Funny thing about books...I can remember the first book anyone ever read to me..."The Three Little Kittens". It was a huge...and I mean huge...and very thin book...with 3 little kittens in cute clothes, scampering throughout the pages. Now, in the real world, you'd never get a kitten to hold still long enough to put clothing on the little thing, but I was 5 and my aunt was going to read me a story, so I'd believe anything if someone was going to sit down, hug me to their side, and read to me. The day was not going well, and I was alone a lot that summer, while the grown-ups were busy with the farm work. My aunt sat down, invited me to sit beside her, wrapped an arm around my shoulder, hugged me tight to her side, and began to read..."Three little kittens, they've lost their mittens..."...and bit by bit, the tears subsided, the loneliness subsided and I was enveloped in the story and her love.
Always, as long as I can remember, books and reading have been as essential to me as breathing. First, "The Three Little Kittens", then "Anne of Green Gables" and also "Peyton Place", smuggled into my bedroom wrapped in a sweater, so no one saw me bringing "that trash" into the house. The library at school was my second home, and the books I took home with me at the end of the day were as vital to my well-being as the meals I ate while I read the books.
My grandmother would call me for dinner, then call me again, and finally come into my room and call my name once more, to break the reverie of my escape into my book. "Cherry Ames, Student Nurse", "The Secret of Red Gate Farm" with Nancy Drew...and not to be outdone, "The Secret of Wildcat Swamp" with Frank and Joe, those hunky, handsome Hardy Boys. My favorite teacher in the world read to us for 30 minutes...exactly...after lunch, and before class started. She was a first year teacher, and became our heroine, when she read the Hardy Boys, despite the dire predictions of our parents who feared we'd end up brain-dead from reading "that trash."
I spent my hard-earned babysitting money on "True Romance", "True Story" and "Tiger Beat" from the cafe downtown, and shared them with my girlfriends, whose mothers wouldn't allow "that trash" into their homes. My grandparents didn't know that I was bootlegging magazines for my friends....never mind reading them during slow times when I worked at that cafe after school. I worked my way up to a magazine a night, and by the end of that summer, I could read the month's stock before they were sold out.
"Maggie Now" and "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" saw me through my first few months as a mom, when my daughter was sleeping and before a meal had to be made. "Timothy Todd Slept On" and "Winnie the Pooh" replaced any form of adult books that I may have wanted to read, as my daughter and son grew from babies to school age...and a teacher of theirs commented to me on their love of books and their innate ability to read far beyond their years. Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, too...complete with distinct voices for each of the characters in the books. I always maintained that Pooh was written on 2 levels...one for kids and another level for the adults reading the books!
Taking my children to the big downtown library was always a treat for all three of us...and stopping at the bakery on the way home for a vanilla-custard cream-filled Long John or raspberry jam-stuffed Bismark put the proverbial icing on the cake! The weight of our bookbags, filled to the brim, never seemed a problem, when we had one hand carrying our bookbags and the other cradling a sweet-filled Dutch Mill Bakery confection. Earle Stanley Gardner wrote a ka-zillion Perry Mason books and I read them all that year!
A few years later, after finding myself a single mom, with two almost-adolescent people in the house, I discovered the soothing words of Merle Shain and Hugh Prather, telling me that all would be well, at some point in my life...Merle's slim volumes were read to tatters by the time my children left home, and I replaced them at a book sale, after learning of her death, which came much too early, stilling a voice of rare wisdom and compassion, after only 4 books. Today, her words have as much punch and poignancy for me as they did when the pain of divorce was still raw and rasping on my soul.
Having kissed goodbye to my 40's, I'm finding my choice in books has changed. From Merle Shain, John Bradshaw and all of the other teachers and counsellors who made my life infinitely better with their words, to my current passion for "Fionavar Tapestry", "Sevenwaters Trilogy","Mists of Avalon" and anything by Robert Ludlum and Dan Brown, I'm finding I read for pure pleasure today. The days of reading for solace and knowledge have passed, for I am my own solace now, and I have my own particular knowledge that has graced my life, having made it through to the other side of my pain.
The other day, I was at a garage sale, and happened to stop at a tattered cardboard box full of books. "How much will you take?" I asked the woman who was selling the items. "Two bucks," she said, and swiped the coins from my hand. Unpacking the box later that day, I was stopped in my tracks, for there in the very bottom of the box was a clean, crisp copy of "The Three Little Kittens", identical to the one I'd had as a child. Picking it up, I sat back on the floor, and smiled through my tears as I remembered my aunt's kindness to a lonely and often frightened little girl..."Three little kittens, they've lost their mittens..."