Tuesday, June 23, 2015


I can see her now.

Laura and I are having a mid morning snack...maybe an Oreo or a handful of Pretzel Stix, maybe some Koolaid, or perhaps a real treat, a Fizzy, the tablet plopped into cold water in one of those jewel toned aluminum tumblers.  Kid food for the '60s; bright colored, effervescent, and tasting faintly of dissolved metals.  Or perhaps I just imagined that?

But my mother is perched gracefully on a stool at the divider my father built in our suburban home to create a kitchen and a dining room.   In my mind's eye, I picture a plastic tumbler of Pepsi on the counter there, but I don't need my imagination to know she's reading a book.

There were always books.  The folio art books, the German Bible, the volumes of popular fiction by Ernest K. Gann (Fate Is the Hunter) and James Michener, the colorful slip covers of the The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea , all housed on the dining room side of the divider.  The Complete Sherlock Holmes and a hefty volume of Mark Twain were within easy reach on Saturday afternoons whenever my mom popped a big bowl of popcorn.  There was an antique volume on the Great War between two monkish bookends on the bottom shelf of a writing desk in the living room and two volumes of Arnold Toynbee's Study of History.  My father owned Will and Ariel Durant's multi volume Story of Civilization even before the series was completed.  These stately books seemed to me to lend gravity to our suburban existence with their mere presence; Alpha Bits or Sugar Smacks consumed in the same room with the Durants were transformed into brain food.

My parents were the smartest people I knew. I innately realized that this house of books and music was a good place in which to grow up.  And there was no better guide to the wide world of the mind's eye than my mother. It seemed to me that there wasn't a book she hadn't read. My mother was both example and inspiration, leading me down the Book Trail and opening the doors to the old friends she knew and loved and wanted me to meet and love too.

When I see Abbie or Lizzie, Gabe or Aaron, nestled on the couch, oblivious to what anyone else is doing...and even what they should be doing, I am eight years old again on a hot summer's day walking up the narrow sidewalk to the Orland Park Library.  It was a mere four rooms and the cooling effects of the window unit didn't reach much beyond the first room where the librarian waited at her desk to check for our library cards. With the blinds pulled against the hot sun and one light on the ceiling, it was so dim I could barely read the titles on the wall devoted to children's books. Like the grandkids, I read my favorites over and over...all the books by Marguerite Henry and all the books by Walter Farley (yes, there was a horse phase!) I picked out Newberry winners and Nancy Drew mysteries, science fiction by Madeline L√Čngle and Ursula LeGuin. Our copies of An Old Fashioned Girl and Eight Cousins had belonged to my mother and were coming unstrung and unglued at home, but, old fashioned girl that I was, I borrowed the sequels to these classics from the library.

As I got older but not old enough for truly adult novels, my mother pointed me to more serious and challenging books she read as a girl....I read my way through thick oilcloth bound volumes of Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard, finally working my way up to the thickest book of them all...The Count of Monte Cristo.  It was short and stout and bound in bright yellow.

I'm still a sucker for the magazine articles that appear seasonally, touting the best summer reads for beach, or travel, novels or history.  My perennial vision of ideal summertime includes a canvas book bag behind the seat of the car and a long week of evenings to browse through.  Convenience makes Amazon the library of choice these days as we anxiously await the summer releases of our favorite thrillers, but Amazon also makes it possible to sample and browse for free, to escape the heat...or the doldrums....just like we did years ago amid the dark and stuffy...and slightly musty...shelves of our small town library.

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