For the past couple weeks I’ve been reading the Winnie-the-Pooh books to Nick at bedtime. At eleven years old, Nick was mortified when I pulled out the large “complete works” hardbound collection. Pooh is for little kids, he explained, as he rolled his eyes in embarrassment. He sighed and groaned through the first chapter or two, but by the time we got to the Heffalump hunt, he was snorting and giggling along with me. We’re in the midst of getting to know Tigger now. Tonight, Tigger got stuck in a tree. What a goofball.
There’s such silliness to Pooh and gang. For me, that silliness was lost in the Disney animation, which unfortunately defines Pooh for too many people. The movie failed to give Pooh the growly voice and Piglet the squeaky voice described by Milne, in my own mind. It deadened the creative imagination inspired by the stories.
I first read the Pooh books aloud in college, to Anthony as we droused in bed in the evenings. I also read the Lord of the Rings trilogy to him, and a few other novels. But it was Pooh who first unveiled something in Anthony that I never anticipated in a grown young man — a silliness, a love of childhood, and an acceptance of the simpleton in me. We giggled together, we pondered human nature, we shed a few tears when Christopher Robin grew up. We fell deeply in love in those days, and the Pooh stories are woven into our love.
I gave those ridiculous creatures the voices I imagined: Pooh growled, Piglet squeaked, Roo squeaked even higher. Owl spoke in a deep English hoot, Rabbit in a Georgia accent, Eeyore in a groaning existential drone. I composed tunes for Pooh’s poems, and sang them to Anthony when we read together.
As I was reading aloud to Nick tonight, we came to a poem Pooh was humming, and I sang it. The tune was simple and old — one I composed 35 years ago in college, as I lay in bed next to Anthony. I still remember most of the tunes. They burble up unexpectedly as I cross paths with the poems in the stories, deep memories bridging back to a time when I discovered that friendship and love could win over loneliness. And so I realize that, when I read these stories of Pooh to Nick, I’m also sharing with him his parents’ love story.
Quite a gift from a silly old bear.