Aah, Mother Goose.
The very first book that I can recall reading all by myself, a threadbare oversize hardback, in black-and-white checkered cloth.
Cassidy has discovered Mother Goose too; she often chooses it as one of her three bedtime books. It’s quite long, of course, so I always read it last, and she is invariably lulled to sleep by the lilting rhythms, an ebbing tide of verse.
I have to disclose, however, a little secret: Even after her breathing has become deep and even, I will continue to read, because I enjoy it; many of the rhymes are fun to chant, dancing trippingly on the tongue; and I know that my boys are yet awake, slowly tumbling into slumber, and I read for them as well. You are never too old to enjoy someone else’s reading aloud in the dark, letting the words flow over you, skating seamlessly into your dreams.
How much do you recall of your Mother Goose? I daresay you remember your Jack and Jill and your Humpty Dumpty, Little Miss Muffet and Mary with her little lamb.
I bet you know this one, too:
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
But I was surprised by all that I had forgotten.
Mother Goose dispensed some sage advice that I think I just skimmed over as a child. Things like-
For every evil under the sun
There is a remedy or there is none.
If there be one, seek till you find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
Then there’s some that don’t end quite as I had thought:
The was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
This ditty has a twist at the end as well:
Oranges and lemons,
say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five fathings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells at Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells at Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells at Stepney.
I’m sure I don’t know,
Says the great bell at Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.
Some may question the merits of this seemingly subversive nonsense. I love it. My kids love it.
This one is Cassidy’s favorite right now:
There was a crooked man,
And he walked a crooked mile;
He found a crooked sixpence
Against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat,
Which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together
In a little crooked house.
And this is mine:
Goosey, goosey gander,
Whither shall I wonder?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who would not say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.
These are the building blocks of a sense of rhythm and flow, an inherent sense of rhyme, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor.
Not to mention, a sense of culture and continuity.
I learned to read with Mother Goose. My mother, who immigrated to this country when she was in her thirties, learned to read English with that same Mother Goose that I did, at the same time. I bet my father, and his father, had Mother Goose read to them as young children.
And I do my part, passing on a legacy of generations, reading it to my children, hoping that they will cherish the memory enough to hold onto this book, keep it on their shelf like an old friend, visit now and then. Until they become adults and they read it to their own children, marveling at how the mind plays tricks, how the old becomes new again.