Friday, April 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 10 (Kenneth Grahame)

Grahame, Kenneth
The Wind In The Willows

This book belongs to Lori. I believe it originally belonged to her grandfather, from whom she inherited a small shelf of hardcover books that included, remarkably, given that her grandparents were farmers living in an isolated portion of North Central New York State, a first edition hardcover of Lolita.

We visited the old homestead a few years back. It was in autumn, and Lori had connected with the couple that had purchased her family's "camp" on a lake near Watertown. She spent many of her summers at the camp and most of her fondest childhood memories are located there. We rented it for a long weekend and while we were in town we drove over to Rossi, the farming hamlet her grandparents once lived in and where her mother was raised. Her mother was a Turnbull. We found lots of old Turnbull gravestones in the little cemetery there.

To get to the farm, you drive along a river, over a little bridge and up a hill. On the right stands an enormous old barn, probably fifty feet high, leaning slightly, which we have been told was purchased out of a Sears and Roebuck catalog. To the left, the little farmhouse, now empty, sits atop a little hillock. We climbed up and circled the vacant structure several times, peeking here and there through the dirty windows. Lori recognized a few aging pieces of furniture that still sat unused in various rooms. Apparently the farm had been sold years ago to someone who owned adjoining land. They had no use for the house, so they let it go. They still seemed to be using the barn, though.

Anyhow, this is not a first edition of Wind in the Willows. It seems to have been printed in 1913. I think it is a second edition. It has a beautiful cover, which you can sort of see behind the computer glare in the photo. A frog in a straw hat and a white linen suit sits atop a stump beside a river, smoking a cigar through a long ivory stem, a very self-satisfied look on his face. What appear to be a mole and a rat row past in a little boat. The rat is looking in toward the shore. An otter in jeans, white shirt and suspenders stands on the bank, his right arm on the shoulder of a seated fox in a yellow and red plaid shirt. The otter appears to be waving to the mole and the rat, while the fox seems to be pointing his finger at the frog, his head is slightly upturned in that direction. He is smiling.

I am sure these are all famous characters from the book, but I wouldn't know. I haven't read it. Maybe I will. Maybe. I. Will.

from The Wind in the Willows


The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring- cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!' and `O blow!' and also `Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, `Up we go! Up we go!' till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.


Lori Desormeaux said...

Sorry to burst your bubble here, Mike, but I have to. I bought "Lolita" at a used book seller at the Clarence Flea Market. It was cheap, apparently the seller missed the fact that it was a first edition. As did I, until you pointed it out to me. I may have also gotten "The Wind in the Willows" at a similar place, not sure. There is a connection to my grandparents with this book. This would be my grandparents who owned the camp. On Mondays my grandmother and I would drive back to their house in town to do laundry and shopping. Every once in a while my grandmother would take me up to the high school (closed for Summer, of course) where she worked as the secretary/nurse. I'd get to have the entire library to myself which was a dream for the bookworm that I was. I'd pick a bunch of books to take back to camp to read over the next couple of weeks. "The Wind in the Willows" was one of those books and probably why I bought the book later. As a kid, that book was magical to read up at the quiet lake, surrounded by nature.
The books that belonged to my farmer grandparents were the old editions of Shakespeare, Thoreau, Thackeray, Bronte, Washington, etc. Some were my grandfather's when he was a student, some were my grandmother's when she taught.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Damn -- I kind of liked the idea of your grandparents sitting on the porch glider at dusk, reading passages of Lolita out loud to each other and the cows.