That I can recall, the first episode of my life concerning books is when I was three years old, and I suspect I wouldn’t remember that except for the dead horse that lay near the gate. It was gray. We had gone to visit friends who lived in the country around Springfield, and the sight of that huge animal must have shocked me, so that it forms my earliest memory. (I was surprised to read somewhere a few days ago that a gentleman has faint memories of his birth, and when I mentioned that fact to Andrew he spoke of knowing someone who has a similar memory…an interesting topic for another time.)
Anyway, there was the amazing dead horse near the gate of our friend’s home, and later in the day, I crawled under their front porch–a high porch–and there I found an old book. I hauled it out, and of our hosts who were sitting with my parents on the porch, I asked if I could have the book. My dad protested, and there followed the first course in social graces that I can recall, “Shirley, you don’t ask people to give you things.”
I couldn’t read at three, I know that, but what has developed into an enthusiasm and attachment to the printed page must have begun early in my life…and continues…and around me at all times are lots of books. Usually books bring me pleasure, but through the years they have also been sources of grief, such as times when I turned them in late at the library and must pay a fine.
“Once, I lost a book and was scared of the library for a while, that is, until I got the money together to pay for the mysteriously vanished tome. I don’t know if I thought the librarian would send a policeman to my door or that someone would snatch me off the bus one Saturday in order to extract the price of that book. What a relief when I had paid the debt and again could stride up the central steps and check out more books.” From my book, Road Tales.
My favorite childhood book was The Boxcar Children, and I cannot tell you how many times I read that account of a family of orphans who settled into a boxcar to live. The illustrations were vivid black and white cuts, but I suspect I would have seen them had there been no pictures, for in my mind, they were alive. I walked with them as they prowled about a dump to get dishes and pots and pans, and as sickness befell them. Many years ago, when we were still pastoring in Rialto, I found and bought an old copy of that book, but alas, I took it to our school there, and somehow it never returned home. That saddens me, for I wish I had that copy back.
My second favorite was actually a group of books, biographies of great Americans: scientists, inventors, social workers. I have three old ones at home in Crestline, and one day I will take a picture and show them to you. I loved those books, and as I write here I remember learning of Jane Addams through that series. I even recall the opening pages that told of her being a small girl sweeping the porch and the wind kept blowing leaves to the spot she had cleared. You may know she formed the Hull House in Chicago.
A few weeks ago I saw in a thrift store a sign that read: All Books 10 cents each. My heart thumped, my hands were eager, but my mind put the skids on my plans to fill a basket: Remember, you live in a motor home. Okay, okay, I snarled at the sensible section of my brain, and came home with just a small stack.
Some years back, I made an attempt at counting the books in our home, and came up with a number around 3000. We probably don’t have that many now, for I’ve earnestly tried to downsize lots of things. When we first moved into our Rialto home, we had beautiful library shelves built in what was designed to be the living room, but which we called the “piano room,” for in there we had a grand piano, a couch, a desk, and hundreds of books. When Jerry retired from pastoring, we put our things in storage for four years and traveled extensively in our motor home. After that, we purchased our Crestline home, which didn’t have enough shelves for our books, but we’ve installed shelves since then. From the time we took our things from storage, I’ve been culling our books, but I must confess there are still boxes of them in the basement.
Why then did I come from the thrift store with these?