The book The Matchbox Diary (see my previous post) reminds me of one of my first books, a book lost to time and almost to memory. Although the book had been a favorite of LW’s early childhood, for years its title escaped her. She knew it was about the adventures an impossibly small boy who was similar to Tom Thumb of the fairy tale, but not. Other than those general memories, only a feeling for the boy’s Tom Thumbish world remained, a sense of a domestic coziness he created through ingenuity and self-reliance.
Then one day a matchbox in the recesses of LW’s brain opened and an image popped up: a miniature bed made from a matchbox. She could then recall more of the story–how the tiny boy, having been dusted out the door of the big people’s house by a careless push of a mop, decides to make a home of his own. The matchbox bed is one of several items he adapts to furnish his home.
LW fed the phrase “matchbox bed” into a search engine with a few other words she hoped might help conjure up the lost book. After many tries and much scrolling, she came across a name that rang a bell: Little John Little, the title of a Wonder Book by Charlotte Steiner. She found and purchased a well-worn copy online, pristine copies being few and expensive.
She bought it with the irrational half-hope that somehow her own book had survived and wandered through the world much like its tiny hero, to finally be returned to the safety of its own home—me, her library. She became so invested in this scenario she was almost willing to believe her name had once been the Carol Marie of its inscription. I considered planting the idea that she might in fact have been Carol Marie in a slightly different universe, one of many matchbox universes kept in the cigar box of God, but, then, one of us needs to keep grounded. (The picture below is taken from The Matchbox Diary, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.)
Opening a book one has not seen in over half a century is a fascinating exercise in memory and one of LW’s favorite pleasures, right up there with foot rubs and hot caramel corn. She loves those Eureka moments of re-discovering long-lost images and scenes along with the feelings and associations they evoke. Of course, I could have reminded her of how Little John Little had used a peapod for a hammock and a spider web for a swing, or how he almost got eaten by a cow and rescued by a bird. But I’ve found it usually takes a book in hand for her to hear me, and even then I’m more “felt” than “heard.” Such it is with spirits.
Miniature worlds have always been irresistible to LW. As the youngest child of her family, she related to small things. Being small makes it easy to hide, and hiding was one of her go-to defenses when trouble broke out in the adult world around her. The tiny hero of Little John Little is frequently shown in places that evoke the womb-like security that is comforting to a child: a leaf, a tree hollow, a walnut shell, a nest.
He is also another example of a type common to many of LW’s books: someone who manages to save himself by creating his own world.
But Little John Little also gets by in the world at large with help from friends he meets along the way. Which must be a comforting thought as he settles into his matchbox bed after a long day of adventures.
An After Note: LW sketched many versions of the squirrels’ home in the scene above as a child. The idea of living–or hiding–in a tree remained one of her favorite daydreams for years, and one of mine, too. She remains drawn by personal rooms that reflect peoples’ lives. Single rooms that suffice as this home-in-one (which provides food, sleep, and hospitality) she finds particularly attractive–and a topic for a separate post. I will note here, however, that among her father’s few possessions when he died, she discovered pictures of such rooms in forms of squirrel nests and rabbit burrows that she had drawn on the back of a first grade worksheet. The edges of the paper had been singed in a fire that had badly damaged the interior of her childhood home, damage from which it never recovered. This paper, however survives, and I will post it here when it is found.