Thursday, February 24, 2011

The salad days

Books have been a passion for virtually my entire life, but the indulgence of reading for fun has come to an abrupt halt in the last couple of years.  It seems that for some reason or another (hmmm... dare to fancy a guess?), I can never seem to get through more than a page or two at night before my eyelids slam shut and I fall asleep with the bedside lamp glaring, glasses slipping down my nose, and a paperback open on my chest.

However, Thing 2 finally decided to start sleeping through the night right before the holidays, so I picked up a few novels that have been collecting dust on my bookshelf.  After seeing a movie preview for Water for Elephants, I decided to read the book: a) before the movie comes out, and b) to pacify my sister's nagging me to read it so we could discuss it. I was a little slow getting into the plot, but I absolutely loved this book! 

There are many things I adore about a good book -- characters in whose lives you become invested, an amazingly vivid setting, suspense, an enduring love story, a search for one's true self... I could go on and on.  What I thought I loved about this book, set in the gritty circus culture of the Depression era, was that it transported me to a place and time of which I have no intimate knowledge. I always delight in getting lost in something completely outside of my experience, which is why I enjoyed books like Angela's Ashes or Memoirs of a Geisha so much, even though they were sometimes difficult to read.

And then I came to the passage below about three pages from the end, and I felt like I had been socked in the gut. The book is told from the point of view of Jacob, an elderly man in a nursing home looking back on his adventures as a young man. Here he is describing the early years of his marriage:
"Those were the salad days, the halcyon* years! The sleepless nights, the wailing babies; the days the interior of the house looked like it had been hit by a hurricane; the times I had five kids and a wife in bed with fever. Even when the fourth glass of milk got spilled in a single night, or the shrill screeching threatened to split my skull, or when I was bailing out some son or other from a minor predicament at the police station, they were good years, grand years.
But it all zipped by. One minute [we] were in it up to our eyeballs, and the next thing we knew the kids were borrowing the car and fleeing the coop for college. And now, here I am. In my nineties and alone."

Wow. Cue the lump in my throat.

I'm exhausted. Seriously, the girls have not both slept soundly through the night at the same time since around Christmas. Hannah's had a constant stream of colds and recurring ear infections, followed by a serious bout of teething and recent attempts to become mobile. Meanwhile, Lucy's been battling a cough as well as nightmares (apparently there are ladybugs and scary robots in her bed). Andrew and I have been elbowing each other getting up every couple of hours or so, every night, for weeks and weeks on end. Then we wake up at 5:30 am and try to function all day at work, squeeze in communicating with our friends and families, and come home striving our hardest to be good parents. And while I love my children with every fiber of my heart and soul, I've been missing the salad days! It won't be long at all until I turn around, notice that my house is eerily quiet, and ache for a little baby to wake me up at night. These CRAZY days snuggling wiggly little bodies that are all funky and warm from sleep are the ones I'll miss the most when I'm in the nursing home.

A friend once posted on Facebook that she doesn't read novels because there's too much out there to learn from works of nonfiction. Those books most certainly have their place, and Lord knows I could stand to read less fluff and more history, but... in this particular instance, I'll have to respectfully disagree.

Enjoying the Friday afternoon sunshine in the front yard

*Webster defines halcyon as calm, golden, or prosperous. The term is used as an adjective to "refer to a happy and successful time in the past that is remembered as being better than today."


Nora Greer said...

Wow Jennifer! Change a few names and add an extra kid and that could be our house! I don't read many grown up books these days myself but that sounds like a great that excerpt you provided!

Candace said...

I LOVE this post. Great stuff, my friend. I wonder if "Raising Arizona" came first or if it was from this book. Hmmm.... Jack and I refer often to the salad days but mostly with thoughts of Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage in our heads.

Love you and again... LOVE this post.

Whetstones said...

1. Nagging indeed...but only because I knew you would LOVE this book.
2. You are right about the time passing at the speed of light. One day, Lucy will ask you for a cup of juice and the next she will ask you to come visit her in college. And all those moments and periods in life will have their stresses and moments of joy. Enjoy them all! Love you! PS "thing 2"? That is hilarious!