Our Mother Made Us Legends in Our Own Time

Article excerpt

Every childhood has characters who tower and glow. Parents, older siblings, firefighters, kings and queens are visions of order and love, playmates and rivals, the futures of which we dream. Waltzing among them are the heroes of childhood stories: Cinderella and her fairy godmother, Jack and his beanstalk, Snow White and (can you name them still?) her seven dwarfs.

Yet mythic figures have always seemed strange to me, imposing and remote. They plod through dark forests and roam over mountains folded in the pages of dark, heavy books. Their voices are loud and low, their beards are bristly. Their footsteps shake the world, and their stories make me wince.

Sharing this conviction, my mother read us fairy tales with reluctance. She hesitated at stories of old peasants shoving children into ovens, helpless women trapped in towers or always waiting for their princes. For the most part, Grimms' fairy tales sat dusty on our shelves, and the stories my brothers and I liked best had no ogres, no wicked stepmothers, no poisoned apples or ravenous wolves. I loved realistic stories of children: Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie," Beverly Cleary's Ramona books; the Gilbreths' adventures in "Cheaper by the Dozen." But most of all, I loved the stories of my own childhood, the anecdotes my mother told about my brothers and me. From our mother, we heard tales of ourselves and of each other, stories in which we became the heroes of our own lives. We laughed at our antics, watched her marvel in memory of our clever comments from the day, the month, or the year before. The stories were always true, yet in my mother's voice our lives took on the grandeur of legends and lore. With the hush and humor of the telling, our lives became brilliant, monumental. …