Grandpa built a great walnut bookcase that spread across one whole wall of the dining room. I loved looking at all those books in the bookcase. Novels, condensed books, how-to books, information books, and Little Kids’ books. In the center, Grandpa built a fold down writing desk with all sorts of cubby-holes for bills and letters and stamps. That was so Mom could pull up a chair and write.
Mom and Dad had a slew of Readers’ Digest condensed books all bound up in one book that smelling like the new halter I got for Ladybird right before the 4-H show. I could read Preachers’s Kids and Green Mansions and The Steel Cocoon without getting a new book. I loved books, and that seemed like a super treat, holding four or five books all at the same time. Deanna said they weren’t real books , ’cause Reader’s Digest left stuff out. If stuff was left out, it was unimportant stuff, ’cause those books were real exciting. I had a hard time setting them down to do my chores.
I kept all my “We Were There” adventure books from Weekly Reader Book Club and the books about people from the olden days there, too. I never re-read books, ’cause I could remember everything in them, sometimes I could even turn right to the page that some super interesting stuff was on, ’cause book pages got stuck in my head like the memory of any real good thing does, so I could get back to it just the same way Dad could drive back to the best ice cream cone store in the county; no problem at all. Still, I liked seeing all those books lined up like old friends.
The Little Kids’ books got put down on the bottom shelf, so anybody could grab one. Blueberries for Sal, was my favorite, and I read that to Frankie and Julie even though I knew it by heart. I tried to read out loud just like Mom did ’cause she made books so exciting, I just wanted to grab them right out of her hands and read them myself. The Little Kids had a whole bunch of Dr. Seuss book turned all which-a-way, ’cause little kids still had to learn how to put books away correctly. Still, nobody, I mean nobody, disrespected books in my house. Books were precious: Never, fold the cover back; never write in a book, and never, ever bend a page back, as a book mark. Nobody even had to tell me not to tear a page out. How could anyone else read a book with a page missing?
I loved the World Book Encyclopedias the best. Twenty-eight white leather-bound books with a forest green stripe on each binding and gold threads running through the covers. My encyclopedias even had gold edges on all the pages. These books were special.
I could find out anything in the World Books. “Let’s look that up,” Mom said, when I asked a question. Teacher sometimes got tired of all my questions; I could tell by the way she clicked her tongue, and pressed her lips together so tight they almost disappeared; she was sick and tired of questions. I learned all sorts of things from the Encyclopedia. Sometimes I learned a bunch of stuff I never thought to look up, ’cause right there next to “Egypt,” which I was looking up, was a picture on a mummy, so I had to see what that was about, and then when I turned the page I saw something else, until pretty soon, I forgot all about why I opened the book in the first place. Everything was in those books, and tons of pictures, too.
I especially liked the book with letter D. That’s where all the dogs were. At my house, you didn’t even have to know how to spell dog, which was pretty easy anyways; the book open right up to dog, just like Mom’s cookbook opened right up to pies. Bonita and Vickie and Loren and Julie and I guessed everybody, got that book out at least once a week to look at all the dogs in the world. Tinsy tiny dogs like Chihuahuas and great big dogs like Great Danes and Mastiffs. We never had any of those pure bred dogs, except Nikki. She was a registered German Shepherd and she was the best dog in the whole wide world. We had Barney Googles, too, a Bassett Hound, but he hardly counted as ours ’cause he only lasted three days. I probably only remember him because of his howling like his heart broke every time Deanna played her clarinet. That was funny as all get out. I laughed out loud just once or twice, ’cause for one thing, Deanna looked so surprised and sad at the same time, and for another thing, the second time I laughed she gave me the “bloody knuckles.” After that when I looked at the D for Dog encyclopedia, I tipped my head back and howled like a wolf at the moon, “Oooooowwoooo, ooooooo.” Deanna just rolled her eyes back in her head and pulled her lips down to one side to let me know she thought I was a moron. She was done feeling hurt about Barney Googles howling, ’cause now she was in first chair, which meant she was the best clarinet player in her band, so a dog’s opinion no longer mattered. I still thought it was pretty darned funny.
Mom figured out how to make papier mâché in the “P” book. Bonita learned tons about horses in her second favorite letter, “H”. I learned a bunch of stuff in “H” too, ’cause one day when Bonita was showing me the horses, I flipped over to Human. That’s when “H” got to be my favorite book. There was the most interesting picture ever. First a picture of a skeleton, front and back. Then a thin cellophane picture laid over the skeleton, showing all the organs; then the muscles over that, and last of all the skin and face and hair, making a whole naked man, front and back. Now that was way more interesting than any picture of a dog or a horse or a mummy. I flipped those static-y cellophane sheets back and forth, so I could see just how everything went together. I loved figuring stuff out almost as much as I loved reading. That picture got me thinking about all kinds of things that might be hidden just underneath the surface.
As any reader knows, the love of books never goes away. I still love the look, the sound, the smell, and the feel of books. I cringe when my grandchildren dog-ear a page their reading. I listen when they recommend a book, and I love, love, love to read to little kids. Oh, and I still like to discover what’s hidden underneath the surface of the page.
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