The quotes we treasure

'I kept my autograph books for years'  (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE)
'I kept my autograph books for years'
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE)
Not too long ago, I was strolling with my older daughter down a narrow street in Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem, almost like a country lane, and she was admiring the blossoms.
“Spring is here!” she remarked.
Without thinking, I countered with something I remembered a girl writing in my autograph book when I was in fourth grade:
Spring is here
The grass is riz –
I wonder where the flowers is?
“Mum, do you have a poem or a song for every situation?” she asked, with a bit of amusement, but also an underlying trace of irritation.
It is a bad habit of mine, I admit, but the quotes from the past are important to me, and I suppose it is a way of holding on to memories. When I was a child in Australia, we all were given autograph books at the end of every year, and we got all our classmates to write something in them. The first two pages were usually given to our parents. I remember my mother wrote: “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.” My dad, a great Shakespeare scholar who never believed in talking down to me, wrote:
This above all,
To thine own self be true.
And it must follow
As the night the day
Thou canst not then be false
To any man.
The crush I had on a little boy called Bruce was obviously not reciprocated, as he wrote:
Roses are red;
Violets are blue,
The rain on the roof
Reminds me of you...
Drip, drip, drip.
(A drip was a great insult, comparable today to a nerd or a geek).
I kept my autograph books for years, but they must have got lost sometime in changing houses or countries. I wish I still had them.
Repeating all these old things to my children and grandchildren is, I suppose, my way of clinging on to my memories. When my four children were small, and I pushed them on the swings at the playground, I taught them the song my mother taught me, and she learned from her mother, maybe 200 years ago. It went:
Swing me just a little bit higher,
Obee, darby, doo;
Swing me just a little bit higher
And I’ll love you.
Swing me over the garden wall,
Hold me close so I’ll never fall –
Swing me just a bit higher,
Obee, darby doo.
Then I taught it to my grandchildren, but I doubt if my Israeli great-grandchildren would understand it. With all the babies, I played “This little piggy went to market” with their bare toes, making them laugh; and when they were a little bit older “Oranges and lemons, the bells of St. Clements...” I sang them the lullabies I remembered:
Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree tops;
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall –
And down will come baby,
Cradle and all.
Just recently, one of my adult grandchildren admitted that this lullaby terrified him as a little boy – he didn’t want to go crashing down in his cradle. I’d never thought much about the words before, but I guess a lot of nursery rhymes are quite scary, too, like the one about the maid in the garden hanging out the clothes, when down came a blackbird and bit off her nose.
My late brother Phil once came to visit us in Israel from Australia,and we had a family dinner. At the end, when we said Grace after Meals, we sang “Shir Hama’alot” (Psalm 126) to the tune of “Waltzing Matilda” in his honor. He was delighted, and with tears in his eyes he thanked me for keeping the memory alive of my birthplace, with my kids and grandchildren, and he recited for them:
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains...
Still, I know I should try to break myself of this quotation habit. I think I remember thousands of poems – all the ones I loved by Rupert Brooke, W.B. Yeats and that generation; quips by Dorothy Parker – “Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses” – and Ogden Nash.
And the songs – all the ones my generation associates with romance, which really was different back then. No such thing as recreational sex; but real romance, like the Road to... films, with Bing Crosby crooning “Moonlight and Shadows” to Dorothy Lamour. Having a date meant spending the afternoon ironing your prettiest dress; and the boy coming to take you to a movie, bearing a flower for you to wear in your hair. And always consulting with your father what time he needed to bring you home. I think today’s generation misses so much magic that was in our lives all those years ago.
Nevertheless, I’ll try to stifle the poems and songs that rise automatically to my lips on various occasions. But it will be hard, because I loved them.
The writer is the author of 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, now a movie titled The Golden Pomegranate. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.