Thursday, June 3, 2010

The object at hand

Every issue of the Smithsonian has an article called “The Object at Hand,” which is about some item from the museum. It might be a baseball from a historic game, a photograph, or an item of clothing. Once it was the frilly shirt from Seinfeld. The current issue has a psychedelic Bob Dylan poster. The accompanying essay is not so much about the item itself, but about the story surrounding it.

I found today's object at hand as I was shifting some bookshelves around, and naturally had to shift some books around too. I came across these two, and was immediately transported to Rachael’s baby days. She was (and still is, of course) a clever girl, and read by the time she was three. Even as a wee tot, she was a math whiz and delighted in doing long railroad problems as we went on our walks. But she simply could not learn to tell time. I couldn’t understand it. She could multiply by five – which seems like the primary requisite for figuring out what time it is, but she just couldn’t get it! As a visual aid, I got this little book, which, as you can see, cost 19¢ at the Goodwill. We studied it together, but to no avail. Tommy, the hero, is a chronically late fellow, whose parents try various stratagems to get him to be on time. Finally, they resort to purchasing him a watch. In my experience, those chronically late folks are as incorrigible as they are irritating, and I am sure that if this were not fiction, this ruse would never have worked. Despite his constant tardiness, he had one virtue as a child, which you can see here – he went to bed at seven and slept for twelve hours. That would make up for a lot. In addition to not being able to tell time, Rachael never slept. Then, suddenly, one day, out of the blue, Rachael looked at the clock and knew what time it was. There was nothing gradual about this. It seemed as though one minute she couldn’t and the next minute, she could. I later learned that being able to tell time is a developmental thing, and one just can’t do it till one’s little brain is ready. This was borne out when I had a patient who had had some sort of brain surgery. When he woke up, he felt all there, except that when he looked at the clock, he couldn’t tell what it said. A couple of days later, he suddenly could. Hmmmmmm….

The other book pictured, “Der Wolf und die sieben Geisslein,” was one of Rachael’s great favorites. Although, she didn’t speak German, she loved to have me read this to her. Over and over. And over. The wolf is pretty scary looking, isn’t he!


rebecca said...

That Rachael is the cutest girl!

Janet said...

That wolf is decidedly scary. What fun to still have those early books. Interesting about telling time - I think my 3 year old grandson in Hong Kong can tell time but I'm not sure. I'll ask my son. The grandson certainly seemed to be able to do some mathematical things that I thought were quite advanced for his age.

Laura said...

What a wonderful old book on telling time-a real treasure. And how great to have a grandma who could read the wolf story in German!