Thanks for the Memories, Miss Rumphius!

Today, the day I am writ­ing this col­umn, has been a long one. It start­ed with a 4 a.m. alarm. It is the day Dar­ling Daugh­ter moves to col­lege. In Boston. Which is far from Min­neso­ta and so neces­si­tates a plane ride. Dur­ing a pan­dem­ic. Alone, as her uni­ver­si­ty is not allow­ing par­ents on cam­pus dur­ing this chal­leng­ing time.

Tell me you think I’m very brave. (She is, too, of course. She is also quite excit­ed, which helps all of us.)

Because there were no lines — indeed, hard­ly any­one at the air­port at all (which is down­right eerie, let me tell you!) — her two duf­fel bags with all her world­ly pos­ses­sions were checked and she was head­ed through secu­ri­ty almost before I start­ed to cry. I was home, my hus­band at work, by 6 a.m. Long day ahead of me.

So I cleaned the kitchen, which is always ther­a­peu­tic. And then I wan­dered in my office for a bit, look­ing at all the books I’ve read with her over the years…. And then I sat on her bed and looked at the books on her shelves…. She texted from the plane to tell me she was watch­ing Lit­tle Women, which pret­ty much con­firmed that my work with her is near­ly done.

Back in my office, I pulled Bar­bara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius off the shelf. I’ve writ­ten about this spe­cial book before. But I’ve not writ­ten about read­ing it to Dar­ling Daugh­ter, so I hope you’ll indulge me on this day our last lit­tle bird flew the nest….

She’s always been a read­er, that kid. She also had a lot of ener­gy when she was lit­tle. She didn’t nap much. We read a lot. It was the only time she sat still, and I need­ed her to sit still some­times. She was very attuned to the ener­gy of a book, bounc­ing on the couch beside me dur­ing the busy books, snug­gling in for the calmer ones. Miss Rumphius is a snug­gly book, so we read it a lot — my choice, at least at first.

It’s a curi­ous­ly nar­rat­ed book for chil­dren — a grown woman tells the sto­ry, look­ing back at her great-aunt Alice’s life, and then final­ly her own. As a lit­tle girl, great-aunt Alice sits on her grandfather’s knee and lis­tens to his sto­ries of far­away places. She declares that when she grows up, she will go to far­away places, as well. And when she grows old, she will live by the sea, as he does. Her grand­fa­ther tells her she must do one more thing.

You must do some­thing to make the world more beau­ti­ful,” he says.

And so, over sev­er­al spreads, great-aunt Alice Rumphius grows up, trav­els to far­away places, and final­ly comes to make a home in a house by the sea. Her love of lupines inspires her to order five bushels of lupine seed, then fill her pock­ets and wan­der “over field and head­lands, sow­ing lupines,” mak­ing the world more beautiful.

Then the nar­ra­tor becomes “lit­tle Alice” and we learn she received the same instruc­tions from her now old great-aunt Alice. The books ends with her won­der­ing how to make a beau­ti­ful world more beau­ti­ful.

Dar­ling Daugh­ter came to love this book as much as I did. She admired that great-aunt Alice worked in a library. She delight­ed in the gor­geous pic­tures of the places Alice vis­it­ed all over the world. She saw that Alice’s last name, Rumphius, was on the mail­box at her house by the sea…. We often read it two or three times in a row, snug­gled togeth­er and rest­ing, if not sleeping.

And now our girl has gone to a far­away place. By the sea! And she is still young, not yet old! She has so much good ener­gy, and an eye, a han­ker­ing, and a knack for beau­ty. She’s always made our world more beau­ti­ful, and so now we share her. It’s bit­ter­sweet. I miss her so much already. But I can’t wait to see what she will do…what far­away lands she will visit…what she’ll read and learn…whether she lives by the sea or comes back to the Midwest…and what seeds of beau­ty she plants in her wake.

I’m so grate­ful for the read­ing mem­o­ries — I had this same feel­ing when #1 Son left for col­lege six years ago. It’s the one par­ent­ing piece I feel like I can claim to have done exact­ly right. Read­ing to our kids was a Great Joy for me. And they are who they are — in some part, at least — because of the books we read, I think.

And so she goes with books like Miss Rumphius and Lit­tle Women (and so many oth­ers!) to guide her beau­ti­ful future.

A piece of my heart now lives by the sea….

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3 years ago

Ah, yes.…that third, most impor­tant thing, do some­thing to make the world more beau­ti­ful. I loved this, Melanie, and I, too, love Miss Rumphius. Thank you!

3 years ago

Won­der­ful post. I, too, read Miss Rumphius with our daugh­ter – who is now a mom her­self and I’m sure will share it and pay it for­ward. Best wish­es to your daugh­ter for a won­der­ful col­lege experience!

Terri Evans
Terri Evans
3 years ago

This was love­ly, Melanie. I read it today, the day on which I sent my son, my only child, off by him­self in a U‑Haul truck bound for Guelph, Cana­da, and the woman he loves. I indulged myself in a sob ses­sion as I reliv­ed all of the mem­o­ries and how we got to this moment, as you did — includ­ing the read­ing and dis­cus­sion of many books along the way. I too was proud and excit­ed for what is to come. I too savored the bit­ter with the sweet… Thanks! This is just what I need­ed today.

3 years ago

Absolute­ly love this! I am shar­ing it with my friends with chil­dren to encour­age them to take the time to read to their chil­dren EVERYDAY! Thank you!