Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sad, Sad Song of the South

Last summer I spent one weekend sorting through cardboard boxes that were filled with my family's books.  My brother and dad gave me full rein over their collections, saying I could decide what to keep and what to sell to Half Price Books.  My mom decided she wanted to go through her own books so that I would not get rid of any of her LaVyrle Spencers or Nora Roberts.  It was a fun task which allowed me to organize the books into "To Read" and "To Save" crates. 

One of the books that I placed in a "To Save" crate was Uncle Remus' collection of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox stories.  I did this reluctantly because I remembered hating the book as a child.  It was such a beautiful book, though:  yellow hardcover with the dust jacket still on it and a colorful painting of Brer Fox sitting on a porch.  Thus, my saving it was more for looks than the content of the book.  I did not even look through the pages.  The question was lingering in the back of my mind, "Why do I have such bad memories of this book?" 

The answer came to me this week as I sat down with The Bedside Book of Famous American Stories, edited by Angus Burrell and Bennett A. Cerf.  I've been reading this book ever work day during my lunch breaks.  Usually I can finish one story during my hour-long break.  So, on Monday I sat down and turned the page to discover the next story I would be reading:  "Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and the Tar Baby" by Joel Chandler Harris.  It sounded like a pleasant story about animals, so I was temporarily excited.  Then I realized that Brer Fox was the character painted on the front of that beautiful book that I hadn't really wanted to save.  As I started reading, I immediately learned why I hated the book as a child.

"'Bimeby, one day, arter Brer Fox bin doin' all dat he could fer ter ketch Brer Rabbit, en Brer Rabbit bin doin' all he could fer to keep 'im fum it, Brer Fox say to hisse'f dat he'd put up a game on Brer Rabbit, en he ain't mo'n got de wuds out'n his mouf twel Brer Rabbit come a lopin' up de big road, lookin' des ez plump, en ez fat, en ez sassy ez a Moggin hoss in a barley-patch.'"  (Copyright, 1936, by the Modern Library, Inc.)

That book had to have been the most frustrating thing I laid my eyes on as a young reader.  I probably struggled through it wondering if I was losing all of my reading abilities.  I'm sure I did not say anything to my parents about my difficulties because I did not want them to think there was something wrong with me.  After all, Uncle Remus stories are for children; I should have no trouble reading simple tales about Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit.  My parents must have never opened the book when they bought it for me.  They too were attracted by the delightful cover.  No wonder I placed that book in a "To Save" crate so reluctantly. 

Even though I decided to save the book, I will never give it away to a child.  If I ever meet a person who studies dialects, I will be happy to give the book to them.  They can take the insides; I'll keep the binding! 

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