"In An Old House in Paris..."

... I feel sorry for the girl-child that cannot finish that line.

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines they broke their bread
And brushed their teeth and went to bed.
They left the house at half past nine
In two straight lines in rain or shine-
The smallest one was Madeline.”
 ― Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline

My mother sits across the room, reading to my Fiona from my old Madeline books. Bits and pieces come back to me as I listen, whispering along at my favorite lines. I loved Madeline. I loved her spunk; I loved her smallness; I loved her fiery bob topped with that jaunty yellow hat.  Megan and I based our backyard play on her stories, the two of us only one sixth of the crowd of girls in that Parisian boarding house.
***
Mom reads Madeline's Rescue, the one where our plucky heroine falls in the Seine and is rescued by a dog, which the girls promptly adopt and name Genevieve. Such a glorious name for such a brave little canine. When Genevieve is banished from the school by the disagreeable Lord Cucuface (I'd be disagreeable too, if I had a name like that) I don't even have to see the picture to know the pose that Madeline strikes as she declares her intentions to restore Genevieve to the school; I stand ramrod straight, in the middle of the room, left hand raised passionately to the sky and declaim the line as my mother reads, "Miss Genevieve, noblest dog in France, you shall have your VEN-GE-ANCE!" (And oh yes, I can deliver that line like a pro.) Fiona probably thought I'd finally lost it. She'll understand one day, only it will be my children she acts the fool for.
***
The book itself is marked with the wavy-paged scars that signify water damage. I ask my mom if she knows how it got waterlogged. The look on her face is one of chagrin; she knows I'm particular about keeping my books nice, especially the ones with memories attached, but I'm not asking to point blame: I'm asking if she knows the story. She doesn't. 
"I took it in the bath one day," I tell her.
She begins to smile, "and you dropped it in?"
I nod. "Ironic, don't you think, that I should happen to drown the very book in which Madeline nearly drowns."
The damage is the memory in this case.


No comments