“Just one more chapter, Mom, please.”
“I don’t know, it is getting kind of late” she said indecisively.
“Pretty please!” I put all of the wheedle I could into the words, looking at her with mournful, pleading eyes.
“Okay, just one more, but then I really need to start working on supper.”
I relaxed. Settling back down into the couch, my cheek leaning against my mother’s arm, my eyes following her wonderful mother voice on the page as she started the next chapter.
“Now began the happiest time that Caspian had ever known…”
If, like Peter Pan, I try and find my Happy Thought, I think this memory would be a tight contender.
In my childhood home, there were books in every room. If one of my family couldn’t be found, we were probably in a corner, up a tree or in the bathroom deep into a book, and unable to rouse themselves from the world we were currently inhabiting.
At two minutes from our bedtime you would find my brother and I tearing around the house in the grip of terror. Fear oozed out of us, as we strode swiftly around the house. (“No running in the house, boys!”) Brush teeth, wash hands, last sip of water, (“Don’t drink too much or you’ll wet the bed!”), kiss mom goodnight, “Night, I love you, see you in the morning”, then walk quickly around the corner into the kitchen. By this time our beds were in sight, it was the home stretch, the seconds were ticking down…only a few left, we started to run (“I said no running boys”) and just as the last seconds of sand trickled to the bottom of the hourglass of our bedtime, we would throw back the covers and flop into bed. Ha HA! Victory! If we had not made it in time, even one second past our bedtime, we would have to immediately turn off our light, and in despair lay awake wishing that we had made it. When we did make it, which was most of the time due to the motivation that we had, we could stay awake as long as we wanted. You see, Gary and I were, and still are, insatiable bookworms. During the day, we led fairly uneventful lives, but long into the night, we did everything there was to do between the pages of a book. Save the fair damsels in distress, slay the dragons and all that. We were tireless until the book was done or , whichever came first.
In the mornings, if there was no pressing obligation, I would sleepily turn over in bed, and remember where I had left off in the story I was reading. I would feel around for the book, sometimes crumpled up under me. Having fought sleep the night before, trying to get to a stopping place in the story, which never comes in a good book until the end, if then. I would lay progressively flatter in bed, finally completely prone, with my head turned sideways on the pillow, my thumb propping the book open, suddenly waking back up to read a few more lines, only to drop off to sleep again. In that state, the book would often be eased off the bed by my restless sleeping arm, to drop loudly to the floor. Sometimes this would wake me enough to rouse me to read a few more pages, but sometimes I would only open my eyes, see that the light was still on, and close my eyes again until morning. I wonder how much electricity was wasted by this tradition.
Daytime meant snatches of the story read while on the toilet, “David, are you reading on the toilet?”
“Ummm. Kind of.”
“You have work to do.”
Snatches of stories read while reading in the back seat of the car while fighting off motion sickness. “David, you always get sick when you read in the car. Are you sure you want to read right now?
“Ummm. What? Oh, yeah, I think I’ll be okay this time.”
Sneaking off on a lazy Saturday afternoon to climb up into the tall spreading tree in our yard with a blue Hardy Boy mystery tucked into my beltline. I would lodge myself in the crotch of a big branch to read blissfully until I heard “David, where are you?” drifting from our back door.
It was rather glorious to be sick. Not stomach sick, because nothing could make that better, but sick with a low-grade cold. Enough to keep me home from school, but not enough to make me miserable. That meant a whole golden day lying tucked into our hideously green couch with a book. Sweet, indulgent luxury. Hours of silence, with the homey sounds of my mother cleaning and cooking, and occasionally bringing me mugs of hot tea, or something else motherly.
At dinner time around our kitchen table, you would have heard this, “David…David…David! Would you please pass the tuna casserole? David? Gary…
… Gary !! TELL DAVID TO PASS THE CASSEROLE!”
Me, looking up from my book, “Oh, sorry Mom, were you talking to me?”
Eventually mom put an end to the tradition of general table time reading. We weren’t having “family time.” At the time, I thought it was an outrage only a few notches below Nero’s persecution of the Christians.
Now I am married. Working. And there is a not a lot of extra time. I have had, out of necessity, to institute reading out loud to my wife. And my brothers wife, I have heard, wakes up occasionally in the wee hours of the morning and finds my brother, like the bibliophile that he is, reading a good book while sitting (I am not making this up) on the toilet. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every good book that he can lay his hands on.
This is a truth universally accepted.
I still have the same drive to read as I did when I was a boy, but I just don’t have the time. My love finds a way to express itself in the form of buying books. Book shelves are now my universal answer for any interior decorating situation. “A book shelf might look good there.” An empty surface is a book laying opportunity. Baskets of books and magazines tucked here and there. A new shelving unit in the bathroom…one shelf dedicated to a tasteful selection of books. An office is just an opportunity for many more bookshelves.
I also express my need by actually reading, but unfortunately the snatches of time that I can find don’t match the size of the desire, so I usually end up having 12 books that I am currently reading, but never finishing. Only to start a new book that seems interesting.
One recent triumph was actually finishing a book called “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” about the history and decay of punctuation. This was my “Bathroom Book” for almost a year. A few pages once or twice a day add up over time, and being in the bathroom is a regular experience for me. Sorry about that, I don’t usually do punny things like that, because I don’t really think they are punny…I mean funny.
I am hopeful that I will live to be old enough to once again have the luxury of time to read, and finish all these books that I am starting in my middle age. I may have to plan a mid-life crisis and become a writer, or something.
What is the name for the realization that you aren’t going to be able to read all the books that you want to before you die?
I have one glorious reading related dream still in front of me. Reading all my favorite books to my children. Introducing them to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. To Dirk and Al. To Almonzo and Laura. Grandma Doudle. Harry, Hermione and Ron.
I can hardly wait!