I’ve been thinking today about the forces that have shaped me in my lifetime. The list would be enormous if I were to actually draft it up, what with the usual list of characters: friends, teachers, family, etc. As I thought more about it, I realized that it was not restricted to people I know or have known, but forms a much wider circle than that. (I could wax eloquent about the butterfly effect at this point but I started this post with a goal in mind, and that is not it)
Anyway, it struck me that folks whom I’ve never even met have deeply impacted me through their writing (if you don’t know me personally, perhaps I’m paying it forward, who knows?). The literature I’ve read in my short stay on this planet has certainly had a deep and abiding impact on who – and what – I now am.
For better or for worse.
So in recognition of that fact, and to help my audience get to know me better, I thought it would be fun to go through the books that have played the greatest role in shaping me one-by-one on this blog. Hopefully semi-chronologically. It won’t be all at once (I haven’t the time and nor have you for it to be one unit), but I plan to produce at least 2 or 3 “book reviews” a week.
Ah, yes. Back before lions sent children on life-changing quests, earlier than a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, prior to superheroes or time travel or knights in shining armor…
There was Grandpa.
(And Wainey too!)
James Stevenson’s books featuring “Grandpa” and “Uncle Wainey” were the supernal bedtime stories of my childhood. Every book started with two normal little children talking about life with their grandfather. The children would complain about the state of affairs for them, but Grandpa always knew how to put things in perspective. No matter what the issue, he had always had a rougher time of things as a kid.
Now, don’t think this means your standard “so what if the bus was late and you got cold because your shorts were too short? In my day, I walked to school 5 miles away in blizzards, uphill both ways!” talkin’ to. No, Grandpa’s stories of his childhood were hilariously over-the-top silly adventures, upon which his little brother, Wainey, always accompanied him with his battle cry, “Wait for Wainey!”
Together, Grandpa and Wainey would brave the elements, cut through thick jungles, fight off bed-monsters, and all without messing up their well-waxed mustaches. That’s right, the illustrations of kid Grandpa and kid Wainey had the same mustaches as their adult selves – which I think is a very clever commentary on children’s imaginations (what you didn’t think your patriarchs had always had the facial hair they do now?).
About the time Grandpa’s story was done, Uncle Wainey (a stouter version of his child-self) would always show up with a treat for the kids, and the chemistry between him and Grandpa had not changed one iota over the years.
What made it great
There are a lot of things that gave these books an endearing quality, but I’d say the best was that they showed in a silly and entertaining way that you are not the center of the world. That is, everyone has a story to tell if you listen, and usually it is better or more important than yours. I credit these books with inspiring my brother and I to make “tell us a story, dad!” a regular dinnertime request. If for nothing else, these books were worth that.
What it taught me
As just mentioned, these books taught me that everyone has a story. Just because Grandpa is old, doesn’t mean he never did anything fun or exciting – quite the opposite! He’s had way more time for fun and exciting things than the children he’s talking to, and it’s worth it to hear him tell about them.
To this day, I find real-life stories captivating and amazing. I am firmly convinced that there will be opportunities for story-telling in heaven, and I dearly look forward to spending an eternity learning the stories of each and every human there, not least of which because they all have impacted my story! (see again: the butterfly effect)
Further, these books reenforced the bond between brothers. Grandpa and Wainey were a terrific team, and I always felt inside that that’s the way brothers should be, and that Grandpa was the model of big-brotherness (not that I followed his lead and became an ideal older brother – far from!). My bro and I are about as far apart in age as Wainey and Grandpa by my guess, and it was great fun living their adventures vicariously as we cuddled up on either side of dad to see the pictures.
All in all, I would recommend these books to any children between the ages of 4 and 9. Read them at bedtime as a family, you’ll never spend a better last 10 minutes before sleep.
Oh, and also, to everyone who’s ever laughed when I’ve answered a question in the affirmative by saying, “Yump”…
I stole that from Wainey.