Writing this at 2:23 a.m. because now that the kid is finally sleeping nights I have had a relapse of insomnia. Oy. I'll take the trade any day, but this is not so much fun.
Anyway, that's not really what I meant to write. I meant to write to tell you about this really strange thing that centered around my favorite book from when I was a little child. The book was titled "The Story Of Fourteen Bears," and when I was a toddler and pre-schooler I loved this book to death, and made my mom read it to me again, again and again.
A plot synopsis: A momma and papa bear live in the forest, with their 12 cubs. Each cub, and indeed momma and papa, lived in a different hollow tree. Each hollow tree is decorated in a cool and sophisticated way. One cub's home is what "modern" looked like in 1969 when the book came out (I loved this one as a kid), one looks like a castle, one looks like a boudoir, and so on. The bears wear some clothes. One has glasses and likes books, two bear cub twins wear tutus, the baby cub, Little Theodore has a cap. (I identified with him, and later thought of myself as the Baby Bear, and my mom as the Momma Bear. Okay, you cynics, stop laughing. I was four years old.) Anyway, the bears go swimming, but they don't hurt the fish so the fish like them. And, again, each bear wears different stuff when they swim. Some have floaters, some have life jackets, etc.
Moving on from there the bears then lay out in the sun until their fur is warm and glistening, then they get some honey that one of the cubs has, except the honey is flavored and looks a lot like delicious ice cream, especially to my young mind. There were flavors like chocolate, vanilla and coconut, which was special.
After that the bears, paw in paw, all go home, back to their hollow trees for the night. As before you see each bear in their individual beds, some bears say prayers (which rhymes!) and Little Theodore sleeps in a crib at the foot of mommy and daddy's bed. Again, as a little child this seemed completely excellent to me, and I wished I could sleep peacefully each night in the same room as my parents at the foot of their bed. They had other ideas, no matter how much I appealed, and they were not swayed by the this early, illustrated example of co-sleeping.
And that's pretty much the entire book. Suffice to say as a kid I devoured this world. Why? After all, the story's basic. I think the art had a lot to do with it. The bears just looked so nice. They each had this amazingly sweet and friendly look and the artist really illustrated the familial love they all shared. They lived deep in the woods, and I was so intrigued by all the architectural layouts in the hollowed-out trees. When they would walk through the woods the artist made so much detail; little animals, birds, rabbits, all there for a child to seek out. I simply identified with these bears, and wanted to be one of them.
So that was the book, that I loved way, way back when. But by the time I was older and could actually, you know READ, I had outgrown the fourteen bears. I put it aside and moved onto other things, like comic books, and all the rest. The bears were forever special to me, but I didn't revisit them often.
Then three years ago we moved out of the home that I grew up in, and I lost track of what happened to the book. I hadn't really thought about it in ages anyway.
So, about four days ago I am thinking that, you know what? I would love to one day read Stella "The Story of Fourteen Bears." I figured our copy from when I was a kid is likely gone, it was in bad shape and I didn't save it. My mom is notorious for throwing away almost everything so I doubted she kept it. But, I figured, I could just go on Amazon.com, and pick up a cheap, beat up old copy of the book.
I logged on. After a bit of searching I got just about the biggest shock I'd received since being laid off. They had the book, alright, as they have virtually all books ever printed, but not at the price I had expected. I thought I might pay $5 or $10 for the book. But when I looked it up I found, to my dismay, that the CHEAPEST copy to be found anywhere on Amazon was $85!
"Collectible" editions started at $200.
I was thunderstruck. What the HELL was going on in this world that could ever justify that a throwaway, albeit lovely, childrens' book could be worth that much? And what was I going to do? Even if I could afford to buy it, and I couldn't, what would be the point? I wouldn't enjoy the book like I had because it cost so much, and as for reading it to Stella, forget about it. Kids books are not meant to be preserved and left alone, they are meant to be read. Reading it to her would mean that it would get worn out, pages ripped, all that. Because this is what I did to my copy of the book way back when, so I should know.
Intrigued I started to do some research into the book. It was a "Big Golden" book, I learned. So I looked those up on E-bay. Maybe this brand of book is collectible.
Nope, none of the other "Big Golden" books were worth jack. Lucky me it was JUST the fourteen bears that commanded this premium.
Then I looked into who wrote it. And now it started to make more sense.
I found out that author Evelyn Scott did not exactly crown her literary career with "The Story Of Fourteen Bears," or even with its sequel "Fourteen Bears In Summer And Winter" (a book I didn't even know about until this week! The crime! I would have LOVED me some summer and winter bears way back when!) In fact in her long, interesting and noteworthy literary career her four books for children are but an interesting footnote.
No, she is a reknowned Southern writer and poet, and noted proto-feminist who produced several major, important works in the '20s and '30s.
In addition to her "'Bears" ouvre she also wrote books with titles like "Breathe Upon These Slain" (maybe about someone who got between the bears and their coconut honey?) and "A Calender Of Sin." Heady company these bears were keeping. (In addition, Scott died, I believe in 1963. My book didn't even come out until 1969, so it was a posthumous work.)
Now it all started to make sense. These books were anomalies of sorts, literary oddballs, of worth to scholars, perhaps, although what they would learn from the bears is hard to say. They certainly weren't just your run-of-the-mill kids' books. Add in that they had been out of print for decades and the price started to make more sense.
Fascinating stuff, but I was still screwed in my actual attempt to GET a copy of the book. What should I do?
Of course the next thing I did was call my mom, and tell her this whole crazy story. When she heard the price of these books she emitted a small gasp. This was followed by ...
"Wait, wait," she said, "I think I have it."
I was amazed, my mom, the great cleaner-upper, who can be so pragmatic had KEPT my book, from when I was just a little child, even though I hadn't even asked her to? It couldn't be. But then she said ...
"I am holding it in my hands."
I could have cried with joy. Not because it was worth whatever it might be worth. No, really, I just wanted to look at my bears again, and someday share them with my daughter. And even share them with my wife.
Long story short (too late!) we were at my mom's this weekend and she showed me the book. I opened it, and, again, I almost wept. There they were, in bright, beautiful color. The book held up. Yes, the story was simple but Evelyn Scott included all I needed to know about these bears. And the illustrations, by Virginia Parsons, were as lovely as ever, so rich in detail, so good-natured, so vibrant of color. I read it as soon as I could, then I read it again, again and again.
Then I tried to read it to Stella and she immediately started to rip a page. It was okay, this is what kids do. I wasn't mad. It's a book to be used, not hidden away. I will simply share it with her when she's a little older. And I'll be happy to read it to her again, again and again, too.