Fifty-Year-Old Phantom Tollbooth - In Excellent Condition

With many books never making it to a second printing, a Golden Anniversary for a children’s book seems like a cause for celebration. This is the first of four upcoming blogs about books that have reached that distinction.

The Phantom Toll Booth, first published in 1961, resided on my “Books to Read” list until this week. I knew I was in for a good read by the time I reached page 19 when Milo decides to leave the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, to look for someone “whose sentences didn’t always sound as if they would make as much sense backwards as forwards.”

The Punny book [and yes, I spelled that right], is filled with ridiculous word plays, skewed logic, and idiotic idioms. It they don’t tickle your funny bone, you need to visit an orthopedist for an x-ray to see where it’s broken.

Morals and words of wisdom abound as Milo sets off to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, but for heaven’s sake, don’t tell this to a child and spoil the fun.

A few of my favorite samples:
•    Tock on the possibility of words becoming confusing: “Only when you use a lot to say a little.”
•    The Soundkeeper: “You can’t improve sound by having only silence. The problem is to use each sound at the proper time.” [My choir director would probably agree with this one.]
•    Canby: “Every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.” [And so, unfortunately, have I.]
•    Dodecahedron: “As long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong?”
•    Dodecahedron, again - just in time for a political year: “They’re all the wrong way. Just because you have a choice, it doesn’t mean that any of them has to be right.”

Then there was the character familiar to most of the writers I know – Terrible Trivium, the "demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit who keeps one busy on easy and useless jobs so that they never have to worry about the important ones that are so difficult." [Think sorting paper clips to keep from editing that last chapter.]

My friend Jeannine Laughlin-Porter, long time library guru at the University of Southern Mississippi, hates age labels on books saying, “A good book is a good book,” and I concur. This book lends itself to reading aloud, shared by a child who gets one layer of meaning and an adult who adds another.  

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Phantom Tollbooth!


You Might Live in South Mississippi If...

Nandinas scraped all the way to the ground when trees felled by Katrina were dragged across them, are fuller and brighter than ever with red berries. You can’t kill a good nandina – or a bad one either.

A December appointment with the dentist brings a fellow patient dressed in pants and a sweater, accented at the neck with a warm scarf whose feet sport glittery flip-flops and raspberry colored toe nails.

The front page of the newspaper regularly carries sports stories covering the top half of the front page with even more details found in the sports section where one might expect them.

A walk down the hill passes a neighbor whose shed features a window box filled with brightly colored artificial flowers.

Every occupant of every car that either meets you or passes you up on the walk waves a friendly hello whether you know them or not.

Roses still bloom in December.

As much as an inch of snow brings talk of business and school closings.

A person with a chronic black thumb [me] may find it actually is turning green.

Winter consists of a handful of days scattered toward the end of December, a couple of weeks each in January and February, and another handful of days scattered through the first of March.

By the time January has made a good appearance, green shoots with the promise of daffodils to come peep out of the ground.

And if you live in South Mississippi, you’ve got to love it!



Ghost Question


Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin, is a very interesting and curious book with a play within a novel. The frontispiece has a quote that comes from the fictional unpublished play.


…Do not shrink if on your path
You meet a solitary ghost,
Ask it, “What did you love most?
And what have you left undone?”
Prologue to Suzanne Ravenel’s 1931 school play, THE RED NUN

Surprisingly, the quote left an even greater impression on me than the novel itself, although it was a very good read. I began to make a list of what I’ve loved and what I’ve left undone.

What I have loved most:
•    Being a military wife [helped that I had a good military husband!]
•    The two boys and a girl that grew up in my house – and the other family members they eventually added
•    Friends – as the adage goes – the golden oldies and the silver newbies
•    The companions the two boys and a girl brought home for snacks or supper
•    Teaching in school and at church
•    Writing

What I’ve left undone:
•    Becoming a nurse
•    Dusting
•    Picking up Anna at the dentist when she was in sixth grade [On a military base, she had an easy walk to get there after school and to get home when her appointment was finished. I was supposed to meet her and get the dentist’s report, but I forgot and went home instead. She reminds me of this failure from time to time when it suits her purposes.]
•    Climbing Mt. Everest
•    Learning to swim

Of course, the lists could go on indefinitely. To tell the truth, the only thing I regret from this undone list is not picking Anna up from the dentist.

I don’t really make resolutions as the new year begins, but I do tend to evaluate where I’ve been and where I’m going. Since there are only seven days in a week with only twenty-four hours per day, I think I’ll use the thought from this question in 2012 to weigh its opportunities so I can omit things I would not miss if I left them undone and focus on those I love most.


A Bit of Baylor 'Rithmetic

Photo courtesy of daughter-in-law Steph ButlerI did promise that this blog wouldn’t have much ‘rithmetic, but some things need to be told in figures – especially after a successful Baylor Bears football season – so here are just a few numbers.

2 – number of sons who graduated from the school

3 – as in Robert Griffin the third, Heisman trophy winning quarterback

3 – number of “twins” wearing Baylor shirts – actually cousins, one from each of my children’s children who labeled themselves “The Three Twins” two years ago when they got the first set of shirts

8 – rushing touchdowns by Baylor, tying the bowl record

8 – the number of years during which I deposited my paycheck – only to forward most of the money to Baylor [Al’s check covered mundane things like groceries.]

12 – total rushing touchdowns, a tie with Texas Tech and Air Force in the 1995 Copper Bowl for the most ever

10 – number of Butler family members watching with varying intensity to the Alamo Bowl, including one who kept an eagle eye out to be sure none of the players stepped in “the white space”Find the Baylor grads by looking for bald guys.

123 – total points scored during regulation play, a record in bowl history

1,397 – a bowl record for total offense, bettering the previous record by 186 yards

Immeasurable – the total lack of defense by both teams

Many more – our hopes for the number of successful Baylor Bear football seasons

Invaluable – watching the Alamo Bowl Game with the two Baylor graduate sons and their families as Baylor defeated Washington by a score of 67-56

                                                      Sic ‘em, Bears!


Resolutions I Won't Be Making

Eating Oatmeal – Mama fed it to us almost every morning [nutritious and cheap], and I hated it every day. I promised myself never to eat it when I had grew up – a promise I have kept. The only exception I make is if the oatmeal is in a cookie with nuts and raisins.

Reducing My Intake of Coffee – According to Good Housekeeping Magazine’s medical authority, coffee has more antioxidants than spinach, blueberries, and orange juice. Other authorities also say it helps prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. [I wasn’t going to make this resolution anyway, but this makes it sound like a health decision.]

Giving Up Chocolate – Dark is my favorite kind, and we all know how good that is for you.

Using the Dining Table for Dining – There are other places to eat, and since the table is handy to my office, it holds stacks with research, works-in-progress, how-to piles, etc. While it may not look organized to the naked eye, I pretty much know what is in which stack.

Removing the Weeds [AKA Wildflowers] from My Garden – Queen Anne’s Lace reminds me of my church wedding bouquets where my mother used it as filler in her arrangements. The purple coneflower sprouts and expands on its own, but the goldenrod is there because I grabbed a few seeds from ones growing along the road and flung them there on purpose! If it's pretty, it stays.

Keeping a Spotless House – Really, what’s the point? I’ve been to a lot of funerals and never once heard in a eulogy, “She kept a spotless house.” I try to keep mine clean enough to meet health standards.

Going Shopping More Often – Shopping as a sport lost its pizzazz when my favorite partner grew up and went away. [Yes, Anna, you can actually be the favorite here.]

Taking Life More Seriously – I can be serious when I must [ask my children or former students for proof], but looking for the funny side makes life much more enjoyable – another thing I learned from my father.

Cutting Back on Reading Time – Ha! I even have a good excuse for this one. Every how-to book I’ve read on becoming a writer says if you are going to be a writer, you must first be a reader. So when you catch me with my feet up, cup of coffee and dark chocolates on hand, engrossed in a good book – I am actually working.Just a few of the books awaiting my attention...