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In 1991, I was working in a law office in Santa Barbara.  My father called me at work one day.

He said, “I had to read this to you over and over and over again.  This is the last time I’m going to read this to you.  ‘I will not eat it I would not, could not, in a box. I could not, would not, with a fox. I will not eat them with a mouse I will not eat them in a house. I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.'”

“Uh, okay,” I responded.

He laughed, and informed me that in the San Francisco Chronicle, a columnist had paid homage to the passing of Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. He recalled the numerous times I had insisted that he read Dr. Seuss to me.

My father knew how to read to a child – very dramatic, funny, acting out all of the parts.

(The Screen Actors Guild has a wonderful website – http://www.storylineonline.net/ – where actors read children books.)

If there is someone in your family who was the “reader” or storyteller, a video of him or her reading a children’s book would be an endearing legacy.

Was there a particular book that you loved to have read to you when you were little?  If you don’t remember, ask your parents or grandparents.  If you were a repeat book or story requester, it will have undoubtedly stuck in their minds.

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“If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.” -Thomas Hardy

Before printed literature was available, spoken poetry was used to convey information, stories and prayers.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge described poetry as “the best words in their best order.”  He should know. 

Poetry has evolved over the centuries, reflecting the changing times in attitudes and perspectives, and the growth of spirit.  Poets draw “outside the lines,” creatively expressing alternate realities and contexts of thought and emotion.  They are rebels in the literary world. 

Geoffrey Chaucer’s prose in “The Canterbury Tales” caused quite a stir in his time, because he dared to write in his native language of Middle English, as opposed to the classical languages.  Walt Whitman introduced “free verse poetry” with his “Leaves of Grass,” then Lewis Carroll and e e cummings took that literary ball and carried it even further, creating new configurations of verse and vocabulary. 

Whether it’s the chilling words of Edgar Allan Poe (“Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore, Of Never—nevermore”), the sardonic humor of Ogden Nash (“God in his wisdom made the fly, And then forgot to tell us why”), the spiritual musings of Kahlil Gibran (“The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.  The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals”), or the whimsical, motivational writings of Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss (“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.), poetry can alter your perception.

April was established as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets to, among other things, highlight the legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets, introduce more Americans to the joys of poetry, and to have poetry play a more integral role in the school curriculum.

Sonnets, haikus, limericks, rhythm and rhyme, and slam poetry can all be celebrated in a variety ways this month, including:

  • On April 14, 2011, join others around the country and carry a poem in your pocket.
  • Download the PoemFlow app for your iPhone or iPod Touch, where a new poem will appear each day, the text flowing across and down the screen in harmony with the poem’s heartbeat.  Each poem is accompanied by historical trivia and contextual information:  http://www.poemflow.com

Do you have a favorite poet?

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Lake Julie

“Hello?” I answered my work phone.

“This is the last time I’m going to read this to you,” was the responsive greeting  I immediately recognized my father’s voice. “’I will not eat it in a box, I will not eat it with a fox. I will not
eat green eggs and ham. I will not eat it, Sam I Am.’”

“Oka-a-y,” I responded, glancing around the busy law office, wondering where this was going.

“Dr. Seuss recently died,” he said, “and I’m reading a column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle paying tribute to him.  I was thinking about how many times I had to read his books to you over and over again.  So, I’m just letting you know, that this is the last time I’m reading this to you.”

Laughing, I said, “Well, thanks for lobbing me one more read.”

His jobs over the years ran the gamut from disc jockey to TV announcer to trial attorney to ultimately retiring as Deputy Chief Counsel for the State of California. Throughout his careers he always had an audience of some sort. Don’t forget that trial lawyers play to a jury.

One of my earliest memories of my father is sitting on a riverbank with him, looking up at the night sky. I asked him, “What are stars?”

He replied, “Well, when it’s night time, God pulls down a shade. The shade has a lot of holes in it, so the sun shines through those holes.”

It made perfect sense to my three-year-old self.

A few more “highlights” of life with my father:

  • When my brothers and I were kids, he enjoyed playing Director in home movies. We couldn’t just walk up a sand dune. We had to crawl on our bellies, tongues hanging out, dying of thirst in the Sahara Desert. Too bad movie cameras didn’t have sound back then. It would be fun to hear our comments.
  • And, he would just make stuff up. For instance, my great-grandfather’s name was William Harrison. So, my dad told me that I was related to President William Henry Harrison, which I proceeded to share with all my friends, until I found out it wasn’t true. It so happens that that president served about 40 years before my great-grandfather even immigrated to this country.
  • My brothers like to tell the story of when our family camped near Mt. Lassen. Dad announced we would be hiking up the mountain, so our mother suggests we bring jackets. My father responds, “No, we don’t need them. The higher we are, the closer we’ll be to the sun, so it will be warmer.”
  • He kept the manuscript of “Pirates of Penzance” from his college acting days, and decided that he, my brothers and I were going to act out the different parts, and he would record us on the tape recorder. I can still see him coaching my brothers on the “correct” way to say “Arrgh,” as my mother rolled her eyes.

My father taught me how to use my imagination – to look at people and situations at different angles. I am grateful to him for this, because it allows me to see and understand different points of view, and to appreciate an individual’s uniqueness.

I am a biographer-personal historian. I am very good at it. I have a strong organizational skillset, but, more importantly, I was blessed with an upbringing of storytelling and a curiosity about life. Because of my father’s influence, I am able to preserve life stories for families around the world in a fun, educational and insightful manner; the benefits of which will be enjoyed generation after generation.

Thanks, Dad.

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