Last week, my youngest son, Jeremiah, sent me a picture. In it, he’s in a rocking chair with his one-year-old daughter, Miah, sitting on his lap. They’re reading The Spooky Old Tree, a Berenstein Bears book. Jeremiah is almost the same age I was when I used to read that book to him, his twin sister, Susan, and their older brothers. I would often recite the story at night when I would lie down with the twins, frequently using a hokey German accent to amuse myself and add a bit of Old World charm. “Once upon a teime, theh vere tree little behrs…”
I would also deliberately flub up the refrain in the story. Instead of going through the list of the little bears’ props–”one with a light, one with a rope and one with a stick”–I would ad lib “a jar of pumpernickel jelly.” The twins would laugh and correct me, “No, Papa, ‘one with a stick'” or whichever item would make the story right. I would pretend to not quite hear them and come up with some other ridiculous item. Eventually, they’d get me straightened out on the matter and we’d go on with the story.
They loved the game almost as much as I did and The Spooky Old Tree joined other Bears’ stories and Uncle Reemus tales that became part of the interwoven fabric of their growing up. Along with the songs of Guy Clark, John Prine and Don Williams and a host of other singers, the stories are a rich part of the heritage I have tried to pass on, a part of what was passed on to me when my mother sat me on her lap and changed her voice for each character as she read about Brer Rabbit, Duck and His Friends and Clarabelle the Clown.
We never know what particular traits, habits, and customs our children will choose to share with our grandchildren. But we ought to stack the deck toward those that will bring us the deepest satisfaction, the greatest pleasure. Those that will preserve the finest elements of our nature and make for pictures that touch our hearts with gladness.