Goodnight Moon is my favorite children’s picture book. It is a gentle story of a baby bunny’s bedtime ritual: saying goodnight to each of the objects in his room. As a child, I always laughed at the “bowl of mush,” and wondered: what exactly is “mush”?
According to the dictionary, mush is any “soft, pulpy mash.” The only specific food called “mush” is cornmeal mush, served as a porridge in the South, but author Margaret Wise Brown was from Brooklyn, and the mush in the illustration is white, not cornmeal-yellow.
In any case, Goodnight Moon makes a good introduction to a chapter about childhood memories. Interestingly, illustrator Clement Hurd says that at first, Brown was to have the pseudonym “Memory Ambrose,” and he himself was to be called “Hurricane Jones.”
“Do you want to try a memory session today?” asked Dr. Liffey. “There’s time.”
“All right.” Tabitha felt reluctant, partly because she knew that more memories were waiting to be revealed. Ever since the first session, she had felt them growing and expanding within her. It was almost as though they resided not in her brain, but in her gut. Now they were rising, moment by moment. By chance that week, she had walked past a man in Astoria Park whose pipe smoke triggered a sudden, vivid flash of memory: Corbin Crowe smoking a pipe and reading papers at his big rolltop desk. Her toddler self sat on his knee, facing the desk, and he held her with one large, steadying hand over her belly. She focused on the one drawer that always made her most curious, and stretched out a hand. No, he said. And there the memory faded.
They went through the relaxation exercise, and Tabitha was feeling drowsy when Dr. Liffey said, “Go back to the house now. The one where you lived as a very small child. Do you remember any other rooms?”
“There were rooms upstairs. The one with the desk, and another one with a couch and books. I remember a book there. It was called Goodnight Moon. About a child who said goodnight to everything in the room before going to sleep.”
“Was anyone else with you when you had the book?”
“Yes, Melinda was. We used to sing the alphabet song, and I knew every letter in the book… Anna, I remember learning to read! It was Melinda who taught me.”
“And how does that make you feel?” asked Anna’s calm voice.
“I’m grateful. Books have been the most important things in my life, and she was the one who taught me.” Even though she was only a child herself.
Anna silently waited for her to continue, but she lay back with her eyes shut, wrestling with conflicting feelings about Melinda. Finally Anna asked, “Are there other rooms in the house?”
“The kitchen,” said Tabitha. “I remember playing with pots and pans in the cupboard.”
“What was that like?”
“It was special. Melinda couldn’t go there, but I was allowed.” She took a few breaths before adding, “She could only be in the basement, or upstairs. There was a metal gate that blocked the stairway.”
“But you could go to the kitchen.”
“Yes. Sometimes. Not always when I wanted. In fact, I thought of the kitchen today on my way here. I passed a window with a big television that was playing ESPN, and they showed two men in kilts wrestling. They were standing up, with their arms around each other.”
“Why did the wrestlers remind you of the kitchen?”
Tabitha was silent, replaying the image of the wrestling men in her head. Then it seemed to her that a black bubble rose to the surface of her consciousness and burst, releasing its burden of fear. “I’m in the kitchen… inside the cupboard, with the door ajar. I’m playing with the pans, but there is a sound at the door, of Corbin Crowe coming into the house. I know I’m not allowed near the door, so I watch from the cupboard. I see him come in, and there is another man with him. A big man. I’ve… I’ve never seen another man except on TV, so I am scared, and curious. But nothing happens. They talk in low voices and I start to lose interest, but then the other man says the name “Melinda,” and I look up. Suddenly they have their arms around each other like wrestlers, straining hard. They move back and forth. Then something happens to the other man. He makes a strange noise, and his face gets red and his eyes get bulgy. He sinks to the ground. There’s a heavy thump as he falls. I see Crowe crouching over him, and then I shut the cupboard door and hide.”
Anna waited. Finally Tabitha wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sat up. She took a Kleenex from the box.
“What do you think that memory means?” asked Dr. Liffey quietly.
“If you’ve read the Wikipedia article on the Hill case,” answered Tabitha, “you know that Corbin Crowe was convicted of both kidnapping and murder. They found the skeleton of a middle-aged man under the compost pile by the shed. His name was Roger Norton.”
Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss
Notes: For this post, I had to research the Irish/Celtic form of wrestling, an ancient sport similar to Greco-Roman wrestling. The two combatants face each other standing up, and each tries to force the other down. Various moves are used, including kicking the legs out from each other. The scene of Scáthach and Cúchulainn wrestling in Chapter 22 also draws on this tradition.