The Land of Counterpane
by Robert Louis StevensonWhen I was sick and lay a-bed,I had two pillows at my head,And all my toys beside me layTo keep me happy all the day.And sometimes for an hour or soI watched my leaden soldiers go,With different uniforms and drills,Among the bed-clothes, through the hills.And sometimes sent my ships in fleetsAll up and down among the sheets;Or brought my trees and houses out,And planted cities all about.I was the giant great and stillThat sits upon the pillow-hill,And sees before him, dale and plainThe pleasant Land of Counterpane.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
The Land Between
As a child of ten or twelve, I was struck by Scarlet Fever, a streptococcal infection whose bright red rash put me in bed in a darkened room for at least a week, as I recall sixty years hence. What the consequences of bright light may have been I was never told; children of that age, after all, are spoken about, never spoken to. Whatever pain may have been involved has carried no memory; what I do recall was a great deal of reading in the Junior Classics, a set of ten books on the small bookshelf beside my bed. Reading in that darkened room may have done more damage than the fever, but what I read has done me nothing but good.
It was an eclectic mix of authors and literature types. There was “The Gold-Bug” by Edgar Allen Poe, for example, and “Robinson Crusoe”. There was also “The Land of Counterpane”, a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Stevenson’s realm was familiar long before I encountered the poem. I might as well have been an only child (my sister was two years older), and a feral one at that, which translated in my case to a lot of time alone. The patchwork quilt that wrinkled and draped between my legs had long since become a land of lost and found, whose vistas rippled into the distance, fold after fold, to the horizon (i.e., the edge of the bed; guess I was a Flat-Earther at that age). But that landscape was uninhabited; no toy soldiers, no tractors or dump trucks, simply a world to wander.
Soon I did have a “traveling companion” in the person of Frank, the dog, equally curious about the world. And our exploratorium was Frank’s old neighborhood in Mesopotamia: trips to the FCC Grocery for mom, and that summer I tended the store for Mrs Pirtle; weeding our garden plot along the Milwaukee Road tracks; fishing below the weir with my friends Artie (Butch) and Bobbie (never, ever call her Roberta!). I got to know Mesopotamia more intimately than other parts of town, and its people, too; and how the rhythms there were different, slower, without being casual, than elsewhere. And there was a social structure, too, one that accepted me after a while as a benign invader — without a need for countervailing antibodies.
Until junior high school, Bobbie and Artie and the others went to Darrow school, while I was at Darwin, which made for a different sort of friendship, more purposeful, since we saw each other only “by appointment”. But Bobbie was check-out clerk at Cermak’s Market and Artie became a mechanic at Cliff’s Garage, businesses not actually in Mesopotamia, but decidedly on the wrong side of town — which is probably why I hung out there. It was Albert Camus who observed: “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend”. We did. They were.
If you can tell me why someone is your friend — someone who knows you too well but likes you anyway and expects nothing but your own acceptance of them — I wish you’d share that wisdom.