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When I was a child, my mother read to me every day. It was one of her rules of parenting: reading is as important as brushing your teeth before bed. At some point, she must have read me Alice in Wonderland, although it’s not one of the books I remember. Perhaps I was very young at the time… we read full chapter books together when I was 5 and 6 years old, me reading over her shoulder and correcting her little verbal alterations of the text, which I think drove her a bit crazy. But made me feel very smart. At any rate, I am certain that she never read me Through the Looking-Glass.

But somehow one phrase from dear Alice’s Looking-Glass adventure stuck, and became part of the wallpaper in our home. Often when she was getting us to ready to go to bed, my mom would say, “‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said!” to signify that it was bedtime. Of course, the Walrus is the ultimate authority on bedtimes, and so we were less likely to argue than if she had just said, “Bedtime!”

She would sometimes complete the sentence, just for fun: “‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages, and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings.'” Of course, Lewis Carol is intentionally frolicking in the absurd (as is the Walrus, to a clear and malicious purpose – read the full poem here*), and so I suppose it never occurred to me to ask what ceiling wax was. I can only imagine that I must have been too young to be reading over her shoulder at the time, because I didn’t realize until I was much, much older that the actual term was “sealing wax,” the kind used in the olden days to seal letters and envelopes. I grew up with “lick and stick” envelopes. Not that letters were very common anyway… mail was mostly just bills, except for the occasional bit of post sent by my grandfather, which was always a delight. I think he is the reason I still like to use snail mail. At any rate I had absolutely no context for the concept of using wax as a seal.

And so it remained, for years of my life, ceiling wax. Not that I had any better idea what on earth wax would be doing on ceilings.

*the quoted lines are taken from a poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter, which appears in Lewis Carol’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass.