Today my father would have turned 100.
Not many people live that long, and my father didn't, either--he died in 2000, just a few weeks shy of his 84th birthday. A long life by any measure, and a good one, though not without its sorrows and difficulties. But on the whole, a good life.
His name was Alvin Tresselt. Some of you who were or are teachers or librarians might still know his name. He was an author of children's books--50 of them, or thereabouts--including such titles as "White Snow, Bright Snow" and "Hide and Seek Fog," "The Frog in the Well", "Autumn Harvest", and retellings of folk tales including "The Mitten", "The Legend of the Willow Plate", and "The Crane Maiden." Some are still in print; many are available online via Amazon or retailers of vintage books. And for many years he was editor-in-chief of children's books for Parents Magazine Press and editor of Humpty Dumpty Magazine for children.
As an author and as an editor, he had some influence on what children read from the 1940s through the 1970s. When I was 7 years old, we spent a summer travelling in Europe. One day we were on a bus tour through the Appenine Mountains in Italy. The bus was crowded, and my family wasn't able to sit together. I sat next to a nice woman, and we chatted pleasantly; during the course of our conversation I must have told her my father's name. Turns out she was travelling with a large group of teachers, and a note quickly circulated among them: "Alvin Tresselt is on this bus!" I remember that when the bus stopped the teachers were eager for photos and autographs, as if he were a rock star.
In the 1940s he began writing children's books with the encouragement of his friend and mentor Margaret Wise Brown. He often wrote about nature, and in those days, he was one of the first children's authors to do this. And he wrote about it because he loved the natural world. We lived outside of New York City in what was then rural Connecticut. Despite his daily commute on the train to New York, he indulged in a small way his childhood dream of being a farmer: he grew a huge organic vegetable garden every year, and flowers, and fruit trees, and we had a flock of chickens long before it was fashionable.
He was equally passionate about Baroque music, opera, and architecture. In fact, in addition to dreaming as a child of being a farmer, he also dreamed of becoming an architect, but was discouraged from that dream because he had no aptitude for math. Growing up, he loved to play with Richter's Anchor Stone Building Blocks. Decades later, he stumbled upon several sets at a junk shop and immediately bought them, and over the years he collected many more sets. But they didn't just sit around gathering dust! Rather, he used them, building large, intricate castles and cathedrals and towers, and he would populate them with my toy knights and soldiers, or suspend a votive candle inside, the candlelight flickering through the windows.
A tall, handsome man, he was also something of a clothes horse. During his years working in New York City, he amassed a closetful of elegant suits and jackets. One year, attending the annual American Library Association convention (as he did for many years), he wowed the librarians with his up-to-the-minute apple green Nehru jacket. But most of all he collected neckties. Cotton, silk, and wool, in all the colors of the rainbow, narrow, wide, flamboyant, and understated--he had them all, and then some. Long after the New York days were over, the flashy suits and jackets gone, he still had the neckties, and now I have many of them.
At one point, I thought I might turn them into a quilt, and perhaps I still will. But more recently, I have been stitching and embroidering them into a different sort of neckware.
A few random memories:
His hands were large, and always warm, when he would hold my hand.
He smelled wonderful, a mix of cologne and cigarettes and soap and coffee and the outdoors. That doesn't sound great, but it was.
He had an authoritative, energetic stride; the summer when I was 7 when we were in Europe, I always walked with him because his stride told me he knew where he was going and we wouldn't get lost, and I climbed every church tower and castle turret with him.
He met John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a reception for one of his authors at the Asia Society, and got me their autograph.
He was a wonderful grandfather.
Happy birthday, Daddy-O!