“Sarah? Sarah?” I hear the voice, but it’s a dream, isn’t it? …Until, “SARAH ANN MOYLE!” jolts me wide awake. The first was Jonjon’s, the second my mum’s. Once again I’ve fallen asleep reading a bedtime story to my little brother. As Mum’s head disappears behind the door, I’m awakened now, but flustered; searching for a reason for my unexpected sleepiness. Could be because I’m ‘thirteen going on thirty’, like Mum always says… and follows that with – ‘back when I was young’. All that yibbity-yabbity-doo can exhaust a brand-new teenager!
I drag my attention backward to the current read. And as I look at Jonjon squashing down a yawn, I realise my unexpected doze-off isn’t tiredness at all. His fidgets and head scratching and nose-picking tell me it’s boredom we share – but I have no wish to blame the book. It IS a delightful story. I loved it when I was young. I don’t know, seems to suggest I need something more… uhrr... lively, maybe? To fire up my imagination, I’m thinking. Like using funny sounds to play games with the words. Big bad gruffy voices and little squeaky, scaredy ones. Then we’ll both stay wide awake and eager. Won’t we?
This book IS wonderful. I loved it when I was younger. Maybe that’s the problem. I’ve read it so many times before that reading it aloud is SO predictable for me now. It’s not only knowing it so well, but the story doesn’t have IT for the more mature reader, like myself. I flounder about, trying to figure out an alternative. And out of the blue, there it is. Been there all along, I guess, tucked into a dusty corner of my think-tank.
“What? What? Whatsa matter Sarah?” Jonjon says as I bound out of the bed, almost falling in a tangle of bedclothes.
“SHHHH…” I hiss. “If you don’t lay down and close your eyes, I won’t be able to find the surprise.” There’s Buckley’s chance of him doing that, but it’s worth a try. For once he listens to me – and when I hint at a most special book brand-new to him though it’s old, he’s at full attention. He snuggles down with only nose and scrunched-up eyes showing. As long as Mum or Dad don’t come too close to see he’s only faking sleep, he’ll get away with it. How that little boy loves his books. Always has. Most of the six years of his life.
I sneak up to the attic and the big old oak box with its lift-up lid… just like the time I followed Mum when she went looking for one of Granny’s diaries to check an important date. Granny’s great carved Oak ‘glory box’ or ‘hope chest’, intended for storing all the linens (and dreams) of young unmarried ladies. But Granny had other treasures to keep safe from moths and mice – her precious writing books and photos. It was for similar protection, including sneaky attacks from silverfish and mould.
Memories of that secret snooping time, AND the stories Mum had shared with me when I was younger came rushing back. How I miss them since she stopped reading them to me. A tear or two fall. I didn’t break that manuscript into hundreds of separate sheets on purpose.! It slipped. And fell. And I don’t know why I started laughing. Deep inside, I wept. I hope she’s forgotten… and haven’t dared remind her. Ohh, I SO want to prove to Mum and Dad I CAN look after a book and it WAS just a terrible accident. And I need to teach Jonjon what a treasure all books are… Granny’s in particular. I’ve always loved them more than any other.
Now, as I creep up the stairs (and I know all about the creaky ones and when to only tread on the outside of a step, or even miss that squeakiest one altogether), I’m confident I won’t be caught. Mum and Dad are downstairs, satisfied I’m reading to Jonjon. And the box? The best news is that it’s not locked because that lid is SO heavy to lift, Mum knows it’s safe from little kiddies’ prying fingers. But big girls and bookworms? That’s another matter. And big girls and bookworms and curiosity and stubbornness? There is a formidable combination.
A monster heave or three, and just I’m thinking my bravado could all be used up, with a creak, the lid eases open. I’m sweating like an apple out of cold storage, but there’s Granny’s treasure – exposed to the world again at last. Rubber bands hold together a great heap of her writing books and a pile of papers. I choose a few books and one bundle, and clutching them tightly to myself, close up again, covering the lid with its patchwork cover – another of Granny’s fantastic creations. I study box and cover for some moments, finally turning away and leaving, satisfied no-one will find anything out of place. Time enough for complete honesty when I’ve proved my belief… that Granny knew how to capture the hearts of both kiddies and their ‘young at heart’ out loud readers.
Creeping back in our room at last, I find Jonjon struggling to stay awake. The added excitement and tension of my mission to the attic after his regular full-on day has topped him off. Swollen, heavy eyelids and one yawn after the other ensure he’ll take only a peek at the books before he snuggles under his quilt without further protest. His sleepy smile shows how he loves that book cover Granny created.
“See Jonjon? Just like I promised, stories for tomorrow night, and the next, and the next. But DON’T tell ANYONE, remember?” With an almost imperceptible nod of his head, his eyelids fall down and he drifts away – to that special dreamworld he adores describing, where all his fantasies come true.
I’m blessed – to hold Granny’s precious words and experience once again our loving connection. It’s a long, long time since I cuddled against her as she stroked my hair… or sat in front of her as she brushed and brushed it, over and over. I’ll always keep that little stool safe. The one I sat on, the one I always thought of as MY stool, the one she covered with her hundreds of tapestry stitches forming a flood of flowers. What an artist. How many hours must she have spent on this project alone?
But her artistry never shone more brightly than here, in her magical words. And as I open one book filled with her writing, I smile so deep inside I can’t help my mouth stretching to match. I smile at the way her words rush across the page as though they hadn’t been able to come out of her pencil fast enough. Such a difference to her long-considered and shaped writing when she wrote in greeting cards, or special letters. I know how much she prized her handwriting… her ‘penmanship’ she called it, harking back to an earlier age when things like this carried great importance. ‘A good handwriting,’ she’d say, ‘… and a good handshake. That’s the mark of a distinguished man. A man to trust.’
Still, who could forget seeing her riding high on a wave of inspiration when she’d forget everything around her, writing as if possessed. And she was. Times like that, her handwriting became little better than a scribble, sometimes only intelligible to her… even giving her pause and raised eyebrows and frowns when she came to transcribe them into her computer. I was so glad I had chosen both the hand-written and type-written copies of the same book. It had been a deliberate choice, remembering how many times she worked over the many print-outs to get to a final edition, ready for the world. I loved seeing the contrast as her stories grew.
Granny held the firmest opinions about cover pics. I didn’t always understand what the old dear meant at first, when she talked of ‘same-old-sameness’ about too many ‘so-called professional‘ covers. She’d raise a tissue to her nose and sniff, her face wearing a frown about as disgusted as I ever saw it.
“They would criticise mine, even laugh in some know-it-all circles,” Granny would say. “And I should care? I should imagine, even for a teensy minute, THEY would have a better knowledge and understanding for MY creations than I do?” She’d pause and sniff again, her face a picture of the greatest disdain; eyebrows raised to their highest above eyes that rolled round their sockets in her best mock-theatrical performance.
Back before I learned to keep my mirth silent and contained, I experienced the full weight of that look many, many times, as she said, “SARAH!’ in an unmistakable tone of voice. Awesome. There’s no other word. How I loved that old lady. How I missed her and the particular colour she brought to my Life. And to all those around her. And even many folk far, far away, who only recognised her by her words.
As I slide down in my bed, my trusty reader’s headlamp pointing its beaming finger onto Granny’s book, I find my eyes refusing to leave the cover. Ohh, I l-o-v-e that picture you chose, Granny. The thought is a mutter on the wings of a lengthy sigh… almost as if she hears me. No, couldn’t be. I shake myself.
I try to imagine when first she saw this strange and lovely photo of a stone path wending its way down from a misty and mysterious world where light filters through bare tree branches. I fancy she shivered with the crispness in the air; in the magical scene lit by the twinkle of a billion stars above. And the Small Knitty Gritty Kids would start wandering down the rough steps from their Dream-time to find their most fantastic imaginings were about to come true.
‘Born Again…’ Granny wrote. And thanks to her, each tiny woolly soul WAS reborn — by her loving hands — those special ones of the ‘Rescuer Extra-ordinaire’.
THAT was twenty years ago? REALLY? It’s as close as yesterday. And yet here is little Jonjon (oops, sorry Jonathon) a grown man now, with two small children.Wouldn’t he just love hearing me call him that little kiddy Jonjon again in front of them? I imagine it was his reminding me about being the custodian of Granny’s books that set this clearest of my memories rolling. That. And his request for me to read to his babes. C’mon sis, he said, make the voices of those darling little characters our Granny wrote so well. Make them live again. Like you did for me. Please! He knows I’ll do it… what a sucker I am for reading aloud.
And just like that, it’s yesterday once more.