My parents’ home is so full of books that I have oft joked that were wes illiterate, our home would be immaculate. I followed in my father’s footsteps, using the first real sum of money I ever earned to buy myself a bookcase. The only things my ex-husband and I fought over were the contents of our library, and yes, I mean an actual room in our house we called the library. I simply do not understand people who are able to read and choose not to do so. Houses without books in them freak me out.
Suffice it to say that I have always been surrounded by words. My parents read me some books with pictures in them when I was little, but mostly I remember page after page of letters, and my parents’ laps. Dad read me Grimm’s Fairy Tales almost every evening, out on the porch in his green wicker rocker, and in the living room, trying not to disturb Mum’s TV viewing, when New England winters finally drove us inside. Mum read me the stories of her own childhood in England; The Boxcar Children, and anything by Enid Blyton, me curled up in her lap in a dusty horsehair chair, gazing out a sun-dappled window, playing with nesting bronze ashtrays that some relative had brought home from Asia, while I, too, had tea with Moonface.
Words were *time* with them. Stories were *love*.
My favourite books of my parents were on a few short shelves in my father’s den. They were more my size, and tended to be dusty, which made them seem like lost treasures waiting to be discovered. There were books on baseball statistics, old almanacs, Episcopal prayerbooks, and thin tomes on freshwater fish. These latter were especially lovely, with sparse yet detailed watercolor drawings of each species. He had several such volumes, perhaps gifts from his grandfather, who was one of the founders of Field and Stream magazine. Anyway, I adored them, and secretly made them my own.
My grandmother came over from England to see us once a year, and as she was my only living granparent, and I her only grandchild, we made much of each other. She stealthily ate my loathed peas a dinner, and I climbed into bed with her in the mornings. She turned jumpropes for me, we sang, and to her I entrusted the first stories of my own telling.
My mom still has them. I cut scrap paper into quarters, and carefully copied drawings from my father’s fish books into them, then made up stories about what the fish’s adventures, and my grandmother would transcribe them below my illustrations in her fine Queen’s English hand, in blue ball-point pen. I think I named one of the fish Freddy. I think my Grandmother laughed with glee.
I remember we worked up in my Mum’s office, Grandma using the drop-leaf of my Mum’s typing table as her work surface, me standing at her side as I dictated, looking out the sunny window at the blue sky over Boston, and at the heat mirages coming off the pavement below, the smell of Mum’s erasing pencils in the air.
Thus it was that *telling* stories, and *being heard* became love too.