Thursday, 10 July 2014

Thursday, or Thereabouts - July 10, 2014

And the smallest one was Madeline...

Part of my morning routine is to peruse the BBC News site. There is always something there that catches my eye, gives me a smile or a frown. Today it was a smile, a big broad grin accompanied by the glowing warmth of childhood memories. The News Magazine section of the site features an article about the character Madeline from Ludwig Bemelmans' books: "Madeline in New York: Bemelmans' iconic schoolgirl on display as she turns 75."

I loved Madeline and this morning I clearly heard my mother's voice reading the opening lines:

"In an old house in Paris
That was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls
in two straight lines.
They left the house at half-past-nine
In two straight lines, in rain or shine.
The smallest one was Madeline."

I curled right up into my mother's warmth and revelled in times past...

The Bookmobile ca 1953
Image courtesy of
Friday was Bookmobile Day.  Mom and I would walk hand-in-hand down to the end of our short street where the big two-toned green bus parked for an hour every Friday morning from 10:30 to 11:30.  Sometimes we would get to watch this behemoth lumber and creak into place, but most of the time it would be there already, with the stairs pulled out waiting for us.   In good weather the driver would be lounging on the grass smoking a cigarette, but when he would see us coming, he would jump to his feet and with a big smile lift me up into the library on wheels.  Those steps were too big for four year old legs.  Mom always thanked him, and the librarian who greeted us always smiled.

Inside, both walls were lined with books floor to ceiling and the narrow hallway between them was paved with beige linoleum.  The long thin bank of fluorescent lights that ran down the centre of the bus emitted a comfortable hum.   In the summer, it was hot and airless, so we never stayed very long, but in winter the bookmobile was a cosy refuge from bitter winds, due in no small part to the engine running for the full hour.
About half way down on the driver’s side was a two foot square window.  This was where the children’s books could be found.  A small kid-sized wooden table with two chairs sat under the window and nestled between two low vertical shelves that displayed the entire children’s collection, perhaps some twenty books in all.  Most of the time I had this special space all to myself -- it seemed not many children got taken to the bookmobile by their mom.

Find the book Here
My favourite books were Lois Lanski’s stories about Mr. Small – Cowboy Small, Policeman Small, Papa Small, The Little Sailboat, and The Little Train,  to name a few.  One day, Mom handed me Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline”, even though I really didn’t think a story about pretty little girls in Paris, France was anything I would like.  As the story goes, Madeline is taken ill and has to go to hospital.  I had just had such an experience, so Madeline and I had something in common.  My mom was very clever!  My all time favourite book was “Curious George”.  George and I had something in common too.  We were both very curious and that occasionally got us into trouble.

I often had time to just watch Mommy find her books.  She would scan the shelves carefully, often with her right forefinger tracing the bookshelf until she found something of interest, at which point she would pull out the book and read the inside flap. Then one of two things would happen – she would either put the book back or go on to read the first page.  If then a smile crept across her face, I’d hear the book close with a satisfactory snap and see it triumphantly added to her book bag.

Finally we would present our finds to the smiling librarian who would dutifully stamp the cards and then it was out the door we went -- with a little help from the driver – and back up the street, hand-in-hand. Bookmobile days were special times not so much for the books as for the time spent with Mom – those hand-in-hand walks followed by afternoons curled up beside her while she read to me.

Happy Birthday Madeline!

text ©2014 April Hoeller

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