Yesterday morning as I pulled out my volume of Pablo Neruda’s “20 Poems of Love” it struck me how fortunate my siblings and I are to have the love of poetry which our mother fostered in all four of us. As little children we were encouraged to read during breakfast, especially during weekends when we didn’t have the time constraints felt during the week. Mom loved to read and instilled that love of the written word in all of us. We, in turn, have shared that passion with all of our children. She used to say we could travel anywhere in the world through a book. But Mom didn’t start us out with Yeats, Rumi or Eliot. She started us with poems for children and selected works for each of us based on our likes and personalities. Every birthday, holiday and milestone was celebrated with a volume of poems along with a book of fiction or nonfiction, depending on what we were into. I still have some of the earlier collections Mom gave me, most of them inscribed in her hastily scribbled handwriting. I wasn’t a wild child or a bad little girl but I had my moments. I recall some pretty spectacular tantrums. Mama, full of insight and perspective, let me be. Somehow she knew I lacked self-discipline and maturity and that both would come with time. That said, I was given several much needed slim volumes of poems on the subjects of friendship, kindness and misbehaving. I have an all-time favorite, its title says it all. “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls”, a collection of poems written about the worst kids on the planet, gave me license to laugh deeply at the antics and repercussions of naughty children. Even as I threw dirty, crumb filled plates and napkins under my bed, slammed doors, pushed around my little brother and sister, lied to my parents and fought with my older sister I knew I was okay… loved and accepted by my family. I related to and enjoyed the characters in “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls”. I wasn’t the only naughty child living. Truly, they are wonderfully awful. At almost 64 years old I still feel my mouth turn up in smile, my eyes crinkle with delight at the thought of ‘Little Thomas’ written by F. Gwynne Evans. Thomas was a boy who was fat, a little glutton, stuffing himself with food at every opportunity. He was warned if he became any fatter he would burst but he cared not. Predictably Thomas exploded and was blown to bits. The following is my favorite stanza and, as a child, I read it to myself over and over with relish and gusto.
‘His old nurse cried, much disgusted, “There, just when I’ve swept and dusted, drat the boy! he’s gone and busted, making such a mess”; while the painful task of peeling Thomas off the walls and ceiling gave his family a feeling of sincere distress.’ Ha. The pen and ink illustration accompanying the poem showed his scowling, skinny old nurse, broom in hand, standing before a puddle of his innards, a of couple of veins floating around in it. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent staring fascinatedly at those veins. I literally laugh out loud, I chortle at her look of irritation. Here, I’ll show you.
I also treasure a two volume set of A. A. Milne. One volume is the much loved ‘World of Pooh’. The other book in the set is ‘The World of Christopher Robin’, a compilation of Milne’s poems. I was a very young girl when my mother presented me with this gift and, as an avid reader, swallowed it whole. Although I had not yet been to Europe I felt comfortable and familiar with the poems in spite of the fact they all took place in London or the English countryside. ‘Daffodowndilly’ and ‘Waterlillies’ filled me with wonder while ‘King John’s Christmas’ brought me to tears. It also had me jonesing for a big, red india-rubber ball. All through the years Mama gave us gorgeous works of poetry, everything from extolling the beauty of African wildlife to experiencing the day… every single day that is given to each of us. It is such a gift. I read from these same books to my son, James, when he was a baby and little boy and I believe that is one of the reasons he has a such a love for the written word. The recipe I’ve included is for a butter spread my mother treated us to when we were little. Only enjoyed at breakfast, cinnamon honey butter was a store bought treat Mama would give us Saturday mornings. On burnt toast that had been scraped sort of clean of scorch, we were each left to slather on as much of the thick, sweetened butter as we wanted and then left to curl up in a corner with our favorite written companion for the day. For once, peace reigned in the Wattley household.
Whipped Cinnamon Vanilla Honey Butter
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup mellow honey
- 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl and, with a hand mixer, beat until completely smooth, 1-2 minutes.
- Transfer mixture to serving container or storage container and chill at least 2 hours or until butter has firmed up.
- Covered and stored in the refrigerator, cinnamon butter keeps indefinitely. Makes a great gift when tucked in a basket of freshly baked muffins.