Mom loved books and she taught us to love them as well.
Christmas morning brings back memories of opening the most wonderful books. There was nothing more pleasurable than feeling the heft of a book through the wrapping paper and knowing there was hours of pleasure in store.
The books were almost always the Caldecott winners, each embossed with the gleaming gold seal of the award. I learn now that, like the Newbery Medal, “the Randolph Caldecott Medal annually recognizes the preceding year’s ‘most distinguished American picture book for children’, beginning with books published in 1937.” It is given in honor of the 19th century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott by the American Library Association.
Since both Mom and Daddy were artistically minded, all the books were magnificently illustrated. The first ones, when we were little, were Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, or Mother Goose Rhymes. Later, it was the beautiful covers for books like Misty of Chincoteague or The Godolphin Arabian. Each was more beautiful than the last. If I remember correctly, we brought most of those books with us when we came back to the United States in 1963. What happened to them later, regrettably, I don’t know.
Mom read voraciously and widely. Evidently her years at Miss Harris’ School for Girls in Miami and her education at Ward-Belmont made her an eclectic and intellectual reader, interested in everything. We always had shelves and shelves of books at home. Evenings (before there was television) were spent curled up in big comfy armchairs in front of the fire place while Mom read or played the piano.
Reading and having a collection of books was not a problem as long as Mom had a pied a Terre. The difficulty came when, in about 1977, she sold the house on Garcia in Coral Gables and took to the roads with Al. To the agonizing embarrassment of my straight-laced Kentucky grandmother, they lived out of Al’s car and had NO HOME! We all learned to grin and bear it.
When they arrived in a town, Al would find the daily paper and peruse it for rooms to let. It seems that there are usually elderly widow ladies or single mothers who need to supplement their income and will rent a room and bath with rights to use the kitchen. On their treks north and south, Al and Mom came to rely on finding rooms with the same people each year.
Without anywhere to keep books in the car, the local public library became Mom’s favorite haunt wherever she was. A library card and a pass to the local YMCA swimming pool were all that Mom needed.
Invariably, she would come across some well-written book and write to recommend it to us. Her phone calls (also before cell phones), when they came, always included some suggestion about a book that we really “must” read. I have kept a list of books that she has recommended over the years. Perhaps, someday, I will have the leisure to read them, too.
She also loved poetry and could still quote poems she learned as a girl. She believed that reading poetry was the best way to start the day. It helped to stimulate the mind and take one out of oneself and into the wider world. Probably not a bad habit to develop considering it would probably help with writing blogs.
Of course, she developed her favorites, including, as I have mentioned before, Eckhart Tolle. In his case, she bought up copies of his books and mailed them or gave them to friends and acquaintances. Again, all her friends and relations learned to smile and nod and agree and accept yet another copy of the latest opus magnus.
Each time she came to live here, on their annual passages, we visited the library often. She came to absolutely dote on one of the librarians, Richard, who always looked forward to her visits. He was the perfect librarian, supplying her with the best and the latest good reads. The two reveled in discussing the merits of the various books and she always looked forward to seeing Richard when she arrived in town. And he always asked after her when we met.
Admittedly, not all the books were intellectual. In addition to the massive Works of Montaigne or the Life of Churchill or Early Mornings on Horseback about Teddy Roosevelt, over the years, she had come to admire Lee Childs and the Jack Reacher books. We soon had the entire series. She kept them in proper order, start to finish, extending for several feet along the top of her dresser.
Even as the dementia set in, she would “read” them over again. Perhaps that is a benefit of not remembering. It is possible to enjoy books numerous times. The problem, and I think she knew it, was that she could no longer discuss the plot or the parts she liked best. It confused her when she couldn’t. Still, she kept books by her bedside right to the end.
In this day of television and You tube and cell phones and binge watching, the legacy of loving books is one that I treasure. I can only hope that there will be a place for books in the future. If Mom is to pass a legacy on to future generations, let us hope that it will be her dedication and love of books.