|One of the Little Toot books in the series written and illustrated|
by Hardie Gramatky, a playmates's grandfather. (c.1975)
When I was a little girl, growing up in Glen Rock NJ, amongst many things, we shared the pleasure of relaxed property lines with our friendly neighbors. Children were permitted to "cut through" neighbors yards to shorten their traveling time from house to house. Therefore, to visit a family that lived around the block you didn't need to actually walk around the block to get there... you simply went down a neighbor's driveway, through some hedges, walked up another driveway and voila! You arrived! (This is a total small town phenomenon, circa 1970s, I doubt this courtesy still exists.) We never had "play dates" we went "calling for" friends. So "cutting through" made "calling for friends," (and disappearing at chore time or darting away from pesky younger siblings, and such) very convenient.
One of my closest childhood playmates, Tina S., lived around the block and we utilized the "cut through" several times a day from the time we were very, very young. Our mothers decided it was safe as long as we met each other half-way. One afternoon, (I must have been about 5 years old) I remember waiting patiently for my little friend in the hollows of a large rhododendron bush on the side of a neighbor's yard. I finally saw her approaching... but with an older-looking man, wearing a cap, in tow. As they came closer, I saw that the man looked quite jolly and he seemed to be taking great delight in the adventure of "cutting through." Tina was smiling and waving at me, but still... this "guest" was quite unexpected. I was terrified at the sight of a stranger and as they got closer I really lost it. I turned and shrieked and ran back home to my mother with my heart in my throat!
A few minutes later, a laughing gentleman with twinkling eyes stood, with my playmate, at our back door. He was Hardie Gramatky, the famous author and illustrator of the classic children's book series, Little Toot. And Tina' grandfather. He was visiting from Connecticut and Tina wanted him to meet her little friend. What a lovely welcome I gave him! Nevertheless, a thoughtful Christmas gift still appeared under our tree that winter, inscribed and signed to my sister and me.
|"For Angela and Livia Gorini, with love from LITTLE TOOT|
and Hardie Gramatky, Christmas 1975"
Oh, how I treasured that little book (but not that memory, necessarily)! The Little Toot book series is still one of my favorites: a collection of lovely stories about a mischievous, imaginative tugboat. Each adventure revolves around a small, seemingly insignificant "little boat with a very big job." Little Toot makes his mark with acts of bravery and fortitude... always managing to save the day. The cheerful illustrations have just the right amount of wit, and the sweet, classic style makes me as nostalgic today as it did in my youth. Is it possible that some things just get better with time? It is no wonder many of these stories are still in print today!
As an adult, I now realize what an accomplished artist Mr. Gramatky was. A recent visit to his beautiful website lists the awards he received for his watercolor paintings (over 40!), as well as notable projects (he worked with Disney on animations), and gives a comprehensive overview on his life and impressive body of work.
Hardie Gramatky, 1907-1979
Considered by Andrew Wyeth to be
"one of the 20 great American watercolorists."
To meet a renown author (especially under such dramatic circumstances!), whose work you can truly relate to, when you are a child of such an impressionable age is a very powerful thing. I remember being inspired to write and illustrate stories of my very own, thinking maybe one day, I too could create something special. I shall never forget the charming man, with the twinkling eyes, who opened one of the many doors to my imagination.
You know, I still have some of those stories I wrote and illustrated as a child. Even though the paper they are written on has yellowed with time and the colors of the drawings have faded, the memories of those dreams are still very much alive. I loved expressing myself through images and words... and obviously, still do! Hopefully, like Little Toot, I'll keep getting better with time.