Unlike Leslie Carter, the underappreciated mother in her latest novel, THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE (now available in paperback), Dorothea Benton Frank enjoys a healthy and open relationship with her grown children. Despite their heritage as “natural born liars” --- or maybe because of it --- Dottie’s children know the importance of choosing words wisely. Of course, it may have a lot to do with the family’s shared love of stories and storytelling. Dottie may have forbidden her children candy and TV, but to this day, she’s happy to foot the bill on any and all kinds of books --- an investment with immeasurable returns!
I come from a long line of natural born liars, which makes for a deep appreciation of fiction and a healthy suspicion that almost every word that leaves the honey-tongued mouths of my sweet children has had the edges of truth massaged and rearranged. It’s a kind of game we would play that began when they had toys in their bathtubs and still had yet to receive a haircut that cost their momma money.
Victoria or Will would be splashing about while I washed their hair and we’d sing a song together, like Old MacDonald.
I’d croon, “…and on his farm he had a hamburger…”
Their eyes would flash knowing their Momma was pulling their little leg. And then we’d start to giggle, making up other ridiculous things that had nothing whatsoever to do with inventory of his livestock and poultry. We didn’t tell stories just for the sake of holding the floor, or read books just to get sleepy. We told stories to connect with each other, to let each other in on secrets, to flex whatever creative muscles we had. It made for a lively household.
Books were in their cribs and in their rooms within their reach as soon as they could crawl. There were stacks of them everywhere. First, cushy plastic ones, then board books and finally they graduated to scratch and sniff books (a personal favorite of mine). We had pop up books, books with music and sounds, and when it was time, we began to collect more serious books like GOODNIGHT MOON, THE NAPPING HOUSE, on to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and so on.
I denied my children candy and television and other things that poison the body and numb the brain, but never books. To this day they can send me the bill if they are buying anything from hardcover new releases to comic books, cookbooks, science fiction and any other genre that sparks their interest.
I’m not sure what all this means, except I noticed recently that we have matured into a family of first-rate communicators. They began to understand early on that words hold their own unique power and should be used with some care and consideration. And being from the South, we follow that time-honored tradition that you may say anything you want --- but it’s all in how you say it. Word choice became more important as they grew. It matters for them now more than ever.
I think that lavishing your children with books --- fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biographies, etc. --- can’t be anything but a good thing. Books and stories kept us close and they still do. I could coax them out of a teenaged funk with a good story. I’ve been in this Motherhood Game for nearly 30 years. Besides the handmade cards --- and I’ve saved all of them --- and the handfuls of flowers plucked from my garden, delivered with grubby hands and precious hearts, the thing I love most is when one of my children calls and says, “Mom! Do you have a moment? I’ve got a story for you!” What could be better than that?