SUUF Spiritual Reflection

Sunday Morning April 5, 2020 from Rev. Glenn
Dear SUUF Friends,

My mother loved children’s books. Her love for children’s books became her chosen legacy. Before her death from brain cancer in 1997, she worked with her educator friends to create the Joan Coleman Farley Memorial Library. At her celebration of life, her friends and family donated multiple thousands of dollars to the library…which was used to purchase hundreds of her favorite children’s books…which were then donated to our UU church library, to Galway Elementary School, (where she previously taught 1st grade for many years), and to Beacon House, an after-school program in Northeast Washington, DC, for at-risk youth. Soon after the books were purchased and donated; the fund was then dissolved; all that remained was a sticker inside each of the hundreds of children’s books:

“Joan Coleman Farley Memorial Library”

This memory of my mother was flooding back to me this week because a beloved children’s book author died on Monday, March 30th, 2020; Tomie dePaola.

An original tale written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola: Strega Nona
NPR: Tomie dePaola, Beloved Children’s Author And Illustrator, Has Died 3/30/20

Perhaps Tomie dePaola’s most famous book was “Strega Nona,” the Grandmother Wise Witch who lived in a little town in Calabria, Italy. She had a magic pot that would make pasta, and her young assistant Big Anthony, abused it and almost drowned the town in pasta! It is a similar story to the sorcerer’s apprentice tale.

Tomie DePaola was prolific; he worked on 270 books over a 50+ year writing career. His books sold 25 million copies and were translated into 20 languages. He received the lifetime achievement award from the American Library Association in 2011, who said of his work, “Tomie dePaola is masterful at creating seemingly simple stories that have surprising depth and reflect tremendous emotional honesty.”

I was a big fan of Tomie dePaola when I was a kid, as was my mother (and my dad and brother, too)! I owned many of his books in my collection, as did my mother for her 1st grade classroom.

In fact, I distinctly remember my mother inviting me to meet him at a book signing! It was at Cheshire Cat Children’s Book Store in Chevy Chase, Washington, DC. Yes, we are talking 30+ years ago, before the preeminence of Border’s Books and Barnes & Noble, well before the rise of Amazon.com, when a speciality book store just for children’s books could exist and thrive.

Cheshire Cat Children's Books

So I gathered up all my Tomie dePaola books, and my mother and I headed down to Cheshire Cat bookstore in Chevy Chase. The book-signing line was long, through the entire store and out the front door! We diligently waited our turn to meet the great author and get our books (his books) signed by him!

We got to the front of the line and there he was. Mr. dePaola looked (to my pre-teen eyes) like a mix between Liberace and Santa Claus, with a very friendly face and rosy cheeks. We exchanged some brief pleasantries and he kindly signed the books.

Tomie dePaola

As we left, I remember most vividly how scandalized my mother was by Mr. dePaola’s appearance. “He had pierced ears and was wearing earrings!” she exclaimed in shock.

My mother had very conservative views on what is, and is not, appropriate in one’s dress and styling in public. This was a harbinger of future consternation in my household, when years later at age 16, when my raging individualist persona was in full bloom, I announced to my parents I was growing a beard and getting dreadlocks. (Now, at this time I had a grand total of 3 hairs on my chin and I was a white kid from the suburbs, whereas dreadlocks are most associated with Afro Caribbean Rastafarian culture). It didn’t last long, but my mother was beside herself for weeks. She had a real internal struggle; on the one hand, wanting to support me in my youthful exploration, and on the other hand, really fearful of how other’s judgement could bring me negative experiences and/or reflect poorly on her. (It all turned out OK before too long, I moved on to some other way to individuate myself).


This week, I have enjoyed reminiscing on those youthful times and experiences; watching videos of Tomie dePaola and listening to the author read his books.

Learning to be Quiet with Tomie dePaola America Magazine

Tomie dePaola Remembered

I have also really enjoyed this SUUF fellowship year, incorporating a “Story for All Ages” into the Sunday Service, now that we have children in attendance consistently. And inviting them to light the chalice! 🙂

The “Stories for All Ages,” like Tomie dePaola’s books,
attempt to be
simple and clear, but not simplistic,
deep, but not complicated,
truthful, but not rigid.
and relevant to ALL ages.

We (humanity) needed Tomie dePaola, and we got him for 85 years on this earth.

Everyday in this society, we are under assault, by liars and cheats, bad faith actors and obfuscators. They are speaking through bullhorns on TV, internet and social media, from basements in St. Petersburg, Russia, and from the briefing room of the White House.

We need a million more Tomie dePaolas, we need leaders and artists who can “speak simply, with depth, with tremendous…honesty.”

In gratitude for the truth-tellers,
may we speak the truth,
may we be in solitary with and supportive of
those we tell the truth,
now and to the end of our days.
May it be so.

P.S. Susannah Martin & I plan out the Sunday service themes and music months in advance. Below are some of the songs we choose for this Sunday months, on youtube, courtesy of Susannah. Please enjoy them!

~Rev. Glenn

ROCKA MY SOUL (with Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe)

SPIRIT OF LIFE (Beautiful Choir)

FIELDS OF GOLD (Eva Cassidy)

AVE MARIA (Celtic Woman)

More information about the Cheshire Cat Children’s Book Store 1977-1999

Jewell Stoddard and the Cheshire Cat: A Bookstore for the Whole Community

Last Chapter For the Cheshire Cat April 7, 1999