One of my favorite things I’ve found in returning to Michigan, where I grew up, is that everyone here seems to have had a period in their lives where they’ve lived without water or electricity, where they hunkered down with a wood stove and a mile long driveway and usually a small baby or two. I love that, I relate to that. So many of my friends around the country were shocked about our year of living off the grid. They’d kind of cock their heads in confusion and furrow their brows and say “You…did what? But why would you do that?” But here, it’s old hat. Perhaps it’s just that all of my parents’ friends here in the woods of Northern Michigan are old hippies and that’s what happened in the 70s. Hell, my grandparents’ cabin had an outhouse; I remember heating water in the vestibule on the side of the cookstove for baths. No one here has batted an eyelash at the story of our last year.
Our transition back to modern living was simple enough, with one caveat. While we had internet access (granted we turned the modem on and off as needed to save our precious solar power) and no television in Montana, here in the small house we’ve rented we have no television and no internet access. The internet thing, I’ll admit, is driving me batty. But the TV thing is totally not a big deal. We have an actual TV and a DVD player, and we’ve been renting movies that we’ve missed the last year (by which I mean the last several years because who has the energy to stay up for movies with babies in the house). My absolute favorite so far? The Grand Budapest Hotel. Seriously, everything Wes Anderson does just slays me. I also rented The Fantastic Mr. Fox for the kids and found that I’d put it right up next to TGBH- since when were kids movies this stylish and amazing? Thanks for that one, too, Mr. Anderson. We even tried renting the first season of Mad Men. My husband had been told by a friend that he “was doing himself a disservice by not watching it.”
I tried it- and I get it, it’s a good show. The thing that struck me about it is not all the martini drinking and smoking and patronizing treatment of women (but seriously, holy &#%^!!!) but that the domestic scenes were all littered with situations that are so shocking by today’s standards. The little girl comes into the room with the plastic bag over her head and is admonished for playing around with the dry cleaning. The friend down the street waits to come over until she puts the kids down for the night, then just leaves them. The children are not only not in car seats, but not even belted as they climb over the seats between the front and back of the car. The pregnant woman pouring herself another whiskey and lighting up. And that’s just how things were, but they seem placed into the show for shock effect. Each time I pointed this stuff out, my husband would kind of roll his eyes and say “you’re just too sensitive.” But no, I’m not. I didn’t bother child-proofing my house, I don’t hover at the play ground when my kids climb too high. I’m not hyper protective by any stretch of the word. But these are all things that you could get arrested for these days. I mean, my mom had a friend whose daughter left her sleeping baby in the car while parked at the curb to walk 15 yards to give a dollar to a Salvation Army Santa and came back to her car to find a policeman waiting for her. That’s how much times have changed.
In thinking about that show, I was reminded of one of my favorite books as a child and how when I read it now, I feel like I have to explain what’s so messed up about it to my children. But it’s so gorgeously illustrated that I can’t not read it to them. I mean, so many historical books are so grossly inappropriate in action (hello, Grimm) and in moral (um…every rescued princess story every written). But it’s not to say they should all be written off.
Mrs. Fox’s Wedding, by Sara and Stephen Corrin and illustrated by the acclaimed Errol Le Cain, is about the grieving widow, Mrs. Fox.
She is hands down the most sophisticated and impossibly elegant fox in the history of children’s literature.
Her husband, dead of some untold cause, was as handsome and charming as anyone could have been, and with the very unusual trait of having had nine red bushy tails. Mrs. Fox is now looking for a new lover, but really, she just wants a replica of her old one. She won’t have anyone less exquisite than her husband had been, and he must look just like him, complete with all nine tails. Because that’s what really matters in a meaningful, mutually respectful marriage.
As new suitors come a-wooing, her darling housemaid, Miss Cat, holds them at bay until Mrs. Fox agrees to see them.
Miss Cat tripped nimbly upstairs and knocked at her lady’s door.
“Tis a suitor who’s called,
And he waits in the kitchen,
And if you will see him
I’ll go down and fetch him.”
Mrs. Fox asked,
“Has he nine bushy tails?
Is his coat of deep red?
And stockings to match?
-Else him I’ll not wed.”
To which Miss Cat replied,
“Oh mistress mine,
He’s no bushy tails nine,
And his coat is all grey,
I am sorry to say.”
All manner of woods-animal come to call, a wolf, a bear, a stag, etc. but none elicit any interest.
Not even when a fox with just one, then just two, then just three and all the way through to eight tails knock at her door. It’s not until her late husband’s doppelgänger shows up that Mrs. Fox springs from her grieving bed and gracefully lunges at what will obviously be her new husband.
And they have a gorgeous wedding to celebrate this totally weird and kind of offensive union.
There was much merriment and dancing, and for all we know they may be dancing there still.
But I still love it. I mean, love it love it. Looking past all the loving-someone-for-their-looks-actually-someone-else’s-looks-instead-of-who-they-are thing, it is just such a beautiful and enchanting book, with captivatingly romantic illustrations. It’s such a knock out!
Tell me, which of your childhood stories do you hate to love? Anything that reads today so dreadfully but that you can’t help but still adore?