DOES anybody but me have lost books that need to be found? Some of my missing books, I know where they are, and borrowers have probably long since forgot me. But one book, two maybe, disappeared long ago and I have no idea where they went. They belong to early childhood, preschool, when I had to sound out the words and Grandmother kept saying, ``Learn to read without moving your lips!'' The second book I'm thinking of, the one covered by ``maybe,'' was called ``The Sleepy King.'' It was a rabbit-down-the-h ole story, not crowding Alice, and while it fascinated me, it never had the charm of the book about the little white farmhouse. I knew both were gone and I knew not where, and I first really longed for them when the children came along, and again when the grandchildren appeared. They were books for beddy-bye story times. In the book about the little white farmhouse, all the stories started and ended the same way. Like so:
Once upon a time there was a little white farmhouse with green blinds and it stood not far from the road. The wagons, in going by, had made a lane past the kitchen door, past the shed, through the orchard, and on into the wheat field. That far, and then each story was different -- the apple story, the wheat story, the corn story. All about Aunt Deborah and Uncle John, who lived in the little white farmhouse that stood not far from the road. Then, after each story had been told, it ended like all the rest -- the oxen put their heads down and the bows and yokes were removed, and they went into their stalls and w ent to sleep.
Somebody might care to know how-come I had that book. My father had a maiden cousin who taught school in Fairhaven, a Massachusetts town across the bay from New Bedford. She had access to discontinued schoolbooks, and now and then would bring me some she thought I might like. A book about a little white farmhouse may seem inappropriate to Fairhaven, whose traditions were whaling and seafaring, but the book had been well read before I got it. It wasn't in tatters, but had been around a good time. I nside the front cover it was rubber-stamped ``Property of the Town of Fairhaven.''
Mildred Thompson was that teacher's name, and for a time I presumed she had stolen the books she brought. Not so, my Dad assured me -- Cousin Millie was above reproach and would not steal. Of all the books she brought me over several years, the one about the little white farmhouse was the one I cherished, and the one I would most like to have now.
Well, it came to mind when a young woman brought up the subject of the Homeric epics. She is a new-day schoolmarm who will begin teaching the ``Iliad'' come September and has misgivings about offering this classic to yearning high-schoolers. I would have such misgivings myself, but I assured her the original minstrel was dealing with folks far less cultured than her pupils will be, and that he was somehow able to hold their attention. I suggested that perhaps Homer knew his business. I said something ab out the recurrent tags -- the repetition of ``well-greaved Achaeans,'' ``wine-dark sea,'' ``hollow ships,'' and how the prows always plunged into the sandy shores.
Which made me think of the little white farmhouse with green blinds that stood not far from the road, and how the oxen always lowered their heads so the yoke could be removed and they could go into their stalls and go to sleep.
The author? I have no idea. Aunt Deborah and Uncle John were real people -- I mean I had uncles and aunts, and I easily became the little boy that went in one story to make cider, in another to watch the miller make flour, and to do something in all the other stories that was fun and informative, and always useful. I would have been about 7 or 8 when I found Tom Swift (and I don't remember a thing about any of those stories), and it must have been about then that the little white farmhouse went on a she lf, eventually to be forever lost. The first grandson set me to looking for tales to read, and I've missed that little white farmhouse ever since. It bothers me that he is now on his college's dean's list and knows nothing about the wagons going past into the wheat field.