Sometimes subjects and ideas for articles are slim, and I struggle to come up with something meaningful, challenging, and pithy. Well, this is not a pithy one. It’s more of a dreamy reminiscence. About one book that trumps all others in my life.
Mother Goose rhymes, nursery rhymes, captured me as a little tyke, and never let go. Visiting the library was a sometime treat, and memorable. The architecture was 20s Tudor, the walls covered from floor to ceiling with volumes, and a balcony ran around the top, so readers could obtain lofty titles. In a slightly hidden nook was the children’s room, casement windows, carpeting, stools, chairs, and a delightful window seat. Of course there were also the stacks and piles of books. I went directly to one, and one only. Mother Goose. And I had a particular copy of it that I read, no other one would do, it had to be the same over and over again. Of course I did look at other rhyme illustrations, and even other picture books, I wasn’t school age yet. But invariably it was Mother Goose that gave me comfort and warmth during the icy winter days, when darkness arrived so fast, you’d almost forget there was a sun.
We didn’t own a second car, so my mother would bundle me up and to the bus we’d go. We lived in what was considered the lower class part of town. Which is something no one told me, because it certainly didn’t feel like poverty row. The area was filled with little cottages, some with storybook architecture and bungalow charm. Our house had neither architecture or charm, something my father tried to change by building on to the house, on his day off. The neighbors to our left had a Sears catalog home, with a round red door, and ivy covered walkways. In the spring, their driveway cascaded frilly pink blossoms from their large Japanese cherry tree. Behind us a combination fairy tale and Craftsman style home stood. Stones and mortar created an atmospheric area. The crowning touches were a little bridge over a small pond, and a secret forbidden way to access the kids living there, without needing to travel all the way around the block up a slight hill. Behind our bike shed, between the Sears neighbors’ shed, and over a split rail fence scented with wild mint, our kid made path led us to an enchanted space, if only in our own imaginations.
All this reinforced my fondness for Mother Goose, and when little my parents took me to what are called storybook lands–mini Disney spots with all the rhyme characters you could think of, plus Red Riding Hood, Snow White, every other character in our books, I was enthralled,entranced. Some of the parks had real people dressed as Bo Peep, Little Boy Blue, and Mother Goose herself. Our home movies show us running around in Story Town USA, Lake George, New York.
In the middle of Pennsylvania a medium sized town once known for having the most millionaires in the world, became my home for my college days and beyond. Downtown a very Victorian library provided me with an obsession–finding a first edition of Old Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes by Anne Anderson. I would visit the children’s area of the library quite often, sitting and staring at each divine illustration. It was in the permanent collection, couldn’t be removed. Ms. Anderson’s style was pure fantasy with Deco touches and waving lines, delicately watered colored. Was this the edition I couldn’t get enough of as a kid? I had no idea, whatever version I had clung to back then had left my memory banks long ago, and now I wanted ALL versions of Mother Goose, every different viewpoint, every illustrator, every time period since the rhymes began. As I got older and older this pleasurable collection grew, branching off into jewelry charms, vintage illustration jewelry, Humpty Dumpty figures, anything that represented the rhyming nonsense.
Of course not all of the rhymes are nonsense, perhaps none are, and the explanations can be found in the Annotated Mother Goose–things like The Old Woman in the Shoe having something to do with Parliament, chastising them for bad acts, or some such thing. I pay no attention, to tell the truth. My joy comes from the lilting rhymes, the images the words project, and how the illustrator decides to portray each rhyme. My favorite is There Was a Crooked Man-for no reason I can think of.
I found my Anne Anderson first, after several false starts–now there are probably a dozen sitting on ebay for next to nothing. I must have dozens of various editions, from Victorian, to Michael Hague’s version from the 80s or 90s. And on our weird road trips we visit those story book lands that still exist, those that haven’t succumbed to different tastes and buy outs. And I look for any old version I may uncover in my wanderings, near and far. A highlight from a recent trip was a visit to Mary Goose’s grave–Mother Goose herself, according to her descendants. If she was, she died much younger than I picture ma goose, but then again, it was a long time ago, and life spans aren’t what they are today!
I’ve not done a critical analysis of the rhymes, nor a history, not even a list of various illustrators. I warned you at thebeginning it wouldn’t be pithy! I’ve only put down the musings of someone’s life long love of a particular book, or compilation of writings, and explained why. I wonder if any of you have a similar love for a specific title?
Footnotes: The first illustration is of Mother Goose in her cottage, illustrated by Anne Anderson published by Thomas Nelson in the 1920s.
The photo is of a still thriving Mother Goose park, called Storybook Land in Cardiff NJ–the Crooked Man’s house.
The last is of a hand colored Crooked Man from the Victorian era, unknown illustrator