It is not a photograph of exceptional quality, but it speaks so strongly of the value of stories in our lives.
Let me introduce you to Mary, my first grandchild. Her mother laboured to bring her into the world, where she was finally delivered by caesarean section …….a sizeable bundle of joy in excess of 10lbs (4.5kgs). She arrived on a day when events in the world completely overshadowed her traumatic arrival. “What a terrible day to be born”, her weary mother commented. It was September 11th 2001.
This ordinary scene appeals to me on different levels. Firstly, it is what you see. Mary reading a book with her Uncle David, my second son. The enjoyment and innocence on her face, for all the world to see. David, as a 20 year old, keeping the right amount of distance to be “cool”, and yet the enjoyment between them is obvious. The story transcends distance and generation to create and strengthen that special familial bond.
Secondly, as I cast my mind back to my own childhood, one of my earliest memories is of sitting on my mother’s knee in front of the fire, reading books. It is a special time, which stays with you. For me, that is over 50 years ago, and yet those occasions are etched as some of my formative life experiences. So much so, that recollection still evokes feelings of loving, and being loved.
Can you ever recall a small child refusing a story? An opportunity to sit on your lap, or snuggle beside you, as the world of fact and fiction opens up to them? Unless fully preoccupied with something they consider more pressing, a refusal is most unlikely. They usually ask for their favourite story, time and time again, until you know the words by heart and are begging for a change. I chuckle that I can still recite litanies of lines from so many children’s books, over twenty years down the track from reading them to my children.
But not all the stories (or songs) ever come from a book, but emanate from the oral tradition. To this day, I can regale in a Scottish accent, the story of an unfortunate little dog called Waffey, which I undoubtedly inherited from my grandmother.
Mary now sits on my knee, and we enjoy stories together. It’s fun to rediscover that Yertle the Turtle is still King of the Pond, that Hairy Maclary still frequents Donaldson’s Dairy, to name but two well loved characters, and also to meet new ones.
And so history repeats itself, and she gains as much pleasure in stories, as those before her. In fact five generations, linked by the simple pleasure of sharing a story.
There are ever more books for children to enjoy, and seemingly less time to enjoy them. Parents and grandparents nowadays, are often fully employed in the workforce, and families more widely dispersed.
Mary was blessed to have parents who love to read, and despite being a busy working couple, spend much of their limited free time, storytelling with her. Already she has a passion to learn. Passively enjoying stories is not enough for her, as she has a desire to recognise letters and master the sounds, so that she can read for herself.
The stories of our childhood not only open up a world of imagination and learning to us, but also create opportunities to connect and communicate with the special people in our lives. I would hope that every child has a knee to cuddle on, and a cosy bed to snuggle up in, while someone tells them a story. Because those stories flow through the generations. Not only do they leave a legacy of literacy, but more importantly, a legacy of love.