Saying Goodbye to Maurice Sendak
By Cameron Dokey - May 16, 2012
It was with genuine sorrow that I opened the newspaper last week and read of the death of Maurice Sendak. It's really just the simple truth to say that I cannot imagine what my childhood would have been without him. As I think I confessed in an earlier post, I still have the copy of Where the Wild Things Are that my brother and I shared growing up. At one point my mother, who taught kindergarten for many years, brought home a big poster of one of the pages of the wild rumpus. For years, it adorned the wall above my bed (and believe me, I wish I knew where it was now). I can actually recite the first several pages from memory. (Though here the Wild Things take a back seat to the Grinch. I can do almost all of that one, cold.)
Then there's the Nutshell Library, containing such wonderfulness as Pierre the boy who only said," I don't care". And What Do You Do Dear?/What Do You Say, Dear? still the most delightful books about manners that I know. And long after my own official childhood had ended, my love of Sendak kept right on going. Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, with Mr. Sendak's illustrations and text by one of the other giants of children's literature when I was a girl, Charlotte Zolotow, became the favorite story of one of the kids on the block where I still reside. (Though the little girl, herself, is all grown up and long gone.) You could never tell when Emma would decide to make the three-house trip between her home and mine. But you could pretty much bet on the fact that part of her visit would include a reading of that story.
And I've always been so interested in the fact that Sendak was considered controversial because he showed childhood's dark side. There was even one commentator who remarked that while the illustrations in Where the Wild Things Are might be remarkable, the book itself should probably not be read by actual children. They would find it too frightening and it would keep them up nights. But I have no recollection of finding Sendak's works scary as a child. Instead, they were fascinating--filled with detail and texture and sly humor. They might not depict scenes that were familiar, but they were, nevertheless, worlds that I recognized. I don't think I was alone.
I even met him once. The year that what has now become Pacific Northwest Ballet's signature version of the Nutcracker, featuring Sendak sets, was in the planning stages he came to Seattle. (Actually, he no doubt came more than once.) I didn't even work for the ballet, but for a computer ticketing service. A staff member was needed for the lone computer terminal we had in the PNB office, and somehow I ended up with the job. The PNB staff was great, as I recall. They treated me as one of their own. And so it was that I got to watch a bit of a rehearsal, and there he was. And the first thing I thought was--he looks just like the people he draws! Not too tall, with a moustache and a nose you might notice. It was one of the most wonderful moments of my life. (Right up there with meeting Julia Child, a story for another time.)
So, goodnight, Mr. Sendak. Thank you for the wonderful worlds you created for us all. Thank you for not being afraid to acknowledge the fact that sometimes there are wild things. But also that sometimes, if we are very lucky, we can find our way back from their homes to ours, where we will find our supper waiting for us ... still hot.