If you could “tag” Maurice Sendak’s childhood, you’d use works like Brooklyn. Immigrants. Poland. Russian. Jewish. Poor. Holocaust. Sickly. Most sources say his father was a dressmaker, such a quaint and old-worldly occupation. In fact, he was a machine operator in a Brooklyn hemstitching factory, working long hours for not much money. His mother was distracted and worried about the extended family she had left behind, many of whom were caught in Hitler’s net. As for Maurice, called “Murray” by his family, he was the youngest of three children and sickly.
“It was a really unkempt, unruly small apartment with three children, a father who worked so hard, and a mother who was … had problems, mentally and emotionally. And we didn’t know that your mommy is supposed to be perfect, she should be there for you, love you, kiss you. But I was not Max. I did not have the courage that Max had, and I didn’t have the mother that Max had.” (from an interview with PBS Now)
Most of us tell our family stories in nice safe places: around the dinner table, at a sweet little campfire, or in my case the car. But how lucky we are that Maurice Sendak told his family stories through bewildering, unlikely, and sometimes dark children’s books – even though it wasn’t “right.”
“What is a children’s book? Primarily it is to be healthy and funny and clever and upbeat and not show the little tattered edges of what life was like. But I remember what life was like. And I didn’t know what else to write about.”
What are your wild stories? What fears and hurts and angers can’t be contained in the safety of a tidy little space?
RIP, Maurice Sendak, King of All Wild Things, and thank you.