I can remember only once in my life when my father got mad at me. Maybe this is why I’ve never forgotten it. My mother, it seemed to me, was often angry or displeased about my behavior, but not Pop.
I’ve often thought of the incident, and puzzled over it. Why was he so mad? I was so surprised when he lost his temper that it startled me. I think I actually jumped. Pop—my champion, the one who seemed to understand my peculiar ways—was mad at me.
So what was it all about? Pop was a writer and an avid reader, and when my sister Bertie and I were kids, he liked to read to us at night when we went to bed. On this particular occasion, he was reading a book called “The Back of the North Wind,” written in by George MacDonald 1871. It was a very thick book, as I recall, with somewhat gloomy illustrations. It tells the story of a sweet little boy named Diamond who has numerous adventures riding on the back of the north wind. The north wind represents pain and death, supposedly leading to something good according to God’s will. The country of the north wind is without pain and death, and she brings Diamond there, but it’s only a shadow of the real country, which he can’t see until he dies, which he does at the end of the book.
Although Pop seemed fascinated by this tale, I found it boring and depressing. When he was only a chapter or two into it, I took the book one day and sneaked a peek at the ending, because I wanted to see what happened to Diamond right away instead of having to endure listening to Pop read a chapter every night.
Then I made the mistake of telling Pop what I had done. He was furious. He said, “You NEVER, EVER skip to the end of a book to find out what happened! EVER!” The veins in his forehead were popping and he slammed the book shut. After that he didn’t read it to us any more.
I wonder to this day what made him so mad. Was it really because I’d spoiled the story by skipping to the end? Or did it have something to do with his own somewhat insecure feelings about being a writer himself? Was he afraid that his own work was so boring (as my mother used to tell him it was) that people would want to skip to the end? Or had he just had a bad day? I guess I’ll never know. But one thing is for sure—I never skipped to the end of a book again to find out what happened.