“‘There are certain books that should never be illustrated’ is true in very many senses, and I had felt that The Wind in the Willows was one of these.”
- Ernest H. Shepard
Well, I doodled. I swept aside the knitting needles, fortified myself with a little Elizabeth Bishop, and stared at the pencils for a while. Then I knit a few rows on The Sock, for I am undertaking my very first sock and it needed help getting itself knat around the heel. All the while I thought about pencils. Once around the heel, a journey fraught with peril, I put away the needles as though I meant it. And I thought some more about pencils.
Then I looked at the bed next to my desk. Lying on it was the cat. Lying next to the cat was an old copy of The Wind in the Willows, which I’d left there the night before after reading the lovely introduction written by the illustrator of the book, Ernest H. Shepard.
Cat. Wind in the Willows. I forgot about the pencils and was off and running.
It’s very cute, she thinks, the cat lying curled into a comma next to her old copy of The Wind and the Willows.
The book has stood up well, considering the three childhoods it has enhanced, her two boys’ plus her own. The hardcover must originally have been white, but has now a faded-yellow background, with graceful willow boughs draping downwards, leaving space for Mole, Toad, and the Water Rat to march along the cover with great purpose.
She opens the book, and the pages rustle in a soothing manner reminiscent of childhood library sounds. Penciled in a slanted hand on the title page is the book’s price, $2.95, from the days when .95 meant not quite as expensive as it sounded. Copyright 1954. Wouldn’t it have cost about fifty cents in 1954? Susannah wasn’t even born in 1954. She must have picked up this copy at a used book store, and tried to persuade her overstimulated little boys that listening to her readThe Wind and the Willows, with its big words and charming illustrations, was a much more interesting thing to do than watching Power Rangers on TV.
Not that she was any better as a child, addicted to Bugs Bunny and The Flintstones, wasting long hours sitting in front of the black-and-white screen and rousing herself every half hour only to change the channel and get a drink.
With a sigh, Susannah closes the book. She brings it to her face, breathes in the inky, old-book perfume, then lays it down on the bed. The cat opens one yellow eye, draws his tail in tightly around himself, and goes back to sleep, his face a series of gray slashes – eyes, nostrils, whiskers. He is quite beautiful, lying there with the sun dappling over his gray velvet fur. Ernest H. Shepard would have enjoyed the sight of him.
12 February, 2009
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