Reviewed July 16, 2007.
Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, 1985. Originally written in 1956. 310 pages.
Few true stories are as hilarious as those told by Shirley Jackson about bringing up her four children. This book continues the fun begun in Life Among the Savages. I guarantee that any parent or anyone who knows some kids will get some good laughs and hearty chuckles out of this book.
Part of her brilliance is how she reproduces the voices of her children, each one distinct. Sally is probably the most entertaining, with her habit of repeating words and the outrageous stories she tells, like telling the milkman, “Mommy has gone away to Fornicalia. Where my grandma lives, grandma. Would you please like some breakfast?”
I love the following scene, which beautifully conveys a mother’s feelings of irritation and desperation when a neighbor girl, Amy, comes over:
Sally slid off her chair and made for the cookie jar. “Amy,” she shouted, “Daddy is going to take us swimming, swimming, and ask your mommy if you can come, your mommy.”
“My mommy,” said Amy solemnly, opening the screen door and joining Sally at the cookie jar, “doesn’t let me go swimming right now, because I have a cold. I have a cold, so my mommy doesn’t want me to go swimming, because I have a cold. I have a cold,” she told me, “so my mommy won’t let me go swimming.”
“Because she has a cold,” Laurie said helpfully. “See, she has a cold and so—”
“Laurie,” I said feverishly. “Sally and Amy, please take those cookies outdoors.”
Their little “Beekman” is another great character. Here’s how he got his name:
Shirley Jackson has a beautiful ability to find the ludicrous in everyday family life. When they got a new car,
For my part, I found it extremely difficult to drive with dual controls, trying to ease around a tight corner with Beekman beside me shifting rapidly from high to reverse to second, swinging his wheel around sharply and yelling “Beep beep.” I used to try letting the car roll backward out of the driveway without starting the motor, but Beekman’s room was in the front and as soon as I got as far as the gateposts he would apparently catch some reflection of light and I would see his small infuriated face pressed against the window and hear the crash as Dikidiki hit the wall, and after a minute my husband or Laurie or Jannie or Sally would open the front door and call that I was to wait, they were just putting on Beekman’s jacket.
Usually, whenever Beekman drove, Sally wanted to come too. And whenever Sally came, Jannie thought she had better come along. And when Beekman and Sally and Jannie came, Laurie figured that we might just stop in at a movie or some such, and if we did he wanted to be along. As a result, whenever I went shopping in the new car, everyone came except my husband, who could not, for a long time, look at the new car without telling me how we were going bankrupt in style. One Saturday morning I almost got off without Beekman, who was learning from Sally how to cut out paper dolls, but before I was out of the driveway they were calling to me to wait a minute, and by the time I finally turned the car and headed off toward the big supermarkets I had all four of them with me, Sally accompanied by her dolls Susan and David and Patpuss, all dressed entirely in cleansing tissue, and carrying—although I did not know it when she got into the car—a pocketbook containing four pennies and a shilling stolen from her father’s coin collection.
I suppose I should have known that all was not going to go well when I found a parking space on main Street on Saturday at noon, with seventeen minutes paid for on the parking meter. Finding a parking space at all was so exceptional an occurrence that I wisely determined to disregard the fact that the car on my left—an out-of-state car, by the way, from some state where land is not so jealously parceled out as here in Vermont—was straddling the line. I eased my car in with only the faintest grazing sound, although it was immediately plain that if we were going to get out of the car at all, we were going to have to do it by sliding out the doors on the right-hand side.
“Jeepers,” Laurie remarked, gazing from his window at the car next to us, “cut it a little close, didn’t you?”
“It was Beekman,” I said nervously. “He kept pulling to the left.”
“Jeepers,” Laurie said to Beekman, “you want to watch where you’re going, kid.”
“Dewey, dewey,” said Beekman, this being a combination word he used for a series of connected ideas, roughly translatable as: Observe my latest achievement, far surpassing all my previous works in this line, a great and personal triumph representing perhaps the most intelligent progress ever accomplished by a child of my years. “Dewey,” said Beekman pleasurably.
Later, when Barry was a bit older and Sally had learned to read,
I like to read this book when I need to lighten up and laugh. Even though it was written when you could put a penny in a parking meter, life with kids is still pretty much the same. But Shirley Jackson makes you laugh about it, which is a lot more fun than screaming in frustration.