Where the Wild Things Are creator Maurice Sendak liked to tell how a young fan once sent him a card with a drawing on it. Sendak responded in kind, drawing one of his Wild Things on a card and sending it to the boy.
“Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my own child had eaten any card, let alone one with original art by Sendak. What an understanding woman Jim’s mother must be to have written simply, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.
In Dava Sobel’s luminous book, The Planets, she weaves together the diversity of our solar system with humanity’s search to understand and find meaning in Earth’s companion worlds. One story Sobel tells is about her friend Carolyn receiving a “quantum of Moon dust” from a young astronomer analyzing Moon rocks during the Apollo project. (A gift that would have been frowned upon by NASA!)
“‘Where is it? Let me me see it!’ I demanded at this news. But she answered quietly, ‘I ate it.’ After a pause, she added, ‘There was so little.’ As though that explained everything…In a reverie I saw the Moon dust caress Carolyn’s lips like a lover’s kiss…Crystalline and alien, it illuminated her body’s dark recesses like pixie powder…She had mated herself to the Moon somehow via this act of incorporation, and that was what made me so jealous.”
While I haven’t felt the ritualistic urge to forge a bond with anything by ingesting it, I do understand that longing for a tactile connection, the visceral need to touch the world of the past.
Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia has preserved the Washington family pew, benches topped with red cushions in a wood paneled compartment with its own half door. Only a few visitors wandered the aisles the day I visited so I dropped to my hands and knees to look underneath the benches to see if the wood looked old enough that George Washington himself may have sat there. Maybe.
Just in case the Father of Our Country did rest his tush upon it, I lifted each loose cushion in turn to sit squarely on the polished bench, scooting around the whole U-shaped area to make sure I sat where George sat. It would probably make a better story if I confessed to chewing a stray splinter, but I still achieved my cosmic connection with history—even if I did sit down on the job.
Read more about Maurice Sendak’s fan mail and other author letters to young fans.