In absorbing the three spiral notebooks Mama kept about me growing up, no passage was more eloquent in its simplicity, with such profound implications than the one which mentioned that for my ninth birthday I received a trio of books amongst the rest of my loot. These three books would go down in my ledger as a three-way tie for my all-time favorite(s): The Swiss Family Robinson, Little Men and Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates.
|Inside cover of Little Men. Note the ravages of use, not time.|
I have always lumped these three together and no wonder since I received them at the same time. Interestingly enough, I also started fourth grade right after my ninth birthday, and I have to tell you that I am impressed with my own taste in reading at this tender age.
I mean, hey, Swiss Family Robinson is good enough to captivate any kid’s attention, but all three are were written in the nineteenth century, and the themes present in both Little Men and Hans Brinker, are fairly sophisticated for any age level. Besides, they were gateway books because I went on to read everything Louisa May Alcott wrote, among others.
I relied on my cache of books to allow for escape from reality, as I am sure many people do. Paradoxically, for a kid who was small, wiry and always looking for trouble, it defies explanation that I was such an avid reader. I was either at 33-and-a-third speed, or 78; there was no in-between.
My official spot in our ’53 Plymouth sedan, when we went to visit Noel at Dominguez, was on the floor of the back seat, driver’s side, with Matt on the floor behind Mama. With all those kids in the car, one of them a toddler, along with the ‘rents, it seemed the logical course, especially since the old Plymouth had no seatbelts, whatsoever.
I guarantee you I never went anywhere without my book, whatever I was reading at the time-never. I forgot my suitcase (brown grocery bag) of clothes at home, one summer, when we went camping in Baja, Mexico, but I remembered the half-dozen or so Agatha Christie, Zane Grey and Louis L’amour books I meant to read.
I used to drive Mama “bughouse” (my word back then) when I had nothing to read, at which time she would direct my attention to the book shelves in the dining room, the same shelves where the milk money jar was, so that we could always grab a nickel on our way out the door to get milk at lunch time, in the early years.
I remember Georgina of the Rainbows, by Annie F. Johnston, a book that not one in a thousand kids could read, but I read it because Mama had taken it down, given it a gander, and proclaimed it was perfect. I doubt that one single person reading this blog piece, has ever heard of this book.
The Bobbsey Twins it was not.
On the other hand, Georgina had the misfortune of following Beau Geste, by P. C. Wren, a novel that profoundly impacted me with its themes of honor and adventure, and illustrious portrayal of the French Foreign Legion.
I read everything in the house I could get my hands on. I had even pried my way into my brother Brian’s tightly hoarded collection of Hardy Boys Mystery Stories, with the oldest ruse in the book (sorry).
Clutching a fistful of dollars, I loudly proclaimed my intention of walking to Sav-on Drugs Store, which had a little book section for kids, and buying three-count them-three new Bobbsey Twins books.
“Why?” Brian asked me.
“Why not?” I responded.
“Because you could be buying Hardy Boys Mysteries, instead,” he responded smugly.
“Well, I might if it weren’t for the fact that there’s a bunch I haven’t read yet, sitting on your book shelf. Now, if I had access to them…” It worked like a charm, as he agreed I could read his books, on one condition. "You're not going to chew on, mutilate, or otherwise harm them, are you?"
I got the better end of the deal because I bought three HB books but got to read a bunch of his.
I have written before about the trips JT and I took to the Vine Street Library, every week during the summer, searching for soda pop bottles that were redeemable at the grocery and liquor stores. Though why anyone would ever toss a perfectly good bottle, worth three cents, out a car window was beyond our limited comprehension.
The bottom line was that we would bring ten or so books home and read most of them in a week’s time, and then do it again. The memory of those trips to the library, in the hot SoCal afternoon sun, and the camaraderie we shared, have remained with us throughout our lives. Later on, JT would go to work for this library, of which she has written in the past.
I could read anywhere, under any circumstances. I remember my Uncle Larry visiting once, and coming over to me after seeing that I was reading some book. I imagine he thought it was a mystery, or a sports book, and he greeted me enthusiastically.
“What are you so absorbed in, that your nose is buried in it, while you have company?”
Soundlessly I held the book up for him to see: The Nun’s Story, by Kathryn Hulme.
“Oh.” I watched him carefully as he tried in vain to think of something to say. For Larry to be speechless, was a new experience for me. Silently, he strolled away and I went back to my reading.
I will reread a book or an entire series, without a second thought. I recently went on a little classics binge and that felt good, and then I reread the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Now I am reading a Nelson DeMille number.
Reading costs nothing, it engages the mind, it entertains and it just might be what keeps me from losing some of my mental acuity as I age.
That sound you just heard was that of a whole roomful of people falling out of their chairs, laughing.
Mental acuity? Have another bong rip, Markie.