“But the wild things cried, 'Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!'
And Max said, 'No!'
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”
Ridgefield’s Maurice Sendak was a man whose poetry and drawings inspired millions and touched childhoods worldwide, but whose small-town life was marked with deep personal friendships and a love for his community.
Mr. Sendak, the children’s author who wrote and illustrated “Where The Wild Things Are,” among many other influential, genre-breaking works, had a way of writing stories that played with the fears and trials of growing up, heartfelt stories that straddled the line between nightmares and dreams.
Mr. Sendak’s passing Tuesday morning had a profound effect on the Ridgefield community he loved so much and the neighbors he knew along the way.
“Maurice absolutely developed a love of Ridgefield,” said close friend Philip Lodewick. “He was a great observer of life.”
Philip and his wife Christine had known Mr. Sendak since they moved here in 1978.
“Maurice was witty, insightful, provocative at times but very warm and caring,” Philip said.
Christine remembers him fondly for his love of her apple sauce, which she would make for him to the point of his developing a “gourmet taste for the kinds of apples and where they were picked,” she said, laughing.
“He would critique the apple sauce at times for the subtle differences,” Christine remembered. “He was very observant and analytical.”
Because Mr. Sendak led a private life and focused on his work instead of mingling in large crowds, rumors are that he was reclusive – but the Lodewicks disagree.
“He preferred small gatherings, and he liked to be in control of his interactions with people,” Christine said, “but he was always appreciative of young people and the next generation, and he would always be up for talking about topics that emphasized helping people.”
“It’s great to have someone like Maurice Sendak live here,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “His passing is a sad loss for the community and a sad loss for the literary world.”
Mr. Sendak also had a deep appreciation for the – he was an honorary co-chairman of the campaign to raise funds for the recently approved renovation, along with Philip who was also a co-chairman of the campaign.
Assistant Library Director Mary Rindfleisch said when Mr. Sendak used to speak at the library and schools, “it was never about him, but about the kids.”
“He would have them tell their own stories,” Rindfleisch said.
Mr. Sendak would donate drawings to the library, and his quotes adorned library materials.
And his property in the north of town still has trails that he donated to the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield, which he loved to share with people – over 30 acres of his land are open to the public.
“He loved seeing the horses go by,” said Helen Dimos, who frequents the trails.
“He cared a lot about his land,” said Dimos’s husband Benjamin Oko, chair of the Ridgefield Conservation Commission. “He loved to use it and he loved to share it.”
Oko described Mr. Sendak as an avid walker even into his later years and as a dog-lover – he was especially proud of his German shepherd.
“He told me once how much he loved the dog,” Oko said, “and that the only thing he couldn’t teach it to do was to drive his Volvo, which he would have liked very much.”
Oko described Mr. Sendak as having a great sense of humor, if slightly on the acerbic side, and “an ironic view of the world at large,” much of which played into his writing.
“Maurice was the greatest children’s author of the twentieth century,” Mr. Lodewick recalled. “His insights and generosity have become a part of Ridgefield.”
An interview with Mr. Sendak once showed his appreciation for children and their way of thinking:
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, 'Dear Jim: I loved your card.' Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, 'Jim loved your card so much he ate it.' That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”