked at me, and said, “Mom, all our lives you wanted us to read and now we are.”

Daughter added her two cents worth. “Yeah, all those times you took us to the library to get books paid off.”

Son added, “Remember how we could keep a light on late at night as long as we read? Well, it worked, Mom. We just want to read our books now.”

My feelings were a hurt. I swallowed hard. I’d read aloud as I rocked my babies. How many times had I stopped whatever I was doing to read to them when they were toddlers? I read their school assignments with them. And those times we traveled all day in the car to the beach for family vacations, I read aloud or we listened to books on tape. I was determined my children would like to read.

I wiped a few sentimental tears. Together we shared reading time – each with our own books and that felt good. When Husband came downstairs, he was quiet and we continued to read. Eventually, the spell broke and then we talked about the books we were reading.

I don’t remember the book titles. But I realized grown-up children sometimes do exactly what we parents teach them, but maybe not at a time we’d choose. And family vacation time? Although what happens isn’t always as expected, it’s good to be together.

Clean off the Bookshelf

imagesWhich ones to keep? Which to give away? It’s springtime and time to unclutter. My bookshelf is overflowing and some books – adult books – need to go. Children’s books stay on my shelves. I just read a Facebook post entitled About Books written by John Acuff, who calls himself Old Country Lawyer.

For many years now I have read many books

At times reading up to three a week

After I have read them they stack up 

I decided this morning to begin to pass on some of the books

John’s post encourages me to share my books. I naively think that I’ll pull all the books that I’ve read and don’t plan to read again. I’ll give some to the Putnam County Library for their monthly book sale. Take others to the Little Library on Whitson Avenue that’s available for anyone take a book, leave a book, or do both.

The very first paperback includes language that I hope to never hear or read again. Trash it. But it’s made of paper. Should I recycle it? What if it gets in the hands of young person? Should I burn this book?

A hardback book is signed by the author with a personal inscription to me. Not a best seller, but I enjoyed it because I know the author. Should I tear out that page and give the book away?

I have a huge collection of inspirational books, mostly gifts. Books to inspire me as a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a woman. It takes all the self-control I can muster not to sit down, pour a glass of iced tea, and read. How can I discard books that were given when my first child was born or many years later when Mom passed away? Personal notes written on the inside covers make all worth keeping.

Travel guidebooks. I can certainly get rid of books about places I’ve been. But there are pages turned down in Fodor’s, Exploring London. And I wrote notes. Where I ate lunch. What I ate. And notes about Big Ben. It’s like a journal.

Ah, finally some books to cull. Paperbacks bought to read while sitting on the beach or travelling on a long trip. One, two, three. I’m on a roll. Wait. That’s not my book. JoAnn’s name is on the front cover and the copyright date is 10 years ago. So did I borrow it then and never return it? I don’t even remember that book. Maybe she’s forgotten it too or maybe she has a record of books she’s loaned and knows I never returned it.

As Old Country Lawyer delved into his book collection he noted some of the same dilemmas. And he ended his writing with these lines.

Sacking up the secular for Good Will 
And a select few will be disposed of for fear they may lead someone astray
What are you doing with the stuff you know you need to be rid of?
Pray for me as I sort through my stuff
My prayer is that we all unclutter our lives and concentrate on what really matters.

 

My task isn’t going as planned. All the books fit on the shelf. I’ll dust and straighten and move on to things that really matter. Like returning JoAnn’s book and hope she has time for a glass of tea.