PERSPECTIVE ON DR. SEUSS : My Father Was Thidwick the Moose : Generations of readers saw themselves, family and friends in the characters created by Dr. Seuss.
“Your father is Thidwick the Moose,” my mother sighed, and I understood completely. It was so much easier than telling a 12- year-old that the in-laws were moving in for an open-ended stay, or complaining that once again my big-hearted father had responded to the heavy demands of neighbors, friends, bosses, church deacons and strangers. You could not hate Thidwick, of course, but his selfless, tolerant nature did cause dangerous complications when quibbling characters took refuge in his antlers.
Thidwick escaped in an off-the-wall ending, a trademark of the outrageous fables erupting from the mind and pen of Dr. Seuss--Theodor Seuss Geisel--who died Tuesday in La Jolla.
My mother was not the only one to recognize a real person in the menagerie of Dr. Seuss. Three generations of readers responded to his books with personal allegiances and enduring affection. We all have known Grinches and Sneetches and Whos.
Beginning in 1937 with “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” Dr. Seuss spun more than 40 tales of irreverent, mind-stretching magic. He challenged youngsters to read and dream and imagine that almost anything was possible. His humor was wicked, his optimism beyond control. He was forever young.
I met Ted Geisel on Dec. 23, 1963, shortly after moving to La Jolla as a newspaper reporter. We became fast friends and confidantes, standing in the corners of noisy parties, laughing at phonies and plotting to escape as soon as possible.
Perhaps because Ted dreaded public appearances, he found special delight and reassurance in his prodigious mail.
He would share favorite letters, such as the request of a Pennsylvania couple who wanted him to write their wedding vows. “If you do, we will consider naming our first child for you,” they promised. “Hmmm,” said Ted. “I wonder how many writers are in the running.” He enjoyed the improbable queries of first-graders: “Why did your mother name you Dr. Seuss?” “Were you ever a cat?”
Ted was proud of having almost single-handedly killed off the stodgy old primers about Dick and Jane. His first blow for lively literacy was “The Cat in the Hat” in 1957. “Green Eggs and Ham,” a book with a vocabulary of only 50 words, which he wrote on a bet with former Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, became his all-time bestseller and the book named by thousands as the first they ever read.
My youngest sister--the messy one in our family--clung in self-defense to her personal favorite, “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” the tale of the gloppy green goo that spread over the Kingdom of Didd until the King spoke those difficult words: “I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”
There was always a moral in Seussian rhymes, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious. When he wrote an ambiguous ending, as in his anti-arms-race treatise, “The Butter Battle Book,” it was because he felt that it was the only honest way. Since its publication in 1984, children have written to say, “I think the Yooks won.”
“The Lorax,” a stumpy, bewhiskered creature who speaks for the trees, “for the trees have no tongues,” was a Geisel favorite. “It’s not anti-logging,” he said. “It’s anti-greed. It’s about saving what we’ve got.” It was toward the end of “The Lorax” that I recognized myself as one of the Humming-Fish forced out of the rippulous pond because “No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed.” I am not sure of the link, but I keep the book open to that page.
Ted Geisel was a perfectionist in both his writing and his art, a private man who loved a rowdy joke, a good prank, a liberal cause.
During the Watergate affair, columnist Art Buchwald met him at a San Diego Zoo affair and challenged him to write something political.
Ted rushed him a copy of his 1972 book, “Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!” but with one mighty change: Each reference to Marvin K. Mooney had been crossed out and replaced with Richard M. Nixon.
Buchwald printed that version as his column on July 30, 1974.
“And Nixon resigned nine days later,” Ted said with a wily shrug. “I guess I affected history.”