I only recall a handful of memories that I associate with becoming a writer. There was my high school English teacher, Coach Flagler, who introduced me to the world of short stores, and a college professor, the late Charles Muscatine, who, on the last day of his creative writing workshop, pulled me aside and told me I was a fool if I didn’t continue to write. But my earliest memory, one that’s actually more of a feeling, is of sitting with my mother while she read Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear stories. I couldn’t have been older than two, but the sound of my mother’s voice, the look of her hand as she turned the pages, the stories of Little Bear’s adventures visiting his grandparents or having tea with his best friends Emily and Duck, were a source of deep and enduring comfort. Deep comfort–that’s what words and stories are for me. Decades later, when I packed up and left home to start my own life, I took my favorite children’s books with me. My Little Bear books were on the top of the stack.
And years after that, when I had girls of my own, Little Bear was a nightly favorite. There are other books I’m sure my girls will associate with their childhoods; books I introduced (Whistle for Willie, A Snowy Day, The Cat in the Hat), and books we discovered together (Olivia, Madeline, Eloise, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble). But I hope they will always remember Little Bear. I hope they remember Maurice Sendak, who looms in our collective consciousness as a beloved distant uncle.
I was sorry to hear that Maurice Sendak died this morning. In his last radio interview, recorded last year when he was frail and ailing, he talked about loving books and music and art. They were his God, he said. He talked about growing old, loving friends, and missing them when they passed on. At the end of the interview, he broke down a bit as he said goodbye to the host. An author who was always keenly aware of death, he knew the end was near. “I wish you all good things,” he said.
He will be sorely missed.