Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Julie Vivas
I have a love hate relationship with this book. I find it challenging and confronting. In truth, I’m no longer able to read it.
It came into my life when my little guy was around two. It trotted home with us from the town library. We were both excited to have nabbed it. A little victory of sorts.
I couldn’t wait to read it. I had no idea of the story line. At the time I was really impressed by the writing of Mem Fox and Julie Vivas rocked my world more than 20 years ago with the release of Possum Magic. Also written by Mem Fox. If you haven’t read Possum Magic…I find it hard to believe that there could be anyone who hasn’t…but if you haven’t then you really should. It’s so beautifully written and illustrated!
Anyhoo, I had no idea that Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge was about a boy who lived next door to an aged home. As a young child he plays around the residents. Seeing their frailty through the eyes of a child. When he discovers that ‘his favourite person of all’, Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper has lost her memories he sets about finding them for her. As only a child can.
He manages to bring back memories to a mind that had lost them. He brings back her past through the familiar objects of every day. He performs an innocent miracle.
In short it’s Alzheimers through the eyes of a child.
I struggled through this book. I read it once, six years ago and vowed that I would never read it again.
It made me cry….and cry and cry and cry.
So what happens at the end of the last school year?
The Little Bush Princess’s pre-school gives her a copy as a Christmas gift.
I avoided reading the book for weeks. Until one day she unearthed it in the course of her daily deconstruction of the home and it’s soft furnishings.
‘Can we have this for story time?’
I read it. All over again I was spellbound by Julie’s illustrations. I was captivated by the colours and textures of her fabrics, her beautiful cane furniture….once again I was in awe of her talent…but I couldn’t ignore the words. It’s the words that pull me apart.
I got halfway through before TLBP realised she was being wet by my tears. It makes me cry because of this man.
This is my Pop. All dressed up as the soldier that he was and at an age when I never knew him.
When I knew him he was a grandfather.
He was lovely. A mystery to me in so many ways.
I wish I’d had more time to know him.
Unfortunately Alzheimers robbed my grandfather of his memories, his history, his stories and his relationships. Unfortunately he wasn’t part of a children’s book. Nothing could give them back to him once the disease had taken them from him.
I can still tell you where we were the last time he knew who I was and called me ‘Jenny Love’.
I can close my eyes and see his wavy, silken white hair and I see him everyday in the face of my son. He smiles at me when my brother smiles and some days I’m sure that he’s still here when I see my uncle. For this reason there are times when I find it very hard to look at my uncle. The resemblance is so striking.
It’s because of him that I just can’t read this book…..but I can still look at the pictures right?
As Mr Drysdale, one of the characters of the book, says when he’s asked by Wilfrid…
‘What’s a memory?’
‘Something as precious as gold, young man, something as precious as gold.’