Reading Aloud to a Reluctant Family

I love words. I love what some people can do with them, and the blogs I follow are such writers. They inspire me.

One of them is The Gluten Free Girl and the Chef. On November 1, 2013 she posted about writing, impatient with her obsession about publishing perfect photos of perfect food. She remembers that writing is the gold thread that runs through her whole life, and she wants to shake off the sense that everything she puts on her site must be polished and pretty.  She says:

When I stop writing, I’m not happy. It’s pretty simple. A few days without cooking and Danny’s hands are shaky, his movements are frantic. A few days without writing and I pace the hall between the living room and kitchen, looking for something to do with my time. I check my phone too many times. I wish for it to be the end of the day so I can go to sleep.

I am with her there! So, encouraged by Shauna, the Gluten-Free Girl, I am writing and I don’t need it to be profound or perfect. Yes.

So, around here, Friday night is Movie Night. Over the years we have seen a lot of movies, and some of them more than once.  Conversation at the dinner table is sprinkled with lines from While You Were Sleeping, The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Russians Are Coming, Much Ado About Nothing (David Tennant’s is even better than Kenneth Brannagh’s), The Princess Bride, It’s a Wonderful Life, Ratatouille, How to Train a Dragon, The Quiet Man. It has no lines but in our top ten is Buster Keaton’s The General, with score by Carl Davis (accept no imitations). I just discovered this is public domain and that link takes you to the whole thing!

But I have been restless. My teens are growing up and will leave me soon; three are already in college. Time is short.  Do we really want to spend family time in front of a screen? Every week?  In fact, lately some of them have been skipping out to play an online game with friends. I haven’t had a TV since 1977 because it is too easy to waste time on it. I want my family to experience more memorable times together.

A few years ago we used to gather together and I would read aloud. Once, it was Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, and my husband got out a map of the mountains in Scotland so we could follow their trail.  (He ended up talking to a Scotsman who lived in that area and he confirmed our guesses.) We read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. We read the Odyssey and the Iliad, Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood.  We read BeowulfThe Great and Terrible Quest, The Eagle of the Ninth, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Wonder Book. But nothing lately.  And the younger kids had far less of this than the older ones.

So this week after pizza, after Grandpa Holleran drove off on his ATV toward his house down the road, the kids asked what movie I had prepared.  I told them we were going to have a read-aloud night.  They looked at me in disgust, and that is when I knew my kids had changed.  It is a  good thing I have been learning to argue as a Challenge B tutor and Logic teacher!  I argued my case that we could use more literature in our lives and no, Ranger’s Apprentice and the Eragon series did not count!

I wore down their defenses somewhat, so while they got something to do with their hands, I went in search of my beloved Washington Irving. “The Headless Horseman” would be fitting for this Halloween week, right? “Rip Van Winkle”, with its setting in the Dutch Hudson River Valley (from whence my Dutch ancestors come), would be a good place to start.  But no, I couldn’t find it.  So I grabbed three other books and settled down to read from A Treasury of Laughter, edited by Louis Untermeyer.  I can win them with humor, right? And I knew just the story. “The Sock Hunt” by Ruth McKenney.  I found a blog post about this book with an excerpt here.

Well, that earned a few giggles, so after I read a few jokes I pulled out Henry Van Dyke’s Half Told Tales. We decided these are like Aesop’s Fables for the early 20th century. Short and clever, with a little bit of snark.

But that was overshadowed by what followed, as I read “The Tar Baby” and others out of Uncle Remus. I don’t care if the book censors of our day consider this inappropriate for children. It is absolutely beautiful in its artistry. This is good story telling. Not only that, but Chandler’s ear for dialect makes the characters come alive.  I loved reading it aloud; I haven’t always lived in the vanilla valleys of Vermont and those voices were like old friends to me.

Well, if it weren’t for the approaching dark night of winter, I suppose I would be content to spend Friday evenings in the flickering glow of a well-crafted movie. But really, I dread winters more each passing year and I find the best way to puncture its gloom is with a shaft of laughter, with good company, and with homemade music.  I’m thinking Friday night soirees. Stay tuned.

About lettersfromheartscontent

Mother of six, homeschool teacher, tutor with Classical Conversations, wife to a forester and educator. I tend a perennial garden with a riot of blossoms, ride my bicycle in and out of the watershed, play ocarina and a boom-chick accompaniment when my kids feel like playing contradance music. I love being home, but I love an open road and adventure, too. Classical Conversations' Writers Circle carries my article on some aspect of classical education once a month.
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