I’ve been staring at the same little length of yellow ribbon, tied to a rung in my rocking chair for about thirteen years now, but that’s because it’s in the line of vision from my bed. If I’d been staring since it was put there it would be more like twenty-seven.
All children are wonderful about practicing their skills, so I suppose that the things they work so hard to learn when they are in a stage of physical development are things preordained by God or Nature to be part of the human condition. Alexa learned to tie a knot when she was three and the ribbon on my chair is the last existing proof of her avid pursuit of perfecton in this field, because I don’t suppose I need to tell anyone that for awhile many strands and strings dangled limply around the house, and I will never cut off the remaining one.
It is so valuable, that lingering yellow ribbon, almost as if it were Alexa herself, her thoughtful expression as I explained something to her, her fine, blond hair just beginning to grow, her fussy approach to food, her hugs, her laugh. If we were to calculate value in money terms, and if we were honest, such a ribbon would be of museum quality, would be priceless, but we cannot, because only the ribbon exists where we can see it, the rest is simply locked in my head impossible to display.
There are many artifacts and events, of small importance in themselves which, when put in the context of their time. take on a mantle of great importance in a single life, going so far as even perhaps to change a direction. I was eight years old when my grandfather Hawley died, a truly little thing in my young life. I had no memory of him and the stories they told were of a gruff old man, quite wealthy, who had no interest in children. And surely that was true. I still don’t know if he left me any money, but I got a gift, a remembrance from him that arrived sometime later. He left me two sets of books. Imagine, from his library he left me a set of Robert Louis Stevenson, and a complete set of The Arabian Nights. I was a pretty good reader and and had already read Treasure Island and Kidnapped and memorized A Child’s Garden of Verses, but Travels with a Donkey? I didn’t see anything fun about that. As for Arabian Nights, Mother just said I could wait until I was older, but there was something about possessing those books that changed my life.
I became, overnight, a possessor of books. I was defined by the books I possessed. I bought books. No longer did I imagine a future of myself in the real estate business. The transformation was quick and total. I thought less of my real estate relatives, of my mother who sold beautiful clothes to well off ladies. I became bookish. I scribbled stories in a notebook in a room upstairs, was known as a “character,” memorized poems by Ogden Nash because they were in the New Yorker. I never read a comic book. I didn’t read any of Grandfather’s books until after I was married, but I liked books, physical books that you could line up on a shelf. Sometimes I wonder where I would be today, if I hadn’t received that gift.Maybe I would just be the same, but I would hope not. I like the little chances you take in life that can drive you off a beaten path and onto a fresh trail. It might have been a little thing, but it turned to to be a big one.