Just recently, Dixie Willson’s lovely poem, “The Mist and All” was featured in one of my “Something Wonderful” posts. Soon after, author, editor, poetry lover and KWD follower Toby Stein (see Details Deliver) discovered that Dixie was the sister of Meredith Willson, creator of that joyful confection,”The Music Man.” There’s no telling where research will take you! A little more digging about Dixie on my end revealed that her 1923 children’s book Honey Bear was a huge favorite of author Tom Wolfe. But let’s let Tom tell the story:
“Speaking for myself, I was. galvanized. by a writer who never rated so much as a footnote to American literary history: Dixie Willson. My mother read Honey Bear to me at bedtime long before I knew one letter of the alphabet from another….
“Over and over she read it to me. I was small, but like many people my age I had already mastered the art of having things my way. I had memorized the entire poem in the passive sense that I could tell whenever Mother skipped a passage in the vain hope of getting the 110th or 232nd reading over with a little sooner. Oh, no-ho-ho. there was no fooling His Majesty the Baby. He wanted it all. He couldn’t get enough of it.
“….Honey Bear’s main attraction was Dixie Willson’s rollicking and rolling rhythm: anapestic quadrameter with spondees at regular intervals. One has to read it out loud in order to be there:
Once upon a summer in the hills by the river
Was a deep green forest where the wild things grew.
There were caves as dark as midnight – there were tangled trees and thickets
And a thousand little places where the sky looked through.
“The Willson beat made me think writing must be not only magical but fun. It isn’t, particularly, but Honey Bear was fun, and I resolved then and there, lying illiterate on a little pillow in a tiny bed, to be a writer. In homage to Dixie Willson, I’ve slipped a phrase or two from Honey Bear into every book I’ve written.”
Love this story! I can just see little Tommy, future author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, sitting on his mom’s lap and lapping up Honey Bear. It just goes to show, you never know where inspiration will spring from. Thanks, Toby and Tom — write on!