Way, way back, at the earliest, foggy frontiers of my memories—at about the age of four—I received a storybook from my spinster aunt. Entitled Winnie-the-Pooh, it was my introduction to literature, and to the wonderful world of reading.
I couldn’t read the stories myself, of course, not then, but I spent countless happy hours listening to my aunt read them to me, cozy on the couch in front of the warming fire. That book was soon followed by its sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which I also loved, and later on by two others by the same author, A. A. Milne.
To this day, I can remember my aunt’s husky voice speaking for the various characters, can hear her uninhibited laughter at the situations they found themselves in, can feel her warm breath on my cheek as we avidly devoured the pages. Given her happiness during those times we spent together, it would have been impossible for me to grow up not loving the joys of reading.
Among my favourite recollections of those books, beyond the stories themselves, were the illustrations—pen-and-ink drawings lovingly composed by E. H. Shepard. In my mind’s eye, I see many of them still, though I have not cracked the covers of those books in more than seventy years.
It occurred to me recently that many of the values and attitudes that I grew up with, and have clarified and refined during adulthood, were first suggested by Pooh and his friends. For example, understanding others’ points of view, and being tolerant of differing opinions, have always been important attributes to which I have aspired. And I have always believed patience is a virtue, even if I was not always able to adhere. To that end, these statements still ring true—
When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.
A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.
What’s wrong with knowing what you know now and not knowing what you don’t know until later?
Pooh and his friend Christopher Robin seemed always on the cusp of an adventure, something that appealed to me as a child, and something that continues to motivate me into old age. A partial list of chapter headings from the first book clearly illustrates their spirit—
In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place,
In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle,
In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump, and
In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole.
The adventurous spirit of these boon companions can also be seen in these statements—
You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.
Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.
They’re funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.
If the string breaks, then we try another piece of string.
If it’s not Here, that means it’s out There.
Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
I particularly love that last one.
Perhaps the two greatest attributes I absorbed from these stories, the ones that underlie all the others, are the gift of friendship, and the joy of love for one another—
It’s so much more friendly with two.
It isn’t much good having anything exciting, if you can’t share it with somebody.
I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.
If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart; I’ll stay there forever.
Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.
Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.
Love is taking a few steps backward, maybe even more, to give way to the happiness of the person you love.
How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
I cherish that final thought, even while acknowledging I have never had to say goodbye to Winnie the Pooh.
There is one picture I love more than any other from the book, however, a picture of Christopher Robin and Pooh coming down the stairs together, and I can still hear my aunt’s hearty laughter upon reading the accompanying plea from Pooh-—
If possible, try to find a way to come downstairs that doesn’t involve going bump, bump, bump on the back of your head.
Winnie the Pooh was my first and abiding friend.