Photo by Annie Spratt
I read. It’s what I do. My talents in other areas are limited; you wouldn’t want to see a stick figure drawing I might attempt. In elementary school, I was told I might have psychological issues because my mandatory drawing of my family contained no feet. The truth is that I still can’t sketch feet — or anything else.
This love of reading explained my distress as the words in my paperbacks and newspapers grew progressively smaller and then, wouldn’t you know it, the print grew paler. It was contagious because soon the hardcovers followed suit. My eyes watered all day, and I cleaned my glasses every few minutes. It didn’t help the problem.
The answer was clear if my vision was not. I had whopping cataracts on both eyes.
My evening activity, more or less gone, gave me pause to think about books, if not actually read them.
As a young child, I dragged our wicker laundry basket outside, tied balloons to it and got in. I waited to take off. When Uncle Wiggly did this, his airship zoomed upward. Mine stayed put, but I didn’t mind. I was happy, and I imagined that the liftoff issue had to do with the fact that I was not an elderly bunny with a candy-cane cane but a four-year-old girl. I suppose the neighbours wondered.
The first place that I was allowed to walk alone to was the local library. Well, alone if you include Cynthia from across the street. We clutched our precious pink cards and our hands as we approached the intersections with care. Coming home was harder. We had to juggle the three books we were each allowed to borrow while still holding hands as promised. For one week, those books lived under my mattress with some old photographs and many dreams.
It sounds like there was a book shortage in my house, but such was not the case. We were all readers, and my mother spared no expense in providing us with material. Age-appropriate was sometimes another story. I am still trying to locate the novel I received at eleven that introduced me to the word brothel. I thought it was brother, misspelled.
I trudged home each school day at noon and devoured both the healthy lunch and the book I was in the middle of. Charlotte’s Web had stains on most pages. “Some pig,” I thought as I bit into two cookies at the same time.
Whirligig House had characters named Cricket and Buster and a bad kid named Spit Curl. I thanked them for coming into my life by dropping the remains of lamb chops on them. Boots on the wrong feet, I set out back to school, still turning pages. That might explain being knocked over by a car as I ignored a stop sign. (I wasn’t hurt, but I suspect the man who hit me still hasn’t recovered.)
I fell in love for the first time at eight. The recipient of my passion was tall, with curly hair and green eyes. He was determined, intelligent and his unusual smile made me swoon. I imagined countless scenarios in which we would live happily ever after. Sadly, he lived in Avonlea, and his name was Gilbert Blythe. Sadder yet, he wanted to become kindred spirits not with me but with some redhead from Prince Edward Island who had a fondness for puffed sleeves. I was heartbroken and began eating lunch with someone else.
His name was Jeremy Atticus Finch. Better yet, after we married, Atticus would be my father and Scout, my sister. I did wonder what rape was.
Meg Murray was my best friend. Too bad she wasn’t real. Her father was missing, as was mine, but it was okay because she travelled by tesseract to the planet Camazotz to find him. Meg loved Calvin, a boy who could communicate telepathically and felt out of place in his own life. My next crush had arrived. Together we would forge ahead, fighting conformity at every turn.
It was a done deal. I would be joining the Pevensie family so that I could enter the wardrobe with Lucy, Peter, Edmund and Susan. That it all happened during the Blitz, which I knew about from We Couldn’t Leave Dinah, did not put me off. I began spending an inordinate amount of time among the winter coats.
My mother and I would read Agatha Christie mysteries whenever we flew, each of us relinquishing the book to the other after every chapter, no spoilers allowed. Anyone giving a clue was forced to relinquish her turn.
The Ephron sisters might have thought life was love, loss and what they wore, but for me, it was love, loss and what I read. Random lessons.
A girl could be besotted with a boy and still have her own life. (Anne had a lot going on outside of Gilbert.)
Everyone dreams of being pretty.
Mine is not the only soul that aches from poetry.
I could say “poo-poo” to all the metaphorical tigers in their zoos.
Aslan, who told me, “Courage, dear heart,” every morning, would never abandon me.
Never, ever kill the mockingbird.
Always, “Screw your courage to the sticking place.”
As an adult, I realized that in books, broken things could be fixed much in the same way William Finn said in his Broadway musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," that the dictionary is where “lost things always can be found.”
Both cataracts have been removed, new reading glasses prescribed, and life has gone back to my old normal. Less pondering, more reading. Thank goodness that pile of books on my coffee table is almost gone.
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Speaking of books, I ache for the one you have yet to write! Thank you for this heartwarming piece. It opened the floodgates of memory as I read many of the same books in my childhood. I could not, however, quote from them! As always, your writing is exquisite!💕
Thanks. Books are so special. I still remember My first library book with my own library card. I, too, was privileged to have a mom who read to us…all the time. She went back to college when I was in elementary school. I was in about the sixth grade and was given the option to do dishes or read to her while she did them. I was soon reading Canterbury Tales to her.