Friday, October 1, 2021

The Books of My Childhood - For The Love of Cozy Homes

I finished reading A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration and the Meaning of Home by Henry Cole, on Thursday.  It's a lovely book about a little mouse that lives in a great house on a plantation and befriends a young boy who carries her around in his pocket. Celeste faces several trials and adventures in the story, but has a gift for curating a safe and cozy home wherever she finds herself. At one point in the story she ventures up into the attic and comes across a doll house, just fit for a mouse, and temporarily makes it her home.  Here's a passage from the chapter that I think is just lovely!

"Celeste began straightaway to clean and make order of her new home. Now that the house was bright and cheery, and its contents easy to see, she could open drawers, explore cabinets, shake out linens, polish brass, shine crockery and sweep floors.

And that she did. She made a small broom using feathers from. the old mattresses, and a rag from a bit of mattress ticking. Soon the floors and the walnut staircase glowed. She dusted and polished the chandelier and glass cabinet doors.

An inventory of the dining room cabinet revealed a lace tablecloth, four china plates with matching cups and saucers, and a china serving platter. In one drawer, Celeste found several tiny serving candles, partially melted from the summer heat in the attic.

She pulled one of the chairs from the living room out on to the windowsill. The missing pane afforded her the chance of catching a passing breeze, and from her perch she could see the comings and goings of the plantation below.

Celeste felt contented after days of hard work. She straightened one last picture, fluffed up a sofa cushion, and then at last made her way to her bedroom."

- A Nest for Celeste
by Henry Cole

I don't know about you, but being a lover of homekeeping and creating cozy spaces for myself and my family, this just speaks to my soul! I could envision myself stepping right into that scene and helping Celeste set everything to right. I thrive on bringing order to chaos! This particular book was one that I discovered while homeschooling my girls, but the book that began it all was one I received when I was probably about six years old.

It all started with  Miss Suzy, which is the tale of little gray squirrel "who lives all by herself in the tip tip top of a tall oak tree." To this day I dream of living in a tree house, and I'm apparently not alone (I like #15 and #28). Like Celeste, Miss Suzy was forced for a time to take up residence in an attic doll house, where she discovers a small box of wooden soldiers who come to her aide in recovering her lovely tree top home. I don't want to give too much away in case you've never read it.

"Miss Suzy liked to cook, she liked to clean, and she liked to sing while she worked. Every morning Miss Suzy made herself a bowl of acorn pudding. And as she stirred it around she sang, "Oh I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I'll make an acorn cake". After that she swept her moss carpet with a little broom she made from acorn twigs. Then she dusted her firefly lamps and rinsed her acorn cups and put her whole house in order."

- Miss Suzy
by Miriam Young

Reading those words is like coming home, so precious and familiar. They sweep me right back to the tiny bedroom in the north west corner of my childhood home where I first discovered this delightful story. If i could point to a moment when my love for all things homey and cozy was first instilled in my heart, it was upon reading this delightful little story. If you've never read it and don't want to bother with purchasing a copy or finding one at the library, I found a lovely reading of it, here.

I have many fond memories from my childhood of seeking out small spaces, which for a time was a corner of our garage, and transforming them into the most magical places. I recall when Cinderella was banished to the attic, and Rapunzel to the top of the tall tower, how lucky they were to be able to make a home in these more secluded, rustic spaces, and to keep company with the field mice and the birds. Though quiet honestly, on the few occasions when a mouse did make its way into our home, I was not welcoming! For a time, I did have a desire to keep a tiny mouse in a cage complete with a teacup, but as I've grown older I'm more content to imagine the adventurous lives they lead in the forest.

There were other books throughout my childhood, and in raising my girls that I've loved for their cozy depictions of home and coziness. Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in my opinion is one of the most descriptive of the series when it comes to painting the scene of coziness.

"There were slabs of tempting cheese, there was a plate of quivering head cheese, there were glass dishes of jams and jellies  and preserves and a tall pitcher of milk, and a steaming pan of baked beans with a crisp bit of fat pork in the crumbling brown crust.

Almonzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread thick with butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust. He demolished a small heap of pale mashed turnips, and a hill of stewed yellow pumpkin. Then he sighed and tucked his napkin deeper into the neck back of his red waist. And he ate plum preserves and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon rind pickles. He felt very comfortable inside Slowly he ate a piece of pumpkin pie.

- from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Chapter 2 - Winter Evening

That passage makes me hungry just reading it!

Some of my daughter's favorite books that likewise depict cozy scenes of home is the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem.

Which tells the story of the seasonal adventures of a community of mice who live in a little township called Brambly Hedge. I think I may have shared these links before, but they were made into a tv series in the UK, and you can find them on You Tube, Winter Story, Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story.
I'm planning on watching Autumn Story over the weekend! I don't know if any of you are cartoon lovers in your adult years, but as with so many of the things I love, including old movies and old sit-coms, cartoons evoke that simpler time of my life as a child and in raising my children. And while I don't live in or dwell too much on the past, in this day and age, with how quickly the world is changing, there is just something about watching them that is like pulling up a soft warm blanket to shelter and cover me from the cold world.

And finally, I want to end by sharing another of my daughter's favorite cozy home books from her childhood,  TumTum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn. Here's a passage from the opening chapter.

"Once there were two married mice called Mr. & Mrs. Nutmouse, and they lived in great style. They had a big rambling house with a ballroom, and a billiards room, and a banqueting room, and a butler's pantry and just about every other sort of room a married couple might want. (There were thirty-six rooms in all.)

The house was called Nutmouse House, and it was situated in the broom cupboard of a small home dwelling called Rose Cottage. A broom cupboard might not sound like a very grand place for a home, but this broom cupboard was special. It had creamy white walls, mottled red tiles on the floor and a tiny sash window hidden behind a curtain of honeysuckle."

- TumTum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall
by Emily Bearn

And I'll simply leave you with that little morsel to wet your appetite for more! The book is filled with such depictions as it whisks you away on Mr. and Mrs. Nutmouse's adventures. It was one of the last books that I recall from Kate's childhood. She was eleven years old when it was first published and we discovered it one day on a trip to Target. I fondly recall reading it together under the big oak tree that stood at the side of our little farmhouse, images of a real cozy home where we lived happily for many years.

Our apartment today, while an apartment in a larger city, is perhaps not equally as cozy, but cozy just the same, and these books are the inspiration for it all! Are you a cozy home keeper, and are there any books from your childhood or even today, that inspire you with their words and sweet scenes of home? I'd love for you to share if you have one or two to recommend. I'm always eager to learn of a new book I might not be aware of yet, and I love to find kindred spirits who've lingered long over the pages of their favorites! Let me know if any of the titles I've mentioned are ones that are familiar to you, and if not, then if you enjoy reading children's literature for yourself or to share with your children or grand children, I can't recommend any of these titles enough! They are a sweet balm for the soul, and I hope you will find delight in them!

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