Reading to your grandchildren is one of life’s great rewards. And as I settled back with Dylan on my knee and Tom Sawyer in my hands, I simply couldn’t have been happier.
“Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush,” I began in a lazy Southern accent, which was rather good if I do say so myself. The kids love the way I do voices.
“Why are you talking funny?” interrupted Dylan.
“That’s how they talked in Mississippi,” I explained.
“It sounds stupid,” said Dylan. I carried on, without the voices.
“He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled … “
“Why does he have to widewash the fence?” asked Dylan.
“Aunt Polly was probably too old to do it. Perhaps she had a plastic knee or something. Anyway she asked Tom.”
“But why did the fence need widewashing?”
“I don’t know, I suppose it was looking a bit run down.”
“Tom’s just wasting his time.”
“Ah, well, you wait a bit and maybe Tom might get someone to help him.”
“No it isn’t, it’s a wonderful story about being resourceful.”
“Well in Tom’s case it was getting out of having to paint the fence and getting all his friends to do it for him. Doesn’t that sound like a fun story?”
“It sounds stupid.”
“It isn’t stupid! It’s one of the great classics of modern literature, and I can’t imagine who’s been teaching you such disrespectful language.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You said painting fences was stupid and that’s why you got an Enviro-Slat fence.”
“Ah! Well that’s very true, of course, Enviro-Slat, fences never need painting do they, but they didn’t have wonderful products like Enviro-Slat in Tom’s day.”
“Well that’s pretty stupid.”
I know when I’m licked. I put down Tom Sawyer and opened Moby Dick, at the point where we’d left it the night before.
“Trumpet to mouth,” I read, though I gave the salty old sea dog impersonation a miss this time around, “the old man was standing in his hoisted quarter-deck, his ivory leg….”
“Was it a Clever-Deck?” asked Dylan.
“Of course it was,” I said. “Ahab’s not stupid, you know!”