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Kitchen Sink

Into The Worm Hole

July 20th, 2008

Most Sundays I take the girls to the library. It’s an unexpected day for the library to be open, so it’s often empty and uncrowded. Usually, we start our excursion with a coffee/smoothie/chocolate milk pick-up, then make it to the library when it opens at 1. Sometimes, we wait outside on the lawn in the few minutes before the tired-eyed librarian unhurriedly opens the door, clicking her key ring against the glass and turning away before we can greet her. That time is spent mingling with the elderly woman dropping off Barbara Cartland or the angry-under-the-surface middle-aged man who glares at the girls hiding behind trees and tracing angels in the grass. Either way, soon enough the gaggle of us file into the building and my daughters scamper down the too-steep stairs to the enormous kid’s section.

 

I relish this time. I’ve spent more collective hours in the library than in my bed, I think. If a nuclear bomb were headed our way, I’d trundle us all to the library and huddle between the stacks, feeling impossibly safe and happy. There’s not much I remember anymore about my early childhood, but there is this: cradling a leaning tower of checked-out books under my chin, willing them not to fall, as I made my way past the McDonald’s and over two bridges back home; or swallowing the peppermint taste of excitement as I willed my legs to stop bouncing long enough to read the back of John Bellairs’ The Letter, The Witch and the Ring.

 

And for as long as I’ve loved books, one nightmare has hounded me: I’m alone in a library, squinting at the spines of book after book, in aisle after aisle, as my eyesight grows progressively dim, until in one brutal second, my vision snuffs out altogether. I can no longer read a thing, and this vignette haunts me.

 

Yet for now, I transfer my eyes to my children. I hope that by reading word after word, I’m infusing them with a glimpse of white mountains, the taste of peppermint, the thrall of witches and the breathlessness of whistling through space atop a winged horse. There are other things. Stories that pluck your eyes, pull your skin and stretch you, until you are quite someone else from the person you were an hour before. I breathe this on my children.

 

When I watch Toots travel somewhere else, see her eyes take on the distance and reflect the water of Honalee, I’m transported to snapshot of a little girl, hiding under her covers, aiming a flashlight at a book, sure that the world holds magic she’s only begun to touch.

 

So while I recall this other girl, and her road through books. I thought I remembered every book that laid the world at my feet. When I browse the kids’s section now, I run my fingers across my favorites, barely able to wait until my daughters can read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time, Mary Poppins, and my beloved John Bellairs. But as I pulled one book from the shelf, attracted by its yellow cover, I was wholly unprepared for what happened next.

 

 

I knew this book. Yet I hadn’t thought of it at all in the intervening years between my 3-year-old self and now. The complete familiarity of it took my breath, as if I’d lost my ear, or perhaps a finger, then found it again, restoring me back to whole. Melodramatic, yes, but it was just like that. This visceral connection to my younger self came as a physical sensation, like a rubber band snapping my soul.

 

I can’t explain it another way.

 

I leafed through the book, and saw this:

 

 

And I was back to a mustard yellow couch in an apartment overlooking a pool. The door hung open and I could see the pale blue water rippling through a white plastic fence that circled the entire second floor of the apartment complex.

 

That was all. I don’t know who was reading to me, but I suspect it was my mother. I did feel an intrusive sadness when I saw the story, and I can’t tell you why. But it’s since cleaved to me and I own it again, after losing it for so many years.

 

Those movies where you see how a man became a man? Where you watch him as a child suffering abuse, then fight back to become an advocate or a killer? Or when you see the early transformation from an introspective over-thinker to a philosopher?

 

I’d just glimpsed the beginning of my movie.

 

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On July 20th, 2008, Kristin said:

“Stories that pluck your eyes, pull your skin and stretch you, until you are quite someone else from the person you were an hour before.”…..oh momma you gave me chills with that description. I feel the same way. love to read. and the library isn’t a bad place to be during the end of the world, I’ll have to remember that! :)

On July 20th, 2008, Steph said:

Again, I say to you – you have a rare gift, my friend. Beautifully written as always.

On July 20th, 2008, MommyTime said:

Oh, I looooved the library as a child. That smell, slightly musty, but tinged with excitement and promise, the hard carpet under me as I sat by shelves browsing in books. I remember the summer I devoured the entire Little House on the Prairie series and mourned that we did not live in a sod house in a state that got feet of snow in the winter. I still love the library, and so do my kids. Many thanks for this joyful post.

On July 20th, 2008, Vered said:

Steph is right: you do write well.

I used to love books, and as a result the library, when I was a child. I am not reading now nearly as much as I used to, and sometimes I really miss it.

On July 20th, 2008, Cutie Booty Cakes said:

This was so special. I can totally relate to the little girl you described. I was a girl in the library too – but my largest stack of books came on the day when my orders from Scholastic arrived at school and I walked home merrily in anticipation of reading my books.

On July 20th, 2008, Momma Mary said:

Wow. It’s always a surprise when a memory sneaks up on you like that. Books and smells often do that to me. Scent memories are extremely powerful. :)

It is awesome that you take your girls to the library every week. I should start that with my Little Monster!

On July 20th, 2008, Da Goddess said:

The traveling to distant places all from reading a book, even just looking through the pictures, is what’s so great about books. As a kid, that’s what I did every week after running down to the library. Like you, I’d come home with a stack of books the librarian thought I’d never get through, yet I’d go through them several times over before that week was up. Oh, and when the book mobile came by with more? I got weak in the knees. Best. time. ever!

I’m glad we both have kids who’ve inherited this joy.

P.S. Did I ever tell you how I punish my son? I tell him no visit to the bookstore/library. Bwahahahahahaha!

On July 21st, 2008, robyn said:

I know I will feel that way if I ever get my hands on a copy of Crescent Dragonwagon’s “Strawberry Dress Escape”. :)

On July 21st, 2008, Kizz said:

The old library in my home town was actually a bomb shelter, there was a sign that said so right on the stones of the building as you walked in. As much as that weirded me out it also made me feel safer. If I had to go all sheltery doing it there would be easier.

After I left home they built a new library right next to the river. It’s almost slid in twice. Just not the same feeling.

On July 21st, 2008, Deb@Bird On A Wire said:

I do most of my work at the library…that was a whine from another post, but its still my favorite smell and place from my childhood. I hope it never goes away!
You’re a true artist as a writer. Keep up the great stuff!

On July 21st, 2008, Karen said:

I remember that book, too, but it’s not the beginning of my movie. I’m amazed that you exactly capture the way I feel when I see “The Pokey Little Puppy”, my movie-starter.

You’ve also triggered my favorite memory of all. The one summer that we lived in town and I was close enough to walk to the library, I was there every day. Across the street from the library was a giant, ancient pine tree. I would check out a book then hold it under my chin and climb that tree. Near the top I would perch on my favorite forked branch and stay there as I read the entire book. Then I would scurry down and back to the library and check out another book to take home with me for the evening. I loved that summer of books (and away from my two older and slightly evil sisters).

Thank you

On July 21st, 2008, Jenn @ Juggling Life said:

I think this is my favorite piece of yours.

I was in the library Thursday thinking many of the same thoughts, though not so eloquently.

On July 21st, 2008, Deborah said:

Exactly the same memories as a child in Sydney. My Dad taking me to the library where I always checked out the maximum number of new books. Sometimes we’d sit under a tree in the library garden – a beautiful spot overlooking the harbour, cut into the hillside – because I couldn’t wait to get home to peek inside the covers, or sometimes my Dad wanted to check out a book too and I’d wait for him there, lost in my own world. It was a magical time.

Wonderful imagery, Deb.

On July 21st, 2008, pajama momma said:

Wow, that brought make emotion for me as well. Deb, what can I say? Your writing is incredible.

It’s amazing how certain smells, or songs or words will bring back memories.

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree does that to me.

On July 21st, 2008, Auds said:

Books….ahhhh books. They can take you anywhere and everywhere and have you back in time for tea. Well, most of the time anyhow.

To me, there is nothing so wonderful as the smell of an old cherished book. Your post today has brought back so many memories that I’d thought were long buried in the deepest caverns of my mind – of discovering volume after volume of long forgotten books in my Great Aunts musty old library.

Such a beautifully written essay.

On July 21st, 2008, stephanie (bad mom) said:

Wow, goosebumps.

I’ve given over my childhood books to my kids – even the irrelevant “Goodbye, Tonsils” because when I read it again, I am that little girl who wishes she could spend time being doted over in the hospital. (Seriously – I thought of that book when I was in for both C-sections!). I want them to make their own book memories, but I love having mine around, too.

Well said, this. Along the lines of Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life.

On July 21st, 2008, Mamasphere said:

You have no idea how excited I am that you posted this! I’ve been trying to recollect this book ever since I found out I was pregnant, with no luck. Now I can go out and get it for my daughter (now four). My favorite story was about a thief that stole a diamond necklace. Ahh, the excitement of the chase. I can’t wait to read the stories again!

On July 21st, 2008, San Diego Momma said:

I’m loving reading all your library/early reading memories. Thanks for sharing these special times.
Deb

On July 21st, 2008, Lori said:

I bought my kids the collection of Little Golden Readers so that they could read the same stories I did. Every time we get it out I get all nostalgic.

On July 21st, 2008, Green Girl said:

Funny how memories spring to mind, isn’t it? I do adore the library, too. The smell, the old ladies, all the books you can take for free!

On July 21st, 2008, ilinap said:

One of my proudest moments was when my then 3 year old son chose to go to the library over the park. Books offer a lifetime of escapism, imagination, and learning that TV will never replace (this coming from a girl who loves some trash TV!). My boys have many of the Richard Scarry books I had, and I love re-reading the classics. In turn, they love hearing the stories that I loved as a child. Somehow closes the cosmic loop.

On July 21st, 2008, The Girl Next Door said:

OK I read this post laaaate last night before I went to bed. Then I dreamed of my very old, former best friend from elementary school. And when I read this again tonight, I put it together. BETH AND I READ THIS BOOK 600 TIMES TOGETHER! It was one of our “first books.” Gawd the memories. You are amazing SDMomma. Thanks for bringing it all back.

On July 21st, 2008, Marketing Mama said:

Wow, interesting! I had a similar experience a couple of weeks ago. I found an old childhood book of my own in storage. I leafed through the pages and started reading to my 2 year old. I had a flash back as well. It was trippy.

On July 21st, 2008, Mrs. G. said:

Librarians are my rock stars!

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